Archive for November 2011

Big Fish, Big Whales and Big Squid!   Leave a comment

Big Fish, Big Whales and Big Squid

WHALES AND HUMBOLDTS TRIP REPORT

I’ve been home for 3 weeks from this year’s Sea of Cortez Expeditions and I’m still reliving the highlights in my mind. It was an incredible adventure with great people and great encounters.

Over a two week span, we spent time in the water with absolutely every big animal that we had hoped to see. From voracious humboldt squid to enormous sperm whales, the ocean just kept delivering us new and amazing animals.

To give you an idea of how diverse it was, we managed to cram humboldt squid diving, a pod of sperm whales, a twenty meter solitary bull sperm whale, a few finback whales, multiple pods of pilot whales, schooling scalloped hammerheads, schooling mobula rays, playful sea lions, scores of reef dives and three whale shark encounters into two weeks at sea.

The shooting opportunities ranged from challenging to great to epic but now I am faced with the daunting task of wading through thousands of images of fish, squid, whales and reefs. The best will be loaded onto Elasmodiver when I have the chance except for the ones that are saved for magazine articles. Every time I open a new folder of pics, I am transported back to that particular dive or encounter. Its a great way to relive the adventures between trips but no substitute for actually being there.

For me this was a very experimental trip and I was not sure if it would all work out. By the time we arrived back in La Paz, I had dates nailed down for next August’s squid run so if you’d like to join me next year please let me know: 2012 Sea of Cortez Expedition

NEW TRIPS

I’ve also added two more epic trips to next year’s Big Fish Expeditions line up:

Humpback whale diving and manta diving in Socorro.In March I am running a Humpback Whale and Manta Expedition to world famous Socorro Island. Socorro breaks the surface 200 miles south of the Baja Peninsula and is reached by liveaboard from Cabo San Lucas. It is probably most famous for the amazing manta encounters that take place there. The rays are some of the biggest that you are ever likely to dive with. They are known for interacting with people at the islands and allowing divers to swim within inches of them (perhaps enjoying the feeling of the divers exhaust bubbles rolling over their skin). Interestingly, the mantas at Socorro have been shown to be able to identify individual divers which they return to time after time for more attention.

The islands are also known for excellent reefs and sharks! Resident species include Galapagos sharks, silkies and whitetips but hammers and other species can also be seen.

But, like all Big Fish Expeditions, the Socorro Expedition is timed to deliver the maximum amount of big animals so we are visiting Socorro during the humpback whale migration. Late March is an excellent time to encounter female humpbacks with new calves. The calves are very curious and they have a reputation for closely approaching divers and snorkellers before being steered away by their more cautious mothers.

Each day between dives, we will head around the islands and jump in with any whales that we see. Between humpback whales (and possibly other whale species), mantas, sharks, dolphins and other pelagics, this should be an epic adventure. Socorro Humpback and Manta Expedition

I also have a new Whale Shark Trip to Isla Mujeres on the tip of Mexico’s beautiful Yucatan Peninsula. Over the last few years, this area has become renowned for enormous aggregations of whale sharks. The number of animals that gather in the area is unprecedented making encounters virtually guaranteed. Combined with warm, blue Caribbean water, and the chance of encounters with other pelagics like sailfish and schooling cownose rays, this is a great place to interact with whale sharks.

This is also the perfect trip for those that want to encounter the largest fish in the sea in style! We will be staying at a beautiful beachfront hotel within walking distance of the center. No crowds, no hassle, just wake up to the sounds of the sea and be whisked away to the whale sharking grounds directly from the hotel. Then jump in and swim with giants all day before returning back to the comfort of the hotel. Wow, I sound like a travel brochure but after some of the hard ‘off the beaten path’ adventures that I sometimes go on in search of strange shark species, this expedition sounds just fine! Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Expedition

SPEAKING OF OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Its been a while since I had the chance to chase new sharks but in a few days I am heading off to Cape Eleuthera which is one of the lesser known outer islands in the Bahamas Chain. For the next two weeks I will be documenting the work of the Cape Eleuthera Institute while they conduct a survey of abyssal sharks that live in their waters. Once they take measurements and DNA samples from the deep water species, I will have the chance to jump in and photograph the released sharks. This will be a golden opportunity to nail some shots of species that divers would normally never see. The work that is being done on the island is very unique and I am looking forward to telling you all about it after the trip. And hopefully, bringing you some very interesting pics.

