Ralph A. Clevenger is donating his large-scale photographs to the Maritime Museum after the show.
Ralph A. Clevenger

Let’s be honest ― sharks are terrifying. But as top ocean predators, they’re essential to the delicate ecological dance that keeps our planet in balance, so it’s important we understand them.

Hitching rides on a research vessel, Santa Barbara–based nature photographer Ralph Clevenger has gone face-to-face with these hulking carnivores to “demystify” them, as he said, and help do away with their reputation as mindless man-eaters.

Over the years, Clevenger has made several cage dives off the coasts of Australia and Guadalupe Island, and he described the sharks’ careful curiosity each time they circled out of the depths to inspect him. “You can definitely feel their eyes on you,” he said.

On Thursday, October 18, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will host a free wine and cheese reception to unveil Clevenger’s new exhibit, a collection of large-print shots of the sharks he got to know. By the end of every trip, he said, by watching their behavior, he’d start to recognize them individually. And he’d start to feel almost comfortable enough to swim without protection. Almost. “I was tempted,” he said.

Clevenger said the show is meant to highlight not just the sharks themselves but also the dwarfing experience of being among them. “I wanted to convey the relationship of people to the animal,” he said. “That’s why I show a lot of divers and cages.”

Clevenger recommends the experience. Anyone can do it, he said. You don’t even need a SCUBA license, because on chartered trips, air is pumped directly to divers from a line on the boat. Who’s game?

For more information, and to RSVP for the opening reception, visit sbmm.org.


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