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

Underwater with longfin sharks in the Red Sea

  Egypt: Red Sea - October 2016

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


How beautiful they are, the longfin sharks! I loved to observe and photograph them in the Red Sea. But I must admit, they are also a bit scary...

Fascinating face-to-face with sharks

Whale sharks, hammerheads, blacktip and whitetip sharks, grey reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks, thresher sharks, walker sharks, bearded sharks... This is not the first time that I have 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 longimanusof their scientific name), this is something new for me!

Below is a short 30-second video, made in the Red Sea in October 2016during a cruise on board l'Exocetby one of my diving buddies, Doniphane Lachat. We can see a longiman coming to meet me, not really frightened by my little person...

The longfin can measure 2 to 3 meters long. It is a magnificent shark! I find it very beautiful, very photogenic, almost elegant with its long fins (hence its name of longiman 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 photos I took during this little face-to-face that you can see in the video:

Long-legged shark, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016.
That's it, this longiman has 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, the two brothers

I came out of the water with stars in my eyes, after my very first encounter with a longiman. And I will see more of them during the following dives! It was at the Brothers, two arid and isolated islets in the Red Sea, in Egyptian waters.

Big Brother and Small Brother are famous diving spots and the area is a protected marine park. When the swell is not too unfavorable, 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 about 300 m long. Its lighthouse was built by the British in 1883. The site is guarded by Egyptian soldiers, who must be bored stiff 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. This is an English cargo ship that sank in 1901. It was en route to India and was 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 meters 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 the 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 in recreational diving. (Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

The Brothers Islands are located far off the coast, their drop offs are exposed to the currents and go down to several hundred meters of depth, so that you can meet a fauna called pelagic (which lives in the open sea and does not normally come close to the coasts) in addition to the usual small reef fauna.

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

For a more detailed description of the Brothers and the diving conditions, I refer you to this page of the DAN website:  

AlertDiver - Cult Dive: Brothers Islands, Red Sea

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)
Always photogenic, the swarms 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 Big Brother reef, on the way back from the wreck, we come across a school of sardines (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Seasickness

A "detail" that made me appreciate being on the huge and comfortable Exocet The crossing to the Brothers takes long hours and is not exactly a quiet sea ride, at least during my visit in October. The swell and the waves can be strong. Several of us were sick and I, who didn't think I was prone to seasickness, must admit that I wasn't very strong on the way there...

On the way back, it was much better: I didn't play hard to get, I opted for the pill against sea sickness. 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(Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

A dirty reputation

Even among divers and ocean lovers, the longiman has the reputation of being a shark to be wary of.

"This species has a bit of a dog-like behavior, explains the underwater photographer Phil Simha, organizer of the cruise, the day before our immersions to the Brothers. The longiman is curious, opportunistic, it comes to prowl under the boats, and everything that moves on the surface attracts it. Underwater it is not afraid to approach divers, to come sometimes in 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)
Longimanes do not hesitate to patrol at shallow depths, they often come to roam under the boats (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Hello, here it is again! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Hi, I'm back! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

In short, where most of the other sharks I have already met while diving prefer to keep their distance when they meet a group of sharks with plumes of bubbles, the longiman, on the contrary, will be intrigued, attracted, and will willingly come to see what is going on...

See also ➜ Wikipedia entry for the longiman
On the Sharkuterie blog ➜ Is the reputation of the longimanus justified? [post from 2006]

Update 2017. I crossed again the path of longiman sharks, by returning to dive in the Red Sea in November 2017, still on board theExocetone year after the dive-cruise I talk about here. I invite you to watch below the video I made, where I was given a very close look at a very (too) curious longiman:

Although I find it beautiful, the sinister reputation of the longiman is not really usurped. These last years, in the Red Sea, there were deadly attacks (one in 2009, several in 2010 and one in 2015, among others). Each time, bites inflicted from underneath or from behind, on people swimming on the surface, swimmers or snorkelers. But never on submerged bottle divers, to my knowledge.

Updated 2018. There were unfortunately at the Brothers two cases of bites on scuba divers in 2018, one on the thigh, the other on the calf. I take this opportunity to add below the educational sheet designed by Steven Surina of Shark Educationon the right attitude to adopt when you are in the presence of a shark underwater:

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

Very strict instructions

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

It is forbidden for snorkelers to go in the water and for everyone else to splash around in the sea. To observe sharks, only bottle diving is allowed, with a few precautions: one should avoid hanging around on the surface during the immersion as well as during the ascent, one should stay together underwater, especially when one is under boats where sharks like to hang around, and, at the end of the dive, one should not surface all together but one after the other.

Of course, you are asked not to lose your buddy, to stay calm underwater and to keep an eye on the blue in 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 in Small Brother, my partner Françoise had the misfortune to lose her camera, while launching from the stern of theExocet. There is a lot of swell, I just went down a few meters to wait for him and, already a little displaced by the current, I attend the scene under the surface, powerless.

I'm a little too far away to rush in and try to recover the device, which I can only watch sink... 😱 The longiman that roams near the boat and that I watch out of the corner of my eye is sharper than me. But it immediately loses interest in this non-eatable object, which continues its race towards the depths... There is a hundred meters of bottom 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 stern of the Exocet, Françoise's camera sinks (it's the little black spot under the shark) in front of the longiman that roams under the block at the hangman... (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 stayed at a shallow depth, between 10 and 5 meters, captivated by the spectacle of this longiman that turned around us. As a result, we drifted, and when we started to swim again, it was already too late: we moved away from the reef of the island, towards which we were supposed to go. After a few minutes, we came across a group of other divers from theExocet. A little lost too, one would say. Like us, they were surprised by the surface current ...

