Say hello to Squirrel. Yes we know it’s a shark, a massive great white in all its glory. Those unmistakable razor-sharp teeth, that huge sculpted jawline and those sunken, yet laser-focused eyes. But its name is Squirrel. How do we know this? Because the photographer who actually took this incredible/batshit crazy image just told us.
Euan Rannachan is the man who comes face to face with sharks for a living. He was mere feet away from this fascinating beast as it swam above him in the crystal clear waters of Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Mexico.
“Fear doesn’t come into it,” he tells us in such an assured tone that we actually believe him. “I guess you could say there are nerves before going in the water to try and capture these beautiful creatures, but no fear. I’m not scared of sharks, I have no need to be.”
As if to ram home this point, we can’t help but notice a huge cast of a shark’s wide open mouth mounted on his studio wall, just over his left shoulder. This is a man, quite literally, at home with Jaws.
“Oh that’s a life-size 3D scan of a 23ft great white female shark from New Zealand,” he tells us. It sits pride of place among his many fascinating framed images of these unique animals. Ikea this is not.
The image of Squirrel went viral when Euan first took it last year and gained him worldwide recognition, but before we get into the actual taking of the image, there’s something else we have to clear up - why’s a shark called Squirrel?
“Good question,” laughs Euan, “I didn’t name it, what happens is, if you’re the first to photograph a shark and log it then you get to name it. I’ve named two so far after my sons, but I’m not responsible for Squirrel.”
Now that’s cleared up, we can talk shark snapping. So, what’s it like to be inches away from one of nature’s deadliest predators?
“The trick is to remain calm,” insists Euan, “they can actually feel the electric current of your heartbeat through the water. This is why keeping calm is so important. Sharks are incredibly in tune with their surroundings. But another very important thing to remember is that sharks want to be left alone. They don’t even like touching each other, and they generally have little interest in humans at all. We’re not a good meal for them, we’ve got too many bones. Sharks want to get their teeth stuck into something much bigger and much, much chewier.
“But the biggest surprise about being so close to these wonderful creatures is the absolute and total silence. It’s just amazing to watch them glide so effortlessly right in front of you, without making a single sound. Zero noise. And when you see them turn on the afterburners, with a flick of their tail to go after some prey, it’s just breathtaking.”
Originally from London, Euan moved to California 15 years ago and his love, passion, obsession (all of the above) for sharks has grown stronger over the years. He’d been into them as a boy back home in England but his new life in the States gave him the possibility of taking his interest to a whole new level.
“I started diving with sharks about 10 years ago, and I feel so blessed and honoured to be able to do it,” he tells us, “honestly, it is never the same twice, there is so much to explore and to discover about sharks.
“Everybody has an opinion about sharks, you either love them or you hate them, but very few people sit on the fence. But what most people don’t realise is just how important they are. They are basically dinosaurs that are still with us, which is incredible in itself but they also have extraordinary regenerative abilities that can be very useful in science, especially in the battle against cancers.
“And I’ve had the privilege of feeling a real connection with some of the sharks I’ve been lucky enough to photograph. Some days I’ve spent up to eight hours underwater in the cage, waiting for the right moment to come along. And when it does, boy is it worth it. It’s actually hard to describe but some of my truest moments of being alive have been up close and personal with sharks.
“Seeing their deep blue eyes, watching as they open their huge jaws to grab a piece of tuna, awesome doesn’t do it justice. They actually change shape as they eat, because as they open their mouths, sea water comes flooding in before escaping through their gills. Watching this first hand and being able to document it is so, so special. I know how lucky I am.”
And he is using his stunning ability to capture these creatures in their natural habitat for good. This isn’t just about grabbing some nice shots to hang on his studio walls, this is about raising awareness about the plight of the shark. Climate change, poor fishing regulations and human interference has seen shark populations around the world drop by as much as 90 per cent in the last five decades.
“My mission, along with lots of other shark lovers, is to show the world how misunderstood they are,” Euan continues, “we need to preserve this wonderful creature and understand they are beautiful, intelligent animals that we can actually learn from.
“Basically they are everything you won’t see in a Hollywood movie about sharks. I’m a huge fan of Jaws, I reckon that’s where my interest started, but in reality these animals are very, very different. Yes, they are vicious predators, but they have to eat, they are not aggressors. They are positively gentle compared to killer whales. I won’t get into the water with an orca, they are absolutely vicious. They actually prey on sharks and kill them by knocking their internal organs out with their nose. Brutal beasts.”
There you have it, from the man in the know, choose Jaws over Free Willy any day of the week.