Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

SWARMS OF WHALE SHARKS + PREDATORS IN PERIL   Leave a comment

Swarms of Whale Sharks and Predators in Peril

Its been an insanely busy summer. There were lots of great moments but the highlight was probably the incredible whale shark aggregations that we encountered near Isla Mujeres in Mexico. As I said in one of my Facebook posts, there were so many whale sharks that I felt sorry for the plankton. To read this year’s trip report and to enjoy a short video from the expedition please follow this link: Whale Shark Trip Report 2012

 

PREDATORS IN PERIL

Big Fish Expeditions has some awesome new trips penciled in for 2013 and 2014 but before I launch into that, I’d like to share some news about the Predators in Peril Project. I recently traveled to Guerrero Negro on the west coast of Baja to document the gill net fishery and in particular the amount of shark and ray bycatch that is caught in the halibut fishery. This trip resulted in some very graphic images that hopefully capture the essence of the problem.

It was a tough expedition for me personally because I was exposed to some tragic scenes but at least I had the opportunity shoot a video about the expedition. The video is called BYCATCH. It has some very disturbing footage but I believe that it is important to show everything that I witnessed in order to shine a light on this issue. You can see more images from the trip and watch the video at PIP’s new home: predatorsinperil.org To jump straight to the video please visit:Predators in Peril Videos

Please, please share BYCATCH on your social networks!

 

Next stop for PIP is Chile. In November I am heading to the wild west coast of South America to try to document the endemic shark population. Some Chilean species such as the speckled smoothhound shark are already listed by the IUCN as near threatened but the shark fishery continues to decrease their numbers further. Hopefully (if I actually get some images) we will be able to generate some interest from Chilean conservation groups that want to help reduce the fishery.

 

 

Ok, onto upcoming Big Fish Expeditions:

 

 

KILLER WHALES!

In 2014 we’re going to Norway to dive with hunting orcas. I knew this trip was going to be popular but I didn’t realize how popular! The same day that I loaded the orca free diving trip onto the Big Fish Expeditions website, it sold out. Consequently, I’m wondering if I should run two trips back to back because I certainly wouldn’t mind an extra week chasing killer whales. So if you are interested in a freezing cold adventure in the middle of winter to northern Norway to chase orcas and night dive on pristine sponge and coral reefs in Norway’s rugged fiords, please let me know as soon as possible and I’ll work on a second boat.

 

But before then, we have a lot of other amazing encounters to enjoy…

SAILFISH BAITBALL DIVING sold out months ago but a couple of guests just informed me that they can’t go so there are two spots open. This is a great opportunity to jump in with huge aggregations of hunting sailfish attacking baitballs. It’ll be intense and exhausting free diving probably in bumpy seas but if you want an adventure don’t miss this! Oh, and if we get any storm days we’ll be heading down to Playa del Carmen to dive with bull sharks!

 

There are also a few spots left on the SOCORRO GIANT MANTA EXPEDITION. This is a world class dive destination 200 nautical miles south of Baja that attracts some of the friendliest and largest mantas in the world, plus lots of sharks and curious pods of wild dolphins. It is an especially good place to find black mantas like the one pictured here:

 

 

Then, by popular request, I am running another TIGER SHARK PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP at world famous Tiger Beach in the Bahamas next October. If you haven’t dove Tiger Beach yet, it is probably the best place in the world to learn the ins and outs of shark photography. Tiger sharks, lemons, reef sharks, nurse sharks (and occasionally other shark species such as great hammers) create the perfect subjects to practice different techniques. Apart from obviously photographing tiger sharks, one of my favorite techniques is shooting over/unders of lemon sharks at sunset from the swim step:

 

There are also just two spots left on my Cat Island Oceanic Whitetip Shark trip. This year was amazing with more oceanic whitetips than anyone expected. Next year is the last chance to join me at Cat Island because I need to make room for some new adventures in 2014 so I hope that you can make it!

 

Then in July its Scottish Basking Sharks time! The first week is full but I have 4 spots left on the second trip. I talked to the captain recently and he told me that this year they had basking sharks everyday of the season except two. That is an amazing success record! Nowhere else has such reliable sightings so I am very excited for next year.

 

And then…. it just keeps getting better but I’ll save some announcements for the next newsletter. If you made it this far, thanks for reading 🙂

 

See you down there,

Andy Murch

Andy Murch

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The SECOND Biggest Fish in the Sea   Leave a comment

Its been an awesome year so far but before I talk about the action on the last few trips, lets talk about the second biggest fish in the sea:

 

BASKING SHARKS!

