Great white sharks have long sparked our collective imaginations. With their serrated teeth and fierce grin, this large predatory shark is a king of the ocean. And for many years, wildlife photographer Chris Fallows has made it his mission to honor their majesty through stunning images. Some of his favorite and most impressive images show great whites leaping out of the water in a behavior known as breaching.
For as large as these great whites are—growing up to 20 feet long and weighing up to 6,600 pounds—they are surprisingly agile. And nothing shows off their agility quite like a breach. They can actually swim quickly up to the surface at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and fling their bodies up to 10 feet in the air. In doing so, are able to catch fast-moving prey. It's an incredible effort, and one that takes quite a bit of energy. So while great whites can breach, seeing it is quite rare.
For Fallows, who has photographed many shark breaches, his first experience watching a great white fly into the air got him hooked. It was nearly 30 years ago, on a trip in South Africa, that Fallows watched his first shark breach, something that hadn't been documented previously.
“I remember watching this massive great white shark flying out of the water and hanging suspended in the air,” he tells My Modern Met. “Quite simply, it was unreal and unbelievable! My first photograph, however, was terrible, out of focus because I was trembling so much with excitement and really did not do the sight justice, but it was nonetheless of a flying great white shark, and that took the world's most famous predator to a whole new level of cool.”
From there, Fallows was hooked, and ever since, he's been on the lookout for more great white breeches. Over the course of time, he's amassed an impressive collection of photographs that are a testimony to the athleticism of the great white shark. And though he's now witnessed many breaches, he never gets tired of finding new, unique ways to photograph them.
“Each one is so different from the next,” he admits, “some are just magical where against the sunrise water cascades off the shark-like shattered glass, others are powerful where mouth agape a super predator breaches towards you, and then there are those that are simply beautiful where a super athlete performs in a way that leaves you speechless.”
Fallows hopes that through his work the public can gain a new appreciation for the great white shark, which is often misunderstood. He points to a sharp decline in South Africa's great white population as just one reason why we must do more to protect these giants of the sea.
“Tragically, due to gross mismanagement of marine resources in South Africa—most notably, shark nets, overfishing of smaller sharks that great whites heavily prey upon, poaching and bycatch, coupled in recent times with the added pressure of orca’s in our area—our population of great whites in South Africa has crashed to the point that, by 2018, they had disappeared from two of the three former hotspots,” Fallows shares.
“In just 22 years, we managed to lose what was arguably the most spectacular behavior ever exhibited by a creature that had been around for over 50 million years. I hope that my photographs pay homage to this history, serve as a lesson of what we will lose elsewhere if we do not pay attention to the greater ecosystem, and inspire people to see the great white and other predators as magnificent and important components of our planets rich biodiversity.”
To help support wildlife conservation, Fallows has launched a series of limited edition fine art photographs called The 11th Hour. Proceeds from the sales will be used to buy land in Southern Africa for habitat rehabilitation and rewilding.