The Sharkman meets Howard Hall
Sharkman: How long have you been interested in the underwater world and how did it start?
Howard: I started diving at age 16. I’ve been interested in marine wildlife and exploration all my life.
Sharkman: You started with still photography and went all the way to producing your own films. How did the breakthrough come about?
Howard: I worked at a dive store in San Diego in 1976. The owner, Chuck Nicklin, was a well known underwater cinematographer. He had been hired by Al Giddings to work on the Peter Benchley motion picture, “The Deep”. Due to my relationship with Chuck, I was hired to come and spear fish to attract sharks for the shark sequences of the film. I made $125 a day. I took all the money I made and hired a machinist to copy the design of a 16 mm Cousteau torpedo camera.
Later, when talking to Stan Waterman, who was co-director of underwater photography for “The Deep”, I mentioned I had shot some interesting Blue shark footage (actually this was a test roll to see if the camera worked properly). He asked to see it. He was impressed and used the footage to secure a contract to make a shark film. He then hired me to work as second cameraman. At the time, he had no idea, that I was entirely without experience.
Sharkman: Over the years, your diving and filming adventures have brought you in close contact with many sharks, but which was your first shark encounter, and how did you react?
Howard: I was spear fishing off the coast of San Diego in 1974. I had speared a small Barracuda and attached it to a stringer on my weight belt. During my swim back to the beach, I was struck in the legs by something large. When I looked down, I saw a large shark approaching from underneath. It was probably a Blue shark. I shot it with my gun, and it left, trailing a cloud of green blood. It took me nearly a year to get my courage up to resume spear fishing.
Sharkman: You directed and produced “Island of the Sharks” for IMAX. I own a copy of it and I love it. There are some fascinating and breath taking underwater shots involving sharks that seem to have involved taking some risks. Was there ever any dangerous situation you were in?
Howard: Filming the baitball sequences with both Silky sharks and Striped Marlin were dangerous. If you are engulfed by the school of fish as the sharks or Marlin are hitting it, you could easily be hit by mistake. I had several especially close calls with the Marlin. They came through the school at high speed and several times missed me by inches.
Sharkman: I think it was in 1985 near Guadalupe, when you were working on the “Wild Kingdom” project along with Marty Snyderman, Tom Allen and Jeremiah Sullivan that you, Tom and Marty returned to the cage to find a Great White shark circling. Can you please tell us about this experience.
Howard: We were down stream in the current about 75 meters from the cage. We heard a loud banging noise. This was Jeremiah pounding on the cage with a frozen tuna fish. We followed the trail of chum back to towards the cage and when we were close enough to see it, we noticed a fourteen foot Great White shark was circling the cage. This was the first time any of us had seen a Great White and being outside the cage was not the ideal situation for the experience. It was every man for himself, as Marty made a dash for the swim step, Tom and I made a dash for the cage door. The shark took little notice of us, and later we again left the cage to film scientists tagging the shark.
Sharkman: Do you believe that sharks should be protected, even in areas like Florida, where incidents are mostly occurring?
Howard: Of course, sharks should be protected. Shark attacks happen so infrequently that more people are saved by fear of shark attacks than are killed.
Sharkman: What do you mean?
Howard: Fear of shark attack certainly keeps many swimmers from swimming too far off shore, or entering deep water at all, thus reducing drowning cases. Nevertheless, the ocean would be a much less exciting and mysterious a place without these predators.
Sharkman: Do you have a favourite shark?
Howard: My favourite shark is probably the Scalloped Hammerhead. Few experiences can surpass being beneath a school of three hundred of these strange looking animals. I never get tired of diving with them.
Sharkman: You have practically dived all over the world (except Malta I think). Do you have a favourite dive spot?
Howard: No, not really.
Sharkman: Which is The “Most Memorable Moment in your Career”?
Howard: Filming Blue Whales feeding off the coast of San Diego in 1988.
Sharkman: You now organise filming expeditions. What are these, and can anyone join?
Howard: When we are between film projects, we occasionally host diving trips to great diving locations. During these trips we gather high definition video footage for our library. We post these expeditions on our website for divers who may be interested in joining us.
Sharkman: Howard, you have captured a lot of immortal images with your cameras, and I wish you many more. Thank you for your time.
Howard: Thanks for your kind comments and interest on our work.
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