Next June/July I have organized a very unique adventure. Join me on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland to dive with feeding basking sharks. Although there are other locations like Cornwall and the Isle of Man that get sporadic sightings, nowhere is as reliable as the seas around the Isle of Mull. As well as the frequency of encounters, the visibility this far north is far superior as well, making this the ideal location for serious shark hunters.

We will also dive with friendly grey seals, photograph any whales and dolphins that we see and generally soak up the atmosphere of the Inner Hebredes in a fun filled week on the water.

At night we’ll either be staying in a stone cottage in the quaint village of Tobermory or camping on the outer islands right where the sharks are. To me, this sounds like an awesome adventure. Apparently I’m not alone because the first trip sold out the day I posted it on Big Fish Expeditions. The second week has four spots open so jump in while you can! Check out the images, info and an awesome video by Film Maker Simon Spear about the amazing wildlife around the Isle of Mull: Basking Shark Expedition

 

diving with basking sharks

 

 

MANTAS, TIGERS & OCEANIC WHITETIPS

Building on the success of seeing smalltooth sandtigers at Malpelo, our next adventure was in Rugged Socorro which is 200 miles south of the tip of Baja. The manta action at the islands was off the hook. We encountered giant mantas on virtually every dive but unlike many other places around the world, the mantas at Socorro actually crave the company of divers. Many times, a manta would find us and hang out for the entire dive playing in our bubbles. It was a fantastic experience for everyone that went. Read more in the Socorro trip report.

 

After Socorro I led back-to-back trips to Tiger Beach and Cat Island. Of course Tiger Beach was non-stop shark action everyday but Cat Island far exceeded my expectations. Stuart Cove bought one of his boats over to the island especially for this trip and although the persistent wind made the surface a bit bumpy, we simply submerged into the tranquility of the underworld surrounded by oceanic whitetip sharks on every dive. On our first (and best) day we had 12 big oceanics surrounding our small group of divers! There are some great pics from the trip in the Cat Island Oceanic Expedition Trip Report. I’ve booked back to back dates again next year and not surprisingly the boats are already half full.

 

diving with oceanic whitetip sharks

 

WHALE SHARK AGGREGATIONS

Next up on the Big Fish Calendar is whale sharks at Isla Mujeres in July. This should be a lot of fun. The world’s biggest fishes aggregate off of Isla Mujeres each July to feed and we’ll be there to play with them! There are two spots left on the second trip. If you’ve never dove with a whale shark don’t miss this opportunity:Whale Shark Expedition

 

whale shark trips

Less than a week after returning from Whale Sharks at Isla Mujeres, its time for Sharkfest. As I write this there is one spot left on the trip which I’m sure will be gone in no time. Sharkfest is a fun filled weekend with three days of diving with Sandtiger Sharks, a night where we screen the best recent shark films and a cook out on the last night. This is the third annual Sharkfest and although its a bit of a monster to organize, I don’t think I can break tradition now. So, if you can’t come this year then please pencil it into your calendar for next August: SHARKFEST

 

THE SEA OF CORTEZ WHALES AND HUMBOLDTS EXPEDITION

Then its time for my last guest trip of the season. This will be my second year in the Sea of Cortez diving with whales, sea lions, humboldt squid and sharks. By far the most diverse trip on the Big Fish Itinerary, if you’re looking for an adventure with lots of diving plus marine mammal encounters, you can’t go wrong in theSea of Cortez

sea of cortez diving

PREDATORS IN PERIL

This fall, I have purposely avoided scheduling any Big Fish Expeditions. I love running guest trips but there is work to be done. I am planning two trips to Mexico to work with researchers and fishermen to try to document more of the endemic shark species that divers do not normally get the chance to encounter. In particular, there are a number of smoothhound shark species that need some time in the spotlight. Hopefully, by the end of the year I should have at least one or two documented but I’m hoping for more. If you’ve never seen a smoothhound shark, this image shows a Gulf of Mexico Smoothhound; an animal that lives in deep water in a tiny pocket of ocean in the northern Gulf and is therefore extremely vulnerable to depletion.

 

gulf smoothhound

While I’m on the subject of Predators in Peril, you may remember that last year I had the opportunity to photograph deep sea gulper sharks with Edd Brooks from Cape Eluethera Institute. Since then Edd has moved into the next phase of the project which involves monitoring activity and species composition on the actual sea floor rather than bringing sharks up to the surface. Here is a link to a video about his recent work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4ecOlFVoSE&feature=share

 

 

2013 EXPEDITIONS

Next year’s schedule is getting ridiculously busy already. In January we’ll be in Mexico for the sailfish migration. Divers can see up to 40 or 50 sailfish attacking enormous bait balls; a spectacular sight! (Just three spots left).

