The Sharkman meets Lill Haugen
Sharkman: You are one of the world’s top underwater photographers, but what came first in your life…. diving or photography?
Lill: Diving! I did my first dive ever in Corfu, Greece. A few years later I moved to Brisbane, Australia to do my Masters degree and of course get my divers license. I LOVED it – from my very first dive in Moreton Bay, on the Australian East coast.
That was a very clumsy dive. First I almost sat on an electrical ray, then nearly stabbed myself on a huge sea urchin – no buoyancy control at all. From that moment I wanted to share the undersea beauty, and on my second dive I started photographing, with a disposable Fuji-camera. Not performing too great, I gradually changed to more professional equipment.
Sharkman: You started diving in 2001, and went all the way to becoming an instructor. What made you choose photography instead of teaching?
Lill: I was already too involved in UW-photography, so by the time I became an instructor, I was in reality already addicted to photography. It is hard to choose. It just takes too much time doing both. Even though I love introducing new divers to the underwater world, my passion is photography and encountering the wild wonders of the sea.
Sharkman: Lill, do you remember your first shark encounter?
Lill: YES! I remember my first shark very well. Like most “new” divers and should I say “normal” people, I was fearful of sharks. The very first shark I saw was an Australian Wobbegong – not really looking like a shark, more like a harmless patch of reef. I did not think much of it, and I was not really impressed.
Then a few dives later, I saw my first “REAL” shark, it was a Black Tip Reef shark in the shallows of Whitsundays in Queensland, Australia. My first reaction as it started swimming towards me, was to turn and swim away from it. Afterwards, on the boat, I was getting teased about my reaction from the other more experienced divers. I understood that this was a completely harmless situation and in fact, a very special encounter. So, my next shark was appreciated, stalked and photographed to bits. No more fear – just love and fascination.
Black Tip Reef Shark
Sharkman: We both share that feeling. I saw it in you when we met at the “Best Shark Dive Site in the World”. How and when did you discover Fiji?
Lill: Having spent so much time in Australia, I wanted to return to the South Pacific Region to stay for a year or two after returning to the North Pole (Norway). My partner decided to do an academic degree with the University of South Pacific, located in Fiji. We both moved to the main island of Viti Levu for a year. Neither of us had ever been there, we just assumed it would be cool.
We ended up living on the doorstep of Target. Me being a travelling dive-bum freelancing underwater photographer, I got “hired” (or should we say “adopted”) by the BAD-boys of Beqa Adventure Divers to do identification. I took shots of their Bull sharks, and Grey Reef sharks to support important conservation research studies being conducted on Shark Reef.
Sharkman: Your work in Fiji also involved a lot of research. What was it?
Lill: Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) initiated and is hosting and supporting important research activities in Fiji and especially at Shark Reef for conservation purposes. I was involved in contributing to the shark identification database. This forms part of the Bull shark tagging programme by Juerg Brunnschweiler. The main aim of the programme is to better understand the behaviour and ecology of Bull sharks.
The long term goal of the project is to establish the Shark Reef Marine Reserve as a prime site for shark research. It will also produce scientific data that will help towards the conservation of the various shark and fish species that regularly visit the marine reserve (this has now been achieved).
In order to implement meaningful conservation measures, basic biological data such as population sizes and dynamics, habitat use, nursery and mating grounds, large and small scale movement patterns etc must be known. Maintaining an extensive database about the shark dives is the backbone of the research into population dynamics, life cycles, inter- and intra-specific interactions and questions pertaining to the shark diving industry. Namely the effects of the shark diving operators’ activities on the animals and the optimum procedures one ought to adopt in order to ensure maximum safety.
Sharkman: How many different sharks have you identified?
Lill: I myself have maybe 25-30 Bull sharks photo IDs and probably a few Grey Reef sharks, and one Tiger shark. Our database at BAD has over 100 bulls plus all the other species. I still have many images of sharks that we have not identified yet. It is time consuming, but it was very interesting to learn to tell different individual sharks apart. NOT always easy. I even have a shark that goes by my name. Mike noticed an extra small Bull shark (don’t know why small is associated with me?) and since that shark apparently looked like me, with a fish hook hanging out its jaw – it was a hit and it got the pretty name “Lill”.
“Lill” The Female Bull Shark
Sharkman: Yes, in fact you photographed that shark when I was there. They also named one after me too. "Sharkman" is a large Bull shark with a circular scar on the right side of his mouth.
By the way, Lill. What can you tell us about “Vikings sporting semi-dry wetsuits in the tropics”?
