Kona’s Daniel Koval dives to a national record breaking depth of 102 meters in the Vertical Blue competition at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. (Daan Verhoeven/Courtesy Photo)
KAILUA-KONA — Deep freediving can sound like a horror movie in the making.
Divers hold their breath for nearly three minutes with their body enduring several atmospheres of pressure, all the while diving into darkness with the possibility of a blackout coming at any moment due to one of a million things that could go wrong.
To someone unfamiliar with deep freediving, it may seem that holding a breath for so long would be the hardest part of the dive. However, this is not so, according to Kona’s Daniel Koval, who broke the men’s national freediving record in the discipline of constant weight last week.
“In my freediving beginners course, I can teach most people to hold their breath for up to three minutes,” said Koval, who teaches for Deep Freediving Instruction. “Equalization is the most difficult part. You have to be able to handle extreme depths.”
Koval set the new record at the Vertical Blue International competition, which is held in the Bahamas, by descending to a depth of 102 meters (335 feet) in a time of 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
While diving to the national record — toping Kailua-Kona’s Kurt Champers, who reached 101 meters in 2016 — Koval had to deal with 11 atmospheres of pressure, which produces roughly 162 pounds of pressure per square inch.
“Air is very important,” Koval said. “You need air to equalize. With your lungs compressing to the size of golf balls and acting like a vacuum, you need to be able to keep air inside your mouth to dive deep.”
Everything went right in Koval’s record dive, which came on his second attempt.
“My heart beat was as 70 beats a minute before the dive, which is quite normal, and I had gotten the nerves out of the way,” Koval said. “I started to go down and everything was going as planned.”
Koval said the water was murky on his dive attempt, and at 70 meters, there was nothing but darkness.
“It made me a little tense, but I was able to stay relaxed and I went down to 102 meters and I grabbed the tag at the bottom,” Koval said. “Heading up I started to kick really hard, (ascending) at probably one meter per second, maybe faster. It was a difficult dive, but I kept on kicking and before I knew it I was at the surface.”
During the dive, Koval had several flashbacks to his first attempt of the competition, which came two days beforehand and did not go well, resulting in a blackout.
“My heartbeat before that dive was 120 beats per minute, which probably led me to burning more oxygen,” Koval said. “I had mixed thoughts on the second dive as I was descending, but I was able to push through.”
Once reaching the surface and going through the required steps to make the dive official, Koval was finally able to relax and let what he just accomplished soak in.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Koval said. “I was in quite a shock for a while afterward.”
Koval attempted one more dive late in the competition, and reached 99 meters before turning around.
“I was getting tired but I was trying to break my own record by going to 103 meters,” he said. “It was still a good dive and I was having more fun.”
Koval started getting into freediving at an early age so he could spearfish off the coastal waters of California. From Orange County, Koval started spearfishing at the age of 12 and did not know much about deep freediving.
“I wanted to go out, explore the ocean and catch fish,” he said. “There were not really any freediving courses at the time so I took a few scuba classes to gain more knowledge.”
Most of Koval’s early freediving experience was picked up by trial and error. At the age of 19, the Californian picked up his belongings and moved to Oahu.
In Oahu, Koval was finally able to meet other freedivers, most notably Mark Stepanek, a world class freediver, who has held several records and was the first diver to reach a depth of 400 feet on a single breath of air.
Stepanek is also the founder of Freediving Instructors International, the largest freediving education agency in the United States, and Koval quickly became a student.
“I wanted to learn from this guy, so I started to take his courses and I realized how many things I was doing wrong,” Koval said. “I also learned how much I could improve.”
During his time on Oahu, Koval competed in several spearfishing competitions. As he began to do well in the competitions, his desire to go even deeper emerged.
Eventually this led Koval to the Big Island roughly three years ago, since the waters around the island go deeper than those around Oahu. His first deep dive competition was the Kona Paradise.
“It is just a small competition, with a lot of friends of people, and I was stressed and did not really know what I was doing,” Koval said. “Those people were going deeper than I was and so I started working really hard.”
The hard work paid off quickly, with Koval reaching 100 meters in July of last year, and he also managed to reach 100 meters easily in a training swim right before the Vertical Blue, setting the stage for his record breaking performance.
Koval also has no plans of slowing down anytime soon, and will continue to try to break his own record.
“I am in the water, diving six days a week with my partner, Kristin Kuba,“ Koval said. “We always dive together and she makes sure I am safe.”