 

diving with sailfish

 

Then in February, we’re heading to French Polynesia on a shark safari of epic proportions. First stop will be Moorea to dive with sicklefin lemon sharks. Then we are heading to Fakarava ‘where it rains sharks’ to dive with 5 species including hundreds and hundreds of grey reef sharks. In my entire shark diving career I have never seen this many sharks in one place. Join me in paradise for an amazing shark filled adventure: French Polynesia Shark Safari

 

tahiti diving

 

Then a brand new experimental trip. In late Feb, Great Hammerheads congregate in an area near the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. Great hammerheads are usually extremely difficult to see (as many frustrated photographers will tell you). But, in this one small area, Great hammers have been reliably documented by the shark researchers that are based on Bimini. This year, Stuart Cove took his boat over to to try to chum up the sharks and he was extremely successful. At one point he had a 4 or 5 great hammers around the bait. That is the best encounter I have ever heard of so I have asked Stuart to bring his boat back next year to try to repeat the excitement. If you’re an experienced diver and you’ve been waiting for the chance to add a great hammerhead to your life list, this is the trip:Great Hammerhead Expedition

 

 

Beyond the hammer trip we’re taking another shot at the mantas in Socorro and then its time for Tiger Beach, Cat Island, Scotland and South Africa. To see our entire Big Fish Expeditions Schedule for next year. Please follow this link:

Big Fish Expeditions Schedule 2012/13

 

See you out there!

For the oceans,

Andy Murch

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

Scoophead Sharks, American Alligators and Tiger Tales   Leave a comment

LAST MINUTE SPECIAL!!! Cat Island Oceanic Whitetip Expedition May 8-14 $1995

 Scoopheads, Alligators and Tiger Tales

 

TIGER TALES

I have just returned from a Big Fish Expeditions trip to Tiger Beach and I have to say that Tiger Beach is no longer the best tiger shark dive in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, Tiger Beach is as sharky as it always has been with scores of lemon sharks ready to play as soon as the boat drops anchor and plenty of tiger shark action including regular visits from Smiley the resident tiger shark that has a damaged jaw leaving her with a permanent one sided grin.

But there is a new site close to Tiger Beach that is even better for shark action especially if you’re looking for dramatic backdrops for your shark portraits.

The reef is named Fish Tales but that’s a bit generic for such a great shark diving spot so I’m calling it Tiger Tales for the tiger sharks that regularly wander by.

The site consists of a healthy coral reef in 40ft of clear blue water. It is overrun with packs of bold Caribbean reef sharks and  a few resident nurse sharks. There are always some lemons swimming around also and it doesn’t take much effort to swell their ranks and bring in the tigers that inhabit the area.

It was normal for us to see all four species of sharks on each dive and we even had a few flybys from one or two large great hammerheads but the hammers were too timid to approach the divers.

All in all, it was a phenomenal week and I can’t wait to go back next year. With such great photo ops it was hard to decide what to include in this overview but here are few scenes from that week to give you an idea of how intense the action was:

    

    

    

AMERICAN ALLIGATORS

Even before setting sail for the Bahamas, I was already in shooting mode. I spent a few days chasing American alligators in the swamps of South Florida with Film Maker Joe Romeiro.

As I have no experience shooting big reptiles, I was pretty nervous being around the lizard king and wondered if I should have bought a pole cam with me to put a little distance between me and the gators but even the big animals were reasonably well behaved.

The images (shot with a fisheye lens) are an interesting addition to any shooter’s portfolio and after posting them on my Facebook page I was asked if I planned to lead gator trips. Its an intriguing idea but I’ll stick with big ocean animals for now.

    

 

SCOOPHEAD SHARKS

In March I spent some time in the Darien jungle talking to fishermen about the endemic shark species that live in the area. After a lot of hunting, I was finally able to get the first in-water images of a scoophead shark. This is one of the smaller hammerhead species that has eluded photographers for so long.

Scoophead sharks are far too timid to approach a diver (no matter how much chum is in the water) so to get the shots I spent a lot of time in a small panga shadowing the fishing boats as they pulled in their nets. The scoophead in my images came up on the last day of the trip and after a short negotiation involving the promise of a bottle of rum, the fishermen allowed me to release the ailing shark.

Global shark populations are dwindling and inshore endemic species like the scoophead that have limited ranges are particularly vulnerable to gill netters. Obtaining representative images for conservation initiatives is extremely important.

Its sad to say, but in some ways my expeditions to shoot the world’s most illusive and endangered sharks, are my way of recording archival footage of species that may soon be gone.

    

THE OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARKS OF CAT ISLAND, BAHAMAS.

