Face to face with a long-legged shark. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
© Doniphane Lachat

Underwater with oceanic whitetip sharks in the Red Sea

  Egypt: Red Sea - October 2016

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

How beautiful are longfin mako sharks! I loved watching and photographing them in the Red Sea. But I must admit, they're also a bit scary...

Fascinating face-to-face with sharks

Whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, black tip and white tip sharks, grey reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks, fox sharks, walking sharks, bearded carpet sharks... This is not the first time I have had the chance to observe, photograph or film sharks while diving.

→ See here: all my posts with sharks in them!

But longan sharks, also known as oceanic sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus(from their scientific name), it's something I've never seen before!

Below is a short 30-second video, made in the Red Sea in October 2016during a cruise aboard theExocetby one of my diving buddies, Doniphane Lachat. It shows a longimane coming to meet me, not really frightened by my little person ...

The longiman can be 2 to 3 meters long. It's a magnificent shark! I find it very beautiful, very photogenic, almost elegant with its long fins (hence its name longimane shark or "long hand") with a rounded white tip and its faithful cohort of small pilot fish.

What a look! And watching him swim is absolutely fascinating.

Here is the series of three pictures I took during this little face-to-face that we see in the video:

Long-legged shark, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016.
That's it, this longimane spotted me ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Long-legged shark, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016.
He comes to observe me more closely ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Long-legged shark, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016.
Flip-flops under the surface ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Brothers Islands

I come out of the water with stars in my eyes, after my very first encounter with a long-distance dog. And I will see others during the following dives! It was the Brothers, the "Brothers," two arid and isolated islets in the Red Sea, in Egyptian waters.

Big Brother and Small Brother are renowned diving spots and the area is a protected marine park. When the swell is not too bad, you can also explore two wrecks.

Big Brother, the largest of the two islands, is about 300 m long. Its lighthouse was built by the English in the late nineteenth century. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Big Brother, the larger of the two islands, is some 300 m long. Its lighthouse was built by the English in 1883. The site is guarded by Egyptian soldiers, who must be bored stiffly while waiting for the relief... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The wreck of Numidia at Big Brother. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The wreck of the Numidia, in Big Brother. It's an English freighter that was wrecked in 1901. She was on her way to the Indies carrying railway equipment. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
François, my partner, discovered the structures of the wreck of Numidia. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The upper part of the structures of the Numidia wreck is between 20 and 40 metres deep. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Soft corals colonized Numidia, which lies on the starboard side between 20 and 80 m. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Soft corals have colonized Numidia. The wreck, lying on the slope of the reef, is about 130 meters long. The bow is at a very great depth, in the 80 meters, inaccessible for recreational diving. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

The Brothers Islands are located very far offshore, their drop offs are exposed to currents and descend to several hundred meters in depth, so that one can encounter a so-called pelagic fauna (which lives in the open sea and does not normally approach the coast) in addition to the small fauna usual to the reefs.

In addition to the longimanes, I saw a huge tuna and barracudas. Several of my diving companions managed to observe a thresher shark and hammerhead sharks. As for the coral, it seemed less spectacular overall than in Indonesia, but some parts of the reef are splendid.

The coral is on the reef of Small Brother. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Coral abounds on the reef of Small Brother. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Still photogenic, the clouds of anthias above the coral. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Still photogenic, the clouds of anthias above the coral. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Along the reef of Big Brother, returning from the wreck, we cross a bank of sardines. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Along the reef of Big Brother, returning from the wreck, we cross a bank of sardines. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

To learn more about the Brothers, I refer you to the site of Alimata, a traveler diver who has explored these sites years before me, and who makes a very complete description on this page → Brothers Islands.

Small "detail" that made me appreciate being on the huge and comfortable ExocetThe crossing to the Brothers takes long hours and is not exactly a quiet sea trip, at least during my visit in October. The swell and the waves can be strong. Several of us have been ill and I, who didn't think I was prone to seasickness, admit that I wasn't very brave on the outward journey... On the return journey, it was much better: I didn't do the hard work, I opted for the seasickness pill. It's effective!

Audrey, of Blue Addiction, enjoyed the Exocet's outdoor lounge, the time of the crossing ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Audrey, of Blue Addiction, enjoyed the outdoor lounge of the Exocet, the time of the crossing ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

A dirty reputation

Even among divers and ocean-lovers, the longnose dolphin has a reputation for being a shark to be wary of.

"This species is a bit like a dog, explains the underwater photographer Phil Simha, organizer of the cruise, the day before our immersions to the Brothers. The longiman is curious, opportunistic, he comes to lurk under boats, and anything that moves on the surface attracts him. Underwater he's not afraid to approach divers, to sometimes come into contact... " 

Longimans do not hesitate to go up to shallow depths, they often come to run under the boats. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The longimanes do not hesitate to patrol at shallow depths, they often come and hover under the boats. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Hello, here it is again! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Hello, here I am again! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

In short, where most of the other sharks I've already met while diving prefer to keep their distance when they come across lines with plumes of bubbles, the longiman, on the contrary, will be intrigued, attracted, and will gladly come and see more closely what's going on...

