Professional marine photographer Mauricio Handler almost shot what perhaps could have been one of the most gruesome images ever taken underwater. Handler nearly witnessed, with camera in tow, a diver almost swallowed alive by a giant whale shark. The horrific event nearly happened while the whales were having a feeding frenzy near Isla Mujeres, Mexico. More than 600 whale sharks measuring 40-feet long converged to feast on tuna spawn. When a diver unwittingly, got too close for comfort, a feeding whale shark instinctively did what any hungry creature does; open its giant mouth.
Very fortunately, the diver escaped the shark’s jaws, which has up to 350 rows of gnarly teeth. These animals don’t see very well, and if it actually gobbled-up the diver, probably would have expelled him out. Whale sharks normally feed on plankton, krill, macro-algae, Christmas Island red crab larvae and small nektonic life such as vertebrates or small squid. The whale shark also feeds on small fish and the clouds of eggs and sperm during mass spawning of fish shoals. Still, it is extremely intimidating and maybe even more humbling when the world’s largest fish with a mouth which measures up to 4.9 feet wide narrowly misses you for a meal.
The Maine-based Handler frequently heads diving expeditions. “‘I feel as if it is my job to show people what they have never seen before. I’m there trying to get a unique angle so I put myself on the edge, right in the action. I want people to realize these animals are here but one day they will not be.” Well, ‘right in the action’ he surely was, with this rather harrowing incident that luckily was not consummated.
Handler, 49, and a father of two, said, “The picture of the diver staring into the gaping jaws of the shark was an incredible adrenaline rush.”
‘They are beautiful animals and are incredibly docile. Once I was accidentally hit by a whale shark when I failed to get out of the way in time while it was feeding,” Handler relates, dispelling any real danger when the giant sharks are near. “It gave me a good whack as it went by and I certainly felt it.”
On the hardware they bring undersea, handler says they spare no expense. “We use very hi-tech equipment to capture a very raw moment on camera.” He is also quick to point out that these sea creatures won’t be here forever. “We are treating the ocean like a supermarket and not allowing it to heal itself.”
Visit Handler’s website to view his other works.