The summer months are typically nesting season for sea turtles in our region. With Bermuda’s nesting sea turtles extirpated by the late 1800’s, the idea of sea turtles nesting on our shores again causes great excitement.
This was the case in 1990 and again in 1995 when loggerhead nests were found on the beaches of Coopers Island adding this species, for the first time, to the list of those known to nest on Bermuda. Even more exciting was the discovery of a green turtle nest in 2015 on a beach at Building’s Bay in St. Georges. Once nesting abundantly in Bermuda, it had been almost a century since such a sight was witnessed.
Loggerhead hatchlings on Coopers Island beach, photo by Jennifer Gray
Some will surmise that Bermuda’s restocking programme which transplanted eggs on Bermuda beaches from Costa Rica and Surinam in the late 60’s and early 70’s resulted in these recent sea turtle nests. This is highly unlikely based on our genetic examination of the hatchlings and their eggs. Nonetheless nesting on our shores is cause for celebration and gives us hope for a future of nesting sea turtles in Bermuda.
As sea turtles both nest and emerge as hatchlings predominantly under the cover of dark it is quite possible that nesting is taking place on remote beaches undetected by people. Knowing what to look for could lead to the discovery of a nest.
The Bermuda Turtle Project, celebrating 50 years in 2018, encourages beach walkers and residents to report any possible nesting activity to Jennifer Gray at 332-2966 and if you see a sea turtle in distress to call the Sea Turtle Hot Line 297 1010 [Maritime Operations Centre] or send a message through the Bermuda Turtle Project Facebook page.
Tracks of a disoriented turtle hatchling, photo courtesy of Sea Turtle Conservancy
The track of a nesting sea turtle looks a little like a large single tractor tire track going from the direction of the sea up the beach to the dune with another similar track leaving a disturbed area and leading back to the sea.
These tracks soon disappear with high tides and ocean breezes which blow sand across the top of the track. Because hatchling turtles are so small and don’t leave a deep depression in the sand their tracks are much harder to see but if a hatchling is disoriented many small tracks might be seen that do not lead to the ocean. These should not be confused with the tracks of a hermit crab which are one-sided.
Because sea turtles are long-lived and slow to mature it takes many years of research to truly understand all the phases of their life cycle and what threats they face along the way. After decades of studying sea turtles in Bermuda’s waters we are thrilled to be receiving reports of animals that grew up in Bermuda nesting on beaches throughout the region.
Green turtle stuck between the supports of a sand dune walkover, photo courtesy of South Ponte Vedra Beach Marine Turtle Patrol
Three turtles, originally tagged in Bermuda in the 1990s, have been seen on nesting beaches in Costa Rica and Mexico, each bearing titanium tags that were put on them during turtle tagging sessions by the Bermuda Turtle Project.
A fourth green turtle, tagged in Bermuda in 1994, was discovered on a nesting beach in Florida, in July of 2017. Volunteers from the South Ponte Vedra Beach Marine Turtle Patrol discovered her trapped under a dune walkover during their morning beach survey and freed her.
She had attempted to nest but was obstructed by walkover pilings. They noticed and photographed her metal flipper tags which had been attached by the Bermuda Turtle Project 23 years earlier when she was a 36.3 cm juvenile.
Green turtle returns to the sea – South Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, photo courtesy of South Ponte Vedra Beach Marine Turtle Patrol
Results like this demonstrate the lengthy period it takes for sea turtles to reach sexual maturity and the habitat connections ranging far and wide across geographic boundaries.
Our findings highlight the need for international cooperation to protect the species across the vast distances they travel and the many places where they develop, feed, mature and nest. The connecting of like-minded biologists and volunteers across the region serve as a powerful means to understand and protect sea turtles.
Research into Bermuda’s green turtles began in 1968 by Dr. H.C. Frick, a trustee of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, and continues to this day under the Bermuda Turtle Project, which is a joint effort between the Sea Turtle Conservancy and the Bermuda Zoological Society.
The project has learned that Bermuda serves as an important steward for Caribbean and North Atlantic green turtles, providing a safe and healthy environment in which they can mature.
An Ocean Quest Adventure guest close-up with a Humpback WhaleDEBBIE STANLEY, OCEAN QUEST ADVENTURES
One of my greatest adventures has been snorkeling with humpback whales in Newfoundland, Canada, one of the few places in the world where visitors have the opportunity to swim with these Leviathans. Humpbacks lack any fear around boats, so the chances of spotting them are good. I chose Ocean Quest Adventures the best company for this adventure, because they practically guarantee whale spotting.
