On a recent lobster trip I was the only photographer onboard doing my duty as a reporter and editor for this publication. The rest of the boat were fervent lobster hunters. A few were spearfishing as well. Those who know me know I don’t have any problem with hunting so long as it is done legally and ethically. Although I have not shot a fish in years, I used to be an underwater hunter and, occasionally, still take lobster.
On this particular dive I was told by the charter boat skipper there were angel sharks in the area. Although I’d seen them before, I’ve never got a decent photo. Here was my opportunity. Several of the hunters overheard the conversation and the hunt was on. Nobody said, “don’t” because there was no sport in it. It is in that perhaps I am possibly partially responsible as to what eventually transpired.
I hit the water first camera in hand. Within five minutes I had found one and started the camera clicking. She was a magnificent specimen–five feet long–with beautiful eyes. I was able to approach within a foot and got some great shots, but it was buried in sand so I gave it tickle under the chin and it shuttered a little shaking the sand from its back. More great photos. It almost seemed a trust was developed. But I had fear well up in my throat as I knew the spearfishermen would soon be on their way. A few minutes later I was done with my photography. I tried to shoo my new friend into deep water but she would not go. Finally she settled into a groove in the sand bottom and began to cover herself with sand. I helped. Well concealed I left at least knowing that she was well hidden.
I finished my dive happy that I gotten some great images. Within ten minutes of returning the boat, one of the spearfishermen returned to the boat with an angel shark shot through the head. I thought I was going to vomit. Was this my angel? Anyone that knows angel sharks knows that they are placid bottom dwellers and not fast swimmers. There was no challenge or sport in shooting this shark. It is like asking your family dog to sit and stay, then shooting it in the head.
What they did was “legal” by California Fish and Game law. But was it ethical? As they carved the shark up I was sickened, then depressed. What am I to think? I said nothing but you could tell my reaction. I expressed my feelings to only one other diver on the trip, but he did not agree.
How am I supposed to feel? There is now one less angel in the sea.