By Pete Thomas/GrindTv
Amanda Brewer is an art teacher in New Jersey, who assures anyone who will listen that she possesses no great skill as a photographer.
But many aren’t convinced after seeing the vivid image Brewer captured recently from inside a shark-diving cage off South Africa, an image so stunning and life-like that it has taken the Internet by storm.
The image has been shared so widely, and discussed so passionately, she said, that she has had little time to concentrate on anything else.
"Just on my Instagram page alone it has received more than 350,000 likes," said Brewer, who teaches grades 1-5.
The image shows a great white shark looking as ferocious as a shark can look, with its jaws wide-open and fully extended, lunging after two fish heads tied to a rope.
On Facebook the image has been making the rounds on pages devoted to sharks and, especially, white sharks.
There it has drawn praise, but also criticism from folks who do not know the back story, and who claim that the use of bait so close to a metal cage is dangerous for lunging sharks.
Brewer, as pointed out in a story posted this week by Time Lightbox, was in South Africa volunteering with the eco-tourism and research group, White Shark Africa.
She told GrindTv that as a summer intern she was helping to collect scientific data, jotting down everything she could about individual sharks, including unique markings (for ID purposes) and behavior. She also was on board to interact with tourists, to ease their concerns about cage-diving with apex predators.
She confessed that she did not even own a camera before she purchased a GoPro just days before her trip.
It was on a down day that she was able to dive in the cage without having to concentrate on work. She wore a mask but no scuba gear, as the cage was only partially submerged.
Visibility was poor, but she kept her head at or close to sea-level, occasionally looking down.
Suddenly, she said, the shark “came out of nowhere and just kind of lunged out of the water, and I just happened to have had my GoPro in the exact right place at the exact right time. It really was just luck.”
She had the burst setting turned on, and captured 30 quick images. She had no idea what was in those images, though, because with a GoPro it’s hard to check. “There’s no screen or anything,” Brewer said.
Back at the White Shark Africa office, she uploaded the photos to her iPad. Of the 30 images, only the one stood out.
"Immediately it was, 'Oh my goodness. Everybody take a look,' " Brewer recalled. " 'I think I really got something here. This photo is really gonna do something.' ”
As the image began to go viral, Brewer tried to respond to complaints about the use of bait so close to the cages.
An example of the complaints was this from Ricardo Lacombe, on the White Shark Interest Group page: “Bait usage is fine in my book as an attractant, but dragging it at the cage like this is asking for trouble for the shark. So disappointed this shot is getting so much coverage... but a chance to try and educate people I guess.”
Some criticized the use of bait altogether, but most shark-diving companies around the world rely on some sort of baiting or chumming system.
Brewer explained during the interview that the sharks are lured toward cages by White Shark Africa so they can be observed for the benefit of tourists, but also scientists trying to find unique markings, etc., that are found on individual sharks. Bait is never pulled into or even directly toward cages.
“The person was pulling the bait around and out of the way of the cage [to Brewer's right] so that shark wouldn’t go near the cage at all,” Brewer said. “That’s one thing that we learned right off the bat, is that you never want the shark to make contact with the cage.
"And you also don’t want the shark to eat the bait. You don’t feed the sharks; that’s not what we want to do.”
She explained further that the fish-eye lens made it seem as though the shark was closer than it might appear; it did the same with the bait. "The fish-eye lens did me in," Brewer joked.
The shark, she said, was about three feet from the cage when the photo was taken. It veered off, around the cage, where the bait was being pulled.
Regardless of people's sentiments regarding the bait issue, nobody is denying the stunning quality of her image.
Stated Brewer to the White Shark Interest Group: “I’ve been on social media nonstop with the help of my White Shark Africa friends, working to praise those who received the photo in a respectful way and correct those who received in a "kill the sharks!" kind of way.
“This photo has gotten so much recognition and most has been incredibly positive. Now, people are talking about the sharks. Now we educate. That's how you make a difference. If nothing else, we've gotten a few more shark warriors on board and we've explained our case to a few people who only two days ago didn't care about it at all.”