But it is two longimanes which turn around us now! And they pass very close. What luck! I was a bit disappointed by the dives at Big Brother, where not a single shark had deigned to cross my path. But Small Brother is a real treat for me! The longimanus are there and they are there. And they are not shy models... 😮

Photographers are at the party! (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Photographers are at the party! Here is Gilles, who enjoyed shooting the portrait of this not shy longiman. → See his gallery on his website Cool-Diving.ch. (Small Brother, Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

We are several photographers in the group and everybody is quite happy, I think, to be able to take pictures... But anyway, we have been drifting for a while without really knowing where we are. It is better to report without further delay to the surface and to go back up. This dive lasted only 20-30 minutes instead of the usual 50-60... But what intense minutes!

One of us deploys his parachute (for the non-divers: it is a buoy in the shape of sausage, that we fill with air under water and that we let rocket towards the surface, so that the boatman spots us and knows where to come to recover us). The Zodiac appears at once. Françoise is the first to go up. One by one, we hoist ourselves on board of the dinghy, without encumbrance, while those who wait under water watch the sharks which pass and pass again.

Of course, we all have a touching thought for the last one of the group to come back up: alone under the parachute, he lived a little moment of solitude with the longimans... Rich in emotions, this dive! I will not 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 came back amazed from this Red Sea cruise thanks to the longimanes. But like many other sharks, the species is a victim of overfishing: its huge fins are highly coveted for the Asian market, where they end up in soup in restaurants or in supposedly medicinal or aphrodisiac remedies...

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.
Shark jaws and fins in a store window, in Kuching, on the Malaysian side of Borneo island. I had taken this picture several years ago, during my trip in July 2013.

As the longiman willingly follows boats, cetaceans and schools of pelagic fish for opportunism, it also often ends up in the so-called by-catch...

Widespread in all tropical seas of the world, it was once one of the most abundant sharks. Today, it is one of the most threatened. Will the conservation measures and regulations put in place succeed in reversing the trend? The longfin shark figures on the IUCN global red list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and in 2013 it was added to Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

I realize how lucky I am, as a simple tourist diver, to have been able to observe these magnificent sharks in their natural environment. In ten or twenty years, if the shark-finning (finning) 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 numerous posts about diving... what a joy you must have felt when you met these magnificent sharks. I also had this great chance in Marsa Alam on the site of Elphinstone reef. What a memory and especially what a surprise to see these magnificent sharks so close to the surface but also and especially so close to the divers. We, so used to see sharks running away when we arrived or at least staying at a careful distance, distance justified by the organized slaughter of these animals for their fins so coveted by the Chinese market and which accelerates their disappearance. So let's take advantage of their presence, we divers, and bear witness to their beauty but also to their fragility, far from the caricatures of the man-eating shark in movies like Jaws.

    1. @Bandini: Thank you for your little word, I'm glad you like my posts ! Yes, meeting the longimanus 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, we often met leopard sharks 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 while there is nothing but blue all around and sharks not very shy, it must not be easy! I guess with experience you gain control 🙂 I can't wait to put my head under water again!
    Thanks again for your feedback and your beautiful pictures!

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

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

    Wonderful pictures as usual. I can't imagine the horror of seeing your camera gently sink to the bottom of the sea. Thank goodness you didn't lose yours to bring us back these wonderful photos 🙂

  4. Congratulations for this nice article and your beautiful pictures... I take advantage of this comment to ask you a question... I am going to Rajat Ampat soon. I am asked to take a specific insurance for diving (repatriation etc...). Do you have an idea of a serious and not expensive company? Thanks in advance for your advice...

    1. @Anne: for the diving insurance, I can recommend DAN (that's what I have, you can subscribe online on their website, it's convenient, they have correspondents all over the world) or Cabinet Lafont (many French divers are with them). Good preparation !

  5. Wow great article! We read faster and faster to know what will happen with these sharks very curious 😉 A big thought also for the camera of your partner, it must make a funny effect to see it sinking slowly in the depths without being able to do anything to recover it...
    I am 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 don't prefer to go there, probably wrongly considering the beauty of your pictures.

    1. @Anne Sophie : Sorry to answer several months late... Zero risk does not exist, anywhere, but we are not less safe in Egypt than in Paris in my humble opinion... Egyptians working in tourism are happy to see travelers coming back and are in great need of resuming an activity worthy of the name. As for me, I produce some of the information delivered by these "more reassuring" media (I am a journalist in real life) and I will not hesitate to go back to Egypt to dive... 😉

    1. @Julia: To observe sharks in their natural environment is an extraordinary experience, very moving, really fascinating... Shark dives are not like other dives, 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, calm and thoughtful testimony. I am currently trying to figure out where the line is between "carelessness" and misinterpretation when it comes to contact. I am currently diving with lemon sharks and I had a not so nice experience of a big lemon that came up from the bottom to turn and look for contact while I was a few meters away from the group in the open water.

    1. @ Loïc: Yes, lemon sharks are also rather inquisitive and not too frightened by humans. It is better to avoid getting separated from the group when there is one on the prowl... Facing a wild animal, caution is always required, and the "cursor" is not easy to adjust. Fortunately, this too curious lemon did not push his "explorations" any further...

  8. What an encounter, I didn't know this shark, I hope I will be able to observe 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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