Technical Diver, Virginie Abrial, had the fright of her life when a huge shark passed overhead while she was filming a 100m Trimix Rebreather training dive at Shark Reef. While performing her first deco stop at 65m, Virginie, the Manager of PURE, said ‘I was looking up to get a nice shot towards the surface when I saw the very distinctive shape of a big shark cruising above us’.
Virginie continued ‘I didn’t recognize the shape. The shark seemed to be ‘spiky’ with large pectoral and pelvic fins. It looked like there were fins everywhere’. The strange looking shark passed overhead and then suddenly turned around and came back straight towards them, it passed less than a metre away. I could clearly see it’s flat head and protruding teeth’. Then after two very quick, erratic body movements the 2m+ shark disappeared behind a nearby rock and was never seen again. Virginie continued ‘the moment may have lasted for less than 1 minute but it was magical’. For student Stephen, it was definitely a memorable training dive for his logbook!
The divers returned to the Red Sea College and tried to find some background information or a picture on the internet, but had no luck. They then spent some time reviewing the video footage in slow motion and on “pause” just to check out the sharks characteristics. With the aid of the reference book “Sharks of the World” by Ed Collins, they were reasonably sure they had encountered an extremely rare Snaggletooth shark (Hemipristis elongatus).
Just to confirm beyond doubt they sent the video to Jean Jaubert, the retired Director of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, who then passed it on to a colleague Dr Bernard Seret at the Institute de Recherché pour le Développement, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris Département Systématique et Evolution. Dr Bernard positively identified the shark as a Snaggletooth. Jean Jaubert and Dr Bernard Seret also confirmed that to their knowledge there are no known pictures or film of living Snaggletooth’s in existence. Which made Virginie’s 60 seconds of video footage extremely valuable and of great importance for future scientific research. In the past this deep water species has only been recognised and examined from dead carcasses that have been caught in fishing nets or washed up on the beach.
A few decades ago the Snaggletooth Shark was a common sighting in the Red Sea but numbers have dangerously diminished due to over fishing. The shark is now listed on the IUCN red list as a critically endangered species. Virginie said ‘I hope that this is not one of the last remaining Snaggletooth Sharks? I’m looking forward to bumping into it again at Shark Reef. Natural encounters are one of the main reasons why I like to dive with a CCR, Closed Circuit Re-breather’. PURE (Professional Underwater Rebreather Explorers) is a Tech Diver training facility based inside the Red Sea College at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
The video footage of the Snaggletooth Shark can be seen at YouTube.