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Swimming with Sharks

Jim Scheiner’s pictures of sharks are amazing to observe. His stories of how the photos were captured, though, sometimes border terrifying. But to Jim, an underwater dance with these ferocious hunters can sometimes mean just another day in the office. The longtime Virgin Islands resident first combined his love for photography and diving in the early 1970s, and his life has been led by this professional marriage ever since. Jim started a photography company called Rainbow Visions with his first wife Odile on Tortola in 1986. Although the company started mainly as an underwater photography firm, Jim said they soon found out that “the fish don’t pay very well.” Today, Jim can be spotted around the VI shooting weddings, events and luxury villas. But he also continues to pursue his passion for underwater video and photography. His collection of shark photography stems from hundreds of dives over a few decades on expeditions he has led from the Galapagos Islands to the Red Sea and the Barrier Reef and beyond.


Feeding Frenzy
Jim was quick to pack his gear and leave the office the day he received a phone call about sharks feeding on a sperm whale carcass near the Wreck of the Rhone. When he arrived at the site of the carcass, which was suspended on Black Rock off the coast of Salt Island, he suited up and jumped in. In hindsight, he said he would have waited for a safety diver to follow him. “But I was too excited,” he said. As he approached the carcass, he noticed a group of hungry tiger sharks tearing through the massive adolescent sperm whale. You don’t want to mess with a bloodthirsty shark, especially when they’re in mid-chomp, Jim said, explaining the obvious. “I swam as fast as I could back to a ledge behind me, and the tigers did a figure-eight right over me.” Thinking quickly, Jim’s only option was to use his underwater housing gear as a weapon. “I smashed it as hard as I could on the belly, and it didn’t even react; it was time to get out of the water… I was scared.” Jim swam toward neighbouring Salt Island and scampered onto its jagged shoreline where he waited for help. Luckily, he survived and has the pictures to prove it.

Great White sharks are to the sea what lions are to the jungle. They’re the creatures blockbuster films and nightmares are made of. They’re also very photogenic. Jim dove into the chilly waters of Isla Guadalupe, a tiny Mexican island 36 hours off the Baja Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean, to swim with the beasts. From his enclosed cage, he tempted the fierce fish with his camera’s flash. Of the experience, Jim said, “It was exciting and primal. When I was alone in that cage, I really felt they were sizing me up.”

Whale of a Shark
One of Jim’s favourite dive excursions was in Thailand on Richelieu Rock. There, along with his late wife Odile, Jim met up with about a half-dozen whale sharks swimming harmlessly in slow circles, enticing them to swim along. The massive fish are the largest of the sea, growing as big as 40 feet in length. The plankton-eating fish pose no threats to swimmers, even though they dwarf humans in comparison. “They’re just incredibly impressive to swim with,” Jim said. “These massive gentle giants that are fearless of divers.”


White Tip
Jim captured this impressive panning shot off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The white tip shark was in mid-catch of two parrotfish when this photo was taken. Jim said that shark photography can be particularly difficult because “sharks might come by you, but they won’t stop for a photo. You either get the shot or you miss out. But if you frame a shot where both eyes are visible, you know you’re in trouble.” In such a case, the shark may have spotted himself a camera-wielding meal, he said.

Jim prides his shark photography but mostly shoots them as a hobby and on international expeditions that he continues to lead. He describes his work as “an underutilized commercial asset.” Many know Jim’s underwater work from BVI Cable’s Channel One, where loops of mesmerizing underwater video have been known to entrance viewers for hours. “It’s probably my biggest contribution to the BVI,” he chuckled. “I’ve done more to help parents calm children than anything else.” 

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