Andrej Gajić usually dives alone. At night. In shallow, murky water. He dives in this setting because that’s where and when he’ll find sharks. And Gajić needs to find sharks.
Gajić is more than just a diver. He’s a National Geographic Explorer and a marine biologist. His goal is to understand how pollution affects sharks and skates and rays (flat fish closely related to sharks). To do this he needs to work both in a lab and in the water.
Many of Andrej Gajić’s dives take place at Neum Bay. It’s on the Adriatic Sea. It’s a hotspot for sharks, rays, and skates. It’s also a good place to observe these nocturnal creatures.
The water here is thick with sediment. Gajic can’t see his hands in front of his face. He waits until his eyes adjust. Then, he can make out some shapes. His video camera carries a powerful light. He switches it on. Then he sees them. Smoothhound sharks swim in circles near the seabed. He is a visitor here. He must not make any sudden movements.
Gajić examines an unborn smoothound shark, searching for signs of deformities.
A lesser spotted dogfish rests on the seabed.
Be watchful! That’s Gajić’s motto. Most of the marine animals Gajić sees have no interest in people. But his presence must not cause them stress. He watches the body language of the sharks. Is he seeing any sudden movements toward him? No. The sharks appear curious. But they are not threatened by him.
As they swim around him, he looks closely at their jaws and teeth. He studies their gills, skin, and muscles. He’s looking for any signs of disease. The sharks appear healthy. But to truly know, he needs to look much deeper.
Sharks in the Adriatic
There are 33 species of sharks in the Adriatic Sea. Catsharks, dogfish, and smoothhounds are plentiful. The sharks are fairly small and like to stay near the ocean floor.
In the open water, Gajić’s team has met larger blue sharks as well as lightning-quick mako sharks. Makos may have bursts of speed up to 18.8 meters a second (68 kilometers or 42 miles an hour).