Let’s get this out of the way up front: I didn’t see a shark in Cape Cod. Even though I woke up hungover the day after the 4th of July, and took two planes across three timezones to go look for one. Even though the burgeoning Great White Shark population off the coast of Massachusetts has gotten international attention, prompting a study by lifelong shark researcher and marine scientist, Dr. Greg Skomal. Even though the stir has sparked visits by one of the most well-known underwater photographers in the world, Brian Skerry. Even though I was with both men on my quest. Nothing.
We came together in Cape Cod, with the express purpose of finding a shark, and we failed.
I share this not to make you feel sorry for me, but to illustrate how difficult it is to get a glimpse — just a glimpse, let alone more — of these awe-inspiring predators of the sea. As Skerry and Skomal both reiterated throughout our trip, sharks have no known predators, they are in every way at the top of the food chain, which makes them intensely fascinating to humans. It’s also part of what has made humans, often wrongfully, fear them. Still, even without seeing a great white, just the chase alone, alongside people who have devoted their lives to these apex hunters, was enough to make me fall in love.
“A colleague of mine often says, ‘We don’t need more portraits of animals in the world, we need more stories about animals,’” Skerry told me, after our search was over. We were off the boat and tucked into a back room in Chatham’s Shark Center, an educational facility devoted to helping the community understand and respect these underwater predators. “For me as a storyteller, I would be happy doing nothing more than making happy pictures, celebratory pictures, cool pictures of animals and ecosystems that just shows the beauty. But I think I need to take sort of a more realistic approach, it’s always about finding a new way to tell a cool story about the ocean or the natural world that will help people see it in a new way. My ultimate goal is to get people to understand our relationship with nature.”
While we were in Chatham searching for Great Whites, Skerry was also promoting his latest photography book for National Geographic, Shark and offering a lecture at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club to benefit the local Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. As one of the foremost underwater photographers in the world, Skerry has won numerous awards and taken literally thousands of moving, funny, incredible and tender photos of marine wildlife, images that tell stories far beyond animal portraiture.