Life and Death in the Sea of Cortez
April 14th 2009
After striking out with the fishermen in La Paz we headed
north. For the past few days we have been camping on the beach near the
dusty little town of Mulege about a third of the way up Baja's east coast.
Initially we thought that this would be a place that we could shoot all the
species of round stingrays that are common in this region but after chatting
in my terrible Spanish to the longline fishermen that work the bay I managed
to convince one Captain (Martťn) to let me accompany him and his crew on one
of their longlining trips.
The boats mostly bring in tiny Pacific sharpnose sharks and
(over the winter) juvenile smooth and scalloped hammerheads. When I told the
fishermen that I wanted to jump in the water with the sharks they thought
that I was a little crazy but they were ok with it as long as I didn't get
in the way.
We set out early in the morning but it took a long time for
them to get any sharks. In total they put out four kilometers of longlines
containing 1400 hooks baited with chunks of yellow striped fish that looked
like some kind of grunts. For their effort, the fishermen landed 7 sharks
weighing a total of around 20kg. I asked Josť, the other fisherman who has
been in the industry a long time, what it was like in the old days. He told
me that on his best day at sea he had landed over 1700kg of sharks.
I spent my time swimming around the panga shooting the sharks
as they came up the line. It was a depressing thing to document. The sharks
were still alive but beyond recovery by the time they were tossed into the
bottom of the boat.
I took some shots of the carcasses and then sat there
wondering if I was really cut out for this kind of thing. I believe that
getting images of long liners doing their work is important from a
conservationists perspective but to sit idly by while sharks are left
suffocating in the bilge of a panga is a tough gig.
While I sat there Josť pulled up a very lively sub-adult
sharpnose shark and tossed it at the others. It immediately started flapping
around so it was obviously still in good shape. I asked Marten what he
thought this shark weighed and he said around 1.5kg. They had already told
me that they get just over a dollar per kilo from the traders that
periodically shows up to buy the sharks so I explained as best I could that
I would like to buy this particular shark. They got the idea and from the
bemused look on their faces they obviously thought that I was completely
loco but they agreed to sell me the shark and I grabbed it gently by the
tail and dropped it back in the water before it could beat itself senseless
on the deck planking. Two bucks for the life of a shark! What would it cost
to keep these fishermen home for good.
I know that I didn't really achieve anything by liberating
one little Pacific sharpnose shark but maybe my token act had some effect
even if it's a small one. We talked as best we could in broken Spanish about
the problems that sharks are facing and their important place in the
ecosystem. They already understood the big picture maybe even better than
me. I asked them what they would do if they couldn't fish for sharks and
they shrugged and said that they would fish for something else. Doing
anything other than fishing seemed to be a bizarre concept that they did not
want to entertain. If any real change is to take place it will have to come
from the next generation.
After bidding farewell to the fishermen Claire and I went for
a long hike along the rocky shoreline north of Mulege. Just before sunset we
spotted some birds in the distance and went to investigate. What we found
was a shoreline littered with discarded shark and ray heads. It was a tragic
site. They were mostly Pacific sharpnose sharks and small smooth hammerheads
but there were also a number of guitarfishes and the carcass of a butterfly
ray. All in all it was a grim day.
The next day we returned with our cameras to photograph the
grizzly remains and then spent the afternoon chasing round stingrays in the
shallows next to our campsite.
In 5ft of water the stingrays were everywhere. It was a
refreshing change to see so much life after so much death. We must have seen
two or three hundred rays. Mostly round stingrays and a few Cortez
The rays were very skittish and exploded out of the sand and
darted away as we approached their hiding places but one older male round
stingray let me get really close. I followed him around for a good half an
hour and just as I was planning to head for shore he ducked down and latched
onto a female ray that was sleeping under the sand. For the next 5 minutes I
was able to watch an amazing spectacle as the male ray struggled to subdue
his mate. The female put up a valiant fight as they spiraled around and
around eachother oblivious to the flashes emitting from my camera system.
That night I slept a lot better. The balance of species may
be shifting but at least there is still life in the Sea of Cortez.
We had wanted to look for Mexican Bullhead Sharks further
north in Baja but it appears that they are so rare that no one I have spoken
to has ever seen one so we have decided to spend a couple more days slowly
driving north and then head straight to San Diego. Southern California here
For the sharks,
Leaving La Paz
April 6th 2009
For the last few days we've been based in La Paz trying to
hook up with the artesanal shark fishermen that ply the waters on the north
side of the bay. Last time we were here I managed to get some good shots of
smooth hammerhead sharks
but this time the fishermen are even more illusive than the sharks and we
have had a great deal of difficulty tracking them down. I was hoping that we
could document them while they fish for Pacific sharpnose sharks. This is
their main target species that lives year round in La Paz bay and elsewhere
along the coast. It is a fairly abundant little shark but it still needs to
be carefully monitored to make sure that the sharpnose stocks do not fall to
The fishermen average about 5 sharks per trip at this time of
year but they take considerably more in winter. The sharks are too small
(max one meter) for the Asian fin market but the locals relish the meat and
the sharks fetch around 60 pesos (4US$) per kilo at the fish market. That
makes their trips worthwhile even if there are not that many sharks around.
We're planning to try one more time tomorrow to catch them at
their fishing camp and then give up and move north.
The Easter holidays (Semana Santa) ramp up over the next few
days. Easter is a massive event in Mexico and in Baja anyone with a tent
heads to the beach. That means that the beaches around the main population
centers down near La Paz will be zoos for the next few days. We want to get
as far north as possible in the hopes that we'll miss the flood of Mexican
holiday makers but the chances are that wherever we end up we'll probably
still be swept up in the festivities. That's ok; 'when in Rome' and all
I haven't been in the water much since our last blog but I've
still been talking sharks. A few days ago we met up with Documentary Maker
Mike Hoover at the La Paz opera of all places. I haven't seen Mike since our
last trip to Guadalupe Island. Mike is a fascinating guy. His career in the
film industry has been colorful, exciting and tragic in equal measures but
his resilience and no nonsense astute personality are what I like about him
the most. He is best known for his frontline work in Afghanistan during the
Russian invasion and his cutting edge mountaineering films (among others)
that have been well received by audiences around the world for decades. He
has also worked on blockbusters like Forest Gump, Crimson Tide
and The River Wild. More recently, he has been involved with numerous
films about Great white sharks aboard his expedition ship the Captain
Jack which is how I met Mike for the first time last year.
This time we only managed a short conversation before the
singing started so I hope that I get another chance to talk and work with
Our next stop will be a day's drive north on one of the white
sand beaches around Bahia Conception. There are many beaches that we have
never had the time to visit and some that are old favorites. All of them are
home to hundreds of tiny Round and Cortez stingrays so we'll be strapping on
the snorkels once again and chasing rays until the sun goes down.
We wanted to keep this trip as fluid as possible but everyone
we plan to visit has schedules so we're slowly having to nail down dates for
each adventure. The good news is that we have had a great response from all
our friends and some once in a lifetime offers to do some very exciting
diving. It now looks like we may be able to take a crack sevengills in the
wild with our shark tagging buddy Walter Heim. And, when we finally get to
the Mississippi Delta we have an invitation to join a field trip with Dr
Eric Hoffmayer from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. The GCRL is
conducting an abundance and distribution study on coastal sharks and rays so
that means that we will get to photograph lots of hard to find species like
finetooth, Atlantic sharpnose, juvenile bulls and who knows what other
sharks, not to mention all the illusive ray species that inhabit that part
of the coast - I'll be in elasmogeek heaven.
You can now follow our schedule at the following link:
For the sharks
Elasmodiver North American Farewell Tour - Mobula Rays
don't play nice.
April 1st 2009
To view this blog with images please follow this link:
We have just left the sleepy village of Cabo Pulmo which is
at the end of a very bumpy 'washboard' dirt track in Baja California Sur.
We were there to shoot mobula rays but unfortunately mobulas
do not like to be photographed. There were certainly plenty there to shoot
(they were schooling in their thousands) but as soon as we slipped into the
water they would descend as deep as they could and stop breaching until we
were so exhausted from chasing them that we had to get back on the panga.
Then, they would start jumping again a few hundred meters away. It was
fantastic to be in the water with such an enormous biomass of animals moving
below us in formation but utterly frustrating to not have the chance to get
close enough to record the encounter. If I was a better free-diver I might
have been able to swim around at 40 or 50 ft and nail the shot but breath
hold diving is not one of my strong points. If anyone out there wants to try
the same thing next season I have one piece of advice; bring a rebreather. I
believe that it is the only tool that can really do the job. We did manage
to take a few snap shots of them both breaching and some murky shots of them
gliding by in the darkness but none that are print worthy.
While we were out on the panga we tracked a humpback for a
while and shot some pretty tail pics and then swum around with sea lions and
played with a giant school of big eye jacks but all told it was meager
pickings for jaded shark divers.
The highlight and most productive session in Cabo Pulmo came
right on our door step. While snorkeling off the beach where we were camping
we came across a very accommodating banded guitarfish. It picked up and swam
a little at first but eventually it got used to the flashes and let me shoot
frame after frame. The pics are some of the best I have of this ray.
Camping on the beach outside town was a great way to start
this adventure. There were no 'facilities' so it was a big change from
crewing and living on a megayacht! All went well until I drove a little too
close to the sea and my VW camper van got bogged down. After much wheel
spinning things went from bad to worse. I've played this game on ice and
snow but I've never been stuck in sand before. Unlike snow, sand just gets
deeper. We started digging and thought we were making progress but the
wheels continued to spin and then I realized that the wheels were no longer
touching. We had sunk so low that the floor pan of the van was sitting on
the sand! After about an hour more digging and a push from some passers by
we finally managed to reverse back onto the hard pack. It was a tense couple
North of Cabo Pulmo we tried navigating another dirt road and
almost exactly the same thing happened but this time we were able to get a
tow from a passing truck. I don't think that VW had this kind of off roading
in mind when they came up with the Eurovan! Fortunately, what goes around
comes around and were able to squeeze a family of six onto the bed in the
back of the van to give them a lift into Cabo when their rental car broke
down. My van (which is missing a bushing on the front axle) groaned and
clanked most of the way but we finally arrived in the village in one piece.
Next stop will be the artesanal shark fishing camps north of
La Paz (along another dirt road). We're not sure what reception we will get
or how much we'll be able to communicate with the fishermen in our
rudimentary Spanish. Hopefully they will let us accompany them on their
fishing trips but more about this in the next update.
Since we posted this blog about the trip we have had many
emails from friends old and new asking when we will be in each area. It's
great to know that we will have the chance to catch up with so many people
and we're looking forward to every encounter. Unfortunately it is really
tricky to estimate exactly when we'll get to the next town let alone when
we'll be in Miami or Massachusetts! But, don't let that put you off if you
want to catch up with us. we're going to cram as much diving and socializing
into this tour as we physically can.
It now looks like we will get a chance to go out with a
Mexican researcher on the Pacific coast of Baja that works with smoothhound
sharks. We also got an invite to socialize with shark tagging veteran Walter
Heim and maybe hunt for sevengills in San Diego. That would be amazing if we
can pull it off.
Sean Van Sommeran of PSRF up in Elkhorn Slough also agreed to
give us the skinny on Gray Smoothhounds where he conducts his research so
our west coast agenda is looking fantastic.
A quick thank you to our friends in Cabo Pulmo: Muchas
Gracias Javier and Juan for trying everything they could think of to help us
get the mobula shots. If anyone wants to take up the gauntlet and carry on
where we left off, these brothers will get you to the mobulas. The rest is
up to you. You can contact Javier at:
Javycastro@yahoo.com.mx he says
Fidel is his uncle but I didn't notice a resemblance.
For the sharks,
Elasmodiver North American Farewell Tour
March 26th 2009
We're leaving. The owner of the boat we were working on turned out to be a
tyrant and life is simply too short to waste time tiptoeing around angry
people. Consequently we are free. We have a little money saved and we're
hell bent on embarking on the craziest, most ambitious road trip that we
have ever dreamed up.
After this epic adventure we will fly to Australia, get married and spend
the foreseeable future photographing the hundreds of shark and ray species
that call Australia home so this trip is our last chance to take in the
incredible sights and diverse elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) that North
America has to offer.
Our starting point is the southern tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. We
have our ailing VW camper loaded to the gills with diving and camera gear
and enough tunes on our IPods to last for 37 days.
Our first stop driving north will be Cabo Pulmo. Home of diamond and
longtail stingrays, banded guitarfish, schools of pacific cownose rays and
(at present) jumping mobula rays that seasonally converge on this isolated
reef system in their thousands.
Next stop La Paz to join shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos for one more visit
with the artisanal shark fishermen that ply the bay for smooth hammerheads
and Pacific sharpnose sharks.
Then up to the beaches south of Mulege; Urolophid central. Camping on the
beaches by night and snorkeling with round, cortez, and bullseye stingrays
We'll skip through the rest of the sleepy towns in the lower Sea of Cortez
and cross the desert into Northern Baja. Then cut back east to the remote
village of Bahia de los Angeles where I have a hunch we can find Mexican
bullhead sharks near the sea lion colonies.
After that it's time to cross the border. First stop in Cali is San Diego.
Leopard sharks at the marine room in La Jolla, possibly soupfins in the
cove, and horn sharks at night in La Jolla Canyon. Its all shore diving so
we can dive our hearts out and still have enough cash for a feed. Gotta
shoot the harbour seals too.
North to Santa Barbara. Camp at Refugio Beach north of the city and hunt for
swell sharks in the kelp forests. 15 minutes further north, Tajegis Beach is
one of the few places where angel sharks are reliably found but the vis is
After Tajegis we'll drive along Big Sur and resurface in Monterey. Hit the
aquarium (the sevengill sharks are awesome) and then go play with the seals
and sea lions and look for big skates. Then cruise north as far as San
San Fran pier fishermen report that they catch brown smoothhound sharks by
the bushel (mostly at night). We'd like to do some exploratory dives under
the piers to see if they're approachable. SF Bay may be like diving in
coffee so if anyone has some experience diving there, I'm all ears.
Then its adios west coast. Death Valley, Grand Canyon (hey, Claire is
an Australian tourist) and then Texas. Maybe dive the gulf on the way to
Venice, Louisiana. Splash out in Venice for some big critter diving.
Scalloped hammerheads, duskies and silky sharks are common on the humps
about 70 miles from shore. It will be a real highlight because we'll be
hooking up with the Shark Diver Magazine crew: Eli Martinez, Paul Spielvogel
and Nathan Meadows. Haven't seen the whole gang since we shot Summer of the
Sharks so it'll be a great reunion.
Mississippi beckons with the promise of numerous little sharks in the
estuary. Finetooth sharks and Atlantic sharpnose sharks among others. I
don't have any contacts in the Gulf of Mexico so if anyone reading this blog
can introduce me to some friendly researchers willing to let a coupla shark
photographers tag along on a field trip please let me know.
Next stop Panama City, Florida. Camp at the state park within camera
schlepping distance of the pier. This is a great place to shoot Atlantic
stingrays and occasionally bluntnose stingrays too.
We have to stop at Crystal River on our way down through Florida. I know
that manatees are not sharks but come on, manatees! they're so cool!
Down to Tampa, visit Mote Marine, kick up a few prehistoric mako teeth on
Venice Beach and then head through the Everglades to Miami. Would love to go
look for smalltooth sawfish but they're pretty tricky to find.
Through the keys for a couple of days to dive with nurse sharks, southern
stingrays and yellow spotted stingrays then we'll head up the east coast.
We will probably drop in on some old friends in West Palm Beach that
regularly go spear fishing among bull and lemon sharks and then we'll say
goodbye to the oppressive heat of Florida and drive directly up to the outer
banks of North Carolina where sandtigers rule the wrecks.
Further north still, in and around Maine, there are plenty of blue sharks
and spiny dogfish to keep us entertained. If possible we'll try to stay
posted on the basking shark migration. If they're in town when we head up
the New England coast we'll have to find a way to get out to where they are
Our final stop in the US will be in Massachusetts. The beaches around the
Cape Ann Peninsula are home to winter skates in the winter and little skates
in the summer. I'm not sure when the transition takes place but if we're
lucky we'll be able to shoot both species. Cape Ann also has a population of
Atlantic torpedo rays but so far I haven't seen any.
By the time we cross the border it should be warm enough in eastern Canada
to go diving without having to break the ice first :)
Before we get there, I'll check in with the porbeagle shark fishermen to see
what they are up to. I've done two trips to the Bay of Fundy and the water
is always like green tea so I am hoping that this time I can shoot
porbeagles in NS where the water is much clearer.
Then northeastward to Gaspe to shoot harbour seals (they're different to the
californian ones) and then a ferry north across the Saint Lawrence River to
chase Greenland Sharks in Baie Comeau.
That pretty much sums it up. After that we'll drive west to Ontario and sell
my camper (assuming it makes it that far) and fly to Western Australia.
We figure that should take around three months unless we stop to work along
the way. If we're frugal, we have enough cash to keep the van fueled up and
pay for groceries, tank fills, the occasional dive charter, truck stop
showers and the odd campground.
Along the way we will try to hook up with as many of our old friends as
possible. We're also looking forward to bumping into other shark divers,
shark researchers, and anyone else out there that wants to talk shark. We'll
be updating our blog once or twice a week with pictures and stories of our
encounters both underwater and above and posting them on a new page on
Elasmodiver.com where you can follow our progress:
http://elasmodiver.com/northamericansharkdivingtour.htm Our first
stop Cabo Pulmo is totally off the grid at the end of a long dirt road but
as soon as we make it into a town we'll upload the first progress report.