‘Jump now!’ said Rick Stanley, Captain and owner of Ocean Quest Adventures as five of us, outfitted with wet suits, snorkels, mask and fins jumped into Newfoundland’s cold water and looked around for whales. After just moments, two came racing towards us like freight trains. I was sure I was about to be killed, but they dove beneath my legs. One of them flipped over right beneath me, so close I could see the white striations on the belly. And then they breeched and were gone. It’s an experience I will never forget.
Humpback Whale BreechingDEBBIE STANLEY OCEAN QUEST ADVENTURES
I recently learned that Silversea Cruises, an ultra-luxury line with spacious all-suite accommodations, has just introduced two bucket-list experiences: snorkeling with whale sharks in the warm waters of Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, and cruising to the Northeast Passage on a route above the Arctic Circle. I’ve been to the Arctic, though not to the Northeast Passage, and I saw little to no wildlife while I was there. I’m also curious if swimming with whale sharks is as good as my Ocean Quest humpback experience, so I contacted Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President of Strategic Development Expeditions and Experiences and asked some questions.
What is the behavior of a whale shark when they see a human?
The whale sharks are unfazed by our presence; they’re placid and somewhat playful. We have utmost respect for wildlife and would not allow guests to enter the water if it disrupted the animals. We maintain a deep respect for our planet.
Is it dangerous?
No, we wouldn’t do anything which could be considered as dangerous, both for the protection of our guests and the wildlife we encounter.
Does a guide accompany the snorkelers?
In the case of Donsol in the Philippines, yes. We follow the region’s strict regulations and protocol by the local rangers, and work with them together. In the case of Cenderawasih Bay in Indonesia, each Zodiac has at least one Expedition Team member for guests’ safety. Guests are given clear instructions, and, at certain times, several Expedition Team members are in the water with guests. A rescue Zodiac is always on standby for any snorkeler who needs help.
Snorkelers up close with a Whale SharkBRIGITTE WALTER
How many snorkelers get to go at one time? Usually, it’s six per local boat. In Cenderawasih Bay, up to 10 guests can swim at any one time.
What’s it like seeing a whale shark?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, truly magnificent. The gigantic bodies of those creatures seem to glide peacefully and majestically through the water.
What happens if the whale shark approaches the snorkeler?
The snorkeler should stay calm and nothing will happen. In case the snorkeler doesn’t stay calm, the whale shark will swim away. We generally advise guests to keep a distance of three meters (almost 10 feet) although the whale shark is harmless anyway.
Do you ever see whale sharks with their offspring?
Personally, no. But I hope to one day!
How many whale sharks can one expect to see at one time?
It depends on the season and luck. Of course, we cannot guarantee sightings. Those aboard Silver Discoverer saw about 10 animals on their voyage in May this year. Some say that Cenderawasih Bay has the largest number of whale sharks, but these are distributed over a large area.
Snorkelers with a Whale SharkBRIGITTE WALTER
What are the chances of seeing whale sharks?
At the right time of the year and in the correct areas, the chances are reasonably high, though we cannot guarantee seeing them. The animals might be in the area but not necessarily where we search for them. These are wild animals and we are visiting their natural habitat; we can only create the conditions for these types of moments to occur, but we cannot ensure they will happen.
How many dives does a guest make?
Guests are usually able to make one snorkel & swim stop, but we try to optimize this time. In Cenderawasih Bay, guests were each given three chances to swim with the whale sharks. At the second location we visited, everyone who entered the water had excellent views of the animals. This experience, like almost all of Silversea Expeditions’ excursions, does not cost anything extra.
And what about Northeast Passage in the Arctic? Do you get out in Zodiacs?
We take guests out in the Zodiacs as much as possible, but this is always dependent on the weather and sea conditions. Safety comes first. Zodiacs enable us to travel deeper in each destination, allowing us to access shallow and otherwise inaccessible waters.
When I went to do the Arctic Marathon on a cruise a few years ago, I saw no wildlife. Do guests see wildlife on your cruise?
This far north, the wildlife is spectacular: polar bears, walruses, seals and seabirds.
What makes this a stand-out adventure?
Most people never have a chance to cruise to the Arctic Circle. It’s a place where the ocean freezes and the sight of the sea ice extends to the horizon. It’s very hard to describe, but it’s a kind of ‘polar dessert on the ocean.’ It’s truly humbling.
