MOST OF US KNOW the buzz and excitement of sharing your experience of a shark-dive. Imagine the excitement of hundreds of incomparable encounters compounded in one person’s experience, and you can probably get an idea of how Lukas feels about sharks.
“Sharks are, by far, the coolest animals in the world,” he says. “People can argue for grizzly bears or lions, eagles, snakes or Komodo dragons, but it’s sharks that are just the coolest.
“To me, they are the embodiment of the perfectly adapted predator. They are resilient and efficient, can manoeuvre incredibly quickly and even launch themselves out of the water.
“They have keen eyesight and can sense the earth’s magnetic field to travel huge distances and migrate across oceans.
“The bull shark, in particular, has tools in its repertoire that will blow anybody away. It’s one of the few fish that can transition through eco-systems: occupying fresh water, brackish water and salt water; surviving just as well in the open ocean as it does in lagoons, or even in murky waters 4000km into the Amazon river.”
The energy Lukas emanates when I ask him about the best part of his job is palpable. His face lights up and his voice, usually measured and calm, speeds up as he tries to cram everything in: “There’s nothing I don’t love about my job. I love every single day of it.
“I love that feeling of weightlessness when you descend and begin to freefall, flying through the water column surrounded by creatures that look like they’re from a different planet.”
Whale shark in Mexico.
I ask how a freediving encounter differs from one on scuba: “I love to scuba-dive because you’re able to spend so much more time exploring deep reefs and seeing all the animals. With my research, though, freediving definitely gives me the edge of having closer, more intimate interactions with animals.
“Without the Darth Vader Dark Side noise of a regulator,” – here he pauses and imitates the heavy bubbles of a scuba-diver, “animals aren’t scared away and the silence allows them to show their true curiosity.
“They come to check you out and it helps you to understand how they behave towards creatures that don’t make a lot of sound. Being able to scuba-dive and freedive gives me the best of both worlds!”
His favourite place to dive? “Guadalupe Island in Mexico – it has one of the world’s biggest white-shark populations. You’re normally allowed to dive only in a cage there, but with the Waterman Project I’ve been lucky enough to freedive with sharks in this beautiful eco-system while conducting scientific research.
“Some of the closest encounters I’ve had with the king of the ocean have been here. Swimming through deep oceanic canyons and algae forests with seals all around you, a great white will pass just 10m beneath you through the volcanic rock formations. It’s truly incredible.”
You can believe Lukas when he says that a love for the ocean is in his DNA. Growing up in Essen, Germany, he would snorkel in rivers and lakes with his father and brother, but had access to the sea only during family holidays to Spain.
“I would spend eight hours in the water, until my mum had to pull me out because my skin had wrinkled up, and I looked like a frog,” he remembered.