Photographing Africa's "Flying Sharks"

Ryan Mitchell and David Braun
National Geographic News
Updated July 26, 2004

See shark photo galleries: Gallery 1 and Gallery 2

Husband-and-wife team Monique and Chris Fallows make a living by photographing giant sharks hurtling through the air, as they rocket from the depths to catch seals near the surface.

The phenomenon is best seen near Seal Island, a crowded seal colony near Cape Town, South Africa. There, great whites and other sharks congregate to feed on the pinnipeds.

When seals cross deep water to approach or leave their island sanctuary, the waiting sharks, swimming at depth, hurtle themselves with great strength toward the animals at the surface. The ferocity and momentum of the ascent often results in both predator and prey exploding out of the ocean like a cork from a champagne bottle—a moment that the Fallowses have caught on film for magazines, exhibits, and television documentaries seen all over the world.

The Fallowses also lead small tourist groups to Seal Island to witness and photograph the breaching behavior, which they sometimes induce by dragging a decoy of a seal behind a boat. They have gathered much data about the sharks and their behavior, and they say they have dedicated their business and photography to the conservation of these misunderstood and underappreciated predators.

National Geographic News interviewed Chris Fallows about the couple's work and asked him to share tips for amateur divers and photographers.

Tell us about your work. Who does what job? What do you do with your images?

We run an operation called Apex Images Expeditions that runs trips to see hunting great white sharks, free-dive with mako and blue sharks, and at the end of this, go on guided safaris to some of Africa's greatest parks.

The expeditions allow us to photograph marine and terrestrial animals, and we lead these trips in a way that our guests get to understand and learn more about these animals as well as see their beauty and evolutionary efficiency.

We do not only run trips for those interested in nature but also facilitate various film projects each year, and have worked with National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, and others to produce films such as Smart Sharks, Air Jaws, and Great White, Deep Trouble. This allows us a tremendous opportunity to reach millions on film, where we depict the beauty of the animal and the need for conservation.

Each interaction between shark and seal is viewed from a respectable distance with the dual objective of trying to get the best data and images from each encounter. This is undoubtedly the most intense interaction we are privileged to see, where the sharks and seals are involved in sometimes protracted life-and-death battles less than 20 to 30 meters [65 to 100 feet] from us.

Continued on Next Page >>


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