Well, it's 1.30am and we're leaving in the morning so I guess I better call
it a night.
For the sharks,
March 23rd 2009
Have you ever seen the movie Almost Famous? It is about a young
reporter on his first assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine. He goes on tour
with an up and coming band and the groupies that look after the band. I'm
not sure whether its the reporter, the band, or the girls that the title
refers to but it works either way. It is about almost making it, almost
hitting the big time and people trying to live out their dreams. Its one of my
Being a shark photographer is a far cry from being a rock star but its a bit
like being the rock stars reporter. One of the most accomplished underwater
photojournalists of all time is a guy by the name of Doug Perrine. Over the
years he has been just about everywhere and shot almost everything that
you're likely to see underwater including inordinate amounts of sharks. He
is a phenomenal photographer, an excellent writer and a really nice guy. Doug deserves
all the accolades that our small industry has bestowed upon him. But, I bet my Nikon that most people reading this blog have
probably never heard of him. That's ok, after all, we're just the
photographers and the creatures in from of the lens are the real stars of
But, even far lesser known photographers like me get occasional ego boosts. Last week I learned that
Steve Alten who wrote the Meg novels (widely read horror genre books
about a rampaging megalodon shark) gave me a walk on part in his next book
Hell's Aquarium. I devoured the other Meg books so I was grinning like a
schoolboy when I found out. Then today I read that the Summer of the
Sharks movie that I'm "starring in" along with Shark Diver Magazine
Editor Eli Martinez is doing pretty well. We got our first good review from a well known critic. That's cool.
Its fun to be 'almost famous'.
Last year I nearly went one step further. I was approached by no less than
three different production companies that were interested in producing a TV
series that would follow me around while I photograph sharks. None of these
proposals actually resulted in a TV series but it was fun to play around
with the idea and maybe at some point one of those producers will find a way
past all the stumbling blocks and I'll end up on the big screen.
I think it would be a wild ride. I'm ambivalent about actually being famous
but the prospect of being told by a team of media professionals to do the
one thing that I love to do would be a surreal experience.
Shooting unusual sharks is generally so expensive and logistically difficult
that being paid to do it would almost feel like I was cheating. I think I
would have a perpetually guilty look on my face through the whole series.
But it would be an amazing opportunity. I would be able to go after some of
the world's most threatened and inaccessible species of sharks and I would
have a ready made platform to tell the world about them.
Alas, that reality has not materialized yet and until it does I will
continue to shoot sharks using whatever ingenious methods
I can think of to help me do my job. Sometimes it involves convincing a dive operator to
let me tag along in exchange for a story. Sometimes its just a matter of
diving in an area so often that sooner or later I'm in the right place at
the right time and I get the shot. And, sometimes it takes years of research,
months of planning and the help of numerous researchers to get to some
bizarre destination in the middle of nowhere that only a handful of people
know about. Those tend to be the best trips. They are the ones that stick in
my mind and get me fired up when I tell people about them. I'm hoping that
one of those trips comes together a little later this year but we'll see.
Enough musing. Since shooting bull sharks
in Playa Del Carmen three weeks ago I have not had a chance to get back in
the water. That's pretty shameful considering that I am living on a boat in
the Sea of Cortez but the area in which the boat is moored is actually
rather poor for diving so I am hoping that the owner lets us move it up to
La Paz where we'll have much more access to sharks and rays.
Mobula ray season will soon be at an end here in Baja and right now I
don't have a single photograph to show for my efforts. But, I am a little
wiser than I was a month ago. I now know that if I want to shoot mobula rays
I can't do it on scuba. The closest I came to getting the shot was
being dumped into a school of hundreds of mobulas which stayed tantalizingly
out of reach. As I swam towards them they parted around me and stayed on the
edge of visibility. Very frustrating but exciting just the same. Next week I
will probably head up to Cabo Pulmo and camp there until I see a big school.
Then, with camera and snorkel at the ready we'll see what I can get.
For the sharks,
March 3rd 2009
I talked to Eli Martinez (Publisher of Shark Diver Magazine) last week about
the bull shark shoot that he had just returned from in Playa del Carmen. He
was raving about how good it was but said that the if I wanted to go I was
gonna have to hustle because the bull sharks are seasonal and they were gone
by March 1st last year. From his description of the feed I started to get
really excited but I had to go to sea on the yacht that Claire and I work on
so there was no chance to arrange tickets. I thought that we had missed the
boat for this year.
As soon as the yacht got back to Cabo we raced into town and found some
cheap flights but the plane was scheduled to leave only three hours from
when we bought the tickets so we had to scramble to get all the photography
gear together and get to the airport in time. It was a crazy morning but we
We were met at Phantom Divers in Playa Del Carmen late that night by Jorge Loria (Chino to his friends) who pioneered the bull shark feed. He showed us
some video of what to expect and we spent the night tweaking the cameras and
The sharks were spectacular. It was the very end of the season so there were
only 7 sharks on the first day and 4 on the second but it was still worth
the effort to get there. The sharks were all big females around 6 to 8ft
long. It was a very deep feed in strong currents and the sharks were a
little hesitant to take the bonito that Chino was hand feeding them with but
we eventually had enough opportunities to shoot some pretty good
Bull shark pictures to replace the low
resolution ones that I had on Elasmodiver before.
Chino is really keen to find out where the sharks go at the end of the
season so I put him in touch with my buddy Mauricio who conducts the Great
White Shark tagging study at Guadalupe Island. Hopefully next year they will
be able to gather some interesting data.
Now I'm back on the boat trying to get all my shark and ray pics sorted out.
I have been busy shooting around Cabo whenever I have free time and I've got
some nice new images of a number of species. I also have a new shark but I'm
saving that one until I've got a story to go with it.
Elasmodiver has been expanding again. With Mauricio's help I have converted
my Shark Picture Index into Spanish so that it is easier for native Spanish
speakers to browse through the shark and ray species. Now I need to find
some French and German marine biologists that would like to help me load the
index into their languages too! Click on this link
ImŠgenes de Tiburones y Rayas to take
Lastly, Ekrem from Spain sent me a link to his fun but sad
sharks in danger of extinction cartoon
that I promised to share with everyone.
If time permits, I'll be loading new ray shots every few days so keep
For the sharks,
An Unexpected Find
February 13th 2009
A few days ago I went out snorkeling with my friend Mauricio Hoyos. He is a
shark researcher based in La Paz. He has a number of projects on the go
including a distribution study on Great White Sharks at Guadalupe Island.
From September through December each year he camps on the remote island west
of Ensenada to track white shark movements and document predations from his
little panga. It is a lonely and sometimes unrewarding project but he is
fanatically dedicated to the task.
When he is back in La Paz he spends his time writing proposals for funding
and finding creative ways to finance his work. He is also studying the
movements of Scalloped hammerheads in the shallow bays north of La Paz.
Mauricio thinks that the area is a nursery ground for this species and the
sharks probably stay there for a long time before moving out to a more
pelagic environment. If he is right then his work may lead to stricter
regulations for the fishermen that long line along the coast.
To track the baby hammerheads Mauricio goes out with the long liners. If
they bring up a live scalloped hammerhead shark he implants an archival tag
into the torso of the animal and releases it. The tag records temperature
and depth information which can be analyzed later (if the animal is caught
again) to estimate the shark's movements.
Mauricio invited me to join him on one of these trips and we spent the day
north of La Paz with a couple of local shark fishermen. It was tough to
watch them work. They did not have much success but all of the little sharks
(none were longer than one meter) that they did bring up were already dead.
Some shark lovers may have reservations about a shark photographer and
outspoken conservationist working among shark fishermen but I believe that I
did not contribute to or encourage the deaths of any sharks and the
understanding that I gained about the shark fishing industry will stand me
in good stead for future arguments. In the words of the warrior philosopher
Lao Tzu "Know your enemy".
We waited on the panga while they slowly pulled in their lines. They brought
up a couple of tiny Pacific sharpnose sharks and then the line began to jerk
and spin. The fisherman pulling it in indicated that something big was
coming up so I slipped into the water with my camera and stared down at
green nothing. The Sea of Cortez is heavily laced with plankton and
visibility rarely opens up. A pinkish blur solidified below me and swam in
agitated spirals around the line.
Mauricio had told me that the long liners sometimes catch rayas violaceas
but I had never heard of Violet Rays and nothing fitting that description
was in any of my local fish i.d. guides. Once the ray was close enough to
see it clearly I recognized it as a Pelagic stingray Pteroplatytrygon
It is a unique animal among stingrays because unlike other whiptail stingays
it swims in open water instead of hiding under the sand.
It is rarely if ever encountered by divers. I have never seen one and
thought that I never would so I was thrilled to get the chance to see it in
action but wondered what the fishermen would do with it. I assumed that they
would add it to the catch which was piling up in the bottom of the panga but
they carefully pulled it along side and removed the hook without causing it
too much damage. The ray turned and flapped quite slowly back into the
green. I gave chase for a few kicks and then let it go.
The unexpected care with which the fishermen released the ray was quite
surprising and it made me think a little harder about who they are. Their
job is certainly destructive to the environment and devastating to the
future of sharks but I believe that they mostly do not fully comprehend or
believe this. They are proud fishermen that have chosen to fish for sharks
and consider themselves no different from other hard working fishermen. As
we watched them set their lines they told us about some of the strange
creatures that they have encountered over the years like the 5 meter long
oarfish that swam by one day. It is clear that at least some of them are
just as fascinated by the wonders of the ocean as I am but they choose to
exploit its resources where as I believe that the ocean has given up too
much of its wealth already.
Change does not always come from forced legislation or a big stick.
Sometimes the most productive change comes from subtle discussions intended
not to offend but to educate. So, I will go out with these fishermen again
if Mauricio invites me and perhaps in time we will have a chance to discuss
why their shark catches are dwindling and what they can do to help shark
To find out more about Mauricio's work please follow this link:
For the sharks,
Sailing down to Mexico
January 17th 2009
overdue exodus from Canada has finally finished. I am writing this aboard the
motor yacht that I work on part time which has just arrived in Puerto Los
Cabos in San Jose del Cabo right down near Lands End at the bottom of the
Baja Peninsula. It was surprisingly smooth sailing all the way from British Columbia; clear
skies, huge pods of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and even a shark on the
surface as we sailed south.
trip I had the chance to clean up some of my new
Cortez round stingray
pictures and Banded guitarfish pictures that I took
a few weeks ago in Baja
when we were driving my camper van down. That trip was short and sweet but this
one is basically a one way trip. Now that we are in Cabo we'll be putting down
roots for a while and I'll start calling some of my contacts that have
promised to show me some new sharks and rays.
in the Sea of Cortez but sharks are now few and far between due to over
fishing. My friend Mauricio Hoyos (a shark researcher from Mexico City) has
invited me to come shark tagging with him in La Paz next week. This is very
exciting news because Mauricio tags the little sharks that divers rarely (if
ever) see. I have some idea of what species to expect but I'm keeping it to
myself until I have some shark pictures to load onto Elasmodiver.
everyone happy until I load some new shark species, I have one new species
of river stingray loaded. It is the most common species kept by aquarists
because of its stunning coloration and comparative ease of keeping. If
you're interested take a look at the new Motoro
Stingray species profile and Motoro Stingray Pictures page.
is spreading in Mexico that shark stocks are at critical levels and
conservation efforts from groups like Iemanya Oceanica in La Paz have gone a
long way to help protect the remaining stocks. More about Iemanya soon.
If you can't sail, drive.
December 29th 2008
Who doesn't need a week in the sun? After returning from Guadalupe Island to
Port Angeles in Washington State to pick up the boat, I found out that the
ship I am supposed to crew to Baja has a steering problem. That should be
fixed within a week or so but Claire and I have had enough of the cold
Pacific North West so rather than spend a week here waiting for the motor to
be fixed (and for the weather to change) we have decided to drive our camper
down to Cabo early.
Of course we will do some shark and ray diving along the way if we can find
some. I'm not sure what conditions we should expect in Southern California
over the new year so I have contacted my buddy Ron Clough for a heads up.
Ron organizes the California Shark and Ray Count and he
is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Cali shark divers out
Failing California I'm sure we'll find some rays in the
Sea of Cortez once we make it that far.
The timing is good for some new pics. I just loaded the
last species I had images (of the round stingray)
So, it is definitely time for some new blood. Mobulas
would be a good start. There are four species that migrate through southern
Baja in January. Hopefully we'll be able to intercept some.
For the sharks,
December 19th 2008
I am back
from Guadalupe Island but don't tell anyone. I had this long narrative
planned describing all the amazing action over the last few weeks but sadly
on the final day I was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement which
restricted me from telling anyone what happened. My images are also under
lock and key so I have nothing to offer up except this advice: never work
with a large network if you like to share your experiences. At least I had
time to add a few more pages to elasmodiver while I was at sea.
A change of plan...
November 25th 2008
All of the red tape standing in the way of the proposed Isla Guadalupe trip
was suddenly cut away. So, I am flying to LAX on Monday morning. By the
afternoon we will be underway for white shark central. I am hoping that the
crossing will be smooth because there will be a lot of prep work to do on
route. This particular sub has been idle for quite a while.
Once there, we will spend every available minute underwater hoping to catch
a particular sequence on tape. We have two weeks to get the shot then we're
flying back to the mainland (I didn't realize that Isla Guadalupe had an air
strip). I'm officially employed as a sub pilot but I'm planning to sneak my
Nikon and housing into my luggage. You just never know how its all going to
I'd love to give away more about the mission but its all confidential until
it hits the big screen.
Unfortunately, the shoot coincides with the yacht's departure from Canada so
I will not be on board for the trip south.
One way or another we should be settled in Cabo by xmas but then again...
For the sharks,
The ups and downs in the life of a Shark
November 14th 2008
My apologies; for the last week Elasmodiver has been offline. Really it
should be Webserve Canada that is apologizing but given their track record
that is unlikely which is why Elasmodiver has moved servers. Re-uploading
hundreds of pages and thousands of pictures is a slow process hence the
interuption. Everything should be back to normal soon except at Webserve
Canada who just lost another client. Was that enough of a negative plug for
Webserve Canada? You get the point :)
Ok, onto something sharky:
A few days ago I got some bad news. I had been tentatively invited to pilot a submersible for
a film shoot at Guadalupe Island for a few weeks but the
project ran into a snag and had to be delayed indefinitely. That was a
blow. It would have been awesome to spend day after day under water at the
best place in the world to see Great White Sharks. Who knows what new behaviors we would have
witnessed. At least the shoot is still a future possibility.
Then I got some great news; a shark diving buddy of mine - Nathan Meadows,
is joining my project to build a deep water camera system:
Project Deep Shark. Specifically, Nathan has
offered the use of his machine shop to help with the construction of the
housings. I'm very happy to have his help because it will make a huge
difference to the construction time. Perhaps more importantly, Nathan is
bringing his usual enthusiasm which is contagious and may have an
even more profound effect on how quickly the project takes shape. I met
Nathan a few years back (shark diving of course) and then I bumped into him
again this summer when he joined the Shark Diver Magazine trip that I
hosted in eastern Canada. He also wrote an article in the last issue of SDM and I have a
feeling that (like the rest of us) he will become more and more fanatical
about sharks as the years go by. Nathan's wife Lindsay is also a big shark
fan and with that kind of support you can achieve anything. And once sharks
have a grip on you there is no escape.
In other news, it looks like it will be even longer before we will finally head south. The refit of the ship that I am working on in
British Columbia has had a number of setbacks. Nothing too serious just time
consuming. So, our new ETD from Canada is
December 6th. I believe that we will actually make this departure date
unless something catastrophic happens between now and then. But it means that we will
not be in sunny Baja until late December. Fortunately the mobula ray
migration which we want to document, is at its height in January, so we should
still have plenty of time to shoot after we get to Cabo. Its getting
really cold here now and the nights are drawing in, but hey, maybe we can get some skiing
in before we go! There is always a bright side.
Last night I was walking along the shore winding down after a busy day at
the boat yard. Some kind of fox (or maybe it was a coyote) was scavenging at
the waters edge. It was lit up by the moon and I got a great chance to enjoy
it before it finally became too nervous of my attention and trotted off into
the bush. It got me thinking about how isolated we are from nature. I can't
remember the last time I saw anything that big foraging so close to the
city. With so little contact with the natural world around us its not
surprising that it is so hard to generate support for conservation for our local
fauna. And if even that is a struggle what chance do sharks have?
Its been a while since I got on my soap box and I'll spare you the whole story
this time but remember the key points and tell as many people as you can:
Sharks are in decline. They are heavily over fished and can't bread fast
enough to bounce back. Even if you don't like sharks we need them. Because
of their low birth rate, sharks are the only animals that can maintain a
healthy balance in our oceans. Without them the food chain will collapse
with catastrophic consequences.
Spread the word, boycott restaurants that sell shark fin soup,
join conservation groups like The Shark Trust and Sea Shepherd, and try to
dispel the myth that sharks are mindless killers. Its a tough message to get
across to people but its very important to keep trying.
For the sharks,
Project Deep Shark - Beyond the world we know.
