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Sharks’ feeding frenzy on dead sperm whale

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Choy Aming straddles a dead sperm whale that became the subject of a feeding frenzy for three species of shark off Challenger Banks (Photo by Chris Burville)

Straddling a dead whale floating on the open ocean as its carcass is ripped apart by three species of shark isn’t something you can expect to do every day but it’s something Bermudian videographer Choy Aming can now add to his bragging rights.

He received a text on Sunday from a fisherman telling him that there was a dead adult sperm whale floating in the water about 12 miles off shore on the eastern side of Challenger Banks. Within an hour Mr Aming, along with photographer Chris Burville and a small group of friends, were able to watch the drama unfold as about a dozen tiger, blue and dusky sharks made a meal of the 30-35 feet leviathan.

Mr Aming told The Royal Gazette: “I had two sharks within two feet of my face while I was sitting on the back of a dead whale just ripping flesh out of it. I have never been able to get that close. It’s not the largest number of sharks I have seen at once but it was just pretty intense over all because the feeding was quite ravenous.

“We were on Chris’s boat but once I saw the sharks sticking their heads out of the water I thought, ‘I’ve got to climb on the whale’. I was probably sitting there for 45 minutes with my GoPro camera but it was very shaky and unstable — when the swells came the whale would roll.

“I wore my mask and fins because I genuinely thought there is a good chance I would roll off and if I did at least I would have a good chance of seeing everything and be able to move out of harm’s way.”

Mr Aming spent eight years satellite tagging sharks along with the late Neil Burnie as part of the Bermuda Shark Project and said he was able to observe feeding behaviours that were new to him.

“They were really in a different mindset — I have never been able to put that much chum out before.

“Probably the biggest tiger was probably in the nine to ten feet range and at one point I saw him bury about three feet of his head inside the whale.

“When we go out tagging and put a marlin head in the water, the sharks take in turns in a sort of pecking order. This time because it was so large three or four could feed uninterrupted — if you give them enough bait they will all have a go.”

Mr Aming said that above the water — aside from severe sunburn on its skin — the carcass was relatively unscathed but from below the surface massive bite marks had opened up the body.

Mr Burville was able to get into the water to take some shots of the action. He said: “The ocean delivered us quite a bounty and it was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my whole life. I did have to nudge one tiger out of the way with my camera when he got a bit curious but we have a lot of experience when it comes to how to behave around these predators.

“My favourite part was seeing the blue sharks — they are like a sleek torpedo and their skin sparkles and shimmers in the sun. It felt was like it was a gift from Neil [Burnie].”

The footage may be included in the Ocean Vet series starring the late Mr Burnie, which is scheduled to be aired on major networks.

Mr Aming said that despite it being an amazing experience, it was also rather unpleasant.

“Marine mammals can sunburn very easily and because the carcass was sitting there baking in the sun there were literally these massive sheets of baked off whale skin — I am still trying to get it out from under my nails and I think I am going to have to throw my wetsuit away.

“When you got a big wave and the internal organs would be exposed to the air the smell was unreal I literally had my hand in front of my face thinking this is one of the most horrendous smells ever. I was covered head to toe in dead whale skin and oil.”

Choy Aming gets up close and personal with hungry sharks as he sits atop the dead sperm whale (Photo by Chris Burville)
Ocean adventure: three species of sharks were seen feeding on a dead sperm whale at Challenger Banks on Sunday (Photo by Chris Burville)
Sharks feed off the carcass of a sperm whale off Challenger Banks (Photo by Chris Burville)