Divers aboard the Nautilus Explorer off Guadalupe, Mexico, were stunned during the first days of December, when a great white shark lunged at an observation cage, getting its head stuck between the bars and bleeding to death during a 25-minute struggle to get free.
Mike Lever and his company Nautilus Adventures have now come under fire for the way its cages have been built and its failure to modify them to local legal requirements, although he denies this to be the case. Most divers embark on these dives with a view to getting memorable photos of these iconic creatures, not to see one die tragically.
Kurt Amsler, a well-respected Swiss veteran underwater photographer and dive professional, posted a scathing message on Facebook: "The safety of the sharks, unfortunately, is the last thought of most providers. The openings of the cages of the Nautilus Fleet are clearly too big, contrary to the regulations of the Mexican authorities.
A shark can stick its head too far in. As the diameter of the head behind the gills becomes smaller, it can no longer free itself. The shark died. Cage injuries [to other sharks] often happen. Such cages may be more pleasant for the client, with no claustrophobia or prison feeling, and for the oversized dome ports of photographers, but it is time photographers rethink the philosophy of pictures at any price."
Nautilus Explorer responded by stating, "There was an incident with a great white shark repeatedly charging one of our cages at Guadalupe Island in October, towards the end of our 2019 season. We were horrified, very sad, upset, and worried for both the shark and our divers. We stage approximately 50,000 white shark dives every year and have been running these trips since 2003. Our cages are in full compliance with all Mexican regulations. Never in all our experience have we seen a shark exhibit this behavior. We own this.
When the incident happened, we immediately notified the authorities, sent them a video of the event, and launched an immediate review and root cause analysis.
There are more sharks than ever before at Guadalupe, including a large number of juveniles. Our cages are being modified to do our best to prevent this from ever happening again. We are encouraging our colleagues with other shark boats to learn from this terrible incident and modify their cages as well."
More than a thousand people saw video of the incident on Undercurrent's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Undercurrent.org
The liveaboards Nautilus Explorer and Nautilus Belle Amie have generally received rave reviews in Undercurrent's independent reader reports.
In November 2016 that Undercurrent reported that the Solmar V had a great white shark launch itself into a cage through the top and toward the occupying diver, Shanghai-based advertising executive, Chan Ming, who was only able to escape through a large opening in the cage.
There was a similar incident involving Nautilus Explorer, the previous month, when a great white shark got stuck in a cage's open balcony, trapping divers in the lower part of the cage. These dives can go awry.
Dive boats must not be responsible for a single great white shark death. Those cages need reconfiguring.