November 9th 2008
A while ago something unfortunate happened on the way to a dive site. The
clip that I use to grip my camera housing with came loose when I picked it
up. The housing dropped about 18 inches and hit the tarmac with a loud
crack! Aquatica housings are so strong that they could probably survive a
plane crash but sadly my Nikon D2X is not so robust. Some of the delicate
components parted ways resulting in a camera that still works but has a
non-functional review screen.
I sulked for a while considering my options. After drooling over the specs
of the new Nikon D3 I eventually decided that selling my van to buy a new
camera was a bit extreme so I searched EBay and found a reasonably priced
used D2X which is presently on its way.
Never one to waste an opportunity, I am now figuring out how to build a deep
housing for my damaged D2X. The plan is simple; to construct a housing with
a dome port that can withstand the hydrostatic pressure 6000ft under water.
The housing will have two externally housed Nikon TTL strobes and an
ultra-low light, deep water camera attached to a monitor on the surface that
will show me when I need to trigger the shutter release on the D2X. The
housing, strobes, and camera will be attached to a small baited sled that
can be lowered via a winch to the seabed.
I have been playing with this idea for some time but now I have the
incentive to put some energy behind the project. If you would like to read
the details and see a diagram of the proposed setup please follow this link:
Project Deep Shark
For the Sharks,
For the last two weeks my emails have gone astray which has created no end of
chaos here at Elasmodiver. My apologies to anyone who has tried to contact
me lately and gotten no response. Elasmodiver now has a new contact address:
ELASMODIVER@GMAIL.COM. I've been having so much trouble with
the old address that I figured I'd switch to a reliable system and Gmail is
On the shark front, I have finally cleaned up some more ray images from my
Canary Islands trip. For the first time on Elasmodiver I have loaded images
of a species of butterfly ray. These rays have the most intricate markings
and seeing one gliding slowly across the sand is a breath taking experience.
I hope that you all enjoy them:
spiny butterfly ray pictures.
I have been out of the water for quite a while finishing the refit on the
yacht that I am working on. Hopefully soon we will be on our way to Baja in
time to catch the schooling rays that arrive in their thousands. The trip
down from Canada in the winter storm season is not an enjoyable prospect but
hopefully it will go smoothly.
I'm getting very excited about all the species that I will be exposed to but
right now its all talk and no diving so I'll keep quiet until I've got some
shots. In the mean time I still have more shark and ray images waiting to be
added to the database so keep checking back.
For the sharks,
Summer of the Sharks - The Movie
Two summers ago I left on a road trip with Eli (the Editor of Shark Diver
Magazine), Rafa Flores (rancher, shark diving fan, driver and part time
videographer) and Rusty Armstrong (Film Editor, topside Camera wielder and
eventually Director). The plan was to document a typical summer season for
us on the road chasing sharks. It began with a three week road trip in
Rafa's RV followed by a series of flights that took us to both coasts of the
US with side trips to Mexico and the Caribbean. The trip was a great
adventure for all of us. Rusty (fresh out of film school) got his first
chance to put a full length feature together, Eli got to fulfill his dream
of producing the first movie about shark diving and I got to spend almost a
whole summer photographing sharks.
Rusty documented almost every aspect of our lives as the story unfolded and
originally it looked as though the footage was destined to become a TV
series. In fact the first few episodes of 'Chasing Sharks' actually made it
into the can but for a bunch of reasons the show finally morphed into a full
I got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago and chose to watch it while Eli was
showing it for the first time on the big screen in Texas to a few hundred
friends and acquaintances. I was nervous because it was the first time that
any of us except Rusty had been involved in the movie industry and I was
expecting to wince at the quality of the footage. I was thrilled with the
result. It was obviously shot on a budget but the footage was awesome and
more importantly it summed up the whole shark diving lifestyle that we have
immersed ourselves in.
I guess it is hard to be unbiased about a movie that I am so much a part of
but I think it is a landmark movie in the diving world. A little rough
around the edges but it stands as the quintessential movie about shark
divers. It has plenty of action, a strong conservation message and... its
Eli and Rusty have submitted it to many upcoming film festivals. Hopefully
it will be well received and stand up to the scathing cynicism of the
Ultimately the movie is destined for DVD release sometime in 2009 so I hope
that many of you will pick up a copy. If you're crazy enough about sharks to
be reading this shark blog then you'll probably enjoy it.
For press releases and further info about 'Summer of the Sharks' follow this
Today I loaded some more images of Porbeagles onto Elasmodiver. Some of the
images are of a dead and bloody carcass of a Porbeagle Shark. They are quite
gory and I am expecting some negative feedback. The dead shark was presented
to the researchers that I was working with by a fisherman that found it
wrapped up in a line. The images while provocative show the stark reality of
life in the ocean especially when sharks come in contact with humanity.
There are still plenty of images that need to be cleaned up and loaded onto
the site but I have been very low on time lately with the refit of the ship
that I am working on. Next month we sail for Baja and then I will hopefully
have a little more time to dedicate to shark photography. There are many
species of sharks and rays in Baja that I have yet to shoot so I am looking
forward to a very sharky year or two.
For the sharks,
The Last Generation of Sharks
I have a friend who lives on the Pacific coast of Mexico. He runs a sport
fishing company and wants to expand into the shark diving industry. He speaks fluent Spanish and has talked in depth with
the local Mexican fishermen that ply the coastline in search of sharks.
Unfortunately, the answer is always the same; there is nothing to see - all
the big sharks are gone. There are a few juveniles left that the fishermen
are now targeting but the mature adult sharks have been fished so heavily
(both by the artisanal fishermen and the offshore long-liners) that the only
animals remaining are the small juvenile and sub-adult sharks.
As fishing pressure turns towards the juveniles, the chances of them reaching
maturity and spawning another generation diminish. Sharks simply cannot
handle this level of pressure. They take too long to mature and reproduce
too few young. Many shark species are facing imminent extinction and the
juveniles that we are seeing now may quite possibly be the final generation
unless we can find a way to restrict or ban shark fishing on an
The problem is a global one but it is difficult to generate enough
international support to generate a global answer. Fortunately, shark
conservation groups like
Iemanya Oceanica based in La Paz, Mexico,
work on a domestic level to combat shark fishing. The organization helps
shark fishing communities to change from fishing to more sustainable
industries. They allow the communities to come up with a viable alternative
such as whale watching tourism or fresh water production and then help the
community to make the leap. Iemanya Oceanica is a shining example of what a
dedicated group of grass roots individuals can do.
In December Claire and I are heading to Mexico on the ship that we crew. It
will be stationed in San Jose del Cabo near the tip of the Baja Peninsula.
While we are there I will try to photograph the many species that are
disappearing without even being recorded. Sharks like the Whitenose Shark (Nasolamia
velox) have been practically wiped out without even an image to record their
passing. Hopefully, I can get a picture or two of a whitenose that I can use
to publicize it's fate while a few of it's kind still remain.
For the Sharks,
Sharks and Storms
Right about now I should be arriving in West Palm Beach to board a boat
heading to the Bahamas. It would have been my first crack at Oceanic
Whitetip Sharks but unfortunately King Neptune had other plans. There
is a tropical storm building about a 1000 miles off the coast and the
captain decided that hurricanes and shark diving just don't mix. If it was
up to me I probably would have gone anyway which is why
I'm the shark photographer and he's the captain.
The Bahamas trip was supposed to be the final trip of the
summer so I am now sitting in a boatyard back in Vancouver wondering what
comes next. Some time in November Full Circle (the ship that Claire and work
on) is heading down to Baja via San Diego with the promise of many shark and
ray encounters if we time things just right.
Before then I plan to dedicate the majority of my time
shooting the local marine fauna in BC. The reefs in Western Canada are some
of the most colourful in the world. There are not that many visible sharks
except Spiny Dogfish and the occasional Sixgill Shark (I've seen two in 7
years of diving here) but small bony fishes and invertebrates run wild here
so there are plenty of critters for me to add to my portfolio. Although
rockfish are not as sexy as sharks they can still pay the rent if the images
are good enough so I am officially changing lenses and shooting small. It
always scares me when I do that because I'm well acquainted with 'Sods Law'.
This is the law of physics that makes the toast always land butter side down
on the carpet. In diving it means that if I put a macro lens on my camera to
shoot colourful but tiny nudibranchs, a pack of Sixgill Sharks will
immediately show up and start mating right in front of me, posing in every
position in the shark Karma Sutra. Of course when this happen I will kick
back to shore change lens and swim furiously back to the same spot only to
find that the sharks have gone and a tribe of tiny pipefish are giving birth
on a kelp leaf - Sods Law :)
Today Claire and I are heading back to Victoria to dive
some of our favourite sites. I am hoping that we can go hunting for Big
Skates. The site where we are most likely to find them is a monochrome mud
beach. The dive involves a 20 minute kick straight out to sea over the
featureless kelpy substrate. Being an elasmobranch fanatic I'm fine with
this but Claire might need some convincing to come along.
While we're swimming along looking for skates I will work
on a plan for shooting more sharks. There must be a way I can add to
Elasmodiver I just haven't thought of it yet.
For the sharks
Porbeagles and Greenland Sharks
For a change,
life has been going to plan over the last month or two. I flew to Italy at
the beginning of July and worked as a submersible pilot on a private yacht
and then returned to Canada to lead the shark diving trips for SDM on the
leg started slowly. I was a bit worried that we would be completely skunked
but on the third day Kaz and I stumbled upon a nine foot female. The weather
was sunny and warm and the days among our small but avid group of shark
divers drifted by easily. The water by contrast was so cold that every
couple of minutes a chunk of ice would fly out of my regulator and hit the
back of my throat. On the first day the water registered a bone chilling 36
degrees Fahrenheit. Days 2 and 3 rose to a balmy 40 degrees and we joked
about not bothering to wear gloves if it got any warmer but in truth none of
us could handle being in the water for very long.
managed to fire off quite a few shots when the shark showed up. I will load
all the shark pictures shortly.
Shark trip in the Bay of Fundy was much more productive. We had multiple
sharks each day. This was not an average shark diving adventure. We were
aboard a fishing boat with a team of researchers from the University of New
Brunswick. The plan was to initially try to get the sharks up to the boat
using chum alone so that the divers could snorkel with them and try to get
some decent underwater images. Sadly, the Porbeagles were just too timid .
Secondly we needed to fish up the sharks in order for the researchers to
weigh and measure them and attach tags. This proved to be much more
successful and we managed to hook 7 sharks on the first day alone. Day two
and three saw less sharks but it was still a record trip for the
researchers. It almost doubled all of their previous catches.
Porbeagles were on the line I jumped in with two other shark divers (Nathan
Meadows and David Cooke). The water was too dirty to get any good shark pics
underwater but we had a great view of these magnificent sharks swimming
around. Photographer Doug Perrine (our other guest) stayed on deck to
document the tagging process. With so many sharks being pulled in, we were
all eventually able to get topside shots as well.
team (headed by Dr Steve Turnbull) had bought along two satellite tags as
well as the normal passive ones. These are expensive units that detach after
one month and upload their information to a satellite tracking system. Many
thanks to Nathan for sponsoring one of the tags! Pam who is one of the
researchers has promised to forward the data to me once the tag floats up in
a few weeks. Then we will be able to see if the sharks (one is called Nat in
honor of Nathan) are sticking around in the Bay of Fundy or just popping in
for a quick feed.
Right now I
am enjoying some much needed down time. The plan is to clean up a bunch of
pics for Elasmodiver and then get ready for the next adventure. The next
trip starts with a week with my boys in Ontario and then the expedition to
the Bahamas to look for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. Its gonna be an incredible
trip beginning with four days at Tiger Beach to get the shark fever out of
everyones system. Then we are heading way out into the blue for some serious
deep water chumming. I have never seen an Oceanic Whitetip Shark so I am
pretty excited but I am also wondering what else will show up. Shortfin
Makos, maybe even Longfin Makos! who really knows. That is what makes it so
Summer of the Sharks / Submarines
July 9th 2008
My relaxing summer on Vancouver Island lasted just over a week. I fly to
Italy tomorrow to pilot a submersible for two weeks for a prominant VIP. It
will be great to get back in a submersible again.
After that I get one day back in BC and then I'm off to eastern Canada to run
a couple of Shark Diver Magazine trips. Eli (Editor of SDM) was supposed to
lead the trips but he was asked to co-host a shark show on Animal Planet and
fame got the better of him. So, I get to go chase Greenland Sharks again and
then continue to the Bay of Fundy to join one of the world's great
underwater shooters in search of Porbeagle Sharks. It will be a great
adventure. Incidentally, if anyone wants to come dive with me on either trip
there is still room. Send me an email if you're interested.
If you've been reading this blog for a long time you will probably remember
the TV series that we were shooting way back in 2006. Well, after many
changes it has finally morphed into a shark diving documentary that will hit
the film festival circuit this summer.
After the Greenland Sharks and Porbeagles I am heading back to BC for some
down time but Seamagine Hydrospace is already talking about sending me back
to Europe to pilot again so we'll see. Then at the end of August I get a
week with my boys in Ontario and then fly on to West Palm Beach to jump on a
boat to the Bahamas. I'll be diving with Eli, Paul Spielvogel, and a bunch
of shark nuts that want to go look for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. It should be
an awesome trip.
While all this is happening my girlfriend Claire will be in Vancouver
supervising the refit of a large motor yacht that is owned by a good friend
of ours. Once that is done we will take it down to San Diego and wait for
hurricane season to finish in Baja. Then on to Cabo where we will moor the
boat and look after it for the owner.
Of course while we are there we will be taking advantage of all the shark and
ray action around the Sea of Cortez. I have a friend who has promised to put
me in the water with Mexican Bullhead Sharks and possibly Pacific Sharpnose
Sharks - new sharks for Elasmodiver.com!
Life is looking pretty exciting right now.
For the sharks
Back to Canada
June 16th 2008
Just when I though I had my summer nailed down it looks like the
Mediterranean is not going to work out. After a great trip to the Canaries
to shoot sharks and rays, we returned to Palma to look for work on the
yachts but this year the med season is starting slowly. I'm not much of a
sit around and wait kind of guy so we decided to head back to Canada to work
on Vancouver Island over the summer.
This involves flying to Toronto with my girlfriend Claire to where my camper
is being stored, hopefully seeing my boys Aron and Luke if they have time
and then starting an epic road trip back to British Columbia. I'm a bit
worried that my ailing camper van won't make it over the rockies but as they
say "nothing ventured, nothing gained".
The pay off will be a long hot summer on the island working hard and chasing
sharks and skates. It has been too long since we got to hang out with old
friends, mountain bike, climb and all the other things that you just can't
do when you're on the road with no luggage space for toys other than cameras
and dive gear.
I will run at least one photography workshop while we're there so if anyone
is interested in tweaking their underwater shooting skills, please send me an
We haven't even arrived there yet but I am already figuring out where we can
go next to get some new shark pictures while we're in the north west. A
whole summer with nothing new to shoot would be too frustrating! So, I am
looking into a trip to shoot Salmon Sharks in Alaska. I expect that it will
be frustrating, cold and fraught with unforeseen difficulty just like the
trip I did last summer to shoot Porbeagle Sharks in the Bay of Fundy. If you
enjoy a challenge and you're interested in joining me on a trip fitting this
description please let me know.
Other plans include an expedition with Eli from SDM to look for Oceanic
Whitetip Sharks in the Bahamas and then sometime in the fall Claire and I
are heading down to Mexico to shoot Mexican Bullhead Sharks and possibly
Pacific Sharrpnose Sharks.
Lots of plans, lots of time, not much of a budget but enough of an obsession
to make it happen regardless.
For the sharks,
A quick trip to the Canary Islands
June 10th 2008
I have just
returned from the Canary Islands. It was a good trip for shark and ray
pictures. Thanks to a couple of very helpful dive shops I managed to return
with five new species for Elasmodiver and much better
images of the Roughtail
Stingray that I previously had only one fuzzy shot of. Not bad for five
days of diving. I will eventually load a page for each of the dive centres
and the encounters that they facilitate but for now I want to at least give
them a quick plug. They are:
Davey Jones Diving in Arinaga, Gran Canaria. These guys can find Angel
Sharks at times of the year when other operators cant. Brian (the owner) is
an eagle eyed guide and keen naturalist with a knack for finding Angels
under the sand. His store has been instrumental in collecting shark info for
an ongoing university study.
Los Gigantes Dive Centre in
Los Gigantes, Tenerife. Neville (the owner) has been operating a ray feed
since 1996. The by-weekly feed attracts 3 to 6 species of rays and sometimes
also brings in Angel Sharks. Neville and his staff went out of their way to
help us chase down the rays that we were looking for.
both dive centres for all your help!
For the Sharks,
Crossing The Big Blue
May 10th 2008
I am writing this shark blog while sailing from St Maarten in the Caribbean to
Mallorca in the Mediterranean. I have been hired to help deliver a 103ft
Swiss super yacht named Gliss. It is my first transatlantic crossing and
everything seems to be going well on the surface but of course I prefer to be under the surface so for me the whole experience
is novel but a
We have been at sea for almost two weeks. There is plenty of food on the
boat but each day the more carnivorous members of the crew trail lures in
the hope of catching some fresh fish. I have warned them that if they pull
up a shark I will cut the line but there appears to be little chance of
that. What is disturbing is that after hundreds of hours of trawling they
have failed to get a single bite. Perhaps they are just terrible fishermen
but the process isn't rocket science so I can only assume that the seas are
now basically empty. It is a sad testament to the state of the oceans.