Another shark that has seen better days is the oceanic whitetip. Virtually eliminated from the Gulf of Mexico, there are few places left where oceanics can be reliably found. One of those places is Cat Island on the eastern edge of the Bahamian chain. In May of this year, I will be joining 7 guests on a week long, land based expedition to dive with these ocean ocean predators and a handful of other shark species that call Cat Island home.

With just a few weeks to go and one spot still open, I am running a last minute special for one lucky diver – $1995. Includes 5 days of boat diving and beach house accommodation on Cat Island. Email me if you want to come: info@bigfishphotographyexpeditions.com

Summer trips and beyond….

SHARKFEST 2011 – Morehead City August 5-7

On the first weekend of August…. Sharkfest is back!

If you missed the action last year there is a trip report on the epic shark diving that we enjoyed, plus film screenings and fun. This year we’re stepping it up by adding a night dive with the sandtiger sharks on our first day. Space on the boat is limited and right now there are only five spots left so sign up now if you want to come. 3 days of shark diving, dorm accommodation, BBQ, film screenings, and a Sharkfest Tee Shirt $640.

    

SEA OF CORTEZ WHALES AND HUMBOLDT SQUID EXPEDITION

Later in August we’ll be chasing humboldts and whales in the Sea of Cortez (only 4 spots left). This will no doubt be the most eclectic trip of the year. In a nut shell, we’ll be diving Baja’s best reefs each day while we cruise north to Loretto. Between dives we’ll be scouting for fin whales, sperm whales and pilot whales to jump in the water with. Once we get to Loretto we’ll be diving by day and jigging up humboldts in the evenings and hopefully getting in the water to shoot free swimming humboldt squid if everything goes to plan.

As if reefs, whales, squid and sea lions wasn’t enough, the operator has agreed to let me try chumming for sharks at some locations. This is a bit of a wild card and we are not sure what species (if any) will show up but I can’t go all the way to Baja without looking for sharks.

MALPELO ISLAND FEBRUARY 2012

There are no links or images on the Big Fish Expeditions Website for this one yet so I’ll blog about it more in the next update. But to give you a brief idea, at Malpelo (a day’s boat ride off the coast of Panama) you can expect to see schooling scalloped hammerheads, silky shaks, Galapagos sharks, random sightings of mantas and whale sharks, and many other pelagic visitors as well as reefs crawling in morays and large stingrays.

But in February and March on the deeper reefs around the rocky island, there is the chance to see enormous Smalltooth Sandtiger Sharks (Odontaspis ferox) which are the sandtiger’s big cousin from the depths.

If you think you’ve seen it all you have to dive Malpelo.

We’ll be on the liveaboard Inula. Although I have barely talked to anyone about this trip there are already only 6 spots left so please send me an email if you want more info.

PINNACLE SCUBA ADVENTURES

Between expeditions, I’ll be enjoying the diving around Vancouver Island with Pinnacle Scuba Adventures. Pinnacle is southern Vancouver Island’s newest and most versatile dive charter operator. We’ll be diving some of the best sites on the south end of the island and exploring new locations each week throughout the summer.  Join us if you’re up this way.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Big Fish Photography Expeditions   4 comments

GROWING ELASMODIVER & OUR NEW SHARK DIVING EXPEDITIONS

KEEPING ELASMODIVER GROWING
Last year, more than a million people spent some time clicking through Elasmodiver’s 400+ pages of information and shark images. Hopefully, some of them took away a little more knowledge and respect for our world’s endangered Elasmobranchs.
It is important to me to keep expanding the shark and ray field guide, but as I slowly tick off the few remaining shark and ray species that are relatively easy to dive with and photograph, I find myself planning increasingly more abstract expeditions, often working with researchers and sometimes even commercial fishermen.
There are parts of the world like Southern Africa that I have been purposely avoiding. I could probably find a dozen new species in a week or two of diving around Cape Town but before I take off to such exotic locations, there are a number of elasmos from North America that still need some time in the spotlight. There are a couple of hammerheads from the Pacific slope that are virtually unknown and a number of Central American smoothhound sharks that are heavily targeted by the artisanal shark fishing fleets. Those species come first.

