I HOPE THAT DOESN’T HURT HER,” is the first thought in my head, as my ears are filled with the sound of broken teeth. A 3m mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) has bitten down on my camera and now gives me a look deep into my soul as she, a few teeth shorter, heads back into the darkness.
The sun is setting and the big female is momentarily replaced in my viewfinder by a smaller but no less awe-inspiring male mako. Keeping a safe distance from the current spectacle is a group of the more cautious blue sharks (Prionace glauca). I am a three-hour boat-ride outside Rhode Island, and the evening is just getting started.
Rhode Island might not sound like the first place to visit for someone seeking close encounters with sharks, but for a shark photographer like me it keeps drawing me back year after year.
From June through September the weather is generally calm, the water a beautiful mix of ever-changing blue and green shades, and there’s an abundance of life in it, thanks to the Gulf Stream and its flow pattern, and other characteristics of the North Atlantic.
Here you’ll find blues, smooth-hounds, makos, hammerheads, tigers, basking, white and breaching thresher sharks. Another amazing fish you might encounter here is the mola mola, or sunfish.
To me, the most beautiful animal in the sea and the reason for me being here on this sunny day in September, is the elusive shortfin mako shark, and today’s experiences will prove to be quite special!
I am with Pelagic Expeditions, an operation run by New Englanders Joe Romeiro and Brian Raymond. They specialise in running trips to encounter blue and mako sharks far offshore in these waters, and between them they have years of experience in finding these elusive creatures of the open ocean, getting them to stay by the boat and, most importantly, interacting with them safely.

SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT, and every shark and situation is gauged carefully. Don’t expect to get thrown into the water with a 3m blue shark if it’s not safe, or if you or the sharks are not ready. Some of the best viewings might actually be obtained from the boat.
The ocean is not a zoo and, with blues and makos, nomads of the open oceans, moving over huge ranges, the observer must be prepared to wait a long time before the sharks show up.
One has to be vigilant, and keep an eye on the baits at all times. If a shark manages to grab a mouthful of the hang-bait it’s easily scared off, or just content to get a bellyful of fish. Either way, it won’t return.
Hours of staring into the water is quickly forgotten once the sharks make an appearance. The blues, the most common guest here, often make a slow but determined approach before hitting the hang-bait.
With makos it’s often different, as they usually appear in a lightning-quick strike from the depths, providing little warning before they strike.
Today is no different. After a few hours’ looking into the deep and at the baits, one of these is suddenly hit by a fair-sized mako, perhaps 2m long. The lull is broken and there is immediately excited and focused activity on the boat. I have been in the water with makos before, but they always get my blood going.
Once you get the mako to the boat, you have to keep it there. Often enough it will come in, hit the bait, perhaps grab a snack or two and then head off before there’s time for us to get into the water.
Here a good operator is crucial in making a “player” out of a shark, and gauging when it’s time to get into the water safely and not scare it away.
Soon enough, I get the green light to enter the water. As stealthily as I can, I slide in. We are not on scuba, as the bubbles tend to scare the sharks away, so mask, fins and snorkel is your kit.
No cage. Despite their ferocious appearance, makos are in my experience skittish and will dash off and not return if frightened too early.
Once they get comfortable with the situation, it’s another story.
The shark I’m with now turns out to be a perfect model, following the hang-bait close to the camera and turning away gently at the right times and not too fast. Makos are the fastest-swimming sharks in the sea, and can be notoriously hard to photograph because of their speed and nervous, erratic motions.
I’m always amazed by this fish – so perfectly designed inside and out for its habitat and lifestyle, from the way it heats its blood to keep body temperature up and gain an edge on prey, to the tuna-shaped body, stiff tail, huge jetfighter-like gills, wide beautiful eyes and, of course, the thug-like grin from a mouth that never seems to stop grinning.
The way that Rhode Island’s emerald water dashingly matches the sapphire blues of the mako and blue sharks enhances the beauty of the animals and the uniqueness of the photos you can obtain there.

SOON THE MAKO is joined by another, then yet another! As I’m accustomed to makos staying only for a short while, I’m savouring every minute, losing track of time.
The sharks keep coming and going, the largest one well over 2.5m. We’re up to seven makos, five big blue sharks and the afternoon is fading. Exhaustion and seasickness eventually forces me out of the water.
Just as I’m up on the boat with a freshly grilled burger and a ginger ale thrust into my hands, a new 3m mako comes out of nowhere and slams into the second-biggest one, bites it over the gills and pushes it down into the deep!
Chaos ensues, with makos and blue sharks thrashing all over! Then suddenly the water is very calm, and only the 3m female is left, patrolling around the boat.
After some gentle encouragement from the crew, I get back into the now increasingly dark water as the sun is setting. Nothing. Empty seas.
But only for some 10 seconds, when she comes determinedly up to me from the void, puts my entire camera in her mouth and bites down.
It’s not an aggressive bite, but enough to break off a tooth or two. She eyes me and leaves, but keeps coming back. Pass after pass. At one point she executes a perfect bite of the hang-bait, coming away with several kilos of bluefish.
As she calms down, the other sharks return. At most I count three mako and two blue sharks at the same time, but they keep coming and going. The tally from the boat is nine makos, five blues.
The action continues into the night. The behaviour of both makos and blues definitely changes as it gets dark, and they get bolder and more “edgy”.
There are now two of us in the water, watching each other’s backs for safety.
I manage to get some night-time shots of the makos before we decide not to push it further, and give the sharks the night to themselves. The crew has worked non-stop for hours to keep the sharks interested, and my safety, comfort and getting of good shots would have been impossible without them.
As always when diving with sharks, it’s important to book only with reputable operators who prioritise and care about the safety of both the guests and the animals. With the amazing animal encounters available and the outstanding and professional operation of Pelagic Expeditions, I highly recommend Rhode Island as a shark-diving destination.
By the way – not into sharks that much? I’ve had humpback and minke whales on most dives as well!

Pelagic Expeditions is based in Narragansett, Rhode Island and its season runs from June to October. Diving costs $350pp per day or $1800 for a private charter. Fly to TF Green Airport, a 45-minute car journey from the boat. Discounted rates are available to PE guests at the Holiday Inn in South Kingstown, www.pelagicexpeditions.com