Since there is no marine life to document except for the occasional flying
fish, I am using my down time to make as many changes to Elasmodiver as
I can. Consequently, there is a new shark story entitled
The Swell Shark's Last Stand in the
shark stories section and
a new page on the Thornback Ray which will be the last
new species that I upload until I can get
underwater and take some more shark pictures.
I have been reading up on South Africa which will hopefully be the
subject of my next big shark photography adventure after I find my feet in
Europe. The plan is to head to Cape Town to shoot as many catshark species
as I can find before I run out of time and resources and then fly back to Spain to
work on mega-yachts again for the rest of the summer.
So, if anyone reading this blog dives in the Cape Town area (or anywhere in SA for that
matter) I would appreciate any advice that I can get on dive sites there. This
type of helpful communication was the original reason for the existence of
Elasmodiver - to promote the two way flow of information that helps divers
find sharks and rays around the world. One of the excellent letters on South
African shark diving that I received some time ago is posted in the
shark talk section. It includes a very
detailed summary of diving options along the South African coastline and it
is packed with useful tidbits and contact details that would be hard to
gather unless you lived or regularly dove in a particular place.
This kind of information whether long and detailed or just a couple of
sentences in a email is always welcome especially if it is about an obscure
location that the average diver would not think of going to. So if you live
in Suriname, Vladivostok, Chile, Norway, or anywhere else with a coastline
that has sharks and rays, drop me a line and tell me what is there.
Nothing to me is more inspiring than an email from someone I haven't met,
describing somewhere that I have never been and telling me where I can find
a shark or ray that I have yet to photograph. This is how new adventures are
For the Sharks,
More Sharks in Peril
February 18th 2008
If I add 9 new sharks to the list of species on Elasmodiver it means that I
have had some great opportunities to shoot new shark pictures in the wild.
It is a cause for celebration.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) add 9 new
sharks to their list it is a bad day for sharks. The red list is a
compilation of all of the world's animals that are endangered. The list
represents the indisputable findings of the international scientific
community and does not rely on speculation or probability. On top of the
IUCN listings there are probably even more species that are also critically
endangered but there is not enough data to prove it.
Sadly today the IUCN announced that 9 more sharks will soon be added to the
red list including the scalloped hammerhead shark which was once commonly
seen in enormous schools close to many offshore seamounts. These new species
will bring the total number of sharks on the list to 135.
Hammerheads are particularly vulnerable because of their predictable seasonal
congregations and because their fins contain a very high concentration of
fibers that are used in the production of shark fin soup. Consequently, they
are heavily targeted. Researchers now believe that scalloped hammerhead
populations have plummeted by a staggering 99%.
As an individual I often feel ineffectual in the fight to save endangered
shark species. My images have been used by the Shark Alliance, the World
Wildlife Fund, Sea Shepherd and many others to publicize the plight of these
majestic and incredibly important creatures but while the heavyweights go to
war to force through protective legislation, millions of sharks continue to
die at the hands fishermen on the high seas.
It appears that after 400 million years of shaping our environment, sharks
have finally found an insurmountable obstacle laying in the way of their
As the last sharks swim into history some people will no doubt rejoice
believing that the world will be a safer place but this attitude stems from
ignorance. Removing sharks from the oceans will allow vastly more dangerous
animals to rule our seas. Voracious Humboldt Squid have already begun to
extend their range and can now be found in record numbers along the coast of
Baja and California. And some bony fishes (also usually over fished) will
soon have no natural predators to keep their populations healthy and in
Let me lay it out in a simplified way...
The sharks physiology limits the amount of offspring that it can produce.
Blue sharks are one of the most prolific species but even they can only give
birth to one hundred or so pups. On the other hand, apex bony fishes can lay
eggs in the tens of thousands. Imagine the havoc that an explosion of
barracuda could have on a population of reef fish. Anything large enough to
become a meal would be wiped out within a very short time leaving only the
smallest fishes to enjoy their own population explosion.
In the same way that the barracuda would decimate their food supply, so would
their tiny cousins and there lies the really enormous problem. Very small
fish eat plankton.
There are two types of plankton: zooplankton which is composed of all the
microscopic animals that drift around at the mercy of the currents and
phytoplankton which consists of microscopic plants. If the population of
tiny fish gets out of control they will begin to deplete our plankton
So what. Maybe a few whales will go hungry right? Wrong! Not only is plankton
the building block of the entire marine ecosystem, phytoplankton is
responsible for the production of most of the oxygen that we breathe. No
plankton; no breathable air. Now tell me that we are better off without
I will continue to write letters to politicians, loudly boycott restaurants
that sell shark fin soup or salad, sign anti-finning petitions, and try to
capture memorable images of the worlds endangered sharks whenever my
finances permit it. What will you do for sharks (and yourselves) today?
For the sharks,
January 9 2008
I have been shooting sharks for a long time and I still spend as much
time as I can in the ocean with sharks and rays large and small. However, life moves
on and I am ready to move on with it. I am embarking on an exciting new
career in the yachting world. It will give me the chance to travel the globe
aboard some of the most beautiful boats ever made. The pace aboard busy
charter boats can be hectic but time permitting, when I arrive in a far
flung destination I will do my best to dust off my wetsuit and shoot some pictures of
the sharks and rays that are endemic to those waters. Perhaps I can
convince one of the owners to buy a sub and explore the parts of the ocean
that I haven't had access to since I left Seamagine Hydrospace back in 2005.
My book project is still in its infancy but I will continue to plug away at
it when I can. I now have my STCW95 which is the first level of competence
required to crew on mega yachts. With this and my diving credentials I
should be able to find an interesting position.
Elasmodiver will sadly gather dust for a while but keep checking back. I have
a few shark stories to add that have not been published yet and a few more
species that I have been meaning to write about.
If you get a chance, check out this month's issue of
Diver Magazine which has
the article I wrote on chasing Porbeagle Sharks in the Bay of Fundy.
Still for the sharks,
Shark Diving - the definitive guide and the reality
of being a 'shark photographer'
December 12 2007
I am sitting in a cafe in St Maarten contemplating my position in the cosmos.
No doubt there are many sharks milling around lazily within a mile or so of
my table just waiting to smile for a photographer but sadly it has become
difficult for me to get in the water with them. Although I dive almost every
day, I am invariably leading divers along the reef or putting new divers
through their paces. This means that I am unable to carry a camera let alone
concentrate at the level necessary to get good shark pictures.
Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine outlining the awesome
week that he has just had in the Bahamas with Tiger Sharks and Great
Hammerheads. I'm thrilled for him that he finally got the images that he has
been seeking. I would have liked to have joined him but my finances are running thin. Earning $8 an hour as a Dive Instructor in the Caribbean is
not a good way to finance costly dive trips, and because I do not earn
anything from my images, I cannot consider the shark trips that I take as an
investment. For the last few years I have been financing my shark
photography with my savings but the coffers are now empty so if I want to
continue to sponsor my addition to shark photography I have to get creative.
The advertising on Elasmodiver now covers the upkeep of the site so there is
no danger that Elasmodiver will stop existing. The site receives around
10,000 hits a day so I believe that it is a valuable resource and I should
keep it online at all costs.
About a month ago a friend of mine bought me some publishing software.
So, now that I have less time for shooting but more evenings for writing it
makes sense that I turn my attention to a project that has been ruminating
in my mind for some time. I would like to put together the Definite Guide to
I would like to structure it in such a way that it is split into three
will incorporate an introduction to the sport, a brief history of the
pioneers (from Hans Hass to Rodney Fox), the dangers (real or perceived),
chumming techniques, cages, photography options, and more.
The second section will be travel oriented with descriptions of all of the
great organized shark dives around the world and many of the more obscure
shark encounters that divers can enjoy if they are a little more
The third section will be a species i.d. chapter geared specifically toward
divers. No spiral valve counts or tooth numbers - just the basics of how to
identify each species underwater. Incorporating as many shark pictures as
There will also be stories of shark encounters sprinkled throughout the book
to keep it interesting to readers with a less clinical head space and I will
try to include as much of a conservation message as possible without putting
people to sleep.
In my shark biased mind the result will be thoroughly absorbing and utterly
readable but I am willing to admit that others may not share my fanaticism
for sharks so if you have any words or encouragement, suggestions, or simply
think that I should go get a real job, please drop me a line.
The book will be a learning experience for me in many ways. I have little
knowledge of publishing but I enjoy writing and I am not afraid of structure
as you can see if you have explored Elasmodiver.
I estimate that this should keep me busy for the next couple of years. Maybe
I can cut that in half if I can get a publishing house or private sponsor
behind me but I have no idea where to look.
Today I have added some California Swell Shark pages to the site so Elasmodiver lives on. I still have a couple of rays left to load in
the next few weeks and some stories that have recently been published in
some different magazines so keep Elasmodiver bookmarked!
For the sharks,
Helping Elasmodiver Grow
November 16 2007
If you're a regular visitor to Elasmodiver you will have noticed that a few
months ago I added some 'ad space' in the margins of the site. Now there is
a Google search bar at the top of every page. There are two main reasons for
Firstly, when viewers decide to surf the web through Elasmodiver it adds a
small revenue stream that helps offset some of the costs associated with
running a website. So, make Elasmodiver your homepage and Google away as you
normally would. It is as anonymous as using any other form of Google and
helps me keep Elasmodiver plodding along.
Secondly, Elasmodiver has grown into a monster over the last few years. There
are hundreds of pages and thousands of pictures. Some hidden in dark
corners that even I have forgotten exist. Therefore, a search bar is not a
bad thing. If you're looking for info on a particular shark on Elasmodiver,
the site search button will find all but the most recent pages that Google
hasn't indexed yet. So have fun hunting.
If you're concerned that Elasmodiver is selling out, rest assured that I will
also continue to add important content whenever I get the chance and there
are many new ray and shark pictures waiting to be added as soon as time
It will be interesting to see what I can dig up in St Maarten over the
winter. There are plenty of Caribbean Reef Sharks at the shark feed that
Dive Safaris conducts and the occasional Blacknose Shark also attends but I
am hoping that I can Photograph something that I haven't seen before. There
are a few stingrays and guitarfish that I haven't shot in the Caribbean lots
of small sharks but like always it will come down to time in the water,
patience, and resourcefulness. If I get something new you'll be the first to
I just read a new report issued by the IUCN outlining the plight of sharks
and rays in the Mediterranean Sea. A combination of over-fishing, bi-catch,
and habitat degradation has led to some staggering depletions in numbers.
The IUCN estimate that 40 percent of Mediterranean shark and ray species are
now threatened with extinction. A sad testament to our collective
mismanagement and another reason why I want to continue documenting
sharks and rays while they still swim in our seas.
For the sharks,
Shark Feeding in St Maarten
October 31 2007
St Maarten is one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean. I was lured there
for the first time about 3 years ago by Dive Safaris who run a popular shark
feed out of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the border. The baited
encounter is one of the best ways to get close to big Caribbean Reef Sharks
and sometimes the CRS's are accompanied by little Blacknose Sharks which are
not seen on any other shark feed that I know of.
After writing an article for SDM, Eli was excited enough to include St
Maarten in the filming schedule for the Chasing Sharks TV series. That
second trip cemented my friendship with the crew at Dive Safaris but with
hundreds of shots of the sharks safely stored on my hard drive there was no
justification for me to return until now.
This winter, I have been discussing with my girlfriend Claire where we should
go to escape the cold and do something exciting. I called Dive Safaris and
Whitney (the owner) invited me to come down and train as a feeder. Between
feeds I'll work as a Dive Instructor and dive manically on my days off in
order to collect as many images of marine species as I can. Meanwhile,
Claire will be able to use her sailing experience to crew for Dive Safaris
and hopefully race Americas Cup Yachts.
It looks like winter is going to be a lot of fun and if we get into the
island groove winter may end up lasting for a long, long time.
For the sharks,
Porbeagle Sharks and Little Skates
October 8th 2007
Because of the abuse that my computers get when I'm on the road they usually
only last about a year. Consequently, after my east coast adventure finished
a month ago, my laptop fell apart. This was highly frustrating because I was
unable to update my blog or even view a lot of the images that I took on the
trip. If you have been curious to hear whether it was successful or not read
On a cold fall morning we headed out to the middle of the Bay of Fundy. The
sea was a grey/green soup, the currents were intense, and the sharks were
skittish and few and far between. Working behind the boat was a challenge in
the three to five foot swells and nobody really had any idea of how to do it
right but through luck and stubbornness we eventually got the Porbeagle
Shark Pictures we were looking for. Unfortunately you're going to have to
take my word for it until the next issue of Shark Diver Magazine is
published because I promised Eli that he could be the first to print the
After I dropped Eli back at the airport I drove south towards Boston. A few
years ago when I was a novice photographer with a simple point and shoot
digital camera, I dove there to look for Winter Skates. There were plenty of
them around back then, so I thought it would be worth a return visit while I
was on the north east coast to try to get some more skate pictures, this
time with a DSLR camera.
It only took two dives to get what I needed but surprisingly the skates that
I found were all Little Skates instead of Winter Skates. Go figure, same
time of year, same conditions, same dive site, brand new species. No
complaints from me because now \i have another species for Elasmodiver that
I didn't expect to get. Pictures and species profile coming soon.
For the sharks,
Dodging Death with Sylvain Sirois and the Greenland
Sharks of Baie Comeau
September 3rd 2007
I am sitting in a coffee shop in Moncton, New Brunswick, waiting for Eli (the
editor of Shark Diver Magazine) to arrive from Texas. At 3am we are slated to
board a fishing boat and head out into the middle of the Bay of Fundy. Our
objective is to be the first to get good images and footage of a live
Porbeagle shark in the wild. I have no idea if it will be possible but it
definitely wont be possible if we dont try.
On the long drive here from British Columbia, I stopped in San Diego (a bit
of a detour but well worth it for the shark pictures that I got), and then in
Ontario (again well worth it to see my boys Aron and Luke), and finally in
Baie Comeau, Quebec to look for Greenland Sharks with my old friend Maris
Kazmers (actually he's not that old). Kaz introduced me to Sylvain Sirois who
pioneered the Greenland Shark encounter at Baie Comeau which is on the north
shore of the Saint Lawrence river estuary. I only had time for two days of
diving but as it happened that was enough. Sylvain is a Greenland Shark
magnet and on the first dive we encountered 4 enormous Greenland Sharks
ranging from 8 to 11 feet long.
The encounters were brief (lasting from a few seconds to a minute of two) but
it was enough to get a sense of this enigmatic creature.
The sharks were very slow moving, docile animals that reminded me of the
sixgills which I have spent so many dives chasing near my home town of
Victoria in British Columbia. However, the similarities are superficial
because Greenland Sharks are members of the Sleeper Shark family which is
more closely related to dogfish than cow sharks.
The water on that first day was only a degree or two above freezing. The
initial shock of jumping into ice water was a rude awakening but it cleared
my head quite effectively. I followed Silvain down the line and we were soon
approached by the first shark. The encounter was brief and afterwards I
kicked off on my own, reasoning that if I was alone I would have a better
chance of a long encounter before the next shark got spooked. After drifting
through the fog for a few minutes a pair of Greenland Sharks materialized in
front of me. I tried to compose a shot of both sharks but they quickly
separated and I followed the closer of the two down into the depths.
Frustratingly, my camera auto-focus had difficulty locking onto the dark
shark as it sank deeper and deeper into the twilit, frigid water.
I followed it as far down as I dared, breathing hard and adding air to my
suit as I descended. I was getting low on gas and at 100ft I was about ready
to break off the encounter when catastrophe struck. My regulator began to
belch air uncontrollably. The combination of icy conditions, overexertion,
and rapid descent had caused my first stage to freeze open. As the air puffed
out my cheeks like a chipmunks, I tried to staunch the flow with my tongue
but it was no use. Within a minute or so the tank was empty and I was left
with very few options.
Because I knew that I had slipped into decompression I was reluctant to kick
for the surface and risk getting bent or worse. From the first second of the
free flow I had begun swimming back towards the area where I believed the
group to be. Navigation was tricky over the featureless sand but I was
convinced that I was making progress. I forced myself to stay calm and
settled into a slow but steady frog kick. I have an advantage over most
people in these situations because my adrenalin gland doesnt work very well.
It makes me a bit slow sometimes but the upside is that I practically never
After about 70ft of airless travel I could feel the carbon dioxide building
in my lungs. The mist cleared in front of me and 30ft ahead I spotted the
second group of divers heading into the darkness. Off to my left Kaz was
following the fourth Greenland Shark and I had the momentary urge to change
direction and try for a quick shot. Putting this irrational idea out of my
mind, I headed onward. I let out a few squeaks along the way to attract some
attention but the divers could not locate the direction of the noises and
continued moving away.
By this time I had been kicking along for about a minute on a single breath
with a bulky drysuit and a 44 pound weight belt. My lungs were beginning to
scream and the surface beckoned with the promise of oxygen and warmth but I
resisted the urge to bolt knowing that it would be a short reprieve.
Switching to a flutter kick I crossed the 20ft in a short burst of hypoxic
speed and gently reached down behind the closest diver and plucked their
octopus off of its clip. One long deep breath followed by another and
another. Predictably the surprised open water diver spun around and tried to
pull the regulator away. Comfortable now, I stayed at arms reach and waited
for them to think the situation through. I took a few more breaths and swam
away towards another diver who had been watching. Prepared, he offered me his
octopus and I motioned for the three of us to ascend towards Sylvain. I then
thanked them with a wave, handed back the donated regulator, and kicked the
last few feet holding my breath so that Sylvain could clearly see that I had
He looked utterly shocked but found his spare reg and we headed for the
ascent line. Fortunately he had enough air for me to complete my deco stops
without any violations so I arrived on the surface a little embarrassed but
The next day we tried again but the viz had dropped significantly and I was
the only diver to fleetingly see a shark in the soupy water. Looking back on
the whole experience I am left with these thoughts and words of advice:
Firstly, thank you to all three divers who donated air.