The latest shark species that was added to the Field Guide (a few weeks ago) was the Dusky Smoothhound. Smooth dogfish (as they are called in New England) are very common sharks but they are rarely encountered by divers.
Getting these images involved a trip back to visit my shark diving buddy Joe Romeiro in Rhode Island. Although we did everything we could to try to shoot a dusky smoothhound in the wild, we eventually gave up our fruitless search and found an aquarium that would let us shoot in their tank. A natural encounter would have been better but sometimes, this is the only way to get the shot.
A big thank you to Biomes Marine Biology Center for letting us work in their excellent facility.
dusky smoothhound shark aka smooth dogfish

SHARKFEST 2010
After many months of planning, a boat load of Shark Fanatics finally descended on Morehead City, North Carolina, for our weekend of shark diving, film screenings and good times. The whole event could not have gone better so we are planning to do it all over again next year – with a few very cool changes. Check out some of the great shark photos that came out of Sharkfest 2010 and find out what we have in store for next year: SHARKFEST 2010 TRIP REPORT

BIG FISH DIVING AND PHOTOGRAPHY EXPEDITIONS
If you know your way around Elasmodiver, then you’ll have noticed that there are a lot of new links pointing to Big Fish Photography Expeditions. This is our brand new expedition website that showcases all of the trips that you can join me on to meet the world’s top predators on their own ground.
These are not your average wildlife expeditions. They are one of a kind adventures tailored to adventurous people that want to enjoy up-close, in-water encounters with apex predatory sharks, whales, dolphins and even giant squid.

Our first expedition kicks off in February next year in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Playa has recently become a hot spot for bull shark diving and the Bull Shark Feed that takes place there from November to March is second to none.
I am timing our bull shark diving adventure to overlap with a scientific shark tagging expedition which is being conducted by Dr Mauricio Hoyos who is Mexico’s leading Great White Shark Specialist. Mauricio and I worked on a white shark film together a couple of years ago and he has agreed to do a talk about his white shark research on Guadalupe Island and explain what he hopes to learn about the bull sharks in Playa.
I have some great ideas for creating the perfect shooting environment and if the sharks cooperate I expect that we will return with some amazing images.

In April I will be running a second Tiger Beach Photography Workshop. This year’s trip was a bit hit with scores of lemon sharks and 24/7 tiger shark action, not to mention encounters with reef sharks and nurse sharks too. For some people it was their first introduction to shooting big animals. For others it was a chance to hone their skills. I’m looking forward to getting back there and doing it again in 2011. Next year’s boat is already half full so if you’re interested in joining us please let me know as soon as possible.

I am also running trips to Cat Island in the Bahamas to shoot Oceanic Whitetip Sharks (only one spot left) and an amazing week long adventure, diving and shooting on the reefs of the Sea of Cortez which will include encounters with whales and giant humboldt squid dives
I guess that’s more than enough bragging about expeditions. The ones we have scheduled so far are all listed on the Big Fish Photography Expeditions website. I’ll update you on new expeditions that I intend to run, as soon as they come together.

shark diving trip

WHATS BUBBLING…
This year is quickly getting away from me. Fortunately, late summer is the time when things start to get interesting here on Vancouver Island so I am dedicating the next month to the Pacific North West Elasmo Hunt.
Next weekend I will start by working on the wild west coast in an area called Barkley Sound which is a great place to track down sixgill sharks. I already have some sixgill shots but I’m hoping to improve them and get a much better variety that really capture the bluntnose sixgill’s enigmatic personality. We have our bait crates ready to go and a boat rented for this very purpose. If any local divers want to join us on the hunt, there may be a few spots up for grabs.
Late summer is also when deepwater skates start making their way into the shallows to feed on crustaceans and other benthic invertebrates, so I’ll probably be spending a fair bit of this month swimming around in muddy featureless bays, hoping to encounter a skate or two. Wish me luck!

For the sharks,
Andy Murch

Dive in strange places long enough and you'll eventually see strange sharks and rays…   2 comments

I spend a lot of time blogging about my future shark photography plans, but its so much better to be able to write about successful adventures!

After shooting three new species of deep water skates in Rhode Island (see previous post), I flew down to West Palm Beach to meet up with a group of keen shark photographers that were accompanying me on the Tiger Beach Shark Photography Workshop.

The expedition was a huge success. Tiger Beach always has a healthy supply of lemon sharks (usually around 40 or 50 once the chum gets going) but the tigers themselves can be hit and miss. Its important to have a solid player – a shark that isn’t afraid of cameras, swims close to the group and stays around long enough for everyone to get the shots they want. Fortunately, that is exactly what we had. Other sharks came and went but one respectably sized tiger shark stayed with us for the entire week. I think that everyone got more tiger shark shots than they knew what to do with.
Tiger Shark Tiger Shark Tiger Shark

I wanted everyone to come home with great shots, a better knowledge of workflow (Bridge, Photoshop, etc) and some amazing stories about close up encounters with big sharks. I think everyone learned a lot and had a great time and I’m really looking forward to doing this again next year!
Lemon shark Tiger shark tiger shark, lemon shark and diver

As well as lemons and tigers we had one little nurse shark that kept skirting the action. He was pretty brave to get as close as he did with all the huge carcharanids milling about but the poor guy never made it to the food.
nurse shark nurse shark

We spent the entire week exploring all the different photography opportunities that Tiger Beach has to offer except for one afternoon that we snuck off to a deeper site to chase Caribbean reef sharks. After the big lumbering lemons it was great to play with some zippy little sharks for a few hours. Everyone hunkered down next to the reef and snapped away while the sharks buzzed back and forth above us perfectly framed against the clear blue Bahamian water.
caribbean reef shark reef shark caribbean reef shark

We returned to Tiger Beach to find our super model tiger shark still in residence and continued looking for the perfect shot until it was time to pull anchor and head back to Florida.

