Not just a
huge collection of
Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
to help divers find the best places to encounter the different
species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has
slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on
all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.
now more than 10,000 shark pictures and sections on shark
evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of
reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a
monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are
numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is
now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and
pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be
Unlike its infamous cousin, the elusive Porbeagle poses very
little threat to divers. In fact, if you are lucky enough to spot one while
wandering over a reef, it is doubtful that you will have time to alert your
dive buddies before the petrified predator disappears back into the depths.
Not surprisingly, photographing a Porbeagle is no easy task.
They have good reason to fear humans. In the last few decades
Porbeagle populations have been decimated by over-fishing and those that
remain need to be protected.
On the Canadian side of the pond, Dr Steve Turnbull from the
University of New Brunswick is conducting a tagging program to see if the
Porbeagles in the Bay of Fundy are permanent residents or transients
stopping by for a quick bite before swimming off to Europe. If it turns out
that the sharks are residents, then any further shark fishing in the bay
will quickly deplete the local population.
Intrigued by the idea of watching a diver jump into the Bay
of Fundy’s racing currents, Steve agreed to let me accompany him on a
tagging trip. The bay is notorious for its seven metre plus tidal exchanges
which create currents strong enough to tear the mask off any diver foolish
enough to venture in for a quick dip. Add to this the many tonnes of mud
that the tides suck out to sea each day and your odds of getting a good look
at a Porbeagle are pretty slim.
I met up with Steve’s team in Alma, New Brunswick aboard a
lobster fishing boat ominously named the Storm Cloud. As dawn spilled over
the North Atlantic we outpaced the receding tide to the middle of the
channel and started laying out a chum slick to entice in the sharks.
While we waited, Steve told me a little about Porbeagles.
They are born at around seventy centimetres, but when fully
grown they can exceed three metres, and some may get closer to four.
Porbeagles belong to the mackerel shark family which also
includes Longfin and Shortfin Makos, Salmon Sharks and Great Whites.
Mackerel sharks possess a unique web of thin walled blood
vessels called a rete mirablé. The reté transfers heat generated in the
muscles to colder blood coming from the gills which effectively elevates the
shark’s body temperature. The pay off is increased speed and mental agility
that give mackerel sharks the edge they need over their fast moving prey.
The Porbeagle’s closest relative is the Salmon Shark which
lives on the Pacific coast of North America. Salmon Sharks lack the
distinctive white spot that Porbeagles have on the trailing edge of their
dorsal fins. They also have a second caudal keel (lateral protrusions in
front of the tail) below the main one to increase their stability.
As well as the North Atlantic Porbeagle population there are
isolated groups clustered around southern Africa, Australia and South
America. They are found from the surface down to around 700 metres.
As I digested this information I kept one eye on the bobbing
hang bait. When it suddenly disappeared underwater the dozing crew sprang
A Porbeagle surfaced close to the boat thrashing on the
baited line, then dove again and headed away at full speed. Sealing my
drysuit, I sprang two metres from the deck of the tossing fishing boat and
turned to catch my camera housing.
The current instantly grabbed me and I kicked furiously to
stay in position while a tag line was prepared. Once I had something to hold
onto, I sank under the pounding waves to look for the shark. The water was
the colour of green detergent occasionally punctuated by the Porbeagle’s
white belly as it zigzagged back and forth under the boat.
Slowly the shark tired. It eyed me warily but gave very
little resistance as the crew guided it into a cradle and hoisted it out of
Steve’s team quickly completed their measurements and
inserted the tag that they hoped would eventually supply the information
they needed. Before long, a shout from above warned me that the Porbeagle -
now freed from its line - was about to be released.
I dragged my housing into position and squinted through the
viewfinder. For a while all I could see was green fog. Then, in a cloud of
bubbles the Porbeagle splashed into view and swam straight at me.
Realising that this would probably be my only chance, I fired
shot after shot, barely waiting for my strobes to recycle. The shark’s
enormous black eye kept me in sight as it circled briefly, then flicked away
into the darkness.
I floated in the gloom watching its retreat, captivated by
the image of its heavy set, slate grey body and penetrating gaze.
A tug on the rope brought me around and I over-armed against
the relentless current towards a makeshift ladder that the crew had lowered.
It wasn’t until I was back onboard that I was able to review my images and I
was relieved to find the face of the Porbeagle staring back at me. It was a
frustratingly short encounter but one that I will never forget.
You can do your
bit to save the Porbeagle and Britain’s other endangered sharks by joining
the Shark Trust at www.sharktrust.org.