Archive for the ‘mako sharks’ Tag

The Shark Tour Goes Full Circle   Leave a comment

The Shark Tour Goes Full Circle

August 23rd 2009

We made it back to So Cal. After a four day drive across the USA from the far north east to the extreme south west we arrived in San Diego exhausted but ready for some serious shark hunting. I’m happy to say that our camper held up fine even at 12,000ft when we crossed the Rockies. After an epic 24,000km round trip from Southern Baja, up the west coast of California, across to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, back to the Gulf, up the east coast to the very eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada, down to Ontario and diagonally back to the Baja border, our VW (which now has almost 350,000km on the clock) is purring like a kitten.

The night we arrived in San Diego we jumped straight in at La Jolla shores to wash the desert out of our eyes and reacquaint ourselves with the leopard sharks. True to form, there were dozens of leopards swimming around in the surf zone, as well as a bunch of shovelnose guitarfish and some very cute pint sized bat rays.

We spent the next few days trying to figure out where the soupfin sharks were hiding but alas they eluded us. Cryptic reports of sightings came in from a number of local divers but other than a quick glimpse of a shadowy caudal fin, we free dove, scuba dove and snorkeled in vain.

After four days diving the cove our buddy Walter Heim (who I have dubbed ‘the shark whisperer’ because of the subtle way he attracts sharks to his boat) took us out to look for blues and makos. We already had some nice blue shark pics from the beginning of the tour so we were keen to top off our earlier succes with some shortfin mako shots. We spent two calm and sunny days with Walter drifting off the coast of La Jolla. In all, we attracted 3 blues and 2 makos. Not that many sharks compared to the glory days when scores of blue sharks would drive divers from the water but its not always about quantity.

Judging by his scars, one of the blues was a major scrapper. The others were sleek but timid and left even before I had entered the water.

One of the makos was also rather shy but the other was a serious player. It was the type of shark that makes up for every frustrating, half glimpsed, painfully short encounter that you’ve ever had while shark diving.

Initially he was quite shy but once he got used to us he came in close – VERY close. This little mako couldn’t get enough of my camera. I patiently bobbed around on the surface each time he disappeared wondering if he would return. After a minute or two he would show back up and I’d toss him one of the scraps that Walter had supplied me with. Then we’d both race at the bait and the mako would snatch it up and then turn and try to bite my dome port. The images below tell the tale. There are some even closer ones that I’ll share with you after they get published.

After shortfin makos with Walter it was time to go after the big guys with Lawrence Groth. Lawrence pioneered the white shark cage dives at Guadalupe Island and his Shark Diving International trips are probably the best in the world if you want to encounter white sharks. We met up with 13 other like minded shark fans and traveled together down to Ensenada where we boarded the Solmar V.

Guadalupe never disappoints. On this trip the sharks started lunging for the hang baits even before the crew had lowered the cages into the water. There were a few slow periods when the sharks disappeared to investigate other boats but over all the action was intense. On the third and final day, Lawrence’s favorite white shark named Zapata showed up. Zapata is a serious showman. Some white sharks (regardless of their size) are surprisingly timid but Zapata is as bold as his namesake. He repeatedly plowed through the water right next to us demonstrating that he could care less about the bubble blowing monkeys in the little cages. Not surprisingly all of my best images are of him.

In the evenings we had plenty of time to talk sharks among ourselves and enough time to schmooze with some old friends that we found working at the island. White shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos was there for a three month stint conducting his acoustic tagging study. Each year Mauricio lives in an old shack on Prison Beach near where the shark diving boats anchor. He leads a very primitive existence while in the field but he loves what he does and is totally committed to continuing his research into the movements of the sharks around the island.

Nat Geo shooter ABC (Andy Brandy Casagrande) and the crew of the piratical looking Captain Jack were also moored nearby shooting some out of the cage white shark action.

Last December I spent a memorable two weeks working with them in the very same spot so it was great to have a chance to catch up. Andy has an endless supply of shark and other big animal stories and he brought over a copy of his ‘Great White Shark Song’ which features him playing the guitar underwater while swimming next to a white shark. It sounds hokey when put like that but it has a strong conservation message and is well worth watching:

http://www.abc4explore.com/greatwhitesharksong.html

As the cages were loaded back onto the boat I sat and thought about our North American Shark Diving Tour. In the last four months we have driven full circle around most of the continent. We have encountered 33 species of sharks and rays (not including our dip in the Georgia Aquarium). We have collected an impressive variety of elasmobranch images including flying mobula rays, mating round stingrays, enormous whale sharks, tiny deep sea catsharks and two species of sharks that have never been photographed in the wild before.