After bidding farewell to a boat load of new friends, I packed up my cameras and took a flight to Honduras.

Steve Fox (Owner of the luxurious Deep Blue Resort in Utila) had graciously invited me to come and photograph a couple of deep water shark species that local fishermen sometimes encounter on the deep coastal plains around the island.

Both species we were after are rarely if ever photographed and both are data defficient according to the IUCN Red List. They are caught incidentally in other fisheries and like many deep sea species they are probably in decline. Sadly, if you chase rare sharks you have to expect to strike out now and then and on this trip the sharks eluded us.

Cutting my losses, I spent the next week snorkeling in a muddy lagoon looking for a rare stingray called the chupare stingray (aka Caribbean whiptail stingray).

Steve (who has a cutting British wit) ribbed me relentlessly during the week when I wasn’t able to find one. He was adamant that they were all over the place if only I’d open my eyes, but trying to shoot one in the low visibility environment was an extremely challenging mission.

Through a combination of luck and stubbornness, I finally cornered a ray in a pocket of mangrove and fired off a fusillade of shots while the ray kicked up more and more silt until there was nothing left to see.

Although I didn’t get the quality of images I would have liked, I did take some usable ID shots so the trip was officially a success. One more species for the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide.
chupare stingray Caribbean whiptail stingray chupare stingray

Tired of swimming around in lukewarm tea all day, I decided to take a break and head out to see some of Utila’s beautiful reefs with the sensible divers. Deep Blue Resort has a seamless system for delivering divers to wonderful environments and encounters: After a leisurely breakfast, you simply stroll onto Deep Blue’s private dock and get whisked off to a stunning and dramatic wall dive somewhere then climb back on board and slip out of your dive gear while the crew find you some whale sharks to play with.

Then you jump in, snorkel with the sharks (which are conveniently feeding at the surface on baitballs) and pop back onto the boat once the sharks move too deep. This is repeated time and again until the guests get tired of ‘whale shark jumps’ and ask to be taken to another pretty dive site.
Deep Blue Resort Deep Blue Resort Utila Deep Blue Resort Utila Deep Blue Resort Dive Boat Deep Blue Resort House Reef
After a pleasant lunch back at the lodge, guests are then invited to head back out on the boat for more absurdly easy diving or enjoy a shore dive on the house reef. After a week of paradise they all fly home feeling ten years younger. It’s painfully easy.

I’m not jealous – really I’m not. But how come my dive trips more often involve squeezing onto a Central American school bus jammed full of locals that are carrying hundreds of chickens to some far away market. And then, sleeping on a grubby panga in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of fishermen that I can barely understand while waiting for a hapless shark to swim by. I think it’s time I reconsidered my shooting strategy 🙂
Utila Reef Utila Diving Utila Turtle Utila Corals Utila vase sponges Utila spotted eagle ray

Its been so long since I did any ‘recreational diving’ that at first I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to look at. After a while, I settled in and started shooting pretty sponges and coral formations but it still felt kind of weird not being on a shark photography mission. The whale shark jumps were much more familiar and I was happy to have the chance to snorkel (if only briefly) with a couple of big animals.
Whale shark utila utila whale shark

What was more unexpected was the pod of rough-toothed dolphins that we encountered. I am far from a marine mammal expert and I confess that I’d never even heard of rough-toothed dolphns. Apparently they encounter them on Utila fairly regularly and these ones were surprisingly playful. I was the only one free diving so the dolphins gave me a lot of attention and I came away with some very respectable images. I’d like to share them here but they are earmarked for a future publication. Here’s one that didn’t make the cut:
rough-toothed dolphin

Having got my fix of big aquatic animals, I decided to head back into the lagoon for one more crack at the Caribbean whiptail rays. The vis had improved enough to see the mangrove forest in all its glory but the rays were nowhere to be found.
andy murch snorkeling in Oyster Bed Lagoon Utila utila mangrove lagoon Oyster Bed Lagoon Utila utila mangrove utila mangrove roots underweater

What I did stumble upon was a urolophid ray (round stingray family) that I can’t positively identify. It was probably just a yellow spotted stingray but rather than the usual tiny yellow spots on a pale background this little ray was jet black with vividly contrasting orange/yellow spots. I’ve never seen this color variation before but then again I’ve never spent a week snorkeling around a Honduran lagoon.
Yellow spotted stingray mangrove stingray yellow stingray in mangrove urobits jamaicensis possibly

Tallying up the elasmobranchs from the entire trip, over a 5 week period I managed to shoot nine species of sharks and rays and saw two more species distantly swimming along. Not a bad first adventure for the new decade.

