Changing Planet

Gabon Expedition: Sharks!

Mike Fay’s exploration of Gabon’s untouched wilderness led to 11% of the country being named national park land. This inspired Enric Sala to explore and help protect similarly pristine areas of the ocean around the world. Now the two explorers go back to the beginning to explore the murky waters off the coast of this African nation.

Off Cape Lopez, in the center of Gabon’s coast, there is an underwater canyon that starts near the surface and descends to 150 meters, meandering along the bottom like a river canyon. In fact, this canyon was an ancient river valley, formed more than 10,000 years ago when sea level was more than 100 meters lower than today. Now the canyon is covered by a thick layer of mud, which comes mostly from the nearby Ogooue River. We expected this canyon to be one of the highlights of our Gabon expedition.  We deployed the ROV in the late afternoon, dreaming of strange animals living in the mud. But once again, we could not expect what was about to come.

Within one minute of soaking the ROV in the green waters off Cap Lopez, a familiar silhouette crossed the monitor screen in the high-tech ROV control room of Waitt’s research vessel. Unsure of whether we had seen what we thought we saw, we looked at each other and shook our heads. Then another came in, and then another, up to ten. Sharks! Finally, after two weeks of diving and looking for them unsuccessfully, silky sharks appeared in a place we were not expecting them.

The sharks were there as long as the ROV was below the boat, swimming elegantly below the vessel, which was a soft shadow as viewed from the green waters below. We were disappointed earlier, but now we have hope. Sharks are a sign of health. The question is: how many sharks are left in Gabon’s waters? Where else can we find them? We’ll continue exploring for one more week, and keep you posted.


Read All Gabon Expedition Posts


Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.
  • manindra

    pls send animal photos

  • Megan Lemmons

    I absolutly love this article! Sharks are so facinating and I cant wait to learn more and follow you through all of your adventures and discoveries

  • Chedegar Joe Morgan,Jr.

    I was born between two large rivers in my village where I tasted rural life especially fishing in the rivers.I have learn to love the different species of fish and I wish I had the opportunity to encounter sharks and study their behavior personally and I hope to learn more about sharks through your articles.

  • Robert

    Sharks are so fasinating that I always study them.I liked sharks when in first grade I saw a shark video on the projector and they were amazing.Thats how I loved them! 🙂

  • cal

    THEY GROW UP AHHH!!!!!!!!!

  • Andrew Lee

    I can personally vouch that there are plenty of sharks!
    I am working approx. 8 km from PG and there are lots of them visible next to the rig every day. big ones too…

  • Damien ZISSMAN

    So much sharks there, don’t worry they are in high number!!! Go to caillou marlin’s spot and you will see and also in the estuary of Libreville!

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