We have met and worked with hundreds of people including divers, researchers and fishermen and seen sharks in all their splendour and witnessed their plight first hand. We have learned a lot and have been able to tell everyone that would listen about the problems of over fishing and the fragile state of North America’s shark populations. It has been an amazing adventure.

Officially, the North American Shark Tour is now over.  But, in the greater context, the shark tour started long before we set out from southern Baja and it will never really end. The quest for images of rare and endangered sharks and rays has defined my role on this planet for the better part of a decade and if I can sell enough images to keep us solvent I expect that we will continue to chase illusive sharks for many years to come.

Right now we are on Catalina Island hunting for Pacific torpedo rays and working out a game plan for the next few months. Pretty soon we will head north to the beaches near Santa Barbara to take another look for swell sharks and angels. Then we’re driving up to Monterey, Elkhorn Slough and San Fransisco Bay to see if we can photograph grey and brown smoothhounds.

By September we will be up in Canada working on cataloging our images from the tour (a daunting task) and rebuilding Elasmodiver with a completely new feel (an even more daunting task). Here is a sneak peek at our new logo:

While we’re ‘stuck’ on beautiful Vancouver Island we will make a concerted effort to document the few species of elasmobranchs that we’ve missed in the past. That means a lot of swimming around in muddy bays hunting for deep water skates which doesn’t sound that glamorous but to me it can be just as rewarding as finning along with 40ft whale shark so life will not be so bad.

We also have a lot of other things bubbling including a number of book projects, a few photography courses, some local shark campaigning and of course the planning of our next expedition – the continuation of the shark tour.

After so much time in the water I have a bunch of new species to add to the elasmodiver field guide and hundreds of new images to upload to the shark picture database so please keep an eye on the elasmodiver home page to see whats new.

Thank you to everyone who contributed their time, services, gear, boats, expertise and local knowledge to help us find the species we were after. Thank you also to everyone that emailed us with words of support and encouraged us to keep going through break downs and foul weather. We couldn’t have done it without you. As my dad (who passed away during the tour) liked to say “No man is an island”.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Sevengill Sharks in San Diego   Leave a comment

Sevengills in San Diego

24th April 2009

We have just left San Diego but we will definitely be back! San Diego is one of the sharkiest cities in North America period.

To recap, we arrived just over a week ago to storm like conditions and had to sit around frustrated while the waves pounded the shore line. After a couple of days the weather abated and we were able to get out with our good friend Walter Heim who found us some beautiful blue sharks to shoot. See our previous blog Blue Dogs off San Diego.

Walter’s friend Dave Hinkel (Owner of Blue Abyss Photo) was also on the boat and he was kind enough to give us some pics of us in the water with the blues.

After boat diving with Walter we heard that there had been a broadnose sevengill shark sighted in La Jolla Cove. We have always wanted to dive the cove so we arrived early and kicked out to the kelp forest cameras at the ready. We didn’t really expect find a sevengill shark but we had also heard that the cove is a good spot to find horn sharks so we were excited either way.

The forest is a fair distance from shore and as we wound our way back to the beach, looking under ledges for horn sharks, a curious sevengill suddenly materialized out of the kelp and did a quick circle around us. If you don’t know your sharks you could be forgiven for not understanding how unlikely this encounter was. Looking for horn sharks and finding a 7ft sevengill is like looking for nickels on the beach and digging up a diamond ring. Local divers that dive the bay every week may see a sevengill once a year or so if they’re very lucky. I don’t even know how to describe our luck in seeing a sevengill on our very first shore dive!

The shark let me get a couple of snap shots. Nothing particularly great and I couldn’t get in front of him no matter how fast I swam but at least we were able to record the moment.

I think Claire was in shock through the entire minute long encounter. She told me later that she was torn between shooting the shark and modeling for me to give my shots a sense of scale. As usual she did a great job.