Future plans…

I’m hoping to attend the American Elasmobranch Meeting in July in Providence, RI. If any of you sharkafiles will be there please let me know. After that, my next big trip will be Sharkfest. Sharkfest is three days of sandtiger shark diving with a mini shark film festival attached. It’s my humble attempt to bring together a whole bunch of shark divers to dive, watch movies, tell stories and have some fun. If you would like to attend there are 3 spots left on the boat. Email me for details.

For now I’m back on Vancouver Island cleaning up pics, writing stories, diving with local species and plotting. I may be running an underwater photography workshop here in Victoria over the summer so if you’re up in the Pacific North West and want to learn the basics of DSLR photography let me know!

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

An Incoming Tide of Adventure   Leave a comment

Like a stingray stranded on a mud flat, I have been stuck on land for way too long. I spent the winter working in other fields to raise a shooting budget for 2010 and with that taken care of, its time to embark on a six week expedition through New England, Florida, The Bahamas and Honduras. The plan as always, is to shoot as many new species of sharks and rays as possible.

Right now I am in Rhode Island. Home to makos, blues, threshers, the occasional white shark and lots of deep sea skates. For those that don’t know, skates are a type of ray and are therefore closely related to sharks. One big difference between skates and other rays is that skates lay eggs. They are also very specious. If fact, they are the largest of all shark or ray families and because most live in very deep inaccessible areas, scientists are still finding new species on a fairly regular basis.

I am particularly interested in shooting barndoor skates which Greenpeace International recently added to its Seafood Red List. Greenpeace’s red list is a list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world, and which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries. On the other hand, NOAA recently downgraded the barndoor on its ‘species of concern’ scale but the continuing directed fishery and high by-catch levels make it an ever-vulnerable species.

You can’t dive with deep sea skates in their natural environment unless you happen to own a research submersible. Sadly, a sub is out of my budget this year but I have a buddy named Brian Raymond who works on a fishing trawler that often plies the waters of The Georges Bank where barndoor and other skate species are fairly common.

You may think that its odd for a conservation minded shark photographer to be hanging out with a fisherman but Brian is no ordinary fisher. After 5 years in the industry he is very tired of being part of the problem. This summer he is quitting his job and going into business with Shark Film Maker Joe Romeiro. They will be running eco-friendly blue and mako viewing trips out of Rhode Island so if you’re up this way and want to get in the water with some beefy New England sharks, give them a call: 333 Blue and Mako Shark Expeditions

The boat that Brian works on mostly trawls for squid but trawling is an indiscriminant form of fishing so the by-catch levels are often horrendous. Recently, they have been dragging in 1000ft where there are a number of vulnerable skate species so we worked out a plan to try a catch and release photo shoot with some of the skates that he rescued from the nets. It should have been a simple way to nail some shots of never before photographed species but the best laid plans can go awry.

While Brian was returning from his last fishing trip, I flew in, stashed my stuff at Joe’s place and got ready to start shooting. Brian and his girlfriend Jen met me at a local beach and Brian pulled a tote of slowly flapping skates out of the back of his truck. When I found that he had managed to bring not one but three deep sea skate species I was as happy as a kid at Christmas.

The plan was for me to swim out to clear water and release the animals on the sand and rocks where I could get some usable ID shots before they swam away. I was petrified that they would bolt before I could get any images but that turned out to be the least of my problems.

R.I. is recovering from the worst flood in 200 years which has thrown millions of gallons of dirty water into inshore coves like the one we were shooting in. To make matters worse, the day we chose to release the animals, the weather was far from ideal. Strong winds, lashing rain and turbulent seas made the whole swim out from shore rather daunting. I went out for a test run just with my camera and found the going pretty tough. It didn’t help that I was nursing a fever and a throat infection and apparently my drysuit had somehow gained a lot of extra buoyancy over the winter 🙂 leaving me considerably underweighted.

Unperturbed, I kicked back to shore, found some scrap iron on the beach and strapped it to my tank. Then, I filled my pockets with rocks and ventured out again, this time with my camera in one hand and a lobster trap full of deep sea skates in the other.

