My shark photo took over the internet, inspiring countless fakes and real awareness

We set out to track great white sharks. But when the tables were turned, a surprising photograph went viral.

Sometimes the best images are not the ones we plan for. Back in 2003 I was a marine biologist studying kelp forests for my Ph.D., but really I was rushing headlong into becoming a photographer. 

I’d become convinced that I could make a bigger difference in conservation with images than with research. So instead of revising thesis chapters, I began spending most of my time making pictures. Increasingly those photographs were of great white sharks, a newfound obsession fueled by my friendship with biologist Michael Scholl of the White Shark Trust. Great whites were big, bold, charismatic—and in dire need of an image makeover. 

One summer day Michael alerted me to a puzzlingly large number of sharks near South Africa’s southern tip: nearly a dozen great whites concentrated along a one-mile stretch of beach, patrolling water less than six feet deep. They lurked right behind the breaking waves, just a stone’s throw from the shore. It didn’t take me long to make a plan and pack my gear to join him there. 

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