Secondly, if you don't want to dive with a buddy that is up to you but its
your funeral if all hell breaks loose.
Thirdly, don't over breathe your reg in icy water especially if it has not
been environmentally serviced for those conditions.
Lastly, (as usual) it isn't the sharks that are dangerous.
For the sharks,
August 27th 2007
A while ago I posted an article called
The Ethics of Shark Photography.
I stand by everything I wrote in that post but there is sometimes more to
photographing a timid shark than meets the eye and the publishable images do
not necessarily tell the whole tale.
For the first time on Elasmodiver I have loaded some pictures of a diver
purposefully manhandling a shark. The animal is a Blind Shark that is barely
two feet long and the diver is my girlfriend Claire. In Claire's defense I
should immediately point out that it was me who reached into a crevice and
picked up the resting shark. After it stopped thrashing I handed it to Claire
who floated nearby looking rather bewildered by my actions.
Neither Claire nor the shark were in much danger from this encounter but
there are reports of disgruntled Blind Sharks turning tail and latching onto
divers that have disturbed them in a similar fashion. As long as the shark is
held gently but firmly on its torso, avoiding the gill openings or fins, it
should be ok. Blind sharks are hardy creatures that are known to have good
survival rates even when thrown back by fishermen and when you consider the
abuse and indignity that shark researchers and fishermen put these animals
through in the course of their catch and release activities, removing a shark
from a crevice pales by comparison.
If you're wondering why a photographer would manhandle a Blind Shark in the
first place, the answer is simply that you cant get publishable shots of a
shark that you can barely see tucked into a thin crack. This is
especially true if your camera housing is so big that the dome port wont fit
into the crevice anywhere near the animal. The answer is to either leave it
alone (not a bad course of action) or to relocate the shark onto a surface
where shooting is possible and that is exactly what I did (with Claire's
help) on this occasion.
Releasing the brown hued Blind Shark close to the beautifully contrasting
green algae on the reef resulted in a series of images in which the shark was
well defined yet still in its natural environment (although normally it would
only hunt in this area at night). Within a few minutes the exhausted Blind
Shark was back in its crevice, unscathed but no doubt happy that its ordeal
This kind of encounter is not unusual in marine photography. I asked a
prominent professional photographer how he had managed to photograph an
elusive species of reef shark because repeating the method that I had used on
the Blind Shark would be almost impossible with a fast swimming carcharinid.
He told me that he had first caught the shark on rod and reel. He had then
removed the hook from it's jaw, tail looped the animal with monofilament
fishing line, and jumped in with his camera. He was then able to get
the shots he wanted while the shark (that would normally not approach a
diver) swum in circles under his boat.
As I have never done this I am not sure how much stress it puts on the shark.
Probably a great deal. Stress induced lactic acid build up inside the sharks
body can quickly turn fatal even if the animal appears to be fine upon
release. I have no desire to hurt any creature (let alone a shark) and I am
not a fan of fishing but I can see how this is probably the only method that
some species can be photographed. If it is your mission to catalog rare shark
species, my only advice would be to make the encounters as short as possible.
Incidentally, sharks are not the only creatures that are sometimes
manhandled in the name of photography. I remember marveling at those award
winning images of octopuses in mid water, perfectly composed in front of a
dramatic sun-splash, with their arms splayed out all around them. As I
learned more about the ocean and the habits of its occupants, I started to
wonder why any self respecting octopus would be floating around in the water
column. Sure enough, most of these shots are achieved by someone swimming up
to the surface with the octo and unceremoniously dropping back towards the
The mollusks (like the sharks) are probably not harmed by these activities so
there is no real cause for alarm. You may disagree with these photography
tactics but if you simply want to protect sharks there are far bigger and
more worthy battles to fight.
Follow this link: Blind Shark Pictures
to see the images.
For the sharks,
Three New Elasmobranchs from California.
August 20th 2007
Summer is speeding by in a blur of shark photography shoots. I am sitting in
a friend's house in Ontario desperately trying to clean and prepare my images
from the last two trips before starting the next one. Next week I am leaving
for Baie Comeau in Quebec to hunt for Greenland Sharks. Following that
adventure I plan to continue to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswich to join Eli
from Shark Diver Magazine on an attempt to find and photograph the Porbeagle
Shark. Porbeagles (to my knowledge) have never been photographed by divers in
the wild so it will be a historic achievement (in our small shark diving
world) if we are successful.
Last week I was down in San Diego with Eli on a trip to find Mako Sharks for
our readers. Over a five day period we brought in 14 Makos and although I
spent a lot of time on deck I was able to get a number of new angles that can
be found here: Mako Shark
As I already had plenty of Mako shark pictures it was hard to justify the
trip. Therefore, I needed to head off on my own in search of new sharks and
rays after everyone left. I went north to Ventura and searched the kelp
forests for Angel Sharks and Swell Sharks. The sea was unusually calm
so I had no problem locating these sharks and a new ray. The Thornback Ray is
a unique animal that looks like it is part guitarfish and part skate. It is
quite common in California but it was the first time I had seen one.
The west coast of North America has a very diverse array of elasmobranch
species and there are still many that I have yet to photograph. Sadly, for
personal reasons I am now relocating to Ontario which means that I will have
less access to Pacific species but there are also a number of sharks and
skates that I can now hunt for in the north east. The adventures will be more
challenging but in some ways that just makes success that much sweeter when
it finally comes.
Time to get back to the images. Keep an eye out for more shark pictures over
the next few days.
For the sharks,
July 29th 2007
I have just returned from a month long 'drive and dive' up and down the coast
of New South Wales, Australia with my girlfriend Claire. Almost everywhere
that we went the diving was awesome. Although the visibility was poor after
the 30 year storm, the shark and ray action was excellent and everywhere we
went yielded a new species or two, or a new way to photograph the species
that we had already seen.
The people we met along the way were exceptionally friendly and went far out
of their way to help us find the sharks and rays on our hit list, especially
Jon Cragg from Fish Rock Dive in South West Rocks who went the extra mile to
make sure that we left with stunning images of the wobbegong sharks that we
were after. Thanks Jon!
In total we dove with 6 species of sharks and 5 species of rays. Over the
next month or so I will be able to add 4 new sharks and 3 new rays to
Elasmodiver and that doesn't include the
Sandtiger Shark that we saw on our last day at Fish Rock.
The diving around South West Rocks was amazing. Three species of wobbegongs,
Grey Nurse Sharks everywhere, beautiful vistas, a swim-through filled with
sharks, and many other rays and blind sharks nearby. Forget the Great Barrier
Reef, no trip to Australia is complete without a couple of days at Fish Rock!
Now comes the slow and tedious task of cataloguing, cleaning, and uploading
all of the images from the trip. This will be difficult because I am supposed
to go to San Diego in a few days to shoot Makos for Shark Diver Magazine and
then drive across to the north east to look for Porbeagle Sharks.
Consequently some of the shark pictures will have to wait but eventually I'll
get them all filed and ready for print.
One last thank you to everyone that we met in Australia especially the
following people and dive shops:
Jon Cragg owner of Fish Rock Dive Centre
All the staff at Byron Bay Dive Centre
Dave Harasti Photographer, Marine biologist, seahorse fanatic, and expert on the life
around Nelson Bay
Chris owner of Pro Dive Nelson Bay
Michael Stanton and the staff of
Aengus Moran Crazy Irish Photographer loose in Sydney
For the sharks,
June 21st 2007
Over the last month New South Wales has been racked by unusually violent
storms. The first one was dubbed the '30 Year Storm' as it has been that long
since weather this bad has been recorded. Suburbs of Sydney and towns further
afield are completely flooded, an enormous freighter remains beached and
another was buckled like a tin can. The NSW premier was forced to declare a
state of emergency and many residents have been evacuated.
Comfortably languishing in the Vancouver summer sunshine I would normally
feel pretty removed from these cataclysmic events but this year I am
nervously following the action.
Unfortunately, I have a flight to Sydney scheduled for next week. My original
plan was to get as many pictures of sharks and rays as possible during my one
month visit but now I am not sure if I will be able to get in the water at
all. If the runoff that always follows such storms does not subside during
the next week or so, there will be so much mud in the water that it will be
impossible to see the sharks that I want to photograph. I cannot change my
flights at this late stage so I am plowing ahead with the plan, grimly
determined to go shark diving regardless of the conditions.
There is a slim chance that the weather will improve and clear water will
wash away the silt that is presently filling all the bays. If that happens
then all I have to worry about is that the sharks have returned from wherever
it is that they hide during such events.
The rest should be relatively easy; wait for high tide, dive in from shore,
locate the sharks and rays, get them to pose instead of swimming away, and
capture well exposed, perfectly composed images. What could be simpler!
For the sharks,
May 24th 2007
years ago Rosangela Lessa wrote a paper on the occurrence of the Daggernose
Shark in northern Brazil. In the paper she describes that the crazy looking
daggernose makes up about a quarter of the local catch. To my knowledge there
are no images of Daggernose Sharks in the wild so I emailed Rosangela to get
more information. I was hoping that she could help me get on a boat that was
fishing for sharks.
responded with bad news. In the few years since she wrote the paper, the
local population of Daggernose Sharks had been wiped out. She suggested that
I try Trinidad but offered little hope of success. The story is beginning to
sound like a broken record. 'You should have been here ten years ago' is
becoming all too familiar.
next to look for unusual sharks? I am not convinced that there is any future
for inshore species like the Daggernose. Unless a shark species inhabits
depths that are not yet being exploited, it is vulnerable to over fishing.
But, vulnerable is too subtle a word. There has never been a commercially
sustainable fishery in recent history. Shark fisheries only last a decade or
so until a catastrophic collapse takes place and the fishermen move on to
richer pastures. To say that sharks are vulnerable is like saying that
nuclear war could be a bit dangerous. It has to stop.
no longer any rational quota system that makes sense for sharks. A complete
ban on shark fishing worldwide is the only answer.
mean time I will do my best to document the species that are still
accessible. I will start contacting fisheries experts in Trinidad to see if
any Daggernose Sharks remain there. The IUCN WWF, and many NGOs recently used
my images to publicize the plight of the Spiny Dogfish. I wholeheartedly
believe that in order to promote change we need compelling images to better
understand what we are trying to save.
doing my bit. Make sure you are doing yours: Increase public awareness,
boycott restaurants that sell shark fins. Encourage a new global attitude
Teaching Photography and Shark Attacks
April 21st 2007
For the last month Elasmodiver has had very little growth. This is not
because there has been nothing to write about or no shark pictures to add.
Actually, there are so many new images that need to be uploaded that the task
is starting to look overwhelming.
Over the last month I have been preparing presentations for a new underwater
photography course that I am running. I thought that it would be quite
straight forward but I didn't realize how much I knew until I started trying
to write it all down. I think the course will be a great help to
photographers who have graduated from point and shoot cameras to digital SLR
cameras but have not yet mastered the art.
The first course will be in Victoria BC on the last weekend of April. I have
already been talking to stores as far away as Australia with regards to
further courses so keep an eye open on the
photography pages for dates near
you. Wherever I end up teaching I will be more than happy to talk shark with
anyone that drops by.
Although I was mainly shooting rays in Baja last month I did photograph one
sharky subject. While walking on the beach in Cabo Pulmo I watched a sea lion
swim ashore and slowly lumber up the beach. He looked awkward and as I got
closer I found out why. There was a large round wound on his rump. Around
this wound were the tell tale uniform incisions left by a row of shark teeth.
His head also had been opened by a row of razor sharp teeth. It appeared that
he had been bitten at least three times. Possibly firstly on the head but
finding it to be too bony, the shark had circled around to it's back. It had
then latched on but released and reattached finally finding the right amount
of flesh to shake and tear away.
The sea lion was unlikely to survive such catastrophic injuries. It was still
laying on the beach nursing its wounds when I left the town two days later.
Seeing the results of this encounter was a sobering reminder of the realities
and brutality of nature. I spend a lot of time in the water with sharks
photographing them in an attempt to capture their power and grace. I have
never witnessed a natural predation because the sharks are always intent on
devouring the bait that we bring with us or they are too busy swimming away
from the scary divers. To be confronted with this very natural but disturbing
sight will not affect my behavior around them but it will serve as a reminder
of their purpose. That sea lion was singled out for a reason. Whether it was
inattentive, a bad swimmer, or smaller than its brothers, it was singled out,
hunted down, and attacked. This keeps sea lion populations healthy. The
genetically superior ones live to swim another day.
The message is simple; remove the sharks and you remove nature's way of
keeping the entire marine ecosystem healthy. Chew on that.
For the Sharks,
2007 - Chasing Arctic Sharks
March 29th 2007
Last week I emailed a buddy of mine, Paul Spielvogel. Paul has been diving
with Eli and me on numerous occasions and he is a regular contributor to
Shark Diver Magazine. Paul loves sharks but he also likes his creature
comforts. A few years back we did a Blue Shark trip together in California.
During the trip Paul donned a drysuit to avoid the big chill but after
constant leaks, suit squeezes, and buoyancy problems, he retired to the deck
and watched in misery while the rest of us played with the sharks. Upon
returning home he gave his ill-fitting suit away, vowing never again to dive
in water below 70 degrees.
I pointed out that this summer we intend to spend a good chunk of time close
to the Arctic Circle in our pursuit of new shark stories. I made sure to
include some of the sharks we are going after: Porbeagles, Salmon sharks,
Greenland sharks, and Sixgills. I knew that would get him drooling and hoped
that it would be the nudge he needed to give drysuit diving one more try. It
would be a shame to dive the whole year without my buddies around me but more
importantly it would be a crime for a shark fanatic like Paul to miss out on
the opportunity to dive with the incredible sharks of the great white north.
Its going to be a long, cold summer. I can't wait!
For the sharks,
Baja Ray Diving Update
March 13th 2007
tally from Baja is 5 species of rays and no sharks. That isn't really
surprising considering the time of year, water clarity, and temp. Fortunately
Club Cantamar has invited me back to continue the search in September if I
can arrange a flight.
I am now
heading slowly back to the freezing wastes of Canada (but it isn't really
that cold where I live). On the way I am slipping into the ocean wherever
possible to look for sharks. The surf is pounding, the visibility is about
two feet, and so far no sharks have shown up but I don't know when I can get
back here so I will continue to plug away until I run out of time or energy.
As soon as I
get home next week the new ray pictures will begin appearing on elasmodiver.
But for now I have to get back to the surf and snag that shark picture while
The Rays of Playa Conception
February 25th 2007
I have been
busy chasing rays at Playa Conception in Baja. Yesterday I must have seen
more than 200 Cortez Stingrays and Round Stingrays. It is not easy sneaking
up on a ray the size of a small dinner plate and trying to hold your breath
in freezing water long enough to get the shot. Most of the time they wont let
me get anywhere near them but now and then a ray will defiantly hold its
ground as I close the gap. The trick is to come in at an angle so that they
don't feel threatened. Its frustrating but fun for a stingray geek like me.
got the shots I needed so I am ready to chase bigger animals now, down in La
Paz. The goal is to get some good Hammerhead shark pictures. Its another
tough mission especially this time of year but I'm here so why not give it a
Notes from El Salvador - Part 4
February 5th 2007
returned from El Salvador with no shark pictures (at least no pictures of
live sharks) and no tales of extraordinary diving. What I have is a tale of
adventure that led me from the artisanal shark fishermen, to the fin
collectors and the largest shark fin exporter between Mexico and Costa Rica,
to the conservation groups involved in protecting the sharks, and eventually
to the El Salvadorian press.
The story that
unfolded is too long for publication in Shark Diver Magazine so I am not sure
where this story will end up. Perhaps it will only be reproduced on
Elasmodiver but that would be a shame because the message that it conveys
deserves a wider audience. Once it has found a home I will post a link to it
on this blog.
For the sharks
Notes from El Salvador - Part 3
January 27th 2007
pretty weird. I woke up on a Panga (a small fishing boat) 5 miles off the
coast. After Jacobo and his son Antonio pulled in their nets, I resigned
myself to the idea that this trip was probably going to be completely
sharkless. We went back to the island and Jacobo invited me to his shack on
Isla Tesajera for breakfast.
His house had
a mud floor but it was spotlessly clean. His wife Maria cooked eggs while we
sat and talked in broken Spanish about families, sharks, and El Salvador.
Some of his 50 nieces and nephews dropped by while we ate. It was very cool.
afternoon I was back in San Salvador. I strolled into El Salvador Divers and
Alex invited me to a dinner party. My jeans smelled of fish and grime from
sleeping on the panga but they were all I had, so I threw on a clean shirt
and we drove to a ballroom.
