Archive for June 2006

Summer of the Sharks Part 2   Leave a comment

June 8th (Day 6) 10am

Frustration!

Yesterday’s 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 don’t 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 the sea.

It’ll be great to finally meet up with our old friends like Kaz and Mad Marc Seda in NC. It’s been months since we last dove with them and we’re looking forward to catching up on each other’s wild adventures.

I’m also 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, I’m 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 horizon.

June 8th Day 6 10pm

We are on our way to Morehead City. It’s been a busy day. The Atlanta Aquarium’s 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

I’m in the Shark Bus heading down to Venice, Louisiana. North Carolina is already a blur in my shark infested memories.

We managed 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.

The shark 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 posterity.

I had 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.

We 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 isn’t heeling very quickly.

At this 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 Elasmodiver.

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 – 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 it’ll be easier – I will only have the sharks themselves to be careful of. Either way, it’s a new destination with new opportunities and to me that’s an irresistible challenge.

June 18th Day 16

7pm

Back in the bus heading for Houston. Venice was amazing. Although we didn’t 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. I’m exploding with stories from Louisiana but I’ve sworn to save the details for the movie. One thing is certain; we’ll 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.

Tomorrow we fly to St Maarten for yet more action. It will be a perfect way to end the shark tour and I’m 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.

For the Sharks’

Andy Murch

Andy Murch is the Staff Photographer at Shark Diver Magazine and the Creator of the Elasmodiver Shark Picture Database

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Posted June 28, 2006 by Andy Murch in Movie Journal, Nature, Photography, Sharks

Summer of the Sharks – Notes from the Shark Bus #1   Leave a comment

June 3rd (Day 1)

I’m here. I am aboard the Shark Bus with Eli, Rafa, and Rusty. Rusty seems like a good guy. He’s young and enthusiastic and it looks like he knows his way around a camera.

Getting here 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.

Then grubby 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.

Eight hours later I’m 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 don’t think anyone realizes quite how sick I am yet and I’m keeping quiet for now. Hopefully I’ll bounce back from this one pretty quickly but tomorrow’s diving might be a bit painful – we’ll see.

 

June 5th (Day 3) 10.00 am

Chummed yesterday but didn’t attract many sharks. We think we had a big Sandbar shark on the bait but he chose take out.

My voice slowly dwindled to a croak by the end of the day and now I’m 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. It’s dumb to feel guilty for being sick but I feel as though I’m letting the team down. If I can express myself in images for the next couple of days, I will feel better. I’ve never lost my voice before and I have no idea how long it will last. I’m on about four different medications so let’s hope one of them fixes me up.

Eli was pretty pissed off this morning because it took so long to get away from the dock. I don’t 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 no results.

Today we’re on our way to Stentson Bank where Silky sharks reputedly gather. By tonight we’ll either be despondent and somber or busy reviewing some new shark footage and images.

We’re staying out overnight which will give us the opportunity to chum continuously for 24 hours. If that doesn’t bring in sharks then we’re 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

Spent yesterday chumming up Silkies. The action wasn’t 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 I’m 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 o’clock the Captain told me that he wanted to pull anchor and head in at 11. This was a blow and I wasn’t sure why he was cutting our charter short. He seemed pretty grumpy so maybe he had some grievance with us that I wasn’t aware of. I quickly woke Eli who couldn’t get anywhere with him so we jumped in and swam over to the Oil rig for a last attempt at some filming.

Up current 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 film.

Finally I 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.

The smaller 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.

Perhaps if 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 haven’t all fallen victim to long-liners.  

Swimming 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.

The captain, 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, it’s all bonus footage as far as I’m concerned. We have a story, plenty of pictures, and I’ve got my voice back. Life could be way worse.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

Andy is staff photographer at Shark Diver Magazine and host of The Elasmodiver Shark Picture Database

Posted June 7, 2006 by Andy Murch in Uncategorized