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UNDER THE SEA 3D

Expeditions Three And Four Southern Australia
Production Journal: June 9, 2008. No one saw the shark coming. It showed up out of nowhere. The moment Mark noticed the 15-foot beast it was four feet from my right ear. By the time I turned to see it, it was less than three feet away. That it got so close without us seeing it was very disquieting and certainly quite exciting. Of course, for something bad to have happened, it would have needed to be in the mood to bite something.

From New Guinea, the diving team traveled to points in Southern Australia and later to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef system that forms a natural breakwater off the coast of Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef is home to some 2,800 species of sea life and 400 kinds of coral. Diving here is world-famous.

They filmed several smaller varieties of shark while in Australian waters but the Great White was their prime quarry. With the help of famed shark attack survivor and marine conservationist Rodney Fox, the crew set up a protective cage and went in hunt of their stars in the North Neptune Islands.

Owing to the girth of the IMAX camera, Howard and cameraman Peter Kragh were unable to close the fourth side of the ir protective cage but, he explains, they felt safe in knowing that, "the shark would have to eat 1,300 pounds of aluminum before he ever got to us. Still, it wasn't an average shark dive because we were often outside of the cage with the Great Whites, and that in itself was a rush.” The most vulnerable stage of the operation would be lowering the cage, camera, lights and weights into position.

The set-up caught the attention of five Great Whites, who circled numerous times during the three-hour dive, allowing for some excellent tracking shots and close-ups. Often they would turn so close to the lens it was impossible to film and once a shark collided so hard with the cage that it dislodged a tooth, which then floated gently and magically down to land in Howard's open palm. A second dive yielded additional exciting close-ups, including a pair of 14-footers that approached so tightly and veered off so sharply that one brushed the camera port with its fin. But the moment no one will forget is when that one 15- footer suddenly materialized as the team was floating out of the cage and unaware.

In retrospect, Howard considers, "What we did was not without risk. That we clung so closely to the cage will seem over-cautious to some; that we left it at all will seem careless to others. One good thing about being a completely alien animal underwater is that nothing down there naturally feeds on you. Sharks don't know what to make of humans; we're not part of their normal diet.”

There are also venomous Sea Snakes to beware of, as well as jellyfish, stingrays and other potentially dangerous creatures. Michele cautions, "You must be careful as you touch down on the sea floor and always watch your hands and feet because you might get stung by something that wouldn't ordinarily bother you but is defending its territory.”

In addition to the Great White encounter, underwater action in the Australian waters included Giant Stingrays spanning up to six feet in diameter, with venomous barbed tails, curious Dwarf Minke Whales that liked to swim in behind the camera and then dart away, and a variety of creatures whose fanciful names suggest what they look like: the Lined Butterflyfish, Bumphead Parrotfish and Potato Cod.

South Australia is home to the Giant Cuttlefish, kin to the Flamboyant Cuttlefish the Halls found in New Guinea but many times their size—in fact, the largest cuttlefish in the world—and every bit as colorful. Here they were also conducting courtship rituals but unlike the more light-hearted footage Howard gathered earlier, this group offered some fearsome and splendidly photogenic thr

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