If I had known
who was going to be there I might have made a bigger effort to clean up. We
missed the President of El Salvador by half an hour. As we entered the
ballroom, the eyes of the most powerful lawyers and judges in the country
turned in shocked amazement to see the unshaven gringo with the big grin come
loping through the door. With a smile Alex turned and whispered ďtonight we
swim with the most dangerous sharks in Latin AmericaĒ. Within half an hour I
had been introduced to the Attorney General of El Salvador, a few of the high
court judges, and a score of steely eyed lawyers, all dressed in Armani suits
with trophy wives on their arms. As we met each one, Alex introduced me as El
Cazador de Tiburon (The Shark Hunter). They had no idea what to say to me. It
We ended up
drinking the night away with a couple of lawyers. As the whiskey flowed it
began to sink in that the grand plan to photograph the elusive Mallethead
Shark had failed.
gonna forget about sharks and go dive in a volcanic lake Ė Lago Ilopango. On
Monday I will head to the port of La Libertad to see what sharks the
fishermen are bringing in. La Libertad is a dangerous place so it will be
risky to wander around with my camera. I am going more out of curiosity that
anything else but if I get a lead then I still have Tuesday to go shark
probably my last note from El Salvador. Itís a crazy place. Even though I
didnít get any live shark pictures I am glad I came.
For the Sharks
Post Script 29/01/07
I talked things over with Alex today. There's no way that I am going to get
in the water with sharks. It just can't happen. So I was thinking about how
to spend my last two days in El Salvador. Then it finally dawned on me what I
need to do to end the story; I'm going to try to find 'The Hindu'.
He is rich and powerful and is probably terrified of reporters. It's unlikely
that he will see me but its worth a try.
I got a ride across San Salvador today in a US Embassy armoured truck - dont
Notes from El Salvador - Part 2
January 25th 2007
accompanied Alex to an island where we found some shark fishermen cutting up
their catch. I took a lot of pictures while Alex gathered as much information
as possible. One of the most talkative men was Fransisco Coto. He is a shark
fin trader from San Salvador. The locals call him El Zambuzi - The Bull
Shark. He talked about the industry and the prices they get for the fins.
They sell them to 'The Hindu' an East Indian trader who uses San Salvador as
his base to collect fins from all over Central America. He was very poor when
he arrived a decade or so ago, but exporting fins has made him rich and
powerful. Before I leave El Salvador I am going to try to find him.
take their pangas far off shore in the evening to set their lines and nets.
Unlike in Mexico they stay out all night to protect their gear from thieves.
were very interested in my shark book. As they looked through it at the
different species they said that they knew of the Hammerheads I was looking
for but they rarely see them. I am not surprised as they are very rare
shark fisherman 'Jacobo' who fishes for snapper with nets rather than
longlines, pointed to the smooth hammerhead picture in my book and explained
that this shark frequently gets tangled in his nets. He invited me to
accompany him that night on his panga but I needed to prepare physically and
to them that I wanted to get in the water with the sharks and that I hoped to
photograph them while they were still alive. The fishermen thought this was
interesting - they donít get many visitors and this gringo loco was very
into the village and politely asked people to pose. They thought the whole
thing was hilarious.
about the plan on the way back to San Salvador. Understandably Alex did not
want to sleep on a small panga over night so he is going to lend me a small
air tank and some weights and cut me loose.
I am about to
check out of my hotel to try to get back to the island. I'm not exactly sure
how to get there or if I will get the same response once they see my heavy
dive gear and camera housing. The language barrier is also going to be a
problem but as they say 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.
If all goes
well I will be back in San Salvador some time tomorrow.
I have money,
Dramamine, some rusty Spanish, and a sense of humor. Hopefully that will be
from El Salvador - Part 1
I am here in
El Salvador attempting to get pictures of sharks that no one has even seen.
Not surprisingly it is almost impossible. Here is the first installment of
Max (the guy
who didn't meet me at the airport) was waiting for me when I returned to my
hotel this afternoon. There was something about him that was off-putting.
Nothing tangible but I wanted to get away from him as soon as I could. His US
deportation and drug conviction stories may have had something to do with it.
I agreed to accompany him to his friendís house who was supposed to be a good
contact but it didn't pan out. It involved a trip into a bad neighborhood and
I was nervous. I wasn't sure where I was but there was a discernable
difference in the run down buildings and brooding faces that ran deeper than
just the graffiti, litter, and corrugated tin roofs laced with razor wire.
Later when I
checked my mail, my US contact told me that Max had blown it for the last
time and that I should avoid him at all costs. Apparently he has been
stealing to finance his drug addiction. That is information I could have
I am heading
east tomorrow with Alex Hasbun the owner of El Salvador Divers. He has
adopted my crazy project and we are attempting to visit a village on an
island near one of the river mouths. The area is fringed by coastal lagoons
which are ideal habitats for inshore shark species. Its a good idea. We also
have a connection in Acahutla that we can follow up if we fail tomorrow.
I'm glad I
donít have to deal with Max. Alex is a great guy and a good contact. He is
desperately trying to preserve the biodiversity at Los Cobanos which is the
only coral reef on the Pacific coast of Central America.
me to his cousin Professor Carlos Roberto who is spearheading the Central
American wing of the Shark Alliance (an international coalition of like
minded shark conservation organizations). Sadly, with all his years of
experience Alex has never seen a shark while diving in El Salvadorian waters.
This is NOT
the Bahamas! If I eventually get the pictures it will be one hell of a story.
If not, then it will be one hell of a story anyway.
Can you help program Elasmodiver?
January 13th 2006
Over the last
few years Elasmodiver has become a well known and well placed resource for
people looking for information and pictures of sharks. I have done my best to
create a body of knowledge that is both entertaining and easy to read. Along
the way I have learned a great deal about the internet and the construction
of websites but I have reached my limit.
In order to
take Elasmodiver to the next level, I need to stop relying on Frontpage (a
website creation tool) and learn how to program. That is an extremely
daunting task and one that I am not sure I am capable of because my brain
understands F-stops and apertures but html and syntax are another story.
So, I am
putting out a call for help. If there are any shark fanatics out there that
are also programmers, I would like to hear from you. Elasmodiver has so many
pages now that it needs to become searchable. More importantly it needs an
image search tool and from what I understand that is not the easiest thing to
create. If you know your code, and you can offer advice with scripting, I
would be very happy to hear from you.
I leave on a
shark photography trip in two days. Unfortunately a low pressure front is
expected to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a Jacuzzi during the time I will be
in Texas so my prospects of getting some new shark pictures are looking grim.
Hopefully it will blow over in time to get in a couple of dives before I fly
on to El Salvador - I'll keep you all posted.
Another Year in Shark Photography
January 6th 2007
Where did last
year go? It's a common thought in many people's minds. Fortunately, I
remember exactly where 2006 went. I spent a great deal of time chasing sharks
around North America. Between shooting a TV show with Eli from Shark Diver
Magazine, hunting down sharks to illustrate new articles, and expanding this
never ending shark website, I barely had time to think. Before I knew it I
was looking for Xmas presents for my boys and planning 2007.
It looks like
this year is going to be just as exciting and just as manic. I have so many
ideas that I couldn't possibly achieve all of them in a mere 365 days. My
first trip is just one week away and I am nowhere near ready. That's a sure
sign that life is moving fast because if you haven't already noticed by
browsing through Elasmodiver, I like to be very organized.
Initially I am
heading down to Texas to check in at Shark Diver Mag HQ. Eli and our good
friend Paul Spielvogel have organized a boat to go out into the Gulf of
Mexico for 5 days. There are many sharks on our hit list including silkies,
blacktips, sharpnose, scalloped hammerheads, and what I call 'exotics' i.e.
sharks that we know live in the gulf but we do not expect to encounter
because they are generally too deep, too shy, or too rare to make an
appearance. We are expecting rough seas this time of year and life in our
little shark boat will not be glamorous. If all goes well I will be able to
upload some new shark pictures onto Elasmodiver before I leave Texas on the
Next stop El
Salvador. The last time that I was there I was dragged off a bus and held at
gun point for two hours. That was in 1989 when the country was entrenched in
a bloody civil war. Times have changed and I am looking forward to a warmer
welcome this time. My plan is to document the El Salvadorian shark fishery
and to find out what they are catching. El Salvador is a hazy spot on most
researcher's maps so the inshore sharks that live there may be quite
interesting. Being a camera toting gringo in a remote village full of nervous
shark fishermen is asking for trouble but I have some contacts that should be
able to make some introductions for me. Its been a while since I walked on
the wild side and I am filled with a trepidation that I have not enjoyed for
involves flying home and driving straight down to California. It's not
written in stone yet but with luck I'll be hunting for Angel Sharks north of
LA and kicking back with many old and new shark diving friends until I get
the shot. Then it gets fuzzy; San Diego? Baja? We'll see.
that's just trip #1! Later in the year I am looking at Brazil, Mexico, back
to Cali, and possibly Fiji and Australia. I have also just nailed down a
summer expedition to the west coast of Vancouver Island with Ogden Point Dive
Centre to search for the northern population of Blue Sharks - possibly the
only decent sized gathering of blues left in the eastern Pacific.
include developing a shark photography course, becoming an Inspiration
Rebreather Instructor, and expanding Elasmodiver to include an ambitious
section on extinct sharks including a database of shark fossil pictures that
I will slowly expand as I get permission to shoot at various natural history
museums around North America.
If I work at
this speed, between sharks and my kids, 2007 will be over in a flash, but
life is so short that I wouldn't have it any other way.
A tough year for sharks and rays
December 16th 2006
2006 has been
another tough year for elasmobranches (sharks and rays). The legal
long-lining of sharks continued to chip away at the already stressed
populations throughout the year and although the impact of illegal finning is
hard to estimate, it undoubtedly added significantly to the death toll.
came under attack in 06 after the much publicized death of Steve Irwin (The
Crocodile Hunter). Beach goers and fishermen were left angry and scared and
took out their frustration on any stingrays that they could find. It may take
some time for stingrays to shake their new, largely undeserved, deadly
Not all the
news was negative. New strides were made to protect sharks in different
areas. One considerable victory was achieved when the Taiwanese agreed to
stop harvesting Whale Sharks. This year's formation of the Shark Alliance
also bodes well for the future. The combined efforts of its member
organizations will hopefully give shark conservationists a much more powerful
voice with which to fight for more realistic shark fishing quotas and a
complete ban on finning.
have had a great year taking shark pictures. Mostly traveling with Eli from
Shark Diver Magazine, I have been able to photograph many new species to add
to the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide.
As well as
shark images, we have managed to film an entire season for our upcoming TV
show. The first episode of which is finally edited to everyone's liking and
ready to be pitched to the networks. So with luck, you will be able to catch
the action some time next summer. As soon as we sign a deal, we'll post all
the information here on Elasmodiver and on Eli's site.
In 2007 I will
be hunting for shark pictures whenever time permits. I am already finalizing
my plans for the first adventure which I hope to be leaving on by the middle
of January. I am going after some rarely seen sharks that I believe have
never been photographed alive before, but I'm keeping tight lipped about the
details until I come home with the shots.
Eli is also
putting the itinerary of the next season of the show together so between
Chasing Sharks, SDM's shark photography trips, and my own adventures it
is going to be a very busy year!
Merry Xmas and
a shark filled new year.
November 20th 2006
I am back
from the last official SDM shark photography trip of 2006. Last week in the
Bahamas we were surrounded by big Tiger Sharks and hungry Lemon Sharks. On
one day we actually had five different species of sharks show up including a
Great Hammerhead. They were attracted by the scent of blood in our chum slick
that had drifted many kilometers down current. Now, back in BC with no
concrete plans to go after more sharks, I have a major case of SDW (shark
editor of Shark Diver Magazine) is busy cherry picking through all the shark
pictures from this yearís adventures to decide which shark images will be
used for feature stories in upcoming issues of SDM, which will be stored as
stock images to illustrate unforeseen future articles, and which pictures
will be filed away on CD until the writing becomes illegible and Eliís kids
use them as Frisbees.
more shark dives to look forward to until next year, I am faced with the
laborious task of formatting all of this yearís shark pictures ready for
submission to the various agencies that want them. Itís a slow and arduous
process. Firstly, I have to be ruthlessly honest about which images to delete
completely and which to keep and submit. Then its time to fire up Photoshop
and remove any blemishes or offensive backscatter from the shark pictures
that I like. Itís easy to get carried away in Photoshop. Remove a few grains
of particulate here and there, maybe get rid of that diverís arm that is
messing up the composition, change the tone to make the colors a bit warmer,
delete those overexposed fish, bring out the contrast a little, remove that
bait crate, and before you know it, an action filled shark picture becomes a
sterile composition. Iíd like to be able to say that I donít Photoshop my
images but Iím as guilty as most other digital photographers.
the digital labeling, copyrighting, and reformatting to pander to each
agencyís specifications. I find this job really grueling and it takes
files get burned to disc and mailed away.
critical eyes at the various agencies go through the same process of
selecting, storing, and deleting pictures, depending on their preferences and
needs until my yearís adventures and memories are reduced to a manila
envelope of shark images stored on each agencyís super computer. Itís a funny
Iím lucky, sometime next year Iíll be leafing through a fish book and Iíll
see one of my forgotten shark pictures staring back at me and Iíll get a big
smile on my face. Itís pretty cool getting published but also, when I see a
shark that I photographed, swimming across the page, Iím transported back to
the adventure and reliving the moment helps me survive my shark diving
withdrawal until the next trip when Iím back in the water with the sharks.
Help me put pressure on Shark Fin Traders
November 12th 2006
Most of my
blogs are either about shark diving or taking pictures of sharks but today I
want to help with a campaign that is putting pressure on a very big player in
the shark fin trade. Alibaba.com provides a service that helps connect shark
fishermen with shark fin wholesalers and dealers. Discouraging Alibaba from
continuing this aspect of their business would impact the availability of
shark products and disrupt the entire industry. Please follow the links to
learn more about what Alibaba does and then lodge a complaint with their
company. Many voices have joined the appeal already but we need to create an
extremely negative atmosphere before anyone in this large company will pay
attention and reconsider their position on the shark fin trade.
shark fin letter writing campaigns have worked to change the attitudes of
companies as large as Visa and Disney. Please don't waste this opportunity to
make a difference.
To see the
scope of global shark buying visit
To see Alibaba.com management visit
To locate the Alibaba.com office nearest you visit
To voice your concerns about Alibaba.com shark trade postings visit
On a different
note, I am back from the Bahamas with some great new shark pictures and my
next post will contain a report on the entire trip.
November 2nd 2006
leave for West Palm Beach to board a ship bound for the outer reefs of the
Bahamas. It will be a shark safari that I hope will attract Tiger sharks,
Great Hammerheads, and perhaps 4 or 5 other species. I already have pictures
of most of the sharks that are likely to show up so I have been thinking hard
about what I should concentrate on photographing this year.
A couple of
years ago I had a conversation with marine life photographer Andy Salmon
about how easy it is to get respectable shark pictures with the new
generation of digital cameras that are now on the market. Andy's opinion was
that in the digital age, the role of the professional photographer has
changed. It is no longer enough to get 'respectable' shark pictures to make
the grade, it is necessary to raise the bar both technically and
artistically. This stuck in my mind and I have tried to raise the bar of my
own shark photography whenever and however possible. On this trip the
pressure to get publishable images is higher than normal because
Shark Diver Magazine has already covered the Bahamas many times so my images
need to be exceptional to make them worthy of publication.
I'm not sure
if I can achieve the caliber of images that I am looking for but I will give
it my best shot. The key I believe is a combination of patience, ingrained
familiarity with the camera, time in the water, getting very close to the
sharks, already having the image in your mind, and having cooperative sharks.
When all these factors come together at the right moment spectacular results
are sometimes possible but there are no guarantees.
For good or
bad, when I will update this blog on my return from the Bahamas, my new shark
pictures will speak for themselves.
The Ultimate Shark Quest
October 26th 2006
A few days ago
I was talking to the Editor of Shark Diver Magazine (SDM) about a Small
Spotted Catshark Article that I wrote. He was planning to call it simply;
Cat Shark. I pointed out that if he did that then he couldnít run another
catshark story for some time and considering that there are 138 different
species of catsharks that seemed like a bit of a waste.
conversation drifted into a discussion about the upcoming Shark Divers TV
show which has changed considerably since it was first penned. The original
idea was to make a show about shark diving and us getting shark pictures and
stories for SDM. That is still the primary focus of the show but we have
added an additional challenge; we want to film 100 species of sharks. Why?
Well, apart from the fact that it probably hasnít been done before, itís
another excuse to do what we love doing. I will also be able to add a lot of
new species to the Elasmodiver Field Guide to Sharks and Rays.
It would be a
lot of fun trying to film that many species for TV. In fact, I would be
satisfied just trying to get that many shark pictures for the magazine, but
after the catshark argument I sat down and started to think through the idea
more clinically. Was it a realistic goal or would it become a show about a
couple of guys failing to film 100 shark species? I made a mental tally of
the sharks I have seen since I started diving. I believe I am just shy of 50
species. Not bad considering that I didnít become a professional photographer
until a couple of years ago but then again, itís been getting a lot more
difficult to find new animals lately.
shark pictures has become a challenge that is slowly consuming me and the
difficulties are not all related to budget or my limited time in the water.
Of the almost 500 species of sharks that are out there, a tremendous number
are simply beyond the reach of the average diver. I have the advantage of
being a part-time submersible pilot but even in that job I have few
opportunities to locate deep water sharks. Not surprisingly, when a large
metallic submarine cruises over the seabed with lights blazing in all
directions, the sharks of the abyss (with their sensitive opalescent eyes)
turn tail and flee at lightning speed. Iím not just talking about deep sea
lantern sharks and dogfish. Thumbing through my Collinsí Sharks of the
World it appears that nearly all of the ornately patterned catsharks that
would look so at home on a shallow coral reef, actually inhabit the twilight
zone below 100 meters.
nightmare that limits my quest for shark pictures is the phrase Ďprefers
turbid water and muddy baysí Turbid water is caused by wave action churning
up the sediment or by rivers dumping huge quantities of silt into the sea.