Lill: The BAD-boys, and especially Mike, did not seem to get over me diving with my 5 mm semi dry suit, looking totally “overdressed” for the tropical conditions their opinion. Especially, since I am supposed to be a hard-core Viking. Well, I must have turned quite tropical, somewhere along the way. I love thick neoprene that keeps me warm, what can I say?
Sharkman: Actually, I too was using a 5 mm semi dry, and felt quite good with it. You are also involved in conservation work correct?
Lill: Last year we established a Norwegian shark conservation (anti-finning) organisation, called Hjelp Havets haier (HHH), translated as “save the sharks” or “HHH” for short. Shark finning and overfishing is a global problem. As a huge fishery nation, Norway needs to be aware, and act on shark issues. HHH works for the sustainable management of the world’s sharks. We aim to promote the management of marine resources through research, education, awareness and action.
Besides doing ID shots in Fiji, I also support a number of conservation efforts by donating images to organisations like Save Our Seas, WCS, CORAL, IUCN and many others.
Sharkman: Your awesome photographs have been published in many dive journals. You have even won a few top awards, including the Norwegian Championship, twice, and the silver medal at the 2011 World Underwater Photography Championships. When not underwater with a camera in hand, what do you do?
Lill: My “real” job is in public relations. I work full time as a communication adviser/journalist in the health industry, working with the media and spreading important health messages.
Sharkman: Your photography has taken you all over the world, even to our Maltese Islands. Where did you dive and what do you think of our dive sites?
Lill: Well Alex, to be honest, I had only ONE dive in Malta, the tugboat “Rozi”, and the rest in Gozo. It was great. I loved the fantastic blue water, lots of cuttlefish and fireworms (yes, very exotic at the time) and the beautiful caves! Of course looking for the seahorses inside the caves was like looking for gold – and finding it.
Quite a few nice wrecks, perfect for photography because of the good vis and the great light. Would love to do another trip there someday. Unfortunately the fish life seems to be in deep trouble, that is the sad part. No sharks, no big fish.
Sharkman: Yes, regretfully no sharks. Lill, out of all the places you have dived in, do you have a favourite dive spot?
Lill: Very hard to choose ONE favourite spot. If I have to choose it will be Shark Reef in Fiji. I can tell you that I am finally going to Cocos Island in Costa Rica next year, and for someone that loves sharks I am really excited.
One of the most special places I know is called South West Rocks in Australia. Under the small, exposed rock called Fish Rock, is a submerged cave which is extremely beautiful and it is full of sharks. The Grey Nurse sharks are one of my favourite sharks. I learned to dive with them in Australia years ago. They congregate around the two entrances of Fish Rock Cave, and it is just amazing to swim with these beautiful and unfortunately critically endangered sharks.
The Grey Nurse Shark
Sharkman: Awesome sharks. I was lucky to dive with them in South Africa. You said that they are one of your favourites, but do you have a favourite species?
Lill: Besides the Grey Nurse sharks, which are very special to me, I have to say that the Tiger shark must be my favourite. They are so beautiful, the eyes, the shape, the pattern – and so calm and elegant and HUGE. Whenever Scarface, the 5 metre long female Tiger shark, came to visit us on Shark Reef, it was very special.
“Scarface” The 5 metre female Tiger Shark
Sharkman: I bet it was. Sadly, that was one shark I did not see when I was there. Besides meeting me (ha ha ha), what was “The Most Memorable Moment of your Life”?
Lill: Haha – it was great diving with you in Fiji, and I hope we’ll be doing the shark dive again soon. Still, at least ONE of the most memorable moments in my dive life was a dive on the Australian East coast, at North Stradbroke Island close to Brisbane – Manta Ray Bommie. It was mind blowing. Zebra sharks were scattered all over the place, huge Bull rays were lying next to a dozens of Guitar-sharks, next to more Zebra sharks. Toss in a few green turtles and 3-4 Manta rays swimming over our heads! Never mind the low visibility or the strong currents – this was one of my most memorable dives. Oh … did I mention the dolphins at the surface after the air was sucked up?
Sharkman: Wow. I can just imagine it. Lill is there a final message that you would like to pass on to our readers?
Lill: Our great oceans are home to some of the planets most fascinating creatures – like the sharks. I feel privileged to be able to enter and visit their liquid world. Keep telling the world about our magnificent underwater world, show and share the beauty. Sharks are an important part of it all. At the same time keep communicating the global challenges our oceans are facing – we love the sea, we can save it.
Sharkman: Those words are so true. Lill, it was a great pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your time and for being here with us in Sharkman’s World. I hope we can meet again in Fiji soon.
Lill: I hope so too! How does May sound to you? : )