I turned around and couldn’t believe it.
In more than 15 years of diving, I had never seen such a huge whale shark.
The female that swam before me just off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, was more than 40 feet long and looked pregnant with a swollen belly.
But the best bit was yet to come.
When I finally got close enough to her by peacefully swimming through the water, I realised that this magnificent lady had quite a surprise lurking inside her enormous mouth.
It was full of remoras, or suckerfish, as they’re sometimes called. These fish have a symbiotic relationship with many large sea animals as they clean the host’s skin of parasites and eat left-over scraps of food.
As I got nearer, I counted around 50 suckerfish inside the whale shark’s mouth and also spotted several on her underside.
I made a split-second decision that I had to get a photograph of this incredible moment.
It took several tries to capture the majestic giant with her mouth open but finally I got the image I was after. You can see all of the remoras inside and I was so happy with the result.
The image, taken in June this year, went on to score the grand prize of Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2020 Through Your Lens underwater photography contest.
I couldn’t quite believe I had won as some of my favourite underwater photographers were also competing. I felt so honoured.
I’m 32 now and originally from France but I got into diving when I was 14 years old while on holiday with my family on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean.
Underwater photography became a passion in my 20s but over the past few years I’ve taken it more seriously and invested in proper gear.
I use a Sony Alpha A7RIII, which retails for around €2,000 new (around £1,800) and I keep it protected in special underwater housing. I switch between a couple of lenses depending on what kind of shot I’m looking to get.
While my whale shark encounter was awesome, a real highlight of my diving career was the first time I got to swim with orcas. I love apex predators, and orcas are the kings and queens of the ocean.
Striped marlin are also great subjects to photograph, with unique features and interesting behaviour.
Yet when it comes to my favourite creature, it has to be the shark. They have fascinated me since I was a kid and I have dedicated my life and career to the species.
In my eyes, sharks represent perfection. They have evolved over 420 million years, which I find incredible.
For over 10 years now, I have been fortunate enough to spend almost every day in the water with different species of sharks and I would not change that for anything else in the world.
I have been involved with various conservation projects and once spent a year living on the tiny island of Malapascua in the Philippines where I worked with a team studying the behaviour of thresher sharks.
We also looked at the impact of tourism on such a special place.
Today I run my own shark diving company, which is based in Los Cabos, Mexico.
We have a number of different trips running throughout the year, including dives with hammerheads, makos and silkies.
One of the most special experiences is the incredible Mexican sardine run – when the fish travel in huge numbers for safety, which takes place from mid-October to the end of November. We always get mind-blowing images of thousands of fish swirling in giant bait balls.
Luckily, Covid-19 hasn’t impacted us too much as a business, as we run trips with small groups.
I took the image of the whale shark amid the pandemic; I was on a special expedition to document the effects that reduced marine traffic, caused by coronavirus, was having on marine life.
After an hour of swimming with a large school of silky sharks, the captain of the boat shouted ‘whale shark behind you’ and there she was.
Although I’ve been diving for quite some time, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to exploring the ocean. There is just so much to see, and when it comes to living my dream, I would really love to free dive with a great white shark where I live in California.
The seas around here are filled with them and the visibility is excellent.
For others hoping to get into underwater photography, my first piece of advice is to be careful, because it’s addictive.
Then I would caution that all marine life must be respected. Humans are visitors in the sea and some people don’t realise that they are actually disturbing marine life when they’re trying to take a picture – this is not a good thing.
I follow this mantra every time I photograph sharks, for instance, and it means I never witness aggression. It is just a moment to enjoy, interacting peacefully in the pristine blue waters with my big fish friends.
As told to Sadie Whitelocks.
To learn more about Evan’s work visit bajasharkexperience.com