Archive for July 2006

Dead Sharks in Holbox   Leave a comment

Taking a compulsory day off from filming Whale Sharks I wandered the streets of Holbox today with Eli until we came upon a devastating sight. A truck pulled up with an enormous Tiger Shark hanging limply over the end of the flatbed. It was so long that it’s tail dragged along the dirt road as the truck moved forward. We estimated it to be around 12-13ft 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 ‘El Coyote’ would purchase it and export it’s 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.

Returning to 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.

I have 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 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 4-6ft 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.

Follow this link to see the disturbing pictures of the dead sharks

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Host of Elasmodiver.com

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I have become a Whale Shark Picture Machine   Leave a comment

There are so many Whale Sharks to photograph near Isla Holbox (north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula) that most of the time I don’t 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.

Shooting stills is very challenging in the green plankton rich water but with the amount of sharks in the area it’s possible to just keep on swimming until the perfect opportunity arises, and then it’s 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 it’s 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 swimmer’s vibrations long before they materialize out of the soup so they generally veer off, mouth still agape in their endless search for microscopic organisms.

Each morning 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 that is the difference between people who like sharks and people who just can’t get enough shark action and its no secret which catagory I am in.

The underwater footage that we have for this episode of Shark Divers is murky but passable and the screaming and action back on the boat is good enough to entertain. At one point we threw our topside DP in with the sharks just to film his attempts at snorkelling. What we ended up with was a half drowned DP that didnt see any sharks because he was too busy trying to breathe. I guess we pushed him too far because he has decided to sit out the rest of the trip on the beach.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

Host of Elasmodiver.com

Hardcore Aquarium Diver?   Leave a comment

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.

Its still 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 jumps 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.

Not only 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 Sawfish and 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 doesnt mean that I dont 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.

There was 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.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

Andy is the Staff Photographer at Shark Diver Magazine and the Host of the Elasmodiver Shark Picture Database and Field Guide.

Posted July 12, 2006 by Andy Murch in Environment, Nature, Photography, Sharks, Uncategorized

Manically Manipulating Shark Pictures   Leave a comment

Time between 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 materializes.

The first 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 good enough.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

Summer of the Sharks Part 3   Leave a comment

July 1st

 

St Maarten 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 Sharkive).

The 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).

Back on 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 Sharks.

Leroy told 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!

 

Returning 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.

After an 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.

 

Three shark 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.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 

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