South African Hanli Prinsloo draws crowds with ocean photography but sees irony as she goes downstairs past masses of shark fin restaurants
Free diver Hanli Prinsloo holds her breath for several minutes at a time as she plunges into the deep blue sea. It may sound terrifying, but what distresses her more is the way Hong Kong consumes seafood.
The South African visited Hong Kong to display ocean photos in “The Last Wilderness” exhibition.
“I meet so many people who love our photographs and the stories we’re telling,” she said. “But it breaks my heart to know just downstairs from the hotel I’m staying in there are restaurants serving shark fin soup.”
Over the course of her free-diving career she has seen the ocean change.
Hanli Prinsloo feels a sense of freedom when she dives. Photo: The Last Wilderness
“In Hong Kong and into mainland China, an understanding of how we consume seafood can really influence the well being of our ocean,” Prinsloo said. “There are many places where I’ve seen the disappearance of sharks and I can see the devastation it can cause to the reef.”
It is not just Hong Kong, though, as she has seen bleached coral, plastic-strewn beaches that were once pristine, dolphins playing with plastic bags where they once played with puffer fish and over fishing devastating ecosystems all over the world.
Free diver Hanli Prinsloo at the opening of The Last Wilderness exhibition. Photo: The Last Wilderness
“It’s heartbreaking to see a place you’ve explored and loved for so long being destroyed because of our actions and because we haven’t thought about what our actions can do,” she said. “ But I believe in sharing a hopeful message – if we give up hope the ocean is hopeless.”
The photo exhibition, which is by former swimmer Peter Marshall, who held eight backstroke world records during his career, and features Prinsloo, is showing at 29th floor Wyndham Place on Wyndham Street until August 18.
Prinsloo’s path to free diving was not an obvious one, as it is for many who take up the sport after growing up on the shore or on islands.
When sharks disappear it can devastate ecosystems. Photo: Brian Skerry/Photographers Against Wildlife Crime/Wildscreen
She grew up on an inland farm near Johannesburg where her father raised horses. It was not until she moved to Sweden in the 1990s that she found a free-diving coach.
“The first time I free dived was in a fjord, in dark water, my wetsuit didn’t fit and my mask was fogged up but it felt like coming home,” Prinsloo said. “It was the freedom I’ve always been looking for, that total immersion and being part of nature.”
Since then, Prinsloo went on to break a number of South African free diving records and became the first South African to hold records in all competitive free-diving disciplines – such as diving to 126 metres with no fins, a dive known as dynamic apnoea.
Hanli Prinsloo descends into a school of fish. Photo: The Last Wilderness
“Free diving is a mental sport,” she said. “Mental prep is around being incredibly calm and centred. When I was competing for really deep dives, it wasn’t just in a couple of hours leading up. It was days leading up of calming down and almost being simplistic.”
“The breath really helps you connect with the mental side of the body. It becomes an anchor.”
She has gone on to set up I am Water travel and I am Water conservation, aimed at promoting sustainable habits for ocean conservation while giving people the chance to travel and interact with nature.
“Free diving is such an inclusive practise,” Prinsloo said. “You don’t need any equipment but because of the risks involved make sure you start with a teacher.”
Part of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea off NE Australia.
Credit: Rick Stuart-Smith
Research published today in Nature describes upheaval among fish and invertebrate communities after a marine heatwave hit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea in early 2016.
The IMAS-led study analysed data collected across these areas by the Reef Life Survey (RLS) citizen science program.
It identified important changes in reef-animal communities that may affect the resilience of coral reefs, potentially reducing the capacity of corals to rebuild after mass bleaching.
Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing irreplaceable benefits to biodiversity and people. The World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system and a place of outstanding universal value.
“We know that coral reef ecosystems are changing dramatically in response to global warming, but the focus has usually been on the fate of corals, with clear impacts of mass bleaching observable from aerial images,” study leader Rick Stuart-Smith said.
“We were interested in how the loss of coral compared with other changes across the full region.
“After reviewing surveys of corals, seaweed, fishes and mobile invertebrates such as sea urchins at 186 sites across the Great Barrier Reef and western Coral Sea — before and after the 2106 heatwave — we realised that coral bleaching was only part of the story.
“Changes were also happening around the bleached corals, to the fishes and other animals that the reefs support, and which in turn assist coral recovery.”
