MIAMI (CBS4) – The very moment our shark assignment became too dangerous was when I found myself underwater, in the middle of a dark ocean, surrounded by sharks.
“David, how much more do you have?” asked my underwater cameraman Mike “Mitch” Horne.
Chaos ensued. We were definitely a long way away from the safety of our newsroom, where this all began.
It was November, and Florida, the shark attack capital of the world, was passing laws to protect sharks. It seemed like a simple story.
Starting in a swimming pool, we quickly learned nothing would not be. Just shooting underwater presented challenges, including sinking our cameras. We had two cameras but both worked better as a flotation device than capturing footage. After nicknaming them “Trash Can” and “Trash Bag” we brought in underwater experts to help us out.
To capture video of sharks, three cameras rolled almost all the time… above, below and in your face. Tiny “Go Pro” cameras were able to take us closer to sharks than every before. Sharks bit the camera off on several occasions. By the end of the series, the camera would not survive its shark encounter.
On our first shoot in Jupiter, we found the ocean unpredictable. From flying fish randomly pelting our cameraman… to giant sharks taking too much interest is us. Thankfully, the shark’s curiosity faded.
Our story took us to the Bahamas in a plane smaller than the family van. Once there, our interview, Dr. Samuel Gruber operated with a certain level of craziness… as witnessed by him driving with his door open. But he was definitely the right guy for our story. He took us face to face with sharks… big ones!
Literally four hours after landing in Bimini he had me in the water next to an 11 foot tiger shark. He ordered me to take him down from the boat. I was nervous. I didn’t know how she was going to react when I touched her. “She’s relaxed. Much more than me,” I noticed.
A tiger shark is the third most dangerous shark in the world. This part of our trip was definitely never planned, it just happened. As we drifted down with her past 60 feet I was close enough to see her spots.
The shark is twice my size. During our four-minute swim, she could have taken a bite out of me at any time. Surprisingly, that was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t until I let go that my emotions take over me. It wasn’t a terrifying fear… but a spectacular connection.
Diving with a shark is one thing. But diving into a pack of them is another… despite Doc’s reassurances
“They are not going to bite you,” insisted Dr. Gruber. But all I could think about was how these predators had responded to our poor cameras…. by biting them. Jumping in is my biggest concern. It’s when sharks most often attack swimmers… at the surface.
I shot straight down. Without a cage, I swam next to Doc, who is whipping out fish to feed the masses. The shark swept in. Doc comforts me by petting one. This underwater interview was key for our story. But we soon realized that Doc is 74-years old…
“I’m afraid I can’t understand what you are saying,” he informed me.
He has a hard enough time hearing at the surface. It takes a few minutes to get questions across but we eventually get through it. As we finished up and surfaced he tells us, “Whatever you do, stay young.” Our biggest challenge of the series though, was where we started this story…. in shark infested waters at night. I’m about to shoot, what we call in the business, a stand up. All I had to do was say a few lines underwater. The plan was to get in and get out… fast! Because sharks hunt at night… no one on the team had ever done this before.
As the sharks moved in… I backed up against a reef wall for safety. I began my prepared remarks.. “Good evening from off the coast of Bimini.” All I see are blinding lights. I had no idea how close the sharks were until I heard this… “Guys it’s getting dicey.”
And then it happened a huge shark comes inches from my photographers head. “Lets get the hell out of here,” yelled Mitch. Everything stops as we shot straight up for the boat. I don’t think my flippers even touched the ladder as I leap into the boat… a bit shaken up.
“I was pushed forward and I’m assuming that was a shark,” I mentioned to the team.
We headed home with quite a shark tale and a new-found respect for the ocean’s top predator.
We should note, that we had a safety team present at all times. Swimming with sharks in this manner should not be repeated without professionals present. The music heard throughout the shark series and the trailers, was composed by David Sutta’s little brother, Shawn Sutta and Adam Robl.