Archive for the ‘rays’ Tag

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

SHARKFEST, PREDATORS IN PERIL REBORN AND A RHODE ISLAND DEEP ELASMO SHOOT   1 comment


Predators in Peril Expedition Reborn
First the bad news… Our 2010 Central American Predators in Peril Expedition got turned down for funding. I’m not sure why but rather than dwell on the time wasted in drawing up funding proposals, I’m happy to move on and look for creative ways for us to fund the expedition on our own.
Through a combination of revenue sources including Photography Workshops, Sharkfest, a pending photography exhibition and some good old fashioned hard work (at the Winter Olympics) we think we can pull off a modified PIP Central American Expedition that incorporates almost as much as the original plan.
The new plan is to turn the proposed epic road journey into a series of fly in – fly out satellite trips. This ultimately works better because we can work on other projects in between shoots, we will have better opportunities to keep the world updated on our successes and we can avoid the rainy seasons much more easily by heading to the right places at exactly the right times.


Sharkfest!
About a month ago I was looking at places around North America where I could run a cheap fun filled shark diving weekend. Moorhead City in North Carolina was the obvious place because it is easily accessible, warm enough to be popular and full of extremely photogenic sandtiger sharks.
Olympus Dive Center (which is the premiere dive center in the region) was keen to host the trip so we started hashing out the details. Shark diving trips with Olympus are always fun because they can cater to big groups and their store and staging area are set up well for apres dive entertainment.
Rather than just a dive party I wanted to create an event that shark fanatics would really enjoy. The result is Sharkfest – a shark diving weekend and mini film festival just for shark people.
As soon as I mentioned the idea to people they started getting excited. Information about Sharkfest only went online just over a week ago and the first boat is half full already so I think it is going to be very popular. The good thing is that Olympus has two big boats so we could get a record number of sharky people in one place at the same time which is bound to be memorable.
Attracting film makers to submit their short films will probably be the hardest part to organize but we have two films on the way already and screening times will be limited to the evenings. I hope I don’t have to reject submissions – that would be tough. If you’re interested in submitting a short but you’re not sure if your shark footage is up to scratch don’t worry about it. Sharkfest isn’t Sundance or Cannes and you won’t find a more appreciative audience anywhere!
H2O Photo Pros in California has kindly offered to sponsor the festival with prize money and I am having a really special trophy made called an ELASMO for the crowd favorite. More on that when its done and I have a picture to show you.
I hope some of you can make it out for the whole event and come diving. Anyone that can’t get there during the day but wants to show up in the evenings to talk sharks with us is more than welcome. More info here: SHARKFEST


Rhode Island Expedition
Right now we are at Olympic Village in Whistler BC. I am helping with some of the organizational nightmares of this monstrous event. As soon as the Paralympics finish in late March I am flying to Providence to dive with Film Maker Joe Romeiro. Joe has a friend in the commercial fishing world who is keeping an eye out for deep water species of sharks and skates for us. If he finds some while I am there we are going to do a captive release photo shoot. If any of you remember the ‘walking the dog’ blog that I posted during the shark tour this will be the same kind of shoot. We’ll release the deep water species in one of the bays and try to get some i.d. shots before they head for the hills. Its a pretty hokey way to shoot elasmobranchs but its the only way some species will ever be photographed unless I strike it rich and buy my own deep water submersible. I’m still working on that.


Sharks in a Fading Light
I have a local gallery interested in a shark photography exhibition. Dates have yet to be arranged but we’re past the hand shake stage. The exhibition will be in two parts. The first series of images focus on the traditional view of sharks, portraying them as majestic apex predators. The second series of images looks at the change that is starting to take place in the public’s perception and the plight that sharks now collectively face. It contains enough ‘pretty pictures’ to make it appealing but also depicts sharks on long-lines and other unpleasant realities.
I initially wanted to avoid any toothy shots that would paint sharks as aggressive animals but I’ve had a change of heart on this subject lately. Instilling fear into people is obviously detrimental to sharks but painting them as teddy bears is also foolish. Sharks are not monsters but they are formidable creatures. Hopefully my images will convey that sentiment.

For the sharks,
Andy Murch

A NEW DECADE OF SHARK PICTURES AND SHARK ADVENTURES TO SINK YOUR TEETH INTO…   Leave a comment

A NEW DECADE TO SINK YOUR TEETH INTO…

02/01/2010


First, The Tiger Shark Photography Workshop

I’m running a workshop at Tiger Beach in The Bahamas in April. Space is limited to ten shooters. The boat is half full already so please let me know if you’re interested. Its going be a fun trip. Amazing shooting opportunities and lots of tips and presentations. We’ll also have 7 evenings to kick back and talk sharks – my favorite subject. More info on the shark photography workshop page


Second, a little religion

I have spent the last decade sliding over or diving into the ocean. Quite often, I was diving with sharks but sometimes I was just snorkeling and looking down longingly at the world below. Occasionally, I had the privilege of piloting submarines.; driving over the seafloor, exploring the mysteries of the deep from the safety of my acrylic goldfish bowl. Every time I entered the water I came back nourished from the experience even when I was charged with difficult tasks. And, when I finally dragged my water logged body back to land, my mind remained deep in the ocean and there I expect it will stay forever.