The study’s most important finding was the detection of broad regional ecosystem change that was distinct from the degree of coral loss at each site.
An overarching change was consistent across all the surveyed reefs, even those not affected by coral loss due to bleaching.
“While severe declines in live coral cover occurred on northern Great Barrier Reef reefs, losses in the northern Coral Sea were even greater,” co-author and RLS survey leader, Professor Graham Edgar said.
“However even in the worst hit areas, coral losses varied greatly from reef to reef, with a few sites showing small coral gains.
“The only change in fish or invertebrates that clearly matched this patchy change in coral cover was a decline in coral-feeding fishes such as butterflyfishes.
“Other big changes related more directly to the effect of warmer temperatures on the fishes and invertebrates.”
An example of this change in animal populations was seen in parrotfishes, which occurred in fewer surveys across the northern reefs after the bleaching event, but this response was not directly associated with sites of coral cover loss.
These herbivorous fishes play an important ‘functional’ role in preventing algae from taking over and displacing corals on disturbed reefs. They appeared particularly sensitive to the warmer conditions, and their loss may affect the capacity of corals to rebuild.
“Our observations suggest that recovery processes will depend on such functional changes in reef communities, which in turn depend on how temperatures change the makeup of fish and invertebrates that live on the reefs,” Dr Stuart-Smith said.
“Although we are lucky that herbivorous fishes are not heavily targeted by fishing in Australia, our results highlight the potential for some ecologically important groups of reef animals to be disproportionately affected by warmer temperatures, particularly near the warm edge of their distributions.
“So as well as considering how to conserve and restore corals in areas affected by bleaching, we also need to consider how to maintain or build the broader fish communities that provide reef resilience.
“This may mean considering where particular species in these important groups are subject to overlapping pressures such as fishing, warming and habitat loss, to better plan protected areas or manage human pressures like fishing for a warmer future.”
A freediving school based in Gozo has just introduced the very first European Freediving Festival to Malta – and when it’s not teaching all of its magical free diving tricks to beginners, the divers are setting national records.
“It’s a dynamic zen,” co-founder of Innerdive, Luke Cassar said. “You have to focus on the free-fall sensation and really, truly, and deeply relax.”
While the diving instructor might appear to be referring to comfortable sitting-room meditation, the truth couldn’t be further from this assumption. Submerged 120-feet beneath the surface of Malta’s Mediterranean is where Luke, and co-directors Jesper Stechmann and Anja Senn from Innerdive find their inner-zen.
The festival itself runs all week until 16th September, and is open to everyone; from beginners intrigued by the concept, and physical, spiritual, and psychological benefits of the sport, to world champions like co-founder Jesper Stechmann, and other certified divers competing for world titles. Introduction classes and discussions are offered to people who are new to the sport, while certified divers (who have safety buddies beside them) are welcome to challenge the fresh freediving records in Malta.
The festival offers a variety of events, including a static competition where divers essentially remain still underwater for as long as they can manage – typically around five minutes for the more practiced athletes.
“You tap into a different state of being towards the end,” Luke Cassar said. “It’s almost a euphoric state. Your mind is thoughtless – just, peaceful. When you train enough, there’s no panic. You transcend the urge to breath. Freediving athletes really strengthen the power of mind over body.”
There are also three depth competitions being held:
Free Immersion Diving – divers can use a rope to guide them as far as they can manage, however they must maintain the same weight throughout their dive and are not allowed to use fins to propel them down, or back to the surface.
Constant Weight Diving – Divers may use their fins, and a rope to guide them down. However, one can’t tug on the rope to assist in propulsion.
No Fins Diving – Divers must use only their arms and legs to reach their depth, no fins are allowed.
On top of their first annual competition, Innerdive is leading expeditions out to shipwrecks and caves around the Maltese archipelago, giving world class divers a taste of Malta’s unparalleled underwater world; the heart of the Mediterranean.
Innerdive hope to not only continue hosting annual freediving competitions, but to put Malta on the map as the premier training destination for professional competitors leading up to other world challenges. Apparently, the underwater landscape surrounding our islands is simply perfect for freediving.
“Malta is the perfect place to host this. We have 100 metres to dive, and another 100 metres after that,” Luke Cassar said. “There are very few places like this in the world.”
If you think you’ve got the lungs to handle it, give these gents a call and dive deep for some underwater zen.
Free diver Brady Bradshaw swims in the Carlsbad Lagoon. Photo by Shana Thompson
ENCINITAS — What could you do in one breath?