After that we were hooked. We returned to the beach and switched out our tanks and dove straight back in but the illusive broadnose sevengill had given us our moment of contact and we spent the next three dives at the cove shooting horn sharks, banded guitarfish and shovelnose guitarfish.

The horn sharks made great photo subjects. We were able to shoot them hiding in crevices and swimming over the brilliant green sea grass beds that waved back and forth in the surge.

The banded guitarfish were the same species as the ones that we shot in the coral reefs in the Sea of Cortez. It is quite surprising that they are able to tolerate such temperature differences. Shooting them in kelp made a nice backdrop instead of coral but I now have so many banded guitarfish shots that I really have to start deleting some off my hard drives.

The other guitarfish that we encountered, the shovelnose, is usually a very skittish subject. I have tried to shoot this species at the beach and they invariably explode out of the sand in a puff of silt and swim for the depths before I can get anywhere near them. We were a long way off shore when  I found this one in the kelp forest and I think it was a little surprised to see me. Even so, I only got one shot off before it returned to its senses and headed for the hills.

Between dives we drove over to the Marine Room which is a snorkeling spot named after the restaurant of the same name. This is the best place on the planet to find leopard sharks but it was a little early in the year for the leopards to congregate in big numbers and I could not see more than some shadows in the distance – just one more reason to come back to San Diego.

We also tried a night dive at La Jolla shores in search of angel sharks but after an epic surface swim and a long, freezing cold night dive we returned to the shore empty handed. That isn’t such a big deal as we are heading up to Tajegis Beach near Santa Barbara soon. Tajegis is a good spot for angels but a bad spot for surge so if we are lucky enough to arrive there when the weather is cooperating we will get one more kick at the can.

We had planned to slowly work our way up the coast to San Francisco but the forecast for shore diving is not good so we have decided reverse everything and get to San Fran as fast as we can and then slowly work our way back down to San Diego before cutting across to the Gulf of Mexico to start our east coast leg.

Another development that we just couldn’t pass up; we have decided to squeeze in a trip to Catalina on the advice of Ron Clough who conducts the California Shark and Ray Count. I have never seen a Pacific Torpedo Ray so Ron (who’s advice has always panned out in the past) gave us the skinny on where to reliably find pacific torpedos:

“Torpedos are at Catalina Island, Casino Point.  Go deep, 70-90 ft. out toward the corner buoy on the left hand side, as you stand on the stair case facing the ocean. I’d give you a 99% chance.  Also, look forward to great vis there and some great shots. Hope I get a chance to dive with you.” With advice that detailed how could we resist! So, we are cutting the Grand Canyon off of our itinerary (it’s just a big hole in the ground anyway) and penciling in two days at Catalina.

Our east coast shark diving itinerary for May is starting to fall into place so if you’re anywhere between Texas and Florida come out and say hello.

For the sharks,

Andy murch

Bluedogs off San Diego   Leave a comment

Bluedogs off San Diego

20th April 2009

Just a quick update to let you all know that for the next few days we are hanging out in Southern California diving around San Diego. When we arrived four days ago La Jolla Shores looked pretty daunting but the seas have now calmed down and the shore diving is looking good.

Yesterday we got a chance to head out with our old friend Walter Heim. Walt is an all around great guy and a master at chumming in blues and makos.

We were a bit early for makos so we headed way off shore to where the water turns from green to blue and laid out an irresistible chum slick that attracted a couple of plucky little blue sharks. Its tough to do justice to the beautiful iridescent colors that reflect from the back of a young blue shark but we gave it a good try! As the sun was getting low in the sky Claire and I bobbed around behind Walter’s boat snapping frame after frame.

The second shark (about 5ft long) was happy to pose from just about every angle so I was able to add some really nice portraits to my blue shark collection:

A rare shot of me! Seems like I’m always on the other side of the lens.

Photo © Claire Pianta.

While writing this blog I got a couple of emails from Walt saying that the first school of Leopard sharks was spotted off La Jolla shores today and a diver encountered a sevengill shark in La Jolla Cove so tomorrow we’ll probably be in and out of the water all day. By the time we rendezvous with another one of Walt’s buddies for a night dive with horn sharks we’re gonna be chilled to the bone but how can we resist with so many sharks and so little time!

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

via Elasmodiver North American Fairwell Shark Diving Tour.