Félicie Dhellemmes

It all began on the arid Baja California peninsula one weekend in 2012 when I met Ursula and Abraham. Ursula was the biggest animal I had ever seen. I stumbled upon her as I was taking a swim in the murky waters of the Bahia de los Angeles in the Sea of Cortez. Her skin was like a starry night and her mouth like a black hole. Abraham was a doctor who spent his free time helping the scientific team with a survey of the whale shark population in the bay. After apologising for swimming in the protected ‘shark zone’, I managed to persuade Abraham to let me help him for the weekend. Ursula was the first shark I had ever seen and the thought of seeing more like her was irresistible. After a few days of helping Abraham, I met the scientific team and was offered a position as a research assistant for six months on the project. That is how I got into sharks.

Before that I was studying for my Master’s degree in agricultural sciences. I have been obsessed with animal behaviour and horses ever since I was a child and had envisaged that I would work with horses, cattle, big mammals in Africa, birds in the rainforest, aquaculture fishes or even insects. Never had I imagined myself working for a PhD in the big blue, especially not with juvenile lemon sharks!