Mark Healey tags Hammerhead sharks for scientific research
By the power of his lungs and dive fins.
Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man booked a one way ticket to Mars and named Mark Healey as his successor. The valorous gent, when not chasing the biggest swells around the globe, spends his time freediving and tagging sharks. Last August, he trekked out to a deserted island in Japan with a team of scientists and brought along his dive fins, Riffe gun and ability beneath the surface.
Six miles off the sleepy port town of Minami-Izu is an uninhabited island known as the Mikomoto, home solely to one of Japan’s first lighthouses (1870!). The six-member crew – including Mark – came to Japan on a two week scientific expedition. The goal? To tag the endangered population of hammerheads that gather off the island’s coast. In the past years, sharks have decreased in numbers by a startling 90 percent in the area. Blame overfishing and the high demand for that asian delicacy, shark fin soup. The expedition was designed to track migratory patterns, population and advance conservation policies in the region and the rest of the world.
Mark Healey’s GoPro
I spoke with Healey a while back about this same trip. Originally, I was interested in an incident where he and Kohl Christensen attempted to chase an XXL typhoon only to be shut down by the Japanese authorities. “It was like they were one step ahead of us,” said Healey. “We tried to convince them that we knew what we were doing but it was really just a case of concerned Japanese citizens who thought we were going to kill ourselves if we paddled out.”
Kohl and Mark’s pal Kin, trying to convince the authorities that the boys could handle themselves.
“I was in Japan originally tagging sharks for scientific research,” he continued. “I had worked with some reputable scientists the year before tagging thresher sharks in the Philippines, so the head researcher/marine biologist reached out to me. The thing with hammerheads is they have a high mortality rate when you catch them on a hook and line. My involvement was a solution to their tagging issues. I was freediving and tagging them with a speargun, that basically released a tag anchor into the area behind the shark’s dorsal fin and they’d swim away.” Hammerheads are skittish and easily alarmed by the first glimmer of bubbles of scuba equipment, so, Mark, on one breath would dive down as deep as 135 feet, sneak up on a school of sharks and attach satellite or acoustic radio tags.
All alone in a sea of blue.
Mark Healey’s GoPro
“My main concern was spooking them,” Mark told me. “It was hard diving, the water wasn’t very clear and the current was nuking at three knots. I had to get really close to them to put the tags in. I’m not worried at all about getting bit, especially with that particular species.”
“Sometimes I’d be down in schools of hundreds of them and there’s always a dominant matriarchal female swimming at the top,” said Mr Healey. “You have to act like an alpha if you want them to give you some space but I was doing the opposite. I was trying to come in submissive and not invade the way they acted with each other. I was just like, hey don’t mind me.”
All in the name of science.
Once the shark expedition came to a close, after a few scares (from the nervous staff on board) and sharks tagged, the scientists left to revel in the temples of Kyoto and the neon glow of Tokyo. Mark hopped a train to Chiba to meet up with Kohl and chase the biggest swell Japan’s seen in the past five years. And, as noted above, was shut down.
“As a waterman, Mark is unrivaled,” said Laird Hamilton told Outsideonline. “When it comes to riding giant waves, diving deep, and hunting fish, he’s the total package–unique even among us. Most people have the ability to be calm sometimes but Mark’s calm all the time. That’s very useful in high-risk situations, whether it’s riding giant waves or diving with sharks.”
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