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Amanda Cotton is one the best underwater photographers in the world and she loves sharing her passion with others. She has recently started an organization called Water Women, Inc. to inspire young women to pursue ocean related activities and careers. Amanda is busy traveling the world to photograph wildlife, so we really appreciate her taking the time to share her shark story with us. You can see more of Amanda’s amazing work on her WEBSITE.
How old were you when you saw your first shark?
My earliest memories of seeing a shark was on television, watching Valerie Taylor underwater working with sharks. It was probably around the age of four or five and I sat enthralled with the sight of a woman swimming with a shark. My mother said I was completely obsessed with sharks after that and apparently I told everyone I would swim with sharks for a living when I grew up.
2. What is your favorite species of shark and why?
My favorite shark is a Thresher Shark. I was able to dive with them several years ago in both the Philippines and the Red Sea and fell in love with the way their bodies move, especially that long beautiful tail. Its movement reminded me of ribbon dancers. They are beautiful sharks, graceful, mysterious and quite unique.
3. What is one species of shark that you would really like to see in the wild?
I would love to see a Goblin Shark. I have been very fortunate to have been in the water with quite a few different species of sharks, but I am always fascinated most by the unusual species. The Goblin Shark, its amazing protrusible jaw and how it captures its prey are pretty incredible. Because it is a deep sea shark my odds of encountering one probably aren’t the best, but a girl can dream!
4. What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I wanted to share this amazing world I saw underwater with as many people as possible. I found so much joy from being in this other realm every time I went scuba diving or snorkeling, I wanted everyone else to feel it too. I was pretty lucky in that my father was supportive of my love for photography from a very early age. When I realized that you could take a camera underwater, take pictures and make a living at it I was hook and went after turning my dreams as a little girl into a reality.
5. Tell us about one of the coolest things you have gotten to see or do because of your job?
I am really lucky with my job, I get to experience all different kinds of incredible marine life, but my favorite encounters are almost always with sharks. As an underwater photographer you have to go to where the marine life is, so I get to travel to some pretty amazing places all over the world. I get to meet other people who are as excited and passionate about the ocean and sharks as I am, which I love!
One of the coolest parts of my job is bringing people out on our photography trips to dive with sharks, for many it is their first time being in the water with a shark. Seeing their excitement and watching their faces light up when they see that first shark is so rewarding. I remember one girl in particular who came with her mom on a trip. The mom wanted to dive with sharks, but the girl was a little nervous and at first said she didn’t want to go in the water and would just watch from the boat. After two days of watching everyone dive with the sharks she decided to join us and we brought her in. I stayed with her behind the group of divers so she could slowly get used to the sharks from a distance. She came up from that dive with a smile ear to ear and wanting to jump right back in. She loved it and couldn’t believe she had been so nervous beforehand. She now talks to kids at different schools and teaches them about sharks and her experience. I love seeing others fall in love with sharks!
6. If you could tell the world one thing about sharks what would it be?
It would be that we need to respect them. This means a few different things to me: it means when we are in their environment we need to respect that they are wild animals and that we should always remember to act accordingly around them; it means that we need to treat their home, the ocean, with respect and attempt to help keep it clean and work to protect it; it means for divers that we use common sense and respect towards them when we see or encounter them on a dive; it also means we need to attempt to protect them, regardless of how a person feels about sharks they are vital to the well being of the oceans.
7. Why do you think photographing sharks is important for shark conservation?
If done properly I think it helps share a different side of sharks, which people need to see to combat the overwhelmingly negative imagery that is out there. Sharks are often made to look scary and this isn’t going to help the people who want to protect them, many shark species desperately need protection right now. Positive imagery of sharks can help build interest and put a spotlight on sharks, allowing for the possibility of funding for the research and study of sharks. “People protect what they love” is a great quote by Jacques Yves Cousteau that is often used in marine conservation and it makes a perfect point. Sharing photographs of sharks that help promote a positive message in regards to sharks is a great way to move shark conservation efforts forward.
8. What message about sharks and the oceans do you hope your images show/inspire?
I want my imagery to awaken a desire to explore in the viewer, a sense of longing to see it themselves. I share my photographs in hopes that it will inspire others to get out into the world, especially the underwater world and experience these things in person. I hope my photographs entice the viewer to get involved in protecting the ocean and sharks.