THE BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS 2012 LINE UP

2012 is looking pretty amazing and the trips are filling up. Of the first three shark diving expeditions, Malpelo is sold out, Tiger Beach has just two spots left and our Cat Island Oceanic Whitetip adventure has 4 spots open so jump in while you can!

You can now see an Expedition Calendar with all the expedition dates we have planned here:

http://bigfishphotographyexpeditions.com/index.html#BigFishExpeditionCalender

Sharkfest Sandtiger Shark DivingLast but far from least, its a long time until Sharkfest but if you are interested in joining me for a great weekend of brand new shark films, shark diving with sanftigers and generally partying with a group of likeminded shark junkies, please consider joining us next August. Also, if you’re a budding film maker (or a seasoned professional) and you have a short shark film that you would like to air at the festival, please send me an email!

More on Sharkfest here: http://bigfishphotographyexpeditions.com/sharkfest.html

See you out there,

Andy Murch

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Life is Short (especially for divers).   Leave a comment

Life is Short (especially for divers).

August 19th 2011

Life is short. For divers it seems even shorter because we have more to explore and experience. Therefore, we have less time to dedicate to each amazing place or animal encounter. So, I try to cram as much into every trip as I possibly can.

As an example, I have just returned from a two week adventure along the eastern seaboard of the United States. It started with a two day Big Fish ExpeditionsTrip to see blue and mako sharks in Rhode Island. Then I nipped up to Massachusetts with Film Maker Joe Romeiro and photographer Tom Burns to track down and swim with some enormous basking sharks. 

 

 

After that I snuck in a day of shore diving with some New England skate species and other local critters which gave me one free day for an impromptu trip back out to play with the blues and makos. All this was followed by a hell for leather, thousand mile drive to North Carolina to host Sharkfest.

 

 

After a fantastic long weekend with new friends, diving with sandtiger sharks, watching shark films and generally having a good time, I jumped back in my rental car and drove a thousand miles back to Rhode Island in time to join friends at a NOAA lab to shoot some scientific shots of shark embryos.

Finally, exhausted but ecstatic with all those sharky experiences, I boarded a string of flights back to the west coast and spent one day at home on Vancouver Island. Phew….

 

Far from recovered, I dumped all my hard drives and drove west to Tofino which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Pinnacle Scuba Adventures had arranged a three day dive trip in Clayoquot Sound and in the scheme of things, sleep came a poor second compared to diving on the rugged west coast of Canada.

 

 

I remember the super endurance I felt as a youth, when stopping to rest was for mere mortals. But sadly it turns out that I am human after all and so with blurred vision and nursing a raging throat infection, I then spent four gloriously slow days at home with my girl recuperating.

 

Which brings me (chronologically speaking) to the plane that I am currently sitting in while writing this blog. I am on a red eye flight to Baja to join 18 likeminded souls that think that racing through the Sea of Cortez in search of fin and pilot whales and chasing humboldt squid is a fine way to spend their vacations.

All the guests appear to appreciate how short life is too, which is why we are planning to dive on all the reefs that we can cram into our trip and try to hit a sea lion colony or two to boot. And for good measure, the liveaboard operator has agreed to let me chum now and then to see if we can bring in a few sharks. Now that is an action packed itinerary!

I will be home in early September. As the water temps decline in the North Pacific, so does the plankton which leads to great visibility. The steller sea lions will have migrated in too and I can’t wait to spend some quality time with them. Stellers are so enormous that they remind me of underwater grizzlies. Fortunately they are rather more playful than your average land carnivore so its possible to float along underwater while they contort and pirouette in front of your camera.

By the end of September I’ll be back on the road. Bound for Cape Eleuthera to document a deep water shark tagging project. Expect some cool new shark species on Elasmodiver after that trip.

 

Looking ahead to what’s bubbling…

There are only two spots left on the Malpelo Shark Safari in Feb. Its going to be an epic trip filled with lots of different sharks and extraordinary reef life. Top of the bill if we find them will be the illusive smalltooth sandtiger sharks. More on this adventure on the Big Fish Expeditions Site.

