It may seem scary to stare face-to-face with a shark, but not for Tripp Markusen ’19, who travelled to Cape Town, South Africa this summer for one month to free dive, conduct behavioral research, and lead diving expeditions.
After being exposed to free diving his sophomore year at The Island School, Markusen took an interest in marine life and diving, calling it his “biggest passion.” Falling in love with sharks abroad, the research program allowed Markusen to intensively study these magnificent creatures.
A film production company hired Markusen to assist in researching sharks and leading client tours. The company, in association with Planet Earth and Blue Planet, two nature programs backed by the Discovery Channel and BBC respectively, aimed to provide students with practical, international research opportunities. To raise funds, students led clients seeking to learn about shark species on guided expeditions into popular areas off the coast of Cape Town.
When Markusen led diving expeditions, he took the tourists to a colony of 6,000 seals who would come to play and interact with divers.
South Africa is a premiere location to research and interact with sharks, where there are 1500 species of sharks. Of these 1500, Cape Town alone has 400 shark species that are endemic to the area. On South Africa, Markusen reflects: “It’s a really cool place, it’s just so multicultural.”
Much of Tripp’s behavioral research consisted of observing and analyzing different species’ of sharks and their mating, feeding, and migratory patterns. The research was based on interaction and observation, Markusen notes.
Able to hold his breath for three and a half minutes, Markusen found that “[freediving] was the best way to interact with them… sharks are so curious, but they’re also easily freaked out.” There exists a misconception about the danger sharks pose to divers, fueled by popular films like Jaws or 47 Feet Under. Markusen explains: “If you present yourself as a predator, they’ll never take the risk to harm you.”
While describing his love of diving, Markusen debated, “It gave me more interest into maybe going into professional freediving.” Before the trip, he was planning to pursue engineering. However, his experiences in Cape Town and at The Island School have allowed him to explore his interests.
Markusen encourages underclassmen to apply to The Island School. “It completely changed my life in a way that I never expected.” For anyone considering getting involved with freediving and similar programs, Markusen urges you to “take initiative, do research… Diving really changes people’s lives.”