Lots of species of sharks live exclusively in these low visibility
environments. Their highly tuned senses are more than adequate for them to
navigate through this sightless world but shark photography is virtually
So, unless we
intend to catch all these elusive sharks and relocate them to places where
they are easier to film (youíd be surprised how many shark pictures are
staged) we are in for some frustrating shark trips. Can it be done? I believe
so but even if we fall short of our target we have lost nothing and gained
one hell of an adventure. I guess Iíve always been on this mission anyway so
publicizing it on a TV show merely adds some time constraints to a quest
that I was expecting to last a lifetime.
Seven Shark Species in Seven Days
September 20th 2006
was amazing. Not a single day went by without some kind of shark interaction.
I spent the first day of the trip snorkeling with a large aggregation of
Leopard Sharks (Triakis semifasciata) off of La Jolla in San Diego. Despite
the low visibility this would have been a great start but to top off the
experience a shy Grey Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus) swam by for a
quick cameo. Sadly the shark pictures tell the story of how much sand was
being kicked up but regardless of the grainy results I was thrilled to
encounter these two species and I look forward to uploading the images as
soon as possible.
involved a trip out into the gulf with a new friend - Walter Heim. Walter has
been tagging Makos off the San Diego coast for some years. Prior to this he
was a recreational shark fisherman but as the numbers of Blues and Makos
declined in the 90ís he switched hats and he now gathers data for Shark
Tagger. I spent three glorious hours in the water with two small Mako Sharks
and a couple of Blues. The offshore viz was great compared to La Jolla and
the Mako Shark Pictures speak for themselves.
I spent the
third day on Catalina Island terrorizing Horn Sharks and searching in vain
for Soupfin Sharks. In close proximity to the Horn Sharks I stumbled on a
number of Swell Shark egg capsules and although I didnít see any adult Swell
Sharks its good to know that they are there somewhere and busy procreating.
On day four
I hooked up with Ron Clough who organizes the California Shark and Ray Count.
Ron and his band of volunteers keep tabs on all species of sharks and rays
around the LA/Ventura area in order to assess the general health of the
marine ecosystem. A healthy apex predator population equals a healthy reef.
Ron was able to find an Angel Shark in horrendous visibility but other than a
token couple of Angel Shark pictures I wasnít able to maximize the
opportunity. Apparently the Angels are resident in the area so Iím hoping
that I can try again when I head back down (probably in January).
On day five
I snuck in another dive with the leopards while I waited to board a bus to
Ensenada but a storm had kicked the swell up and the vis was even worse.
Day six was
spent cruising to Guadalupe Island aboard the Solmar V. No time in the water
but a boat full of sharkoholics to hang out with made the day pass quickly.
seven, eight, and nine I spent most of my waking hours snapping away at Great
White Sharks in the cool clear waters around Guadalupe. The White Shark
action was consistent for almost the whole time that we were there. If you
want to see the Great White Shark Pictures, they are already loaded onto the
Shark Pictures Database database.
All in all
it was a great trip and you would think that I would return satiated for a
while but all it did was wet my appetite for more opportunities. California
is only a two day drive from where I live on Vancouver Island. Compared to
most places I dive it is tantalizingly close and I can already hear the
sharks calling me back. In the mean time I have a whole lot of new shark
pictures to clean up and upload and two new ray species to write about so
keep an eye on the updates page over the next couple of weeks.
California Shark Safari
September 1st 2006
frustrations of Sixgill Shark hunting in BC for the last month, its finally
time for me to head back out with Shark Diver to get some new shark pictures
for the next issue of the mag. We have a really exciting itinerary that will
take us along the Southern California coast in search of some of the coolest
sharks you can find in the Americas.
dives are always fun but road trips through California are packed with
opportunities. We are planning to hop between Catalina Island, LA County, San
Diego and Guadalupe Island. If you know your sharks then youíre already
reeling off the potential subjects: Horn sharks, Leopards, Soupfins,
Smoothhounds, Swell Sharks, Angels, Makos, and finally Great White Sharks at
Guadalupe Ė what an awesome agenda! Of course, weíll be filming everything we
can as part of the Shark Divers TV show so even if youíre not coming along
youíll be able to catch all the action (eventually).
This trip is
an extra special one for me because although I have dove with around 50
species of sharks it has been a standing joke between Eli (Editor of SDM) and
I that I have never seen a Great White Shark. In the past whenever a trip was
planned I was always busy shooting somewhere else but finally it has all come
together and weíre going after Mr. Big, Jaws, White Death, The Man in the
Grey Suit, The caretaker, or whatever else you want to call him. Its gonna be
very cool to come face to face with the most notorious face in nature for the
first time. Crystal clear water, lots of white sharks, a warm drysuit, a
giant memory card, and three days to film Ė heaven.
next post will include links to some great new shark pictures but first I
need to change the oil in the Sharkmobile and follow the sun from Canada to
Cali. I'll be hugging the coast all the way down so if the ocean beckons
before I hit LA I'll simply pull over, dive in with my camera, and go look
for sharks. Time to go pack...
Summer of the Sharks Trailers
August 16 2006
trailer for the Shark Divers TV Show has just been loaded onto the web. It
isn't what your average documentary watcher is expecting to see and hopefully
that's a good thing. The last thing that the 21st century viewing public
needs is another slow paced shark documentary showing the exact schematics of
a shark's biting mechanism, or a show about how important it is to tag white
sharks in the hope that we'll find out where they're going, what route they
are taking, and their internal temperature while they swim there (yawn).
Don't get me
wrong, I believe that this information is valuable. In fact I believe that it
is critical if we want to save the increasing number of shark species that
are being exploited. If we enter the arena armed with irrefutable information
and statistics in support of conservation measures then we stand a much
better chance of persuading governments to ban or limit shark fishing.
is that scientific stats only appeal to a small group of TV watchers. What if
we could get a much bigger chunk of TV viewers to watch a shark show and what
if the characters on the show were funny enough to entertain people and crazy
enough to make people want to tune in next week. Shark Divers hopes to do
just that and at the same time sneak in a critical conservation message in a
way that doesn't make people's eyes glaze over. Its a unique formula that
wont appeal to everyone but hopefully it will be a refreshing change of pace
for lots of jaded viewers and if they start to relate to the characters on
the show then inevitably some of them will begin to voice the same opinions
and little by little the chorus of voices chanting 'save the sharks' will
pictures of sharks. Some of the species in my shark pictures are rare or at
least rarely photographed but from experience that doesn't turn people on.
They want in your face action and the shark pictures that generate the most
interest depict divers interacting with the sharks. Relating that to the
Shark Divers TV Series I think a lot of people are going to eat this show up.
So check out
the trailers at this link:
Shark Divers Trailer and if you have any comments let me know -
after all, getting people talking about sharks is what its all about.
August 5th 2006
For most of
the year I have to travel a long way from home to photograph sharks but for a
brief spell during the summer my local Vancouver Island waters fill with
sharks large and small. Having just returned from filming 100+
Whale Sharks in
Holbox, Mexico I am in no
great hurry to dust off my drysuit and plunge into the uncomfortably cool
waters of the Pacific North West but July has ended which means that Sixgill
Shark Season is approaching fast. The first Sixgill has already been spotted
by a commercial diver in 170ft of water so I know theyíre out there and
thatís all the incentive I need.
Sharks are large elusive animals that spend most of their time down at
unreachable depths. During the northern summer for reasons that are probably
related to the pursuit of food they choose to enter the relatively shallow
bays of Vancouver and Puget Sound where they occasionally bump into scuba
divers. Trying to find and photograph these sharks is no easy task but like
most successful underwater photography it comes down to preparedness and time
spent in the water.
It took me
an entire summer of floating around in deep water to get some images of my
first Bluntnose Sixgill
Shark. The next place I went searching for them I found one on the first
dive but that was the only time they were seen there all summer. Fortunately,
while the Sixgill Sharks are deciding whether to make an appearance I can get
my shark fix by photographing Spiny Dogfish Sharks which migrate north in
large numbers and make much more dependable subjects.
August the dogfish will be moving south and my search will take on a new
twist. At the end of the Summer divers start to see occasional Big Skates
feeding on crabs and mollusks off the beaches around Vancouver Island. Doing
long solo search patterns in the mud far from shore is a bit unnerving at
times but for the chance of getting some decent Big Skate pictures itís worth
the time and the spooky drift diving in featureless terrain.
of skates should keep me busy until mid September which is when I have to be
in California to attend a Great White Shark trip with Shark Diver magazine so
life could be way worse.
are out there somewhere and with my rebreather I have a very good chance of
finding one so Iím heading out right now to take a look.
Dead Sharks In Holbox
July 22nd 2006
compulsory day off, I wandered the streets of Holbox today with Eli until we
came upon a devastating sight. A truck drove by with an enormous Tiger Shark
hanging limply over the end of the flatbed. It was so long that itís tail
dragged along the dirt road as the truck moved forward. We estimated it to be
around 12 or 13ft long and easily 600lb. After talking to the locals we were
able to find out where it was being taken and we intercepted the truck in a
boat yard where the fishermen were in the process of packing the carcass in
ice for the trip to Cancun where a shark fin dealer called ĎEl Coyoteí would
purchase it and export itís fins to the Far East. The fishermen were
reluctant to talk to us but they allowed us to film their work and even posed
over the monster they had conquered. It was exceptionally sad to see such a
magnificent animal reduced to soup stock, fish chunks, and fertilizer.
the beach we witnessed many more sharks being hauled in, mostly juveniles
that had not reached maturity and therefore could not possibly have left
little sharks as a legacy before they were ripped from the ocean.
wanted to photograph dead sharks for some time in order to illustrate the
articles that I write about over fishing, but now that I have finally seen
the bloody carcasses of sharks floating in the surf I wish that I could erase
the images from my mind as though the opportunity had never arisen. One
long-line shark fisherman told us that he brings in about four sharks a day.
They are usually juvenile Bull and Tiger Sharks in the 4 to 6ft range. He has
agreed to let us film his work tomorrow so hopefully we will be able to
capture the whole process on tape and use it to stop the carnage.
link to see the images of
I have become a Whale Shark Picture Machine
July 21st 2006
There are so
many Whale Sharks to photograph near Isla Holbox (north of Mexicoís Yucatan
Peninsula) that most of the time I donít know which way to point my camera.
It is day four of an eight day shoot and I already have more good images than
I have taken on all of my other Whale Shark trips put together.
I think that
in the last three days we have seen around 55 animals but its hard to tell
since the panga that is taking us from one encounter to the next may
sometimes be guiding us back to Whale Sharks that we have already swum with.
stills is very challenging in the green plankton rich water but with the
amount of sharks in the area itís possible to just keep on swimming until the
perfect opportunity arises, and then itís down to luck and a little skill
with the camera. The luck factor rests with the Whale Sharks. If you swim
quickly but quietly into their path they sometimes swim almost directly into
you, changing course a meter or two short of a collision. Then itís down to
you to decide whether you want to go for the shot or side peddle as fast as
you can. It is unusual for the sharks to plow forward after they notice you.
They have keen eyesight as well as a lateral line system that can detect a
swimmerís vibrations long before they materialize out of the soup so they
generally veer off, mouth still agape in their endless search for microscopic
so far, I have jumped off the boat to shoot my first Whale Shark and not
climbed back onboard until all the sharks have submerged which happens around
midday when the sun is highest and the plankton begins to sink. I am amazed
that other divers on the panga would choose to swim for a while and then
lounge on deck when such a unique opportunity is a quick kick away but I
guess thatís the difference between people who like sharks and people who
just canít get enough shark action and its no secret which category I am in.
July 11th 2006
I try to expand the horizons
of elasmodiver.com whenever I can. Sometimes that means going on an exotic
trip to some previously uncharted island paradise and photographing schools
of marauding but little known sharks but that's not always possible. Now that
the Summer of the Sharks Pilot is out of the way (the trailer is being
reviewed by some heavy hitters this week) its time to work on the aspects of
elasmodiver that are perhaps a little less glamorous such as indexing the
species that I was able to photograph in the Houston Aquarium.
pretty cool that I was invited to dive in their well stocked shark tank but
there are members of the diving community who would consider this activity to
be a waste of time if not a complete embarrassment. Hell, I'm supposed to be
the Staff Photographer for Shark Diver Magazine not some geek who floats
around in a
goldfish bowl. Well I have news for anyone who considers Aquarium Diving to
be suspect... The almost two hour long dive that I did in Houston was one of
the most productive for shark photography that I have ever achieved.
was I able to get way closer to the gnarly looking
Sandtiger Sharks than ever before, but I was able to get images of two
species of Sawfishes (Green
Freshwater Sawfish) that I would probably never have seen in the wild.
Apart from the expense of another long and grueling trip down under, the
chances of locating a river or estuarine environment where the water
visibility would be good enough to find and photograph the animals is almost
zero. Combine this with the fact that these species are critically endangered
(according to the 2006 IUCN Red List of Endangered Species) and it becomes
obvious that the images I took are extremely rare and that I was very lucky
to have the opportunity.
That doesn't mean that I don't want to jump into the Fitzroy River one day
and wrestle crocodiles in an effort to shoot sawfish in the wild (I still
have my undeniably stupid streak) but I am a convert to the benefits of
slipping into a nice clean shark tank to get easily composed images of highly
exotic species in crystal clear water.
a time when I had my reservations about the very existence of Aquariums and I
still have some issues with keeping large marine mammals in captivity, but in
today's seas where many species of sharks and rays are being decimated by
over fishing aquariums become a useful tool in educating the masses to what
we are quickly losing in the wild and the captive breeding programs that
these facilities provide are sadly the only way that some species are likely
to come back from the brink of extinction.
Manically Manipulating Shark Pictures
shark shoots is moving almost as fast as the shoots themselves. Between press
releases, cutting a trailer, cleaning and filing hundreds of digital shark
images, and reminding my two boys that they still have a dad, it's hard to
find time to do any local shark diving. That's a shame because word has it
that the Spiny Dogfish Sharks have started to arrive and soon the sporadic
Sixgill Shark sightings will start. This year I have my Inspiration
Rebreather ready to roll at a moments notice. If I hear that a Sixgill has
been spotted at any of the local dive sights here on Southern Vancouver
Island I'll drop whatever I'm doing and try to locate it. This will be my
first chance to try a rebreather on this species and I'm curious to see if
the lack of noise will encourage them to stay around longer giving me some
better photo opportunities.
If you hit
the What's New button on the
Elasmodiver toolbar you'll see that many new species from the Summer of
the Sharks trip have already been loaded into the field guide and the Shark
Picture database. We have been considering how to present all the new species
in Shark Diver Magazine and we've decided that we need to produce a special
edition of the mag just on the three week tour for the movie. We have plenty
of topside images to complement the shark pictures and we're bubbling over
with stories so it should be a great read. More about this later if it
challenge after the Whale Shark trip will be to edit the next issue of Shark
Diver. Congealing a handful of shark stories, advertisements, and storyless
but publishable shark pictures into a readable format is not as easy as it
sounds. I'd rather be in the water with the sharks than watching them swim
across my computer screen but either way I'm involved with sharks and that's
Notes from the Shark Bus Part 3
is now a blur of aggressive sharks and late nights. True to form the
Caribbean Reef Sharks were ready to rumble as soon as we entered the water.
After six dives including one in which Eli donned chain mail to feed the
sharks we had all the CRS footage and still shots we could possibly want. The
Blacknose sharks were as elusive as ever but a few close passes allowed me to
improve my collection of Blacknose images (see the new Blacknose Shark images
added to the Shark Pictures Database).
scheduled chumming in deep water didn't turn up a single shark. After hours
of bouncing around in a small skiff with multiple chum bags sending a healthy
slick out to sea, we admitted defeat and returned to Big Momma's Reef for yet
another shark feed (you can never do too many).
shore we were told about a shark attack victim who was willing to relate his
ordeal, so we gathered up the cameras and went in search of a story. What we
found was no local fisherman nipped on the ankle. The victim was none other
than Leroy French who was famously mauled by a white shark while diving at
the Farallon Islands in California back in the days when no one knew that
this notorious group of islands was a favorite feeding ground of Great White
us how he was struck multiple times by the 14-16ft shark until Al Giddings
was able to reach him and drag him back aboard their boat. After extensive
surgery Leroy returned to diving and now runs a dive shop in Simpson Bay on
St Maarten - small world!
from St Maarten our Summer of the Sharks Adventure was all but over except
for a quick dive in the Houston Aquarium's shark tank. Not such a bad way to
end the trip. The staff graciously allowed us free reign of the tank for a
couple of hours during which we snapped away feverishly at shark and ray
species that we would otherwise not have had the chance to document. I came
away with some unique images of Green Sawfish that are almost impossible to
photograph in the wild.
extensive behind the scenes tour we climbed back on the bus and sat around
unsure of what to do next. No more sharks to film, and no more shark fanatics
to meet, the road trip was at an end.
infested weeks, sixty five hours of film in the bag, thousands of still
images, and enough memories to last a lifetime. Flying home to Vancouver
Island I had mixed emotions. My kids were waiting for their Dad but the shark
action was hard to let go of or even to put out of my mind. Fortunately the
tour will be back on the road very soon. In three weeks we are heading for
Holbox Island in Mexico to film the largest known aggregation of Whale Sharks
in the world. I guess the adventure never really ends, there are just
intermissions between one shark dive and the next.
