Throwback: Sharks in Cuba

Few people had ever documented sharks in Cuba when we first traveled there for Shark Week in 2015. Our expedition was the first time an American film crew had entered the country since the embargo 70 years prior, and it required a laborious year of negotiations, extensive permit applications and a cascade of challenges and surprises. As we entered Havana, though, all our concerns dissipated behind a veil of excitement, salty, cigar smoke filled Caribbean air and the opportunity to film sharks in waters few people, if any, had gone before.

Scientists and conservationists from Mote Marine Lab, Environmental Defense Fund, as well as leading shark researchers from the University of Havana and the Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) led the trip. Their work is critical to our understanding of sharks in Cuba. The trip had many pioneering moments, including the tumultuous moment a silky shark was tagged in the open ocean relying on tonic immobility techniques, making it one of the most non-invasive tagging methods ever attempted. I'm grateful for all of the incredible people behind this legendary episode and for the opportunity to better understand the coral reefs... and Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba!

August 06, 2020
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Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

A spiny lobster touches my lens in the clear, blue waters off southeast Cuba.

High above me, sharks began to circle the boat. This is a photo from my first dive in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba, and is what sparked the idea to one day produce a Shark Week episode in Cuba, the first of its kind. The coral reefs and shark populations here are some of the healthiest in all of the Caribbean.

In Cuba, giant elkhorn coral proliferate, though they are a rare site in other parts of the Caribbean. Seeing coral this healthy is like going back in time to when all of the Caribbean was this healthy.

Scientist Kim Beach-Ritchie rises from the depths on a breath hold as sharks circle below in Jardines de la Reina National Park, Cuba.

Sunrise in Havana, Cuba. Caribbean sunrises are always so full of color from the dense, humid air, and having the opportunity to witness it from a rooftop in Havana, made it extremely unique and special. Few Americans had the opportunity to travel to Cuba prior to this trip, which was made legally, though prior to the announcement by the Obama administration of the normalization of relations.

A starfish among seagrass with a barracuda lurking in the background, inside a narrow channel in Jardines de la Reina National Park, Cuba.

In Jardines de la Reina, Cuba, Elkhorn coral grows to an extraordinary size, as seen in this photo alongside a coral researcher taking a photo. This National Park, translated into the Garden of the Queen, is just off the Southeast side of Cuba.

While in the seaside town of Cojimar, once the home of famed writer Ernest Hemmingway, I saw this iconic moment that we've all come to know as being distinctly Cuba. The color and vibrancy of the cars is analagous to the culture, which is one of my favorites in the world.

During shark tagging efforts in Cuba, many smaller sharks were caught on lines and released, too small to be tagged, but still providing valuable insights into the area as a shark nursery. The research was being conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund, Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Havana CIM.

Researchers take elkhorn coral samples in Jardines de la Reina National Park, Cuba. The researchers are part of a joint effort between the Environmental Defense Fund, Mote Marine Laboratory and University of Havana.

Researchers and scientists from the University of Havana and the Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) wrangle a lemon shark while conducting a study in the mangroves of Jardines de la Reina National Park.

A large silky shark is captured in the open waters off the south coast of Cuba by a team of researchers attempting to apply a satellite tag to the dorsal fin. This was the first such recorded attempt and is widely considered to be one of the least invasive ways of tagging a shark, though the technique and risks are considerable. As a photographer, being on the front of end of the shark was a bit nerve-wracking, though I knew the scientists were highly skilled and that the shark was in a state of tonic immobility, a sort of trance....that is until the tag went into it's fin.

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