London-based underwater photographer and conservationist Philip Hamilton gave his son an incredible bonding experience and an unforgettable birthday gift last year when he took the teen diving with crocodiles and sharks in Cuba.
Due to his work on a new conservation project and book, titled "Call of the Blue," Hamilton had been traveling the globe to document marine life in various locations when his son, Chris, asked if it would be possible to join him on his next trip.
The duo took a one-week trip to Jardines de la Reina, an untouched paradise for divers on the southeast side of Cuba, where Hamilton was looking to document the area’s crocodiles, sharks, and its massive mangroves that stretch for hundreds of miles.
While the experience was a thrilling one, it was done with a focus on conservation and safety, not to achieve an adrenaline rush, Hamilton told Travel + Leisure.
As crocodiles can attack by surprise, there were vital safety protocols the two had to follow.
"When you approach crocodiles, you need to approach knowing that if you make a mistake, they may come have a try," Hamilton said.
For this reason, he emphasized watching their body language and ensuring you're always in a position where you're facing them. He said he wouldn't look down, even when adjusting his camera, as it could have become a risk.
Water visibility is another crucial element to safety, which is why Hamilton made sure to get in the water for about 15 minutes and scope out the conditions before letting Chris get in.
“There’s nothing guaranteed with nature, which is why I would never promise my son he would get to swim with crocodiles since the conditions might not be right, Hamilton said. “You might travel across the ocean and travel through continents for weeks but not be able to do it if the right conditions just aren’t there.”
Luckily, the duo was able to stay and enjoy the incredible experience in the water for some time before eventually getting out when more crocodiles arrived.
“It’s such a humbling experience to do something like that and realize how little we truly are in the whole scheme of nature,” Hamilton told T+L.
For Chris, who also got to swim with Silky sharks during the trip, the experience was one he couldn't stop thinking and talking about for days.
“He loves connecting to nature so he was thrilled to experience this and to know it’s something that maybe a handful of people in the planet will have been able to do by his age,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton, who also plans to document great white sharks this summer, knows his son will likely ask about coming on the trip, though he’s thinking the two will start with blue whales in the Azores first.