A Great White Shark Adventure
Author: Stephanie Huynh
As a little kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was always fascinated by sharks. Despite what most people thought, I was never afraid of them and I never feared going into the ocean. Even as a 10-year-old kid, the movie JAWS did not convince me that this was the true depiction of sharks in real life. After watching Shark Week for years, I learned a place called Guadalupe Island existed. This remote island is where the species I admire the most, the Great White Shark, aggregates during the summer and fall. After all those years, I don’t quite remember what triggered me to search this on the internet, but to my surprise I learned that I could travel to this remote island as a civilian with no marine biology background!
With no apprehension whatsoever, I became eager to put down a deposit to reserve my spot on something called a liveaboard boat. I received a lot of negative comments and concerning questions from my family and friends. I knew very little about sharks at this time, but even so, I remained unafraid and brushed all those negative comments and questions aside like dust under a carpet. Heeding little attention to all the negativity and disapproval I was receiving, I moved forward with my plan and became a certified Open Water scuba diver at 33 years old. I had absolutely no interest in diving more once I completed this trip and had the “once in a lifetime experience” of diving with Great White Sharks. Little did I know, this expedition and these Great White Sharks would completely change my outlook on life and my view of the world and all things in it.
With the emotional support of my husband, I flew by myself to San Diego with my Open Water scuba diving certification in hand and a mere six open water dives under my belt. There I met with the liveaboard dive charter group, crossed the border to Ensenada, Mexico, headed to the marina, and boarded the Nautilus Belle Aime for a 24-hour crossing to the isolated, uninhabited Guadalupe Island. During the voyage I suffered an unanticipated, severe bout of seasickness. I was beyond miserable and I was seriously doubting my decision to go. I was thousands of miles from home and hundreds of miles from civilization in a remote part of the world with limited connections to any mainland. But when the Belle Aime approached the island and I witnessed this beautiful, volcanic landmass with fluffy clouds gently rolling down the sides of it, a sight that I had seen numerous times on television, the seasickness instantly became a distant memory.
The Great White Sharks behaved just as I expected and my nonchalant attitude heading into this journey was one hundred percent validated. Words I’d use to describe my firsthand general observations of them in their natural habitat would include non-aggressive, calm, peaceful, slow-moving, deliberate, cautious, curious, majestic, beautiful, and above all else … misunderstood. I was now able to witness firsthand that the perception I’ve had of sharks all my life has always been correct and that of the general public was way off. We had many individuals hang around our boat for the three days and they varied in physical characteristics and personalities, just as people do. Some were bold and some were shy. They all had names and identities.
My journey to Guadalupe Island has taught me so much about Great Whites, sharks in general, the threat they’re under, and conservation efforts. I even learned a lot about myself and my own personal resilience. Over the next 4 years, which brings us to the present day in 2021, I have continued scuba diving and advanced my training. I’ve dove outside the cage with 9 other species of sharks, became an advocate for the ocean, and a voice for the voiceless. I am on a personal mission to dispel myths about sharks and provide factual information through my experiences with them. I have recruited my friends to become shark lovers, taking them on their first shark dives to share the thrill with them that I know and love because photos and videos cannot truly replicate the experience of sharing a moment in time and coexisting with a gentle, inquisitive shark. I have a greater appreciation for this planet and the creatures that dwell within it and my curiosity of the ocean has expanded to depths unimaginable. I’m a better person because of all that I’m now able to see and experience. The unintended path my life has taken is something I would have never seen coming and I have absolutely no regrets about any of it … and I owe it all to the Great White Shark.