The Great White explorer

The Great White explorer

SINGAPORE - To ocean conservationist Scott Cassell, sharks are a lot like dogs: intelligent and lovable. He even had a "love affair" with a 1,600kg great white shark called Spots.

It was while filming a documentary off the coast of California some 20 years back that Mr Cassell, 51, formed a bond with Spots. He would often pat and scratch it while swimming alongside it. So when it was poached last year for its fins and teeth, it felt like he had lost a part of his family.

But Spots' legacy lives on.

A two-man submersible called The Great White that Mr Cassell built for observation dives and education programmes is named in memory of Spots. The submersible, based in the United States, made its Asian debut at an exhibition in Singapore last week and hit the waters off Tioman in Malaysia for a scientific survey of the health of the ocean's eco-system there.

Mr Cassell's submersible is a modified version of a Kittredge K-250 that he purchased in 2007 for US$10,000 from a retiring radiologist.

Over the years, Mr Cassell has consistently been upgrading the submersible. Today, it spans 1.8m wide, is over 3m long and 1.8m tall, making it a little bigger than a sports utility vehicle. It is powered by 12-volt batteries, similar to those used in cars.

Its latest update took about 10 months and cost some US$45,000 (S$57,600), most of which was funded by Swiss watch maker Luminox.

The submersible itself is not expensive to operate. "All it takes is US$30 a dive," said Mr Cassell, adding that "it has everything that I've ever wanted".

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