July 22, 2024

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One Photographer’s Close Encounter with a Swordfish

4 min read
An image of a swordfish swimming underwater.
A swordfish comes a little too close for comfort in this encounter with the author.
Kevin Dodge

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February 2015: On one picturesque day, a departure from the routine led to a remarkable encounter that would leave an indelible mark in my mind. Having spent the prior day chasing tarpon near the Marquesas in the Florida Keys, we set our sights on a new challenge: swordfish. Angler Krissy Wejebe was after one, a catch she’d been chasing for months.

On this clear winter day, the sun had started its gentle descent as Capt. Kevin Rowley moved Wejebe’s late father’s iconic boat, Spanish Fly, farther offshore. Then, just as the remaining daylight dwindled, we finally managed to hook a sword, and the fierce battle between angler and beast ensued.

As the swordfish emerged from the depths, it circled the boat close to the surface; I prepared myself and hopped in to photograph it. An attempted gaff shot only agitated the fish as it turned and locked eyes with me. With a sudden burst of energy, it charged. Time seemed to slow down as it instinctively showed its intention: to strike me directly in the chest with its bill. I could tell it wanted to kill me. A surge of strength driven by adrenaline caused me to react and let out a loud scream. I reached out and grabbed its bill in a move that simultaneously felt desperate and calculated as I pushed the sword down between my legs. Its powerful body collided with mine, and as a former quarterback, I felt as if I had just been hit by a linebacker. I hesitated for a moment, torn between my instincts and the cautious advice from those on the boat to get out of the water.

Despite those calls, I decided to stay in a little longer, intent on capturing a few photos. But it wasn’t until both I and the fish were on board that Wejebe asked, “What’s up with your shorts?” Only then did I realize the full extent of this swordfish encounter: the fish’s sword had pierced through the front and back of my shorts between my legs, barely missing my femoral artery.

It was a surreal realization—a testament to the power and precision of a creature that had come so close to changing the course of this day—and a humbling reminder that learning comes only by way of experience. Fortunately for me, this experience—or perhaps a twist of fate, or even divine intervention—had spared me from a potentially lethal injury.

Three anglers hold up a swordfish.
Dodge’s story is a cautionary one, a stark reminder that fate had thankfully intervened
because it was not his time to face such a
dire outcome.

Kevin Dodge

In the months that followed, news of a tragic incident emerged involving Hawaiian Capt. Randy Llanes and a sword he found swimming in the harbor. He had been speared in the chest by a small, 40-pound swordfish, and even though Llanes was immediately pulled from the water, he was unresponsive, according to reports. The outcome of his injuries resulted in his death at just 47 years old, underlining the dangers of such encounters.

The incident in Kona only amplified my profound gratitude for emerging unharmed from my own experience. And as harrowing as it was, both incidents became a source of valuable lessons for me. It taught me more about this species than I had learned in previous encounters, but the key takeaway was that a swordfish’s unpredictability is just that, unpredictable. And no amount of preparation can keep you safe from that.

Read Next: Check out more of Kevin Dodge’s underwater photography here.

The ocean, with all its mysteries and risks, demands respect and a continuous quest for knowledge. Jumping into the water with a hooked swordfish is an exhilarating endeavor, but it is extremely dangerous, and I would never recommend that anyone do so, ever. It requires a skill that only a handful of people have acquired and a constant awareness of the nature of these gladiators of the deep. I’m just glad I’m still here to tell the tale and perhaps bring attention to the fact that even though you might think a swordfish is too tired to take you on as his adversary, he is still at full attention—very much like a dog on guard, fur standing up and bristling, conveying a determined message to an intruder.

What most lingers in my mind, just under consciousness, is the swordfish’s eyes. The blackness radiates an intensity that speaks of an ancient purpose, of both death and primal instinct. And in an instant, that intense gaze can be transformed into a rapid, determined demonstration of power that is ready to strike.
Let this story be a cautionary one, a reminder that all billfish—especially swordfish—demand the same respect as any other predator. And sometimes it’s best to stay away from playing games with Mother Nature because most times, the prizes won’t give you a second chance.

Photographer Kevin Dodge is a third-generation Miami native who has spent the last 20 years covering the world of high fashion and other elegant subject matter. As an avid freediver and lifelong watersports enthusiast, Dodge has turned his lens to capture the beautiful—and, at times, dangerous—underwater world, which belongs to a vast collection of sea creatures. Dodge’s work invites the viewer to pause and take a moment to celebrate the silent oceanic marvels that few are privileged to witness. His work has been featured in numerous international magazines and media, including Marlin. Check out his website for more: dodgeocean.com. —Capt. Jen Copeland


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