Recife is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Brazil, the city’s vast skyline sprawling to the shore, where two rivers empty into the Atlantic. It’s also one of the world’s most notorious shark haunts.
For the past several months, Daniel Botelho has attempted to illustrate the urban Recife sharks with a single image, while on a long-term assignment for National Geographic.
It was such a difficult task, Botelho said, that his editor did not believe it could be completed. The editor wanted a split-level image that showed the shark beneath the surface and the nearby skyline above the surface.
Botelho, a Brazilian who has traveled the world photographing sharks, took this as a personal challenge, and recently, after about 30 shooting days and more than 200 hours in the water, he succeeded magnificently.
The image atop this post is that of a large blacktip shark that buzzed Botelho for the briefest of moments, allowing time only to frame and snap two quick shots. The second image also accompanies this post.
“The shark is only 50 meters from the shore,” Botelho said. “I have people saying, ‘Hey, that is my building, my home, in the background of that photo.’”
National Geographic features the image in its April issue in Brazil and Latin America. The U.S. release could be next month.
Recife is in the state of Pernambuco. Over the years, sharks have attacked at least 55 people, killing at least 16, off Pernambuco. Many of those attacks were beyond Recife, and Botelho said that three people were killed by sharks off Recife last year.
National Geographic’s story focuses on the recent emergence of Recife as a major shark-attack hot spot.
But Botelho was not daunted in trying to capture the perfect image. He describes himself as a shark whisperer and said his assignment represented “a dream and a challenge, diving and interacting with sharks in a place where people were dying.”
He did not use chum or bait, but instead followed fishermen and spear fishermen, knowing that those activities attract sharks. But the murky water and swiftness of the predators presented such challenges that Botelho, after 30 days, was about to give up.
“On the final last day I was almost giving up and feeling sad when a fisherman fought a fish at the bottom,” Botelho said. “I was on the surface when I saw the guy coming up with the fish and a shark came following him for the catch. I had only my camera as a shield, and I knew the shark would be looking for the fish.”
The shark was after the fish. It swirled just in front of Botelho, its dorsal fin breaking the surface just at the right time. Moments later, Botelho was climbing aboard his boat, epic challenge met.
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