See also → The Wikipedia file of the longimane

On the Sharkuterie blog → Is the reputation of the longimanus justified? [2006 post]

Although I find it beautiful, the sinister reputation of the Longimane is not really usurped. In recent years, in the Red Sea, there were deadly attacks (one in 2009, several in 2010 and one in 2015, in particular). Each time, bites inflicted from below or from the back, to persons swimming on the surface, bathers or palms-mask-snorkel. But never on submerged bottle divers, to my knowledge.

Update 2018: Unfortunately, the brothers had two cases of bites on bottle divers in 2018, one on the thigh and the other on the calf. I take this opportunity to add below the educational sheet designed by Steven Surina de Shark Education, on the right attitude to adopt when you are in the presence of a shark under water:

(Source: Steven Surina / Shark Education)
(Source: Steven Surina / Shark Education)

On the boat, we are therefore seriously briefed before our dives at Les Brothers, the territory of the fascinating and worrying longimanes...

It is forbidden for freedivers to go into the water and for all, it is absolutely forbidden to go splashing in the sea. To observe sharks, only bottle diving is allowed, with a few precautions: avoid hanging around on the surface during both immersion and ascent, stay together underwater, especially when you are under boats where sharks like to hang around, and, at the end of the dive, do not surface all together but one after the other. We are of course asked not to lose our buddy, to stay calm underwater and to remember to watch the blue in the different directions...

We are moored to Small Brother and the longimanes are here! (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
We are moored to Small Brother and the longimanes are here! (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
We do not hang out on the surface ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
We do not hang out on the surface ... (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Drift in the blue

But during one of our dives at Small Brother, my partner Françoise has the misfortune to lose her camera, at the time of the launch from the stern of theExocet. There is a lot of swell, I just went down a few meters to wait for it and, already a little deported by the current, I attend the scene under the surface, helpless.

I'm a bit too far away to go and try to recover the device, which I can only watch it sink... 😱 The longimane that lurks near the boat and that I watch from the corner of my eye is sharper than me. But he immediately loses interest in this inedible object, which continues its course towards the depths... There are about a hundred metres of depth where we are moored, alas, which makes any recovery project impossible.

At Exocet's stern, Françoise's camera is dark and a shark is watching the block with the diver ... (Small Borther, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
At the Exocet's stern, Françoise's camera is dark (it's the little black spot under the shark) in front of the longimane that roams under the boulder on the hanger... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Atrociously frustrated, terribly disappointed, Françoise still wants to go diving and joins me, with big sad eyes behind her mask. 😢 I sympathize wholeheartedly and check again that my own device is well secured, attached to my stabilizer vest .

We stay at shallow depth, between 10 and 5 meters, captivated by the spectacle of this longimane that circles around us. As a result, we drift, and when we start to swim again, it's already too late: we drift away from the reef of the island, towards which we were supposed to be heading. After a few minutes, we fall into the blue on a group of several other divers from theExocet. A little lost too, one would say. Like us, they were surprised by the surface current ...

But they are two longimanes who are circling us now! And they're passing by. How fortunate! I had been a little disappointed with the dives at Big Brother, where not a shark had deigned to cross my path. But Small Brother fills me up! The longhorn seals are here and here. And they're not shy models... 😮

Photographers are at the party! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Photographers are at the party! Here Gilles, who was delighted to draw the portrait of this longimane not shy. → See his gallery on his website Cool-Diving.ch. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

We are several photographers in the band and everyone is quite happy, I think, to be able to make pictures... But anyway, we've been drifting for a while without really knowing where we are. It's better to signal ourselves without further delay on the surface on the semi-rigid and to go back up. This dive only lasted 20-30 minutes instead of the usual 50-60 minutes... But what intense minutes!

One of us deploys his parachute (for non-divers: it's a sausage-shaped buoy that we fill with air underwater and let it fly to the surface, so that the boatman can spot us and know where to come and pick us up). The Zodiac appears immediately. Françoise is the first to go back up. One by one, we climb aboard the dinghy, without any trouble, while those waiting underwater watch the sharks passing by and passing by again.

Of course, we all have an emotional thought for the last of the group to go back up: alone under the parachute, he lived a little moment of solitude with the longimanes... Rich in emotions, this dive! I'm not about to forget it.

Phew, that's the Zodiac coming! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Phew, that's the Zodiac coming! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
This longimane gauges me a bit at a distance ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
This longimane gauges me a bit at a distance ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Even the parachute interests him ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Even the parachute interests him ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The longimane is a subject of choice for photographers ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
The longimane is a subject of choice for photographers ... (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
He flip-flies when I fire. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
He flip-flies when I fire. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Overfishing and fin soup

I've just come back from this cruise on the Red Sea in wonder, thanks to the longimanes. But like many other sharks, the species is a victim of overfishing: its huge fins are much coveted for the Asian market, where they end up in soup in restaurants or as a supposedly medicinal or aphrodisiac remedy ...

