Philippe Cousteau Jr. joins Michael Muller to photograph one of the most feared yet threatened species on earth
School of scalloped hammerheads, Galápagos Islands, October 2008. “I’ve always thought hammerheads are some of the coolest looking of the species. They are very evasive of humans; bubbles from a scuba tank will send them swimming away. The scalloped hammerheads usually swim in large schools.”
Lemon sharks, Tiger Beach, November 2014. “For years the most common question I got was, ‘Have you ever had a close call?’ The answer was always ‘no’ until on one trip, Morne Hardenberg dropped a piece of fish then swam away as I photographed the mayhem. Within a few seconds I felt something hit my head. Without thinking I reached back and just hit whatever was there. When we got up to the boat, Morne informed me that a lemon shark was coming right at my head with its mouth open, but its nose hit me first, and my hit sent it fleeing.”
With a seven-bulb 1200-watt strobe lighting rig and an irrepressible passion for the ocean predator, celebrity photographer Michael Muller dives to ocean depths around the world to bring the Hollywood portrait session to sharks.
What struck me most about coming face to face with a great white shark was not its gaping jaws or hundreds of teeth lined up in neat rows. It wasn’t its 17-foot frame or how effortlessly the animal slipped through the water. No, more than anything else, I remember its eyes. From afar, the eyes of a great white shark look like black holes, as mindless and ruthless as a nightmare conjured up by a Hollywood studio. But, far from the hype of leaping sharks tearing flesh or the frightening images of a surfboard torn asunder by some marauding monster, up close, when you really get a chance to look, you see something else. The eyes have an unexpected depth, corneas ringed by a thin blue line, and as the shark swam past my cage, those eyes were fixed on me. In that moment, I didn’t see blind fury or the savage hunger that we are so often led to believe are the only emotions that motivate sharks. In those eyes I saw curiosity. I would get the thrilling opportunity to stare down several great white sharks on an expedition in September 2012, thanks to Michael Muller. He had urged me countless times to visit the great whites off Guadalupe Island, a tiny place surrounded by sharp jagged cliffs a 20-hour boat ride from Mexico’s west coast. It’s one of the few places where great whites reliably congregate each year, so it didn’t take much to convince me to go. Our expedition would take five days, and I can’t remember one minute when Michael wasn’t either in the water taking pictures or up on deck tinkering with his equipment. His enthusiasm and passion were totally infectious.
Perhaps what struck me more than anything else was the fact that Michael, a very successful Hollywood photographer, would dedicate so much time and money to the conservation of sharks.
Having grown up with underwater photographers, and knowing so many of the most famous names in the business, I knew that Michael’s pictures were different. He has taken the skills he honed in Hollywood and the process come up with a completely fresh perspective. Most nature photographers work for wildlife magazines and books. They take beautiful photographs, but the photo’s purpose is to show the animal in its natural environment and to “explain” something about the creature’s biology and behavior. Looking through Michael’s pictures, however, I am reminded of something my grandfather always said: “People only protect what they love.”
My grandfather was a tremendous influence on me. His stories and adventures are the stuff of legend, and while people remember him as an ocean explorer, filmmaker, and global leader of the conservation movement, I think of him as a storyteller. He knew that one had to inspire the heart for the mind to listen. His films and books always sought to entertain and create a sense of wonder in his audience so that they might, hopefully, take action. Like my grandfather and so many great storytellers throughout history, Michael uses art to tell a story that is of vital importance to him. His images seize the imagination and don’t let go, through them we see sharks through his eyes learning the truth about these magnificent creatures along the way. And, hopefully, become inspired to take action to protect them. Sharks are misunderstood, often maligned as villains, yet Michael’s singular focus is to celebrate them by capturing their poetic motion and unique majesty in a way that inspires awe and wonder.
As you marvel at the photographs contained within this book, just for a moment, consider a future without sharks, a world without these magnificent and important creatures roaming the oceans, without their stories and images exciting the next generations as they have excited ours, without the important work they do to keep our oceans healthy. Seeing sharks through Michael’s eyes will enthrall you as much as it has me, and it is my fervent hope, and the mission of this book, that you will be inspired to gain a new understanding of sharks and join us in the fight to make sure that a world without sharks never comes to pass.
“Muller has been on a mission to help conserve these much-feared and misunderstood ocean dwellers.” —CBS News, New York