Clutching such a voluminous object in rough seas put me in an unexpected position. I found myself at the mercy of the rip which dragged me out of the bay into an area that was churning like a washing machine. Looking down, the visibility was so bad that I couldn’t see my camera dangling at my side, let alone photograph marine life. I tried retreating but I could barely make any headway back to the beach and I was slowly drifting sideways onto a patch of submerged rocks that was throwing extra large waves in my direction.

I tried sinking under the buffeting chop but my drysuit inflator jammed open, lifting me back to the surface and filling my suit to Michelin Man proportions. I had no choice other than to disconnect the air hose but as the air trickled out, the sea trickled in and within a minute or two my suit was completed flooded.

Now I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. I’m not one to panic but I was riding so low in the water that I couldn’t tell which way the shore was. While I was deciding whether I should drop the lobster trap (making the entire trip to New England a disaster) I spotted Brian waving from the rocks with a pair of binoculars around his neck. With new resolve I inched towards shore. Cage in the left hand. Camera in the right. KICK! Look up. reorient to shore. Head down. KICK!

It was slow going but I made it back into the shallows and dropped the cage in a sheltered spot to rest. There was no way I was heading out to sea again so I gently lifted a skate out of its confinement and let it go. The skate swam around a little and then settled onto the sand, cupping its body to provide the suction necessary to resist the surge that was still pulling me around.

By working with a fisheye lens within about six inches of each skate, I was able to get some images that looked like they were shot in much clearer water than they really were. After maybe an hour I dragged my wet and weary bones out of the bay and left the skates to find their way out to sea.
null kings beach storm

Barndoor, Smooth and Thorny Skates
barndoor skate smooth skate thorny skate
For bigger images please visit the shark blog on elasmodiver

That was two days ago and I’m still feeling whipped but the images came out great. Three more species for the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide. Three more elasmos available for any conservation initiatives that might need images.

Next stop Washington State for a couple of days diving on the Olympic Peninsula with Claire and then I fly down to Florida to lead a week long Photography shoot at Tiger Beach in The Bahamas. After that, the trip starts to get interesting!

Sharkfest 2010
sharkfest
In other news, Sharkfest is getting exciting. As a new facet of the Predators in Peril Project we are starting a simple new campaign inspired by a constant flow of emails from people that want to do something to help sharks in their local communities. Its called the Shark Friendly Restaurant Initiative. The idea is for individuals to use fact sheets and decals that we will supply to approach restaurant owners in their communities that sell shark products (not just shark fin soup). If a restaurant agrees to become part of the solution, they get a Shark Friendly Restaurant Decal for their door and a listing in the Shark Friendly Restaurant Guide on Elasmodiver. Where possible, we will arrange for the campaign to be listed in local food and entertainment magazines so that conscientious consumers can learn what the decal looks like and patronize the right restaurants. Seafood Restaurants that already refuse to sell shark products get a decal right off the bat which will help to brand the idea.

What does this have to do with shark diving in North Carolina? Well, the campaign is being sponsored by the profits from Sharkfest. If I manage to fill the boat, we’ll have a budget to print enough decals to get started. You can join the campaign at this link: Shark Friendly Restaurants Volunteers.

On a more fun note, we also have our first shark film submissions. The first to arrive was Big Fish Utila an excellent film about whale sharks in the Bay Islands. We’d like to have at least a dozen short films to view over the weekend so if you know anyone that has made a shark film recently or if you have a film of your own to submit, please tell us about it. Film submission is free.

There has been a lot of interest in the trip but there is still room so if you would like to come diving with Sandtiger Sharks with us and a bunch of other shark fanatics for 3 days in early August please let me know. Sharkfest is $640 which includes 3 days shark diving, accommodation, a Sharkfest 2010 T-shirt and our ‘shark friendly’ Barbeque.

One shark diver suggested that we include a sandtiger night dive in the agenda. That sounds like fun to me but I’d like to hear what you think!

TB2
Tiger Beach Shark Photography Workshop 2
The Tiger Beach Photography Workshop appears to be a very popular concept. I’ve never seen a trip fill up quite so fast. So… I’m considering running a second workshop/expedition in the fall. Email me if you’re interested.

Lastly, Elasmodiver is getting out of control
Some people have commented that Elasmodiver is getting too big to navigate. No argument from me! So how do you get your head around a website with almost 500 pages? Its a puzzle but at least its easy to keep track of recent changes by bookmarking this link: Elasmodiver Updates. Its the simplest way to scan what is new, what has changed and when. And, if you have suggestions on how Elasmodiver could be made better, pleeeease let me know. Elasmodiver remains one of the largest sources of shark info on the internet. Help us keep it user friendly.

For the sharks,
Andy Murch