A collaborative online community that brings together photographers and creative professionals of every kind to find ways to keep photography relevant, respected, and profitable.

Have an idea for a post?

Want us to find an answer to your question? Interested in becoming a contributor?Email us

‹ Home

September 15th, 2014

A Visit to the Island of the Sharks

Posted by liveBooks

Cocos Island was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997 and has no inhabitants other than the Costa Rican Park Rangers who strive to stem off illegal fishing within the protected area surrounding the island. With little resources and only one boat available to them they do their best under circumstances to keep the marine environment thriving. Photographer Li Westerlund takes us on her latest trip.

There are many hidden wonders in the world still to explore even for the most adventurous. As a photographer and scuba diver with the love of remote dive-areas, my passport is filled with all kinds of destinations which makes immigration officers at the airports on my return raise their eyebrows. Places like Komodo, Alors and Northern Sulawesi in Indonesia, Papua Guinea and Sudan’s Red Sea waters to mention a few. One of my absolute favourite escapes is located about 35-40 hours of open water travel by boat off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Its name is Isla del Coco, or Cocos Island, at times referred to as the Island of the Sharks.

Whitetip on the lookout

Whitetip on the lookout. Image courtesy of Li Westerlund.

The abundance of marine life surrounding Cocos island, which is the only emergent island of the relatively minor Cocos Plate, comes with some of the strongest currents you will encounter as a diver. Thus in many ways this marine preserve not only provides one of the most intensive adrenaline rushes but also some intriguing challenges for divers and underwater photographers.

Abundance of life

Abundance of life. Image courtesy of Li Westerlund.

In August of this year I made my fifth trip, deliberately choosing the rainy season – and does it rain in Cocos Island! – with the hope of encountering enormous schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks that grace the pinnacles around the island. There may not be a real on or off season for encountering these sharks and we all have to remember that the sea gives you what the sea wants to give you, not what you desire when descending into its depth. My preferred time though is between July and September, which also coincides with the time of the year when in the past I’ve encountered the giant whale sharks. And for this year, my trip truly became the trip of whale sharks.

Whaleshark in the deep

Whaleshark in the deep. Image courtesy of Li Westerlund.

Even though we saw scalloped hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, whitetip reef sharks, yellowfin tuna, the enormous school of jack fish that is always present, bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales on the surface, the mantra “May the whale shark be with you” was forever coined among some of us. There are several destinations around the world known for whale shark encounters but most only permit encounters while snorkelling or scuba diving in fairly shallow waters, when they come closer in to feed on plankton. Yes, the biggest shark on the planet lives on the smallest plankton, which is quite incredible in the bigger scheme if you think about it.

Hammerhead in for cleaning.

Hammerhead in for cleaning. Image courtesy of Li Westerlund.

Compared to other encounters with whale sharks, what mesmerized me the most diving with them in Cocos was the thrill of mingling with them in the greater depth of the ocean and how gently, gracefully, they interacted with us divers. How they were curious and almost inquisitive, and not anxious or troubled by our presence. The monsoon rain pouring down over the island affected the visibility most times, making lighting quite challenging for photography but it also creating an opportunity to capture these magnificent creatures in the mysterious fashion they suddenly appear from the depth.

See more images from her trip in her series “Gentle Giants of the Deep” and “Galenaea” at


  1. September 17th, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Bo Søgaard

    Thank you so much LI for sharing your immensely beautiful pictures of natures diversity. And inherent beauty.
    And making us aware how fragile the ecosystem in the oceans are.
    So that we can finally start treasuring marine life fully.

  2. September 17th, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Li Westerlund

    I’m glad to hear that the photos trigger that type of awareness, at least for some people like yourself. I have always wanted to believe that this type of imagery can create awareness of sustainability and conservation needs from a more subtle perspective, without having to resort to shocking and provocative approaches. Thanks so much for your input!

Leave a reply



Learn how to engage your audience and
build brand recognition across social
channels. Learn more...

Free eBook

Search Resolve



Pick your package. Pick your design.
No credit card required.

Start 14-day Free Trial
Compare packages