Capturing shark tales on film
Dr. Thomas Burns gets up close and personal with the sea's deadliest predator in his spare time.
My favorite place to dive and photograph is Cocos Island, Costa Rica. It takes a 36-hour boat ride in pitching seas to get there, but the trip's well worthwhile, allowing me to witness hundreds of hammerhead sharks as they cruise above me. Most people will never get to see them firsthand.
Any seasoned shark diver has had a few close calls. Yet it happens a lot less often than people think. I've dived with several thousand sharks, and I've only really been worried two or three times.
The scariest experience happened when I wasn't even looking for sharks. I was snorkeling with feeding dolphins. We didn't know that there were silky sharks hunting behind them. I dove in and saw one charging toward me. It closed the 100-meter gap within seconds. With a powerful exploratory bump, the shark realized that I wasn't what it wanted and circled me a couple times before taking off.
Protective gear isn't necessary most of the time. Maybe five percent of the time we'll use shark cages in areas like South Africa where there are a lot of great white sharks and the water is murky. Most of the time, the sharks are more scared of us than we are of them.
I dive when I can, which isn't very often. I have two small children and an understanding wife, who used to dive. I own a practice (Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Mass.) and part of an emergency practice. I sneak away about once a year. It helps me to get away from the day-to-day activities and to refresh my brain.
I think that if you push the envelope sometimes, you don't sweat the small stuff as much. Owning a large veterinary practice can be challenging. Diving with sharks helps keep me grounded, which helps to uphold that great customer service attitude and a smile. No matter what the hobby is, something that helps you maintain your sanity will help keep you happy every day.
—Thomas Burns, DVM