In the span of a single inhale and exhale, free diver Brady Bradshaw descended 51 meters (about the height of a 17-story building) below the surface of the water and then resurfaced two minutes and five seconds later. That was his deepest dive to date.
Bradshaw’s longest free dive was two minutes and 40 seconds, and on land he has demonstrated that he can hold his breath for five minutes and 50 seconds.
Free divers like to say that they dive to look within, while scuba divers dive to look around.
Photo by Carey Blakely
Like Bradshaw, those who rely on the physiology-defying ability to hold the breath and surrender to the ocean’s pressure find a zen state that keeps compelling them back to the depths.
To understand the sensation of free diving, Bradshaw explained how the lungs compress during the descent and that around a depth of 15 meters, the buoyancy of his body gives way to increased atmospheric pressure, allowing him to sink rapidly. This is called the free fall. At the same time, blood moves from the extremities to the core, and the heart rate slows in a process called bradycardia — a name that makes Brady smile.
Around 30 meters below the ocean’s surface in the San Diego area, the water becomes dark. Sometimes the only thing Bradshaw can see is the dive line, and the only sound — as he descends faster and faster — is his hand running down that line.
Bradshaw said the dark, quiet state of the water “melds” with a relaxed, meditative state of the mind and body for what he described as the “best feeling in the world” and the “perfect opportunity for total surrender.”
Bradshaw lives in Encinitas, works for the environmental nonprofit Oceana and free dives twice a week off La Jolla Shores. About one-quarter mile from the shore there is a canyon about 50 meters deep, providing the perfect spot for diving. Sea lions occasionally swim underwater alongside Bradshaw and his friends.
But like other extreme sports, such as big-wave surfing or climbing daunting peaks, free diving comes with risks. Bradshaw, for instance, is currently recovering from a tear in his trachea brought on by what’s called a “squeeze,” which results from the pressure of going too deep too fast without first being adapted to that depth. He’s refraining from diving for four weeks until his trachea heals.
Bradshaw once blacked out — a common risk brought on by a lack of oxygen — during a free diving competition in a pool. In those competitions, participants swim as far underwater as they can in one breath. Bradshaw attributes his blackout to being too competitive that day and not relaxed or in sync with his body.
At the extreme end, people have died from free diving, including the female phenom Natalia Molchanova, who was hailed as the greatest free diver in the history of the sport. In 2015 off the coast of Spain, Molchanova went down for a dive of her own after giving lessons to a wealthy Russian. She never surfaced. It’s possible that if Molchanova had been with another experienced diver that she might have been saved.
“Free diving is not dangerous if it’s done in the right way,” Bradshaw said. One of the top safety rules is to always dive with an experienced partner who functions as a safety.
Photo by Shana Thompson
“We can get obsessed with the depth” and about setting records, Bradshaw noted. He said it’s important to rein in the ego and realize that “it takes a long time for the body to adapt to a new depth.”
As a trained and frequent practitioner of yoga — with the om symbol tattooed on his right palm — Bradshaw explained how a person doing yoga can increase his or her range of motion over time as the muscles stretch and strengthen. He compared that process to free diving and said the nervous and circulatory systems require proper training, too. Bradshaw also stressed that “the body’s limits change day to day,” which is important to stay attuned to.
Before diving, Bradshaw likes to float on his back and look at the sky to get into a calm state. “If I’m too competitive with myself, it doesn’t work,” he said. He likes to keep his diving style as natural as possible, using fins only and no weights.
During dives, he’ll have fears that he pushes from his mind. Bradshaw laughed, recalling how he’s occasionally wondered if a shark was swimming nearby in the dark. “I also felt panicked the first time I dove to 51 meters. I looked up at the blackness, saw only the line in front of me, and wondered what have I done? Did I do something I can’t get out of?” That feeling reminded him of times he’d been mid-air on his skateboard and doubted whether he could land the jump safely.
But as Bradshaw sees it, “Panic is not an option. It’s physiologically discouraged because you need the oxygen.” He has worked to untrain the panic response and sees free diving as a “sanctuary and total reset. I come up and everything’s all good.”
One could call Bradshaw a free diving devotee. In 2015, he withdrew from graduate school in Australia to pursue his newfound and rapidly escalating passion for free driving, brought on initially by reading the book “Deep” by James Nestor and diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
Nestor describes the marine mammal diving reflex that relies, in part, on bradycardia and the blood shift from the extremities to the heart, lungs and brain. Free divers utilize those same mechanisms, which, it turns out, are also inherent to humans.
