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Q&A with Executive Producer and Angler Chris Fischer

Q: When did you learn to fish? 

A.  I learned to fish growing up in Kentucky.  We would sneak into farms and wade creeks trying to catch small and large mouth bass.  It was an obsession as a kid.  Never thought the rivers of Kentucky would lead to the ocean the way they did.

Q: What was the most memorable day of the expedition and what was that like?

A.  There were two expeditions for this six part series.  There are many memories, but I think the most vivid was having Kimmel, the largest fish ever caught and released alive come onto the deck.  She was more than 4 metres long and weighed over 1800 kilograms.  The experience made one feel insignificant.  Overwhelming awe and excitement mixed with a feeling of wanting to care for the shark so we could get it back in the water and released in good shape.  It is a complex emotional ride from the moment you hook a Great White to the moment you release it.  The different phases of the task all have an intense different emotion related to them.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the expedition?

A.  Attempting to capture the sharks and lift them out of the water for Dr. Domeier and then release them in good shape.  When you are handling multi-ton creatures, they do not always go where you want them to.

Q: How long was the film crew out on the water with the research expedition?

A.  Each of the expeditions was just under two weeks.

Q: How long did it take you to track a Great White in order to get a decent shot? 

A.  We began getting great shots of the sharks right away.  We were at Guadalupe Island, where they aggregate.  No one really knows why these sharks aggregate, but there are theories.  We have now collected the evidence (blood evidence, tracking evidence) to prove what they are doing at the island and that will be revealed as the series progresses.

Q: Were there any exciting or memorable moments that didn’t make it into the program? 

A.  We had another camera crew that got in our way and almost got themselves tangled up in our gear, that had a 1360 kilogram great white on the hook.  That could have been a disaster.  We cut around most of it, but it was bad. 

Q: Did you see any other cool wildlife while on the shoot? 

A.  There are many other interesting animals on Guadalupe.  We saw an elephant seal give birth to a baby in the morning one day.  Later that afternoon we saw one get eaten by a great white.  The full cycle of life for the elephant seal at Guadalupe.  Pretty interesting day!!!

Q: What was it like being next to the biggest marine predators on the planet? 

A.  Humbling.  They are so big that it looks like you could just bend over a little and walk right into their mouths.  Scary!!

Q: Did you ever fear for your life being close to these animals? 

A.  The first shark was the one that scared me the most.  Attempting to subdue it, you did not know if it was going to come after us or behave like any other fish and just try to get away.  I think it was the fear and character the great white has assumed because of the movie
Jaws that made me feel like that. The shark was huge and I remember looking at it in the water and saying, “what are we going to do with that”?

Q: Anything else you want to share that you took away from your experience? 

A.  I gambled everything I had to fund and pursue this science so that we could unlock and solve the puzzle of the great white shark.  There were times, I thought we were going to lose everything, and then we got the gig with National Geographic Channel. 

Take away:  Sometimes you have to lay everything you got on the line to make great things happen.


Q&A with Dr. Domeier

Q: How long did it take to organise this expedition? How was this tagging programme developed?

A.  This expedition was a very long time in the making.  I had been making plans to capture and lift great whites out of the water for two years prior to seeing a picture of Chris Fischer’s new mothership.  I was in the midst of designing an inflatable lift, but the engineering had not yet caught up to the concept.

The current SPOT tagging program was a natural extension of my existing popup tagging study.  The popup tags had done their job and the SPOT tags were capable of providing complimentary data that would fill in some gaps.

Q: What makes this expedition different?  Why do you think it has never been done before?

A.  SPOT tagging of great whites has actually been done before, but never to this scale.  This expedition was the first to specifically target mature, adult white sharks.  Previous studies had not tackled adult white sharks before, because of their massive size.  Handling a shark that is measured in tons requires specialised skills and equipment.

Q: What have your findings from the expedition revealed so far?

A.  Although I’m not quite ready to reveal all of the study secrets, I can tell you that we our findings are rewriting what we thought we knew about white sharks.  We have a number of scientific papers being published as we speak, and many of our results will be revealed at an International White Shark Symposium in February.

Q: What was the most memorable day of the expedition and what was that like?

A.  The most memorable day of this expedition was lifting our first massive adult female white shark out of the water.  To stand eye-to-eye, next to such a successful predator was amazing.  I have stared into these eyes many times in their environment (underwater), but this was the first time I invited an 1800 kilogram specimen for a brief visit in my environment.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the expedition?

A.  Catching a white shark is really not difficult.  If you present them with a nice big bait, they will eat it.  The real challenge was figuring out a way to lift them out of the water; and that single statement is a combination of many micro-challenges that much be concurrently managed to succeed.  I would have to say that getting the shark into the cradle is the most difficult task.  I had to completely redesign the cradle several times while Chris and Brett went through several method iterations before the boat, tackle and crew all resulted in a shark swining into the cradle.

Q: Why is the study of sharks important? What role do they play in the ecology of the ocean? Why is it important to preserve and protect the Great White?

A.  Great whites are a very important top predator in the world’s oceans.  These sharks are responsible for maintaining healthy population levels on the animals they prey upon; without them these ecosystems can get out of balance and unstable.  More than that, white sharks are vulnerable, charismatic creatures that deserves the same conservation efforts as their terrestrial brethren, the lions, tigers and bears of the world.

Q: What can we humans learn from understanding the life cycle Great Whites?

A.  Unravelling the mysteries of the great white shark’s life history will give humans an understanding of the complexity of our marine ecosystems, as well as a realisation that human activities can have a dramatic effect on shark population, even when it is unintentional.  I also think that allowing the public to really get to know white sharks will foster a better appreciation for them.

Q: Why sharks? What drew you to sharks? When did you know you wanted to study sharks?

A.  Honestly?  My white shark program was an accident.  To make a long story short, after several expeditions to tag giant Eastern Pacific bluefin tuna at Guadalupe Island, I tagged a white shark out of frustration.  The bluefin had disappeared from the island (and never returned), but I found a healthy population of white sharks.  That first tag was the spark that has now evolved into the world’s most diverse and advanced white shark research program.

Q: You seem pretty fearless when it comes to jumping in the water to help the sharks get swimming after they’ve been tagged. Are you ever afraid of them?

A.  I have captured, studied and handled fish all of my professional life.  When I look at a white shark I do not see a scary man-eating shark; I simply see a very big fish.  Certainly I respect the set of teeth they wield, but I know if I am careful I can handle them like any other fish  I have handled in the past.  That said, you will see me leaping like a gazelle when they turn and swim towards me in the cradle!

Q: Why do you think you caught more males than females? Is it due to population numbers, or do you think males are more likely to go for the bait than females?

A.  Although the sex ratio of white sharks is 1:1, mature females do not return to Guadalupe Island each year, therefore there are more males present at the island.  It is believed that females give birth only once every 2 years, so their migration cycle may then be different than males.  Males want to get lucky every year.

Q: Anything else you want to share that you took away from your experience?

A.  It has been very rewarding to push white shark research to a level no one could have dreamed of just 15 years ago, but it has been even more rewarding to be a part of group of people who were thrown together to tackle this challenge, and to experience this group evolve into a very sincere and caring professional team.  It is more than a team, it is a family.


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