For centuries the Afar people of Djibouti have told stories of a sea monster that lives in Goubet al-Kharab (the Pit of Demons), a loch at the western end of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Jacques Cousteau visited the region in the 1980s, investigated the legend and disclosed that he saw the dark shape of a gigantic fish at great depth. He reportedly placed a dead camel in a shark cage and lowered it to the bottom of the gulf. When he raised the cage it was crushed and the camel was gone.
Thirty years later I am in the same spot – alone, underwater and in total darkness. A narrow beam of light descends from the ship and I am just outside it. Dark shapes appear and disappear, like ships looming in and out of fog.
This was not my first encounter with sharks in Arabia’s seas; my relationship with sharks and this fascinating region goes back a long way. I first came across sharks at the age of 16, off the southernmost tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. A huge school of barracuda was circling like an overcrowded carousel along the wall of Shark Reef and weaving in and out of the mass was a trio of blacktip sharks. I tried to get close, but the current held me at a distance. The sharks were mere specks in my photographs, but the seed had been planted: I wanted to get closer. This, my first visit to Arabian waters, proved to be life changing, for it was here that I fell under the spell of sharks and this extreme realm where the desert meets the ocean.