Alumnus Captures Stunning ‘Deep Blue’ Photography
Mark Mohler ’09 has a habit of being in the right place at the right time. When Mohler’s diving friends shared there was shark activity off the coast of Oahu in mid-January, he never dreamed he’d get this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fishermen spotted a sperm whale carcass along the shore during the week, and local divers anticipated it would attract interesting sea life. That weekend, the whale moved off shore, and a few divers saw tiger sharks feeding off the massive mammal—a rare species in their area. Mohler, a certified diver, boat captain, and underwater photographer, got a call from his friends and anxiously made his way out with his camera.
When he got to the scene, something unexpected eclipsed the rare tiger shark spotting. A great white the size of a school bus slowly made its way to the sperm whale to feed, dwarfing the divers. Two-and-a-half tons of pure body mass never moved so gracefully.
“My friends were out there first, and I was excited to hear that there was shark activity,” Mohler said. “I was almost in disbelief—this was a huge shark. I didn’t expect to see this. It was a majestic animal.”
Mohler said the great white took its time and was not aggressive as it fed for about thirty minutes. He cautiously floated nearby shooting photos. When the divers resurfaced and took their footage to the lab, they discovered something phenomenal.
“We got the response back from the shark lab that, ‘We think this is Deep Blue, one of the best-known sharks.’ It’s a famous shark that people have been looking for, and we got to spend time with it.”
Deep Blue earned instant fame during a 2014 Shark Week episode, claiming she was the largest shark ever caught on video. Although scientists debate that statement, sources estimate she measures 18- to 20-feet and is likely forty to fifty years old. Prior to her Hawaii spotting, she was last seen in Mexico in 2013.
Mohler was thrilled. Beyond the personal experience, they had captured phenomenal footage of this rarely seen shark. In what he said was an effort to memorialize their experience, he released some of the photos online, and the reaction was incredible. Within days, more boats and tour companies scoured the area in hopes of catching a glimpse of Deep Blue. The photos and story went viral. Unsurprisingly, Deep Blue moved on.
Mohler, who is from Greencastle, graduated with a degree in supply chain logistics from Ship in 2009 and moved to Hawaii in 2011. He is a federal contracting officer for the General Services Administration. The move prompted him to pursue diving and his girlfriend, Kimberly Jeffries, encouraged his interest in underwater photography. Mohler is a dive supervisor and Jeffries is an instructor—they stress that new divers must always remember to “respect the animals” and be aware of their surroundings.
“We’re generally more interested in seeing them than they are in us,” he said.
The Deep Blue sighting isn’t the first time the couple’s skills and impeccable timing landed them a cool gig. A few years ago, they received word that some scientists were in the area searching for coral sites. Mohler was asked to take the visitors out on his boat. Turns out, the scientists were scouting locations to gather footage for an upcoming documentary.
“The whole documentary was about warming ocean temps and coral bleaching events,” he said.
Mohler and Jeffries helped with site location, videography, and dive safety for about six months, earning credit as production support for the film. The Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral, won several awards, including Sundance Film Festival US Documentary Audience Award, Peabody Awards 2017 Best Documentaries, UNEP 2017 Champions of the Earth, and more. The documentary encourages education and awareness, offering private screenings, school outreach, and a social media toolkit.
In truth, these opportunities don’t just fall in Mohler’s lap—they enhance what he’s already doing. He and Jeffries are passionate about diving, underwater photography, and sharing “the pristine places that are untouched, and what it could be like. We can make a difference,” he said.
Mohler and Jeffries shoot thousands of stunning photos, giving the public a glimpse of what exists miles from human influence. Sometimes, they also capture the negative impact. “One day, we wanted to go out, and our boat was just lined with trash. We spent the day picking it up and documenting that, showing this is here.”
One of his favorite photos is a small fish stuck in a discarded plastic fruit cup. “When there are 8 million people doing that, it’s enough to make a difference,” he said. “We are sharing the life, sharing the lifestyle.”
He hopes they can do their part to get the message out. “So, maybe some people think climate change isn’t real. But, if we make an effort to change, at the very least, we’re still making the world a better place. Think about it.”
Check out Mohler’s underwater adventures @markshark88 on Instagram.