Get to know Chris Fallows Q:
How did you become so interested in Great White Sharks?
I grew up going to game reserves in Africa and developed a love of wildlife from this. When we moved to the coast my love of the sea grew stronger and I started a tag-and-release program with the local fishermen, helping free sharks from nets. One day we caught a young Great White, and this sparked a fascination for me for Great Whites. In 1991, a research group offered me a volunteer position working with Great White sharks. In 1996, I started my own company African Shark Eco Charters. In 2000, along with my wife Monique, we split away from this company and formed Apex Shark Expeditions which focuses on the entire spectrum of sharks and wildlife in the area. In 1996 we discovered the unique breaching behaviour of sharks at Seal Island and I went on to photographically document it.
Ever since the "Jaws" movies, Great White Sharks have been perceived as fearsome monsters, but your photography shows how breath-taking and beautiful they can be. Do you hope to change how people think about these sharks by offering a better understanding of their role in nature?
Absolutely! All the pictures I take and documentaries we have been involved in have a strong conservation slant to them. The best way to change perceptions is by showing people how graceful the Great White Shark is.
How has technology changed our understanding of Great White Sharks?
Technology has allowed us to share information with people who otherwise would never have the chance to see the shark. In terms of innovation, directors, such as Jeff Kurr, have used technology to delve deeper into the mysterious world of the Great White.
In the "Air Jaws" specials, you go to great extremes to capture footage of sharks breaching. What's the craziest thing you've done to get the right shot?
Undoubtedly being towed behind our vessel on a seal sled to get a seal's view of what it is like to be hunted by a Great White. I have personally recorded more than 9,000 predatory events, so I had a good idea of whether the sled would get hit, but my heart was certainly racing when I was on that thing.
You've been tracking the sharks off of Seal Island since the late '90s. Have you seen changes in their behaviour during that time? Have they become better hunters?
No, I wouldn’t say they have become better hunters. What you notice is that each season is different. Some years sharks arrive early. Others, leave late. What the trigger is, we do not know. What is interesting, though, is that many of the same sharks return year after year and this is their hunting ground and kingdom. What is even more fascinating is that each individual Great White Shark has its own personality.
In the 2012 "Air Jaws" special, you spend a lot of time exploring the behaviour of Great Whites in the shallow waters off of Mossel Bay. What new things did you learn from seeing them in this environment?
The biggest thing we learned is just how often they are actually in contact with people. They are swimming amongst them all the time in this area, yet there are very few shark attacks. Sadly we also learned that there is a very active sport fishery off the beaches in this area, so the sharks once again have far more to fear from us than we do of them.
The popularity of the "Air Jaws" series, means you've practically become the human face of Discovery's Shark Week. What's your sense of how the public perceives your work?
Firstly, I think a lot of the credit for the "Air Jaws" series needs to go to Jeff Kurr, who has directed all the shows. He is an incredibly innovative man and an outstanding cameraman who understands his subject and so can capture the essence of the animal perfectly. We get hundreds of emails with feedback about how grateful people are to us for showing the true side of Great Whites. It's very gratifying to know that in some way we are helping.
What's your next project?
To find places where Great Whites are not currently known to frequent and blaze a few more trails. We have some great ideas lined up and hopefully Discovery audiences around the world will have a few more entertaining shows in years to come.