Eye on the Ball: Swimming with sharks

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO Tim Dalton with his prize-winning photo.
Tim Dalton with his prize-winning photo.

My son is a scuba diver, and one day last week I was looking at one of his diving magazines called “Beneath the Sea.”

I came upon a picture that won first prize in an underwater photography contest, of a scalloped hammerhead shark taken just as the shark was turning, about three feet from the photographer. The photographer was Tim Dalton, a long-time Islander who has lived here since he was five years old.

I know Tim Dalton and I was at the library for Friday Night Dialogues when he entertained us all evening with boundless stories and his underwater pictures. His family moved here in 1958, and although as a boy, he didn’t go to school here, he spent all his summers here. Tim graduated from Garden City High School where he was busy playing many sports, including lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, fishing, golf and track and field.

Tim’s dad, George, passed away a few years ago and his younger brother, Chris, just passed this January. His mom, Dell, is doing well, along with older brother Matt and sister Martha. Tim is the owner of five Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Homes with locations in Nassau County.

It’s a pleasure to speak with someone eager to talk about the things they love most in the world. When I mentioned Tim’s first-place picture award in “Beneath the Sea,” he said he’d entered three pictures in the competition and was thrilled that one of the other pictures had received an honorable mention. That was a photo of an iguana feeding on algae. The pictures were taken in Isla Fernandina in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.

Intrigued by his passion for photography, I asked why and where he caught the bug of underwater photography. He said it started more than 30 years ago in Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, when he spotted two gray reef sharks ripping a grouper apart five feet in front of him. Tim felt the natural wonder he was seeing should be shared with others.

I asked him the question everyone asks a diver: “Aren’t you afraid of the sharks?”

And received the typical diver’s response: “The sharks are not interested in you.”

But he did admit he gets “a little nervous” around more aggressive sharks like great whites, tiger, bull and reef sharks.

He showed me photos of his son TJ, then just a boy, and himself swimming for three hours while taking pictures of whale sharks. I didn’t get an idea of how large they were until I saw TJ swimming with one of them, looking like a squirrel on their backs.

One high-energy experience he recalls was three weeks in the Azores, about 1,200 miles directly west of Lisbon. Tim took the trip with two professional photographers, Nuno Sa’ and Tim’s mentor, Maricio Handler, owner of Aquaterra Films. They were photographing sperm whales and devil rays in a trip that became a life-changer.

Diving with TJ is now the most exciting and fulfilling pastime Tim has. He’s proud and fascinated with how fast TJ has picked up everything about diving and photography. TJ is 23, but he started at the age of 10. When he was 18, he worked at Divi Flamingo in Bonaire, a small Dutch island in the southern reaches of the Caribbean, known for superb scuba diving. While there, TJ became a professional dive master.

Today, Tim says, all divers worry about the overfishing of waters. They claim that 85 percent of the big fish are gone.

I asked him about the future. Tim’s ambitions are to dive in Antarctica to photograph the world’s deadliest hunters, weighing in at one ton and measuring 10 feet in length — the leopard seals.

This July, you can find him 30 to 75 miles off Rhode Island with TJ, photographing blue shortfin mako sharks. In October he’ll be cage diving with great whites off Baha, Mexico on Guadalupe Island. With visibility of more than 100 feet and water temperatures averaging around 70 degrees, this is a place now considered by many to be the world’s best location for photographing the great whites.

In January, it’s back to the Bahamas to track giant hammerhead, bull, tiger and lemon sharks. I forgot to tell Tim so I’ll tell him now: I love your exciting pictures, but enough is enough with all this shark companionship. Did you ever think of the likelihood that just like humans, one of them could conceivably be a screwball?