Jaws and shark fins in a shop window in Kuching, on the island of Borneo, Malaysia side. I took this picture several years ago, during my trip in July 2013.
Jaws and shark fins in a shop window in Kuching, on the island of Borneo, Malaysia side. I took this picture several years ago, during my trip in July 2013.

As longimane willingly follows boats, cetaceans and schools of pelagic fish opportunistically, it also often ends up in so-called accidental catches ...

Widespread in all the world's tropical seas, it was once one of the most abundant sharks. Today, it is one of the most endangered. Will conservation measures and regulations put in place succeed in reversing the trend? The longfin tuna is on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Red List and in 2013 it was added to Annex II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

I measure how lucky I am, as a simple diving tourist, to have been able to observe these magnificent sharks in their natural environment. In ten or twenty years, if the shark-finning (fin fishing) continues at the same pace as today, there will be nothing left to observe under the sea .

????

  Egypt: Red Sea - October 2016

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  1. Hello Corinne, I always read with so much passion your many posts on diving ... what a joy you must have felt meeting these magnificent sharks. I too had this great chance at Marsa Alam on the site of Elphinstone reef. What a memory and especially what a surprise to see these beautiful sharks so close to the surface but also and especially so close to the divers. We, so used to seeing the sharks escape on our arrival or in any case to stay at a safe distance, distance justified by the organized slaughter of these animals for their fins so coveted by the Chinese market and which further accelerates their disappearance. So take advantage of their presence we diver and testify their beauty but also their fragility, far from the caricatures of the man-eating shark films like the teeth of the sea.

    1. @Bandini: thank you for your little word, happy that my posts please you! Yes, meeting the long-liners was a highlight of this cruise ... But every time I dive I wonder if we will still have the chance to see so many things in a few years ... I remember when I started diving in Thailand Zeopard sharks (leopard sharks) were often found in the waters of Koh Phi Phi, off Krabi, they were even "common". Today, they have become a rarity ...

  2. Thrilling this dive !!!
    Staying zen when there's nothing but blue all around and sharks that aren't very shy, it can't be easy! I imagine that with experience you gain control 🙂 I can't wait to get my head back underwater!
    Again thank you for your feedback and your beautiful photos!

    1. @Claire: Yes, thrilling is the word... Fortunately, before this drift in the blue I had already been able to familiarise myself with the behaviour of the longimanes during the previous dive, so I wasn't too stressed. Vigilant, but fully fascinated, amazed... 🙂

  3. I'm divided. Shared between your dive rich in emotions and your last paragraphs which are unfortunately quite sad. I guess it's like everywhere, there's less and less, even here?

    Wonderful pictures as usual. I can't imagine the horror of seeing his camera slowly sink to the bottom of the sea. It's a good thing you didn't lose yours to bring us back these wonderful photos 🙂

  4. Congratulations for this beautiful article and your beautiful photos ... I take this com to ask you a question ... I'm leaving Rajat Ampat soon. I am asked to take a specific insurance for diving (repatriation etc ...). Do you have an idea of serious company and not ruinous? Thank you in advance for your advice ...

    1. @Anne: for diving insurance, I can recommend DAN (that's what I have, you can subscribe online on their website, it's convenient, they have correspondents worldwide) or Cabinet Lafont (many French divers are at home). Good preparations!

  5. Wow great article! We're reading faster and faster to find out what's going to happen with those curious sharks 😉 A big thought also for your partner's camera, it must be a strange effect to see it slowly sinking in the depths without being able to do anything to get it back...
    Also happy to see that it is still possible to dive in Egypt! The media is not very reassuring for this destination ... I admit that without really knowing the situation, I do not prefer to go there, probably wrongly seen the beauty of your photos.

    1. @Anne Sophie : Sorry to answer with several months of delay... Zero risk does not exist anywhere, but we are no less safe in Egypt than in Paris in my humble opinion... Egyptians working in tourism are happy to see travellers coming back and are in great need of resuming an activity worthy of the name. For my part, I produce some of the information delivered by these media "more very reassuring" (I am a journalist in real life) and I will not hesitate to go back to Egypt to do some diving... 😉

    1. @Julia: watching sharks in their natural environment is an extraordinary experience, very moving, really fascinating ... The "shark" dives are not dives like the others, that's for sure.

  6. a big thank you Corinne, your article is fascinating,
    Do you know why the fascinating Sharkuterie blog has been closed for 2 years?

  7. Thank you for your very interesting, thoughtful and thoughtful testimony. I am trying at this moment to know where the cursor is between "carelessness" and bad interpretations as soon as it starts to have contact. I currently dive with lemons sharks and I had a not very nice experience of a big lemon that came up from the bottom to come to turn and seek contact while I was shifted a few meters from the pool in open water.

    1. @ Loïc: yes, lemons sharks are also sharks rather inquisitors and not too frightened by the man. It is better to avoid being separated from the team when there is one prowling ... Faced with a wild animal, caution is always required, and the "cursor" is not easy to adjust. Fortunately, this lemon too curious did not push further his "explorations" ...

  8. What meeting, I did not know this shark, I hope I can see it underwater one day.

    The video is explicit, we take photos before everything even if the shark is a few centimeters away from you.

    Bravo

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