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HomePeople“The moment you start to drift, get out of the water”

“The moment you start to drift, get out of the water”

Photographer and free diver William Winram says focus is key when swimming with great white sharks.

“I have been free diving with sharks for 30 years and the great white is the one shark where you don’t get a time out. You cannot lose focus for a second, because they are constantly watching for an angle. Not to eat you, but to get closer without risking anything.

The moment you start to drift? Get out of the water. I’m constantly shoulder checking, looking down, 360 degrees. Focus too much on one, another may sneak up on you.

During filming once, a female great white was being aggressive. I took a dominant position, swimming slightly above her, watching her eyes carefully. She was watching me and getting frustrated. It was a social hierarchy thing. She was rolling her belly to show that she was bigger than me. She was telling me to go down into the depths, as the surface was hers. I couldn’t do that, so I stayed at the surface, and she came at me, gnashing her teeth. So I fired my camera shutter, which startled her and she took off.

I neither go into the water meek, nor with bravado. If a shark is out of control, I get out of the water. But if my back is up against the wall, I defend myself. I take nothing in the water to protect myself. I like to avoid hurting the animal. A young male great white can get agitated, but if you punch him in the gill plate, he’s gone. It doesn’t hurt them, but you won’t see them again.

Of all sharks, great whites are the most instinctive. Make prey-like movements, you become the prey. We had one young scuba diver and a big female was underneath him. He wasn’t paying attention and she was coming for a closer look. When he saw her, he freaked out and started flapping, acting like prey. There was an instant energy shift. Faster than you can snap your fingers, she was up – 90-degree turn, acceleration, mouth open. Luckily he accidentally booted her in the nose and she bolted. That was the only reason he wasn’t bitten in half.”

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