Return to Guadalupe Island / Cage-Diving with the Big Great Whites

Great photo by fellow diver Lars Bell

Great photo by fellow diver Lars Bell

November 17, 2013, about a month ago, I flew across the country to observe and photograph great white sharks at remote Guadalupe Island 220 miles off the Mexican coast.  I had made the trip in September with Daughter Dana and it was a great experienceAt that time of the year, Guadalupe Island attracts the young males who crew member Jimi Partington called “the teenagers.” We had a lot of cage action and many sharks, but I came home without seeing the mammoth adult females and feeling as if I had missed something. Jimi had told me they come to Guadalupe in November.  Dana was unable to go due to work, so I made the trip back solo. 

I grew up extremely interested in great whites, and had driven to Montauk to see the head of the great white caught by Frank Mundus off Montauk Point in 1986 which at the time was the largest fish of any kind caught on rod and reel.  For the uninitiated, Mundus was an eccentric shark charter boat Captain upon whom Robert Shaw’s Quint character was based in Jaws.  The shark’s head was mounted over the bar in a little restaurant at the Marina.  I sat for several hours, drinking beers and looking up at that head in complete wonder.  It was so big, it seemed inconceivable that it was real.  But it was. I decided that I had to see one of these giants from a cage with my own eyes.  I got my wish on this trip and will never forget it.  The photo below shows Mundus with his record-breaking catch.

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 Upon our arrival at Guadalupe Island, the first hour or two were very slow.  Then a very large male came up to test the baitsJust as we were getting excited about some action with a big shark, the male beat a hasty retreatBriefly we were disappointed until the reason for his quick exit became apparent.  An enormous female made her entrance and simultaneously made our trip.  She was around 18 feet in length and well over 4000 lbs.  Think about that.  That’s more than two tons of fish.

For those readers interested in the boat, the accommodations, food, crew and itinerary, I suggest reading my first post on this blog called “Cage-Diving with the Great Whites.”  All of these details are covered in-depth in that piece.  This second trip was identical in all respects except for the sharks encountered For that reason this article will be short on text and long on picturesSeeing the “Big Girls” was the whole point of the trip.

Due to scarring that may have resulted from a fight or from mating, we called her Scarboard.  She was the key to making our trip a success and all the pictures in this article are of herWhen an alpha female is at the surface, all other sharks go down below.  To remain is to challenge, and a challenge will likely result in a fatal attack.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and the piece.  If you did, the nicest gift you can give to me is to post a comment at the bottom of the page.  Simply enter your email address (it will not show), post a comment as brief or detailed as you want, and check off the two boxes at the bottom of the page.  Reader feedback is my bread and butter.

To my fellow divers on this trip, please feel free to send me any pictures of yours you really liked.  I can edit the piece, add your shots, and give you credit for the pictures.  I had asked a number of you but only two of you responded.  If you have a great shot, let’s get it out there.

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The striped trigger fish escort the great whites to the island and stay with them a couple weeks. The shark won’t harm them intentionally and the trigger fish clean the sharks hide and teeth, a fully symbiotic relationship.

It is now Christmas Day and the happiest of Holdays to all of you.  May it be a happy and prosperous New Year.


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Here she comes again.

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Hitting the bait, a large tuna head.

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Scarboard was considerate enough to put on a show
for those who were not in the cage as well.


The day coming to an end. Doesn’t that water
look peaceful? It isn’t.

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At the cage, more curious than aggressive.


Mother’s abstracts?


Guadalupe Sunset


The sheer size of Scarboard was evident by
the distance between the dorsal fin and the tail.


Another great shot by Lars Bell

Happy Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas Eve

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20 Comments on “Return to Guadalupe Island / Cage-Diving with the Big Great Whites”

  1. Eliza Sonneland Says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all you posts and this one particularly so. I think JAWS left many of us fascinated with great whites and to this day I wonder what’s keeping me company when I’m in my beloved Atlantic ocean.
    BTW I have two of you mother’s works of art. The penguin family oil she did for Dad and the portrait of Mom. (Sally and Joe)
    Thanks for the terrific reads. And have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. Mark Wurzel Says:

    Nice photos. Were you at all nervous?

