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

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