Believe it or not: sharks can fly

 
 
 

Misconceptions about South Africa are downright hilarious. We ride pet lions. We all knew Nelson Mandela personally. And our sharks can fly. That last one is a bit different. It’s not a myth. “I mean a great white shark is a famous animal. But flying great white sharks? That’s very difficult to beat,” Chris Fallows says. As absurd as it sounds, there is truth to these remarks.

Fallows made the remarkable discovery in 1996 at Seal Island, in the northern half of False Bay. He’d heard of a strange phenomenon involving thousands of seals that populated an island and the sharks that circled it. Fallows was 23 at the time, curious and reckless. Together with three friends, he approached the island on an inflatable boat, throwing out a bright yellow life jacket. Within seconds, a great white flew into the air to retrieve the jacket before spitting it out. So the stories were true. The shark had mistaken Fallows’ decoy for a seal. “We saw great white sharks taking to the air in spectacular bursts of flight,” Fallows says. “It was the first time it had been seen anywhere in the world.” In the 22 years since his first experience at Seal Island, Fallows has embarked on thousands of trips to photograph the fierce contests between hunter and hunted.

The world has noticed. National Geographic and the Discovery Channel have featured Fallows’ images. Through his company, Apex Shark Expeditions, Fallows has guided people from around the world, including Bill Gates, to Seal Island. He facilitated more than 50 documentaries on the unusual sight. “It’s what sets Africa and our coastline apart,” Fallows says. But what really stands out for him isn’t the flight of the predators – though it is awe-inspiring. It’s their population.

In the last 10 years, Fallows has encountered only half the number of sharks that he did in his first 10 years of photographing them. “Unfortunately we’re seeing a big decline in great white sharks along the South African coastline due to shark long-lining,” Fallows explains. “So we really need to do whatever we can.” Through his photography, he showcases the splendour of our flying sharks to our country and the rest of the world. “It’s a great privilege to represent South Africa,” Fallows says. “But more importantly, to represent the wildlife that I work with.” His images preserve a spectacle that may one day just be an extraordinary memory.