    • wjudson461 Says:

      Not really. Although I have a healthy respect for them, I do not
      feel they view us as prey. They’ve killed people before and will again,
      but a tuna or seal would be much more their preference.

  3. Joe Says:

    Great pictures Bill! What an exciting trip. Merry Christmas to you Sue and Dana.

  4. Hi Juddy! I am equally fascinated and terrified of sharks and wouldn’t get in a shark cage for a million dollars, so I applaud your cojones and curiosity! It was thrilling and terrifying to read about your two trips to Guadalupe Island and I am so happy to see that this last sighting made your adventure worth the second trip. She is a beauty, (if you’re into two ton females with battle scars) and I loved the up close and personal shots you took of her. Truly a once in a lifetime experience and I got to enjoy it from the safety of my living room! Merry Christmas to you, Susie and Dana and best wishes for more great adventures in 2014! xo Nancy

  5. Audrey Says:

    Amazing photos Jud! Nice post.

  6. Ronald Grillo Says:

    You have certainly stepped up your game. I remember your interests back in 7th grade were the wombat (which I had never heard of before.)
    Nice to see that you are enjoying life and can take off and pursue your dreams. Though I am not a big fan — well, that’s not true… I am not a fan of sharks at any level… I digress. Just thought I’d let you know that they are great pictures.
    I wish you continued success in your pursuits and a Very Happy Holiday!

  7. Lydia Lukas Says:

    Hi Jud,
    I’m so thrilled for the awesome and thrilling adventure you depicted with the pictures and with your own words. You’re so exceedingly brave!! Kudos to you!!

  8. Ann Reid Says:

    I am so jealous and slightly scared!! You’re a braver man than I thought! What a unbelievable experience… A hard one to top!

  9. Terry Says:

    Holy crap-a-moly Judman! What great shots. Felt kind of threatened just sitting at my computer. Keep them coming.

  10. Gail Says:

    Hi Jud, another fantastic shark story! I so enjoyed our September trip to see the “teenagers,” and I’m really glad you made it back to see the monster female in person. Happy holidays, and please say hi to Dana. Gail

  11. Kristy Limon Says:

    Thanks for sharing your adventures with us Jud!!!! It looks like you had an amazing time. I hope to see the big girls when I return in 2014.

  12. ann forsyth Says:

    Well, you’ve come a LONG way since our little fishing adventures with your dad in the dingy on Manhasset Bay….think we were going for bass then? Wow! I do remember as little kids you would talk about sharks, and you had me scared as hell to go into the water at Jones Beach for years! Well, these photos are gorgeous….breathtaking….and as always, you write a great story. I hope this is as close as I ever get to seeing a great white myself. All the best to you and Susie in 2014….keep the blogs coming! love, annie

  13. Chris Morgan Says:

    Thanks for the incredible photographs Jud and the story to go with them. I had to ask myself if this is the same Jud as I cruise with, together with Sue, on the Seaborne ships.

    Happy new Year to you all and I hope you are not to badly affected by the snow storm!

  14. Peter and Marylou Walker Says:

    We cannot imagine the excitement of seeing the enormous female. And from the inside (we hope) of a cage – jet like going to the Zoo in reverse. Of course, you did have to get to, in and out of the cage and back. That could be exciting too. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful adventure.
    Happy New Year to you and the family and good hunting in 2014.

  15. Moira Says:

    Hey, Bill,

    Hi I’m Bali right now. After yesterday’s tame snorkeling, it’s a bit awing to read about cage diving and 18 foot long sharks. Enjoyable read. Got your message about contact for Nancy. I will check with our Mr. Class of ’71, Larry W. and get back to you.


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