Meet Photographer Rebecca Bateman-John
Rebecca is a huge shark enthusiast and a fan of all things underwater. Growing up in Australia and partly in Indonesia, she now lives between both her home country and Mexico. She works in the shark diving industry as a photographer/videographer and safety diver. She has worked with various species including bull sharks and white sharks and also runs an independent research organization, using the shark diving industry as a platform for her research.
Thanks Rebecca for sharing your shark story with us!
Follow Rebecca's Shark Adventures on Instagram
What is your favorite shark?
My Favorite Shark – Oooh that’s a tough one, there are so many! Well, I am fairly obsessed with bull sharks. I’m not sure if that’s because I spend so much time with them, and for that reason I feel I have really got to know some of them…even if that’s just my side of it! I also have a definite love for oceanic whitetip sharks. They are so strikingly beautiful and I love that they spend their time out in the blue pelagic zone, I find them quite fascinating. I have only seen them once on a humpback whale swim in Tonga, they came out of nowhere with a pod of pilot whales and were inquisitive and so beautiful!
2. What is one species of shark you would like see/dive/swim with?
One species I would love to dive with and photograph – again a tough choice! Perhaps a Greenland shark - that would be insane! Also, a cookie cutter shark, although that might just be a fantasy as I think they rarely come shallower than 80m.
3. How did you get started doing underwater photography?
I got started in underwater photography around four years ago. I went through a bit of a shark diving maniac phase, going all over the place to swim with and photograph sharks. I spent a good portion of my money but it was a pretty great way to spend it. I was very green; I didn’t really have any clue on what to do with a camera. I wouldn’t call myself a professional photographer as although I do it at work, it’s mostly for fun and also to serve a purpose such as recording individual sharks. I have a long way to go as far as photography goes but I do enjoy it.
4. What is the most challenging thing about photographing sharks?
The most challenging thing about photographing sharks for me is getting them to come close enough. With a wide angle I need to be even closer, so when they are shy its difficult. I use to swim after them which never works. Now I have learned to wait for them to come to me, although that means there are some sharks’ I will never get a good photo of. It surprises a lot of people that it can be hard to get close to them, they really are so often cautious or uninterested. Without bait, for some species it can be near impossible.
5. Is photography important for conservation?
Firstly, photography of sharks can be used to bring their beauty right into the home of most of the worlds population that will never experience sharks up close in their natural environment. There is the old argument of changing people’s perceptions which is very important in some areas and with some groups, although I am not sure how often that actually helps sharks on a real conservation level. Although I do admit that public pressure does sometimes help in their protection, such as when it comes to public polls or bills that are used to influence decisions on a government level. Also, I do believe it can change behaviors and perceptions of recreational fisherman too.
Also, I currently utilize shark photography for two different studies, and I am hoping that they will contribute to the conservation of sharks or rays where necessary or possible.
The first project I started in 2016 is called Fin Focus and is a Citizen Science project. It uses the whale shark industry in Ningaloo Reef (Western Australia) as a platform for recording elasmobranch biodiversity, distribution and abundance. The crew submit their sightings on a weekly basis, and when they are accompanied by photos/videos it really helps to verify the sightings and identification of the particular species. In this case the photos (which are often of a high quality – so many great underwater photographers in the industry!) can be extremely important, especially when recording a rare or endangered species. Some of the photos are also being used by a local collaborator named Jessica Smith who is creating an individual database of zebra sharks, which will help in monitoring their presence and site fidelity
The other project I am working on uses photos to identify individual bull sharks at a provisioning site in Mexico. This way we can catalog the individuals and learn of their temporary residency here and hopefully in time a population estimate. This information may help us to gain further protection for them in the future. Clear, high quality photos really help in identifying and distinguishing the individuals. So again, shark photography can be helpful in areas where sharks are little studied.
6. What message do you hope people take away from your images?
See the beauty in sharks, and to respect this creature that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago.
See sharks as just another important part of the ecosystem that needs to be monitored and, in many cases, protected.
See sharks as actual individuals like us with unique personalities and traits. It would be fantastic if the photos encouraged people
To want to experience sharks for themselves such as on a specific shark dive. The more people that participate in shark tourism the better (as long as they choose a responsible operator). This way they can really see and experience the beauty and calm nature of sharks. Often these tourism operators provide the platform for research, and much of what we know comes from research undertaken on these kinds of dives. Sometimes a portion of the money even goes towards funding the research. These dives can change people’s perspectives, but also their lives. We have seen people completely change their direction in life after doing an impactful shark dive – its crazy but amazing! It’s not that weird to me, as sharks also changed my life – everything I do now is basically focused on sharks! The “shark people” family is growing around the world, it’s still somewhat small but definitely growing – and full of awesome people with the same goal in mind!