 

We’re going back to Tiger Beach in April for my yearly shark photography workshop. This time we’ll be dedicating a day to swimming with spotted dolphins. I’ve always wanted to dive with them but I’ve never been able to tear myself (or the group) away from the sharks. This time its officially a ‘shark and dolphin’ trip. The boat is about half full already so jump in if you want to come. Its far more about sharks than shooting, so non shooters will have just as much fun. At Tiger Beach the pool is always open so expect endless shark encounters every day.

 

Straight after Tiger Beach I’m running another trip to Cat Island to shoot Oceanic Whitetip Sharks (and reef shark species closer to shore). This is the best place in the world to dive with threatened oceanics! Space is very limited.

 

Then in July I’m organizing a trip to Isla Mujeres on Mexicos beautiful Yucatan Peninsula to dive with the masses of whale sharks that migrate into the area at that time. There are more whale sharks at this location than anywhere else on the planet. Sometimes there are so many that aerial footage makes them look like a cloud of krill milling around on the surface. And the water is warm and blue!

I’ll build a page for this trip on Big Fish soon but space will be limited so if you want to ensure a spot on the boat please let me know asap.

 

I’m sure there will also be more blue and mako trips to Rhode Island but I’ll figure those out in the spring.

 

Even further ahead is Sharkfest 2012. I am chartering the Olympus for next year which holds 24 divers. The Midnight Express (Olympus Dive Center’s other ship) is simply getting too small for our yearly festival. I actually tried to charter both boats but I couldn’t find a weekend when both were available. Maybe we’ll get both for 2013. Imagine that – 40+ shark junkies congregating in one place to shark dive, watch shark films and party. Now that’s gonna be fun!

Its a long way off but this year the Sharkfest boat filled up in two weeks so if you want to come and enjoy the fun please drop me a line.

 

See you out there,

Andy Murch

Oceanic Overload and some Awesome New Diving Adventures   Leave a comment

Oceanic Overload and some Awesome New Diving Adventures

May 27th 2011

RHODE ISLAND BLUES AND MAKOS

Before I get stuck into the Oceanic Whitetip Trip Report, I’d like to let everyone know that I’m heading to Rhode Island to dive with blue sharks and makos on July 30-31. There are only a couple of spots open on the trip which is being run by mako magnet Joe Romeiro. Its $325 a day. If you want to come out and play with some beautiful east coast sharks, please let me know asap: elasmodiver@gmail.com

THIS YEAR’S OCEANIC WHITETIP EXPEDITION

We had an awesome week on Cat Island in the Bahamas. The oceanic whitetip shark images that you see here represent a tiny slice of what we encountered. If you want to see a larger selection of images from the trip please follow this link: Oceanic Whitetip Shark Pictures

It was a very productive trip with hours and hours of photo opportunities. The great thing about oceanics is that when they arrive, they generally stay for the whole day. Some days we had sharks virtually from the minute we arrived. To be fair, we had a couple of slow days too but you have to expect to sit and wait sometimes when you’re looking for sharks in the open ocean.

When oceanic whitetip sharks catch the scent trail, they are definitely not shy. This was my first experience with oceanics and I was extremely impressed with their boldness and their beautiful lines. In comparison with other species, their personalities are somewhere between makos and blue sharks; inquisitive and bold like a mako but laid back and nonchalant like a blue shark at the same time.

All in all it was a great week. Next year I’ll be running another Cat Island Oceanic Expedition with a few small tweaks to make it even better. One of the things we noticed this year was that if the current takes you away from shore the oceanic action is good but if you drift into shore other species come in too. So we’ll spend at least one day chumming exclusively on the reef so that we can swim with all the other species that Cat Island has to offer. If you want to join me, here’s the info: 2012 Oceanic Whitetip Expedition

AN EXCITING SUMMER AHEAD

The blue and mako weekend in Rhode Island marks the start of a manic summer schedule both for me and for Big Fish Expeditions. After playing with the blues and makos, I’ll have just enough time to hunt for some new elasmobranchs on the shores of New England (hoping to add some Atlantic Torpedo Ray images to Elasmodiver) and then Sharkfest kicks off in Morehead City, North Carolina.

