North American Shark Diving (Farewell) Tour   Leave a comment

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 by day.

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 often horrendous.

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 Fransisco.

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 feeding.

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 where you can follow our progress: northamericansharkdivingtour

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,

Andy Murch

Shark Pictures

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