In fact, newborn babies up until about 6 months of age exhibit the diving reflex. Put them under water and they’ll naturally hold their breath and open their eyes. Their heart rate will slow to conserve oxygen, and blood will primarily circulate to the vital organs, where it is most needed. According to an article in Live Science, that “instinct may be a vestige of our ancient marine origins.”
For someone who was studying marine mammals at the time, this connection between humans and marine mammals was fascinating and pulled Bradshaw away from the textbook and into the water.
While Bradshaw says his ego wants to win a competition and set a record, “which might be in reach in a pool,” his ultimate goal is to teach people to free dive. “I want to show people the capability of their own bodies,” which he compared to “magic.”
Bradshaw also hopes that anyone who experienced the beauty of silence while deep in the sea would want to protect and preserve our marine environments.
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, but much of its lifecycle remains shrouded in mystery. These giants gather in just a handful of places around the globe – something which has long baffled scientists – but our new research has started to explain why. A better understanding of whale shark movements could help prevent further population loss in a species that has already experienced a 63 per cent population decline over the past 75 years.
When swimming solo, the whale shark, which can grow up to 18.8m in length and 34 tonnes in weight, travels all over the world. Recently, a group of scientists tracked the remarkable journey of one whale shark across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines. At more than 12,000 miles it proved to be one of the longest migrations ever recorded.
Yet whale sharks are known to come together at just a few specific locations around the world. Anything from ten to 500 whale sharks may gather at any one time in areas off the coasts of Australia, Belize, the Maldives, Mexico and more.
Face to face with the world’s largest fish.Jil Kühne, Author provided
Approximately 20 hotspots have been identified – mere pinpricks in the vastness of the world’s oceans – but we don’t know what exactly attracts the whale sharks to them. In some cases the sites are linked to a specific biological phenomenon – such as the spawning of land crabs at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, which provides whale sharks with the seasonal equivalent of a Christmas feast. Our new research aimed to discover whether there was something else that united the places where these giants of the ocean hang out.
Our new global study shows that whale sharks congregate in specific areas of shallow water, next to steep slopes that quickly give way to areas much deeper water (usually between 200m and 1,000m).
We identified three main reasons. First, the deep water is used by whale sharks for feeding. Studies have shown the sharks diving to depths of almost 2 kilometres (1,928m to be precise) to feed on zooplankton and squid.
A group of whale sharks feeding near Indonesia
Second, the steep slopes are known to bring nutrients up to the surface from the deep, which in turn increases the abundance of plankton and attracts large numbers of filter feeding species. And finally, in shallow water, as well as feeding on coral and fish spawn, the sharks are able to thermoregulate, warming themselves back up after their dives into deep water which gets as cold as 4℃.
Valuable but vulnerable
If you’ve ever seen or swum with a whale shark, it was most likely in one of these relatively shallow aggregation areas. Knowing where these hotspots are has provided local communities with a windfall from ecotourism. In the Maldives alone, economic benefits from whale shark-related activities were estimated at US$9.4m per year. Whale sharks are worth a lot more alive than dead – and with many of these meeting points in developing countries, the income is invaluable.
But with the increasing pressures of tourism comes new dangers for the sharks. Crowds of snorkelers and tourist vessels are increasingly disturbing the whale shark’s waters, and – more worryingly – risk potentially fatal strikes by boats. To protect these beautiful creatures and continue to reap the rewards of ecotourism, we recommend that marine protected areas should be set up around whale shark gatherings and codes of practice be followed when interacting with them.
Whale sharks are imposing, but feed on krill and other plankton.MWSRP, Author provided
Deep mysteries remain
These discoveries have narrowed down some of the key reasons why whale sharks congregate where they do, but many mysteries remain. Do individuals travel between these hotspots? Coastal gatherings are predominately made up of immature male sharks, usually still just four or five metres long. So where are all the girls? And where do whale sharks mate and give birth? Mating and pupping have never been seen in the wild – but, intriguingly, up to 90 per cent of the whale sharks passing through the Galapagos marine reserve are female and thought to be pregnant.
Could this be a key labour ward for the world’s whale sharks? Last year a BBC film crew at the Galapagos attempted to follow a pregnant female in a submersible to watch it give birth, but to no avail. That’s one secret that the depths are keeping for now.