The Sharkfest boat is full but if you happen to be diving in the area, please swing by Olympus Dive Centre or the lodge. We’ll be airing some awesome short shark films on Saturday night August 6th and we’ll have our Sharkfest BBQ on the docks on the 7th. Come one, come all.

After Sharkfest I’ll be racing home to Vancouver Island to join an exploratory diving expedition in Nootka Sound which is on the wild west side of the island. The trip is being run by Pinnacle Scuba Adventures. We’ll be visiting some brand new dive sites with the possibility of Giant Pacific Octopuses, sixgill sharks (unlikely but you never know) and a whole whack of other Pacific Northwest critters. Space is limited but the trip hasn’t been advertised yet so there is still room if you’re a not so tropical diver…

After barely a week on the island its Baja time. We’ll be reef diving on two week long trips specifically looking for fin whales, pilot whales, sperm whales and humboldt squid as well as plenty of regular reef dives and hopefully some good sea lion encounters. The first trip is sold out except for one spot for a female diver. The second trip still has a bit of room but its getting a lot of interest so please sign up asap if you would like to join me.

As usual, I’ll be coaching anyone that brings a camera if you want help. These will be great trips with a huge amount of diversity.

SALMON SHARK EXPEDITION

Here’s a unique idea, any true shark fanatics reading this blog will be aware that there’s a healthy population of Salmon Sharks in Alaska in the late summer. You may not know that they also congregate much further south in our accessible Vancouver Island waters. With that in mind, I’m trying to put together a salmon shark chumming trip for early September aboard one of our local liveaboards. It will be very experimental but not crazy expensive for a week on a BC liveaboard. More on this if I manage to pull everything together in time.

PREDATORS IN PERIL PROJECT

By the time October rolls around I’ll be ready to head out looking for new rare shark species for the Predators in Peril Project. This time I’ll be working with researchers in the Bahamas that are bringing up deep sea sharks to measure and tag them. Their motives are to assess abundance and to find out which species inhabit great depth in the Bahamas tropical seas. I’ll be documenting their work in pictures and slipping into the water to shoot each species as it is released. Its a very exciting project that should yield some great images.

BULL SHARKS IN MEXICO

On my Big Fish Expeditions Website I have a Bull Shark trip listed for December in Playa Del Carmen but there are no exact dates because I’m still sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens this year. Last season, after the sharks had congregated to attend the shark feed, they were captured and killed by shark fishermen from the surrounding villages. As a conservationist, I can’t participate in a feed this year if the sharks are likely to meet the same fate. So, the trip is on hold until I hear that the locals have found a way to protect the sharks.

MALPELO SHARK SAFARI

MALPELO SHARK SAFARI

Looking even further forward, I have chartered the Inula which is a liveaboard catamaran that sails out of Panama to Malpelo which is a small volcanic island deep in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. If you haven’t heard of Malpelo, imagine world famous Cocos Island but with even more shark diversity. Malpelo has schooling hammers in relatively shallow water, silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, whitetips (not the oceanic kind), occasional whale sharks, mantas and in February (which is when we’ll be going) Smalltooth Sandtiger Sharks which are the regular sandtiger’s oversized cousin. The smalltooths live in very deep water and swim up to the 50-60 meter range at Malpelo for a short time each year. The pics from this year’s trip (taken by accomplished photographer Tomas Kotouc) show how impressive and accessible these animals are at the island.

With six full days at Malpelo and two extra dive days on Panama’s excellent off shore reefs on the way there and back, the Malpelo Shark Safari will be an amazing adventure. More info on Big Fish: Malpelo Shark Safari

TIGER BEACH PHOTO WORKSHOP 2012

Dates are up! The Tiger Beach Experience stands alone. I hope you can make it next year: 2012 Tiger Beach Photo Workshop and Shark Safari

ELASMO TEES

And finally, by popular demand I have a new batch of Elasmo Tees hot off the printing press. This time they have logos front and back and come in three colours. Support Elasmodiver and Predators in Peril with a stylin’ new elasmo-tee (or two, or three…)

Men’s fitted and women’s fitted cap sleeved are available. Get ’em while you can, I’m running out already. Ordering info here: Elasmo Tees

For the sharks,

Andy Murch