The Sharkman meets Tony Wu
Sharkman: Tony, I know you started diving at a young age. How did it all begin?
Tony: I’ve only been certified to dive since 1992. Of course, I was interested in the ocean long before that! I spent a lot of time in and around water when I was a kid. I watched every documentary on the ocean I came across. I read a lot about sharks when I was little, because I was fascinated with their
image of power and strength. Later, I read a lot of books on oceanography and marine biology to learn more about the sea.
Sharkman: What made you take underwater photography as a specialty?
Tony: I’ve always been interested in visual art. I sketched and painted while growing up, and eventually became interested in photography. UW photography became my way of bringing together my love for the sea and for visual art.
Sharkman: Your have captured some of the most beautiful images with your camera. Some of these you have recently published in your first book, a book that immediately won you the award for “Best Book of the Year” at the 28th annual Antibes Festival of Marine Images in France. Please tell us something about “Silent Symphony”?
Tony: Well, getting other people to look more closely at the ocean, and to understand the complexity and beauty of the seas is something that I’ve always tried to do. The primary motivation behind undertaking “Silent Symphony” was to open up the “Silent World” to more people, to use artistic imagery and simple, straight-forward text to bring the undersea world to life.
I chose to use the extended metaphor of a musical symphony, because it seemed to fit so perfectly. Marine ecosystems, like musical symphonies, are works of art – beautiful, complex, intricate and subtle. Also like musical symphonies, if one piece is damaged – say the removal of sharks in the case of the oceans, or the removal of violins in the case of an orchestra – the work of art is immediately and severely diminished, perhaps permanently so. I thought that put in this way, it would be easier for non-divers to understand why it’s so important to take care of and value our seas.
I chose the term “Silent Symphony” for two reason. First, to make people think about the implied contradiction in that phrase, and second, to pay homage to one of the early explorers of the sea, Jacques Cousteau, for his work, the Silent World.
Sharkman: Tony, with "Silent Symphony", you have created a living masterpiece.
Besides being an established photographer and writer, you are also a marine biologist, a journalist, and a conservationist. One of your main issues is fighting against the "shark finning" trade. Considering that you are Asian and that you are fighting against something that is very traditional, how hard do you find it to get positive results?
Tony: The funny thing is, I'm not actually a trained photographer, marine biologist, journalist or conservationist! I sort of picked up knowledge and skills applicable to these areas, just in the course of doing what I love to do - explore the seas and share my knowledge with other people.
For the conservation work, it's a long, uphill battle. It's not easy to change culture and beliefs overnight, and it's not easy to discuss issues sensibly when other people are overly emotional, xenophobic, greedy or some combination thereof.
But, as the saying goes, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. At first, it was very demoralizing and difficult, because so few people would stand up and help. Over the years, that's changed for the better. Younger people now are better informed and more likely to voice their opinions. More and more people are helping, particularly with the issue of shark finning, and I'm really encouraged by the changes even in the past three or four years.
Overall, I'm very happy with the way societies are growing and maturing throughout Asia, but I'm also very realistic, and see that there's a lot more work to do, particularly in the area of education.
Sharkman: Yes there is, but you have pulled off quite some good "wins" for Sharks so far. How did your interest in sharks start?
Tony: Oh that's easy…big teeth, powerful muscles, scary faces…what's not to love?! I've been fascinated by sharks since I was a little boy. I'm sure it's fairly common among young boys, the same kind of thing that attracts us to dinosaurs, powerful machines, etc.
I guess the one important difference may be that I actually took the time to continue to read and learn about sharks, to get past the initial media image and figure out that there are hundreds of different species. At some stage, the incredible ability of sharks to adapt and survive became more fascinating to me than the stereotype image of a bloodthirsty killer shark.
Sharkman: I know exactly what you mean. Do you remember your first Shark dive?
Tony: You know, as I grow older, I'm having an increasingly difficult time remembering things in general! Actually, I don't really, because I had so much exposure to sharks. I saw small ones at beaches when I was a kid, I dissected some in grade school biology classes, I saw them on leisure dives, etc.
I do remember some of the more eventful dives with sharks, though. Like being surrounded by hundreds of hammerheads, or running into a curtain of hundreds of grey reef sharks, or stroking my hand across the skin of a great white as it passed by my cage, or being ambushed by a few hundred hungry and frisky silkies, or seeing the small-eyed ragged tooth sand tiger for the first time at 60 metres. Experiences like that, you never forget.
Sharkman: Very true. Do you have any Favourite shark?
Tony: Ahhh, that's difficult. I like them all, for their incredible ability to survive, for their unique senses and for their extraordinary talents.
If I'm forced to pick, I'd have to go with the hammerhead sharks, because of their unique, charismatic shape, and the intriguing theory that the sharks use their unique head shape to "navigate" the natural magnetic roadmaps in the ocean floor formed by volcanic activity.
Of course, then there's the magnificent great white, the beautiful blues, the terrible tigers…
Sharkman: .... the mighty Whale sharks, and the mysterious Megamouths, and the list goes on.
I know that you must have hundreds of them, but which is "The Most Memorable Moment" in your Career?
Tony: When I thought I was going to be eaten by an 11-metre sperm whale. To make a long story short, I found myself on top of a very friendly juvenile sperm whale, in the middle of the ocean, with several thousands of metres of water below me. The sperm whale blasted me with sonar, and was chewing on my free diving fins.
No one was around to help me, and I remember the last thing said to me before I got in the water…"Remember, if it uses its sonar, it might think you're food".
Everyone seems to be afraid of sharks. Heck, just the large, cavernous, toothed mouth of the juvenile sperm whale was larger than most sharks!
Sharkman: Is there some dream you wish to achieve?
Tony: So many, so many. At the top of my list, though, is for people to understand that the oceans can't continue to take the kind of abuse we subject them to - overfishing, shark finning, dynamite fishing, toxic waste dumping, fertiliser runoff, etc. - and stop doing these things! Is that too much to ask?
I'll just keep working toward that goal in any case…
Sharkman: Is there a Final comment or message that you would like to pass on to our readers?
Tony: Perhaps just one thought - that each and every one of us can make a big difference to the future of the ocean. By our choice of foods, by the information we share with friends and family, by the decisions we ask our governments to take, and so forth. It would be wonderful to have everyone pitch in, and help work toward a sustainable future for the undersea world.
Sharkman: Tony Wu, Thank you for giving me the time for this interview and for dedicating your life to teaching and sharing your knowledge with the World.