DANC­ING WITH SHARKS

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By Irina Bri­tanova

From the mo­ment I joined the div­ing world, I dreamt of be­ing a part of a glam­our shoot with sharks. My first en­counter was with the oceanic whitetip shark in the Ha­bili Ali Reef of the Red Sea. When I saw it calmly float­ing to­wards us with such el­e­gance and grace, a strong long­ing to join them filled my heart, and this only grew stronger with each en­counter. I would look at pho­tos of un­der­wa­ter mod­els with ad­mi­ra­tion, and, to tell the truth, with envy. I ex­am­ined their move­ments, scru­ti­nised the emo­tions on their faces – all the while feel­ing dis­heart­ened.

One cold win­ter evening, I was brows­ing through dive sa­faris in the Mal­dives when I sud­denly thought, “Why not take the risk?”

In that mo­ment, I was filled with de­ter­mi­na­tion. All I needed was to put to­gether an un­der­wa­ter shoot dur­ing the sa­fari. Easy, or so I thought. I ini­ti­ated what be­came a long email ex­change with the dive boats in the Mal­dives and fi­nally, we found a tour com­pany that was agree­able.

Our first at­tempt was a fail­ure: The photographer we worked with did not man­age to cap­ture what I en­vi­sioned, and I left feel­ing dis­ap­pointed with the re­sult. The sec­ond try, how­ever, was a huge suc­cess, and I have to thank An­drey Nekrasov for ful­fill­ing my dream.

By divine ar­range­ment, An­drey found him­self on our boat as the man­ager of our cre­ative team. There were two as­sis­tants with us – Stanislav Duz, our videog­ra­pher, and my hus­band, Bri­tanov Petr. My hus­band was my air sup­ply – dur­ing shoots, he would hold a two-me­tre oc­to­pus at­tached to a wooden pole through­out the shoot, while fright­en­ing off cu­ri­ous groups of divers.

When I saw it calmly float­ing to­wards us with such el­e­gance and grace, a strong long­ing to join them filled my heart, and this only grew stronger with each en­counter

At last, it was time for our fi­nal re­hearsal. Wak­ing up at 5:30am, An­drey and I headed to

Ari Atoll first where we sub­merged at a depth of more than 25 me­tres. I was at­tached to a reef with the help of a fish­ing line. Be­fore I could set­tle down into po­si­tion, huge shoals of bluestripe snap­pers were swim­ming in cir­cles around me, per­form­ing a beau­ti­ful syn­chro­nous dance. At that mo­ment, An­drey sig­nalled the as­sis­tants to fall into po­si­tion. I took off my mask, held my breath, and en­tered their world.

The feel­ing was mag­i­cal, and the re­sults, even more so. Vi­brant colours, beau­ti­ful hues; An­drey’s tim­ing could not have been more per­fect. As we re­viewed the im­ages, we were both pleased with our work, but it was too early to re­lax – In­dian tawny nurse sharks were wait­ing for us that night.

Af­ter care­fully check­ing my out­fit and pre­par­ing the equip­ment, we sub­merged for a fi­nal time in the night ocean. With the help of our pow­er­ful flash­lights, we ap­proached the shoot­ing lo­ca­tion at over 17 me­tres deep. With the fish­ing

line in place, the crew in po­si­tion, and An­drey ready to shoot, it was fi­nally my mo­ment to shine with the sharks.

Un­be­liev­ably grace­ful tawny nurse sharks were swim­ming around me, touch­ing me with their fins or tails, some­times bump­ing into me with their cu­ri­ous shark muz­zles. Huge pink whiprays were fly­ing around me, swarm­ing near my legs or swim­ming around in cir­cles. Large caranxes were fuss­ing ev­ery­where, as if want­ing to be part of the ac­tiv­ity. I couldn’t see much with­out a mask but thanks to the light­ing, I could recog­nise their sil­hou­ettes. Dur­ing those 29 min­utes, I could hardly breathe, over­come with emo­tion that words can’t ex­press. It was as if the ocean and I be­came one; I was in ab­so­lute unity with its in­hab­i­tants, but it ended all too soon.

I must ex­press my grat­i­tude to An­drey Nekrasov for the well-or­gan­ised photo shoot, and above all, for these amaz­ing pho­tos! I would also like thank our dive guide, Si­nan, who brought us to this spe­cial place.

Irina Bri­tanova

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