Notes From the Shark Bus Part 2
June 8th (Day 6) 10am
planned early morning exodus from Houston dragged on to the early afternoon.
We had every intention of driving all the way to Atlanta before sleeping
which would have given us plenty of time to stop in at the Aquarium to see
the new whale sharks. Two females arrived a couple of days ago to complement
the males that are already on display. Now we are scrambling to make up time
as we want to tour the Aquarium and still meet our guests in North Carolina
at 8pm. I donít think we have a hope in Hades of getting all the way there on
schedule but how can we turn down the chance to go see the largest fishes in
great to finally meet up with our old friends like Kaz and Mad Marc Seda in
NC. Itís been months since we last dove with them and weíre looking forward
to catching up on each otherís wild adventures.
really excited about diving with the Sandtiger Sharks again this year. I have
a bigger and badder camera system with me and Silent Diving Systems is flying
my Inspiration rebreather down so that I can get closer than ever to the
Sandtigers without my bubbles scaring them off. Weather permitting; this
should be one hell of a trip.
To give you
an idea of life inside the shark bus, Iím sitting on a monster subwoofer that
Raf had installed while we were diving with the Silkies. If it was any louder
I think my ears would start bleeding. Rafa who sang in a hard rock cover band
in college is screeching at the top of of his lungs. Eli is slapping together
another plastic cheese and miracle whip sandwich, and Rusty is working
intently at his computer at the back of the bus. Rafa is now working himself
into a classic rock frenzy barely able to still drive with the raw power of
AC/DC coursing through his veins and the Atlanta skyline is looming on the
June 8th Day 6 10pm
We are on
our way to Morehead City. Itís been a busy day. The Atlanta Aquariumís staff
were very welcoming this morning. They gave us a behind the scenes tour of
the whale shark exhibit. I was very impressed to see the sharks and rays
acting so naturally. The Cownose Rays that normally flap around aimlessly in
smaller exhibits, were actually swimming in formation, schooling just as they
would in the wild. The whale sharks themselves are eating well and cruising
around the edges of the tank to the delight of the endless stream of visitors
crowding into the viewing tunnels.
June 14th Day 12 8am
Iím in the
Shark Bus heading down to Venice, Louisiana. North Carolina is already a blur
in my shark infested memories.
to dodge the tropical storms quite well and dove 4 out of the six days we had
there. I would have liked those extra two days to shoot but visibility was
pretty low anyway so my Sandtiger Shark pictures were mostly shades of gray.
action was consistently good. Every dive had at least a handful of
cooperative Sandtiger Sharks of all shapes and sizes from inquisitive three
foot long juveniles to cautious remora clad adults that hovered at a
respectable distance. On one safety stop we even had a school of Blacktip
Sharks swim by. This was a rare treat and Eli being closer than myself,
managed to swim over with his video camera and record the experience for
planned to dive for three days on scuba and then another three on my
Inspiration Rebreather to see if it made much difference to the distance I
could get to the sharks. Sadly the weather cut the experiment short but my
single day of diving without bubbles was enough to drive the point home; the
sharks practically ignored me. They were still a little wary of my bulk but
diving silently allowed me to drift along right beside them without them
bolting. Only when I released a jet of air to adjust my buoyancy did the
sharks move away and as long as I kept calm they were soon back at my side.
concentrated our diving efforts on a wreck called The Spar. It was purposely
sunk a couple of years ago to provide a new habitat for marine life and the
sharks seem to be pretty happy with the new accommodation options. One
Sandtiger in particular could be seen on each dive. I mentally labeled her
Hook Jaw as she was easily recognizable by the large steel hook that was
embedded in her cheek. I doubt that she feeds very well with this hindrance
and the scrapes on her skin imply that she is either used to getting bullied
or she isnít heeling very quickly.
stage it is hard to know if we have the footage we need for Summer of the
Sharks but at least I have plenty of still images for the magazine and for
In a few
hours we will be in Venice. From the map, it appears to be on a waterlogged
peninsula consisting of river deltas and swamps. We have been told that
nothing survived from Hurricane Katrina so anticipating the worst, we have
stocked up with enough supplies to feed ourselves during the three days we
plan to dive there.
I am also
mentally preparing myself for an encounter with large sharks Ė possibly Makos.
I am not nervous of the animals themselves but Makos traditionally hit the
bait hard and leave. That potentially leaves me seconds to get the shot, no
set up time, no practice shots, and no second chances. That adds up to a lot
of pressure to shoot under. If we get a player that stays around to feed,
then itíll be easier Ė I will only have the sharks themselves to be careful
of. Either way, itís a new destination with new opportunities and to me
thatís an irresistible challenge.
June 18th Day 16
Back in the
bus heading for Houston. Venice was amazing. Although we didnít find any Mako
Sharks, the other shark action was extremely intense. For two days we had a
giant swarm of Dusky Sharks nipping at our heals. Iím exploding with stories
from Louisiana but Iíve sworn to save the details for the movie. One thing is
certain; weíll be back in Venice the first chance we get. The conditions were
primitive (e.g. showers using the hose at the fish gutting table) but the
diving was so good that the topside details were insignificant.
fly to St Maarten for yet more action. It will be a perfect way to end the
shark tour and Iím very excited about going after Blacknose Sharks and
chumming for who knows what out in the blue where no one has chummed before.
It just keeps getting better.
Notes from the Shark Bus Part 1
June 3rd (Day 1)
Iím here. I
am aboard the Shark Bus with Eli, Rafa, and Rusty. Rusty seems like a good
guy. Heís young and enthusiastic and it looks like he knows his way around a
was a struggle. I left Victoria yesterday morning and flew to Vancouver. I
approached the US immigration officer nervously but foolishly they let me in
again. Flew to Denver and hit a snag. Big delays due to weather. Finally
arrived in San Antonio at 1am but no matter how long I watched the belt turn
my luggage never came through the gate. Left instructions to forward my bags
(which contain an entire camera system, my dive gear, and all my clothes) to
Houston for pickup later today.
and exhausted I jumped a cab to the Greyhound Station downtown and waited for
4.30am to roll around. Slept most of the way to McAllen and then waited for
Eli to take me to the office.
later Iím arriving in the Shark Bus in Houston, a Corona in hand, a glazed
expression on my face, and a viral infection raging through my sinuses and
throat. I donít think anyone realizes quite how sick I am yet and Iím keeping
quiet for now. Hopefully Iíll bounce back from this one pretty quickly but
tomorrowís diving might be a bit painful Ė weíll see.
June 5th (Day 3) 10.00 am
yesterday but didnít attract many sharks. We think we had a big Sandbar shark
on the bait but he chose take out.
slowly dwindled to a croak by the end of the day and now Iím reduced to
writing because I am literally speechless. So much for the Eli and Andy show.
I just hope that I can get some good images today to redeem myself. Itís dumb
to feel guilty for being sick but I feel as though Iím letting the team down.
If I can express myself in images for the next couple of days, I will feel
better. Iíve never lost my voice before and I have no idea how long it will
last. Iím on about four different medications so letís hope one of them fixes
pretty pissed off this morning because it took so long to get away from the
dock. I donít blame him at all. Our future in the industry is resting on the
success of this pilot. Eli has borrowed a pretty big pile of money to finance
everything including the charter we are presently on which as yet has yielded
on our way to Stentson Bank where Silky sharks reputedly gather. By tonight
weíll either be despondent and somber or busy reviewing some new shark
footage and images.
staying out overnight which will give us the opportunity to chum continuously
for 24 hours. If that doesnít bring in sharks then weíre too late. It will
imply that the numbers are so depleted by long lining that looking for sharks
in the Gulf of Mexico is no longer viable.
June 6th (Day 4) 11.30 am
yesterday chumming up Silkies. The action wasnít exactly amazing but by the
end of the day I had some respectable Silky Shark images for the mag. Eli
wrangled up a cute little two footer and Raf managed to hand cam the action
in a way that made it look like a monster. Spent last night sleeping on the
couch in the lounge which was the coolest room on the boat. Slept fitfully
but woke up feeling ready for some serious shark diving. Testing out my vocal
chords it seems that Iím a croaky version of my old self today which is good
for me and probably for Eli who has had to do all the talking lately.
At 9 oíclock
the Captain told me that he wanted to pull anchor and head in at 11. This was
a blow and I wasnít sure why he was cutting our charter short. He seemed
pretty grumpy so maybe he had some grievance with us that I wasnít aware of.
I quickly woke Eli who couldnít get anywhere with him so we jumped in and
swam over to the Oil rig for a last attempt at some filming.
from the rig we found a good sized school of Silkies. They were all around 3
to 5 ft long and wanted nothing to do with us. Repeatedly we kicked out
towards them but each time they evaded our efforts to get close enough to
untied one of the chum crates and swam up current from the swirling fish and
sharks and shook the hell out of it mimicking a shark tearing at a carcass.
jacks flocked in and I was soon so surrounded by silver bodies that I could
no longer see the oil rig. I was sure that this activity would encourage the
sharks to investigate but it was not to be.
the sharks were bigger they may not have felt so threatened by my presence
but unfortunately there were no big adults around. I hope they havenít all
fallen victim to long-liners.
back to the rig I hung in the current snapping grainy shots of the distant
school that I hope will convey the sense of the moment. Then feeling the
breathing resistance on my reg I kicked up and floated over to the boat.
in better spirits now, has offered to drop us on another bank on the way home
for an extra dive. We have no chum left but if the seabed is shallow enough
we might be able to find something to photograph. Hell, itís all bonus
footage as far as Iím concerned. We have a story, plenty of pictures, and
Iíve got my voice back. Life could be way worse.
New Shark Pictures
May 30th, 2006
In three days time I leave to
begin filming Summer of the Sharks. We have big plans for the new Shark
Divers TV series that this film will lead into. As soon as the movie has been
shot the crew will begin the laborious task of editing the footage and
hopefully turning our vague ideas and lofty aspirations into a watchable and
entertaining shark film. While this is taking place I will return home and
start editing the new shark pictures that I will have taken during the trip.
We are planning some unique chumming sessions so we really have no idea what
species of sharks will be photographed but its a fair guess that there wont
be any Great White Shark Pictures until later in the year (but it would be
one hell of a story if a Great White Shark showed up to lunch in the southern
Caribbean). If we're very lucky we may get Mako shark pictures but there are
no guarantees. So, unless both my cameras flood I should have some new images
loaded by the end of June.
While I'm out of touch with
the world I'll be working on a new section of Elasmodiver dedicated to the
Shark Champions; those fearless ambassadors of the elasmo world who battle
everyone from politicians to fishermen to help protect the worlds dwindling
shark populations. The idea is to create a database of shark protection
organizations that readers can wade through until they find the one best
suited to their own ethics and agendas. Each company intro will have a link
straight to their joining page so that anyone inspired by the work that they
are doing can easily join up and add their support. Keep an eye open for it.
For the Sharks,
worst about sharks
May 25th, 2006
busy devouring anything that they could fit into their mouths millions of
years before Homo sapiens walked the earth. Even now they have a reputation
for consuming all manner of things outside of their normal diet and
examination of their stomach contents has turned up everything from
seaweed, to old clothes, to books, and plastic bags.
long been plagued by their existence but they are actually a staple in
certain poorer countries where their meat is dried, salted, and preserved
for long journeys. They are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures
where vast quantities are often consumed.
a much lower birth rate than bony fishes and are extremely rare in
Antarctica but they have adapted to survive in almost every other
environment resulting in an exceptionally broad global presence. They can
even be found swimming in fresh water.
specimens are extremely dangerous especially when cornered or if food is
present and there are many documented instances of attacks resulting in
serious injuries and deaths.
places protective barriers have been installed to try to keep these evil
creatures at bay but invariably they break through or find their way around
them with dire consequences.
we will never be rid of these creatures and will have to live in an uneasy
truce with the knowledge that they are out there eating everything they
intentionally misdirecting the reader. The fact is that everything I wrote
is true about goats but more commonly expected of sharks. Sharks are
actually extremely picky eaters for the most part. They also generally have
no desire to get anywhere near humanity. In fact, of the 500 or so species
of sharks that swim in the worlds oceans only a handful are seen along
beaches where people are likely to be swimming.
is also a misnomer underwater. The Ďbarriersí that are strategically
positioned along beaches where Great White Sharks and other species patrol
are not designed to keep sharks out. They are designed to catch sharks and
drown them. Sadly this works all too well resulting in a drastic reduction
in Apex Predators in areas where seal and other large pinniped species need
the sharks to hold their numbers in check.
are not actually continuous in the way that a fence is and sharks are just
as likely to be seen swimming inside the nets as outside. What would the
public think if they realised that the shark nets are trapping sharks near
public beaches! Even if you believe that by reducing the number of sharks
the nets are a good thing, its worth noting that sharks are not the only
victims. Shark nets catch many dolphins and porpoises, as well as turtles,
rays, and even the occasional whale.
trying to encourage a situation that leads to more shark attacks but maybe
installing marinelife death traps is not the answer. There is currently a
great deal of effort being put into creating viable alternatives to shark
nets. The latest idea is to string magnets that repulse the sharks before
they get close enough to become entangled. Lets hope that whatever device
is eventually used to replace shark nets protects the sharks as well as us.
For the sharks,
Summer of the
May 24th, 2006 by
2001 was the year when
starvation gave way to feeding frenzy. The media (who were starved for a
headline) began feeding on the plight of shark attack victims. What
statistically was turning out to be a normal year for shark attacks along the
Florida coast was hyped out of proportion to feed the sensationalizing news
hounds. This led to a shift in public opinion which ultimately resulted in a
complete (and pointless) ban on shark feeding in Florida State waters.
Following is a press release of the movie that we are working on that will
hopefully capture the public's interest and shed a different light on Americas
Five years after
what the media dubbed 'the summer of the sharks', a film crew from Shark
Diver Magazine are hitting the road to create their own 'Summer of the
Sharks' a movie/documentary in which the team (led by editor Eli
Martinez) plans to hunt for sharks all along the eastern seaboard.
The road trip
begins in Galveston, Texas where silky, hammerhead, and blacktip sharks are
frequently reported by fishermen. Using bait to bring the sharks up to the
boat Andy Murch (SDM Photographer and host of
Elasmodiver) will attempt to get close up shark pictures while Eli
and Rafa Flores (underwater Director of Photography) capture the action on
The 2nd stop on
the tour is the treacherous waters of North Carolina where deep offshore
wrecks are inhabited by ferocious looking Sandtiger sharks. The team hopes to
capture some extremely close up images by using rebreathers that don't allow
bubbles to spook the sharks. "It's funny" says Andy "that people are
absolutely petrified of sharks but most of the time the sharks are so timid
that merely blowing bubbles is enough to scare them away".
Taking the 'Shark
Bus' down to Louisiana the team then plans to chum for aggressive makos
before flying out to St Maarten in an effort to find and photograph the
rarely seen blacknose shark.
Andy's take on
Summer of the Sharks: "The movie isn't about sharks, its about the dream we
have to share the sea with these incredible creatures. Call it an obsession
if you like but its what we do, and this is a chance for people to see into
our world. The camera will always be rolling so the fear and adrenalin will
be pretty obvious".
Summer of the
Sharks will introduce the new TV series Shark Divers, in which the
team will head to a different location each week looking for close up
encounters with the world's deadliest and most elusive predators.
May 19th, 2006 by Andy
What do you know about the
fascinating world of sharks and rays? And, why the hell are they important
anyway? Well, simply put, if we didn't have sharks in our oceans you
wouldnít be able to read this blog. The catastrophic effect that this would
have on the food chain would be enough to eventually create an imbalance at
a planktonic level.
What most people donít realize is that most of our oxygen comes from the
sea not from the rain forest. Burn the Amazon and there would be a tragic
loss of species and beauty. Kill the sharks and there would eventually be
very few species left all together.
This is how it worksÖ First we fish out the sharks. The next level of
life in the ocean (e.g. the tuna) become the new apex predators.
Unfortunately, these don't have such a slow, self regulating reproductive
cycle as sharks so they multiply rapidly (now that there are no sharks
around to keep their numbers in check). The inevitable over abundance of
tuna then decimates the species on which they normally feed (e.g.
mackerel). The mackerel stocks quickly fall below the level where they can
sustain the population of tuna and the tuna start to starve. The lack of
mackerel also means that the different varieties of baitfish that are their
normal prey go through a massive population explosion. The baitfish then
consume the plankton and the planet loses its largest producer of oxygen.
Its a primitive model but the logic is sound.
The message is simple: No sharks = no plankton = no oxygen = no people.
So you want to go shark fishing?
So, shouldn't we take an interest in Sharks and Rays in order to help
protect them (and ourselves). Maybe or maybe we should leave it to our
governments or people like myself who are active and vocal about the plight
of sharks. That's fine, Iím not expecting any converts just yet but if
youíre even vaguely interested in shark behavior, pictures of sharks, what
its like to swim with sharks in the ocean, how you can help to protect
them, their evolution, and much more, then follow this blog now and then.
Or better still, explore Elasmodiver
where you can find more shark and ray information than you can poke a spear
gun at. Its a massive site that has thousands of
shark pictures and links to hundreds of pages that are not all dry
boring facts like the ones I just subjected you to.
For the sharks,Andy Murch