Of all the creatures that I encounters none affected me as strongly as sharks. Sharks have been such a captivating and pivotal force in my recent life that I now only accept jobs in places where I can find sharks and I scrimp and save to go to remote shark diving spots between shooting for magazine articles or sub piloting gigs.

After I loaded Elasmodiver.com onto the web in 2002, I found even more reason to travel to unusual coastal destinations; the pursuit of rarely encountered species to add to the growing elasmodiver field guide.

Initially, shark images were simply trophies in my collection. I was a big game hunter with an underwater housing and a bucket list of shark species that I wanted to photograph. I really didn’t know that much about the plight of endangered species. I was simply overwhelmed by the beauty and grace of the animals themselves.

I am still just as infatuated with elasmobranchs (large and small) but now I am also starkly aware of the sad decline of our ocean’s top predators. Regardless of the controversy over specific decline rates, few would disagree that many sharks and rays are in trouble. According to the IUCN, At least a third of the world’s shark species are considered threatened. Many more are data deficient implying that further research could reveal more bad news.

The enormity of the problem makes me feel pretty helpless. I want to do something tangible to help but I am just a photojournalist. I can tell people what I have learned but the people that read diving and nature magazines already love the ocean and the natural world. While its important to reinforce the message lest we forget, there has to be a way to spread the word to a wider audience.

I’m not sure what the answer is or if anything can really be done to reverse the trend but I’ll do my bit. In 2010 I am planning to play the part of a missionary and my mission is to bring the word about over fishing, shark finning and habitat destruction to people that still don’t understand what is happening below the surface of the sea. I hope that you will all do your part too.

Spreading the Word through the Elasmodiver Network

Elasmodiver gets around 150,000 hits a month. That still blows me away!

Not everyone that lands on the site wants to read about the plight of sharks but there are more and more shark conservation pages being added for those that care to look.

I’m also trying to sneak as much conservation information as possible onto every page without turning people off. To that end, I am in the process of updating every species in the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide with IUCN info. That means that when little Johnny cuts and pastes a page about great white sharks into his grade 7 school project, he inadvertently learns more than just how big they grow. It all helps.

There are now Elasmodiver pages, channels and blogs on Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Twitter and YouTube. So, whatever way you like to get your news there is no escape from Elasmodiver. Don’t sign up for our Twitter feed unless you want to live and breathe sharks. I am turning that account over to our new social networking guru Bo Moran. He’ll be tweeting and re-tweeting Elasmodiver news and general shark stuff multiple times a day.

The pen may be mightier than the sword but what is wrong with keeping a sword handy just in case?

Outside of the web, I am now trying to write every shark diving article with shark conservation in mind. That’s not always easy to do when you’re writing about how much fun it is diving with tiger sharks but I’m committed to squeezing the message into the text wherever I can. I’m also pitching my stories to way more magazines this year. I’m a slow writer and I’m starting to think that I may be mildly dyslexic so its really cutting into my shooting time but its a worthwhile platform even if it is preaching to the choir.

In the next couple of months, I have articles slated for Diver, Invertum, Oceans (a new mag – keep a look out for this one), Xray, Shark Diver (of course) and a few others that must remain nameless for now. I’ll keep plugging away on that front so expect to see more of my writing on the news stands.

I also contributed an interview for a photographic magazine which annoyed the hell out of me. No matter how many times I pointed out that I don’t spend every waking minute ‘in the jaws of death’ they were not interested in any other angle. It frustrates me to think that many editors outside of dive/nature mags are still stuck on the sensationalist man-eater model – its time to claw your way out of the 70’s guys!.

At the end of the day I’m really not sure if what I write has any effect. I plan to keep it up but I look at Sea Shepherd and the front line approach that they have taken by harassing whaling ships and ruining catches and I wonder if that would be a more effective method in the battle to save sharks. I know that I’ll be labeled as a radical if I go down that path but on a whim I registered SharkShepherd.com the other day. Every successful army has a political and a military wing. I’m not sold on the idea of direct intervention yet but I’m open to suggestion.

Predators In Peril Project update – The PIP Exhibition

On a less controversial note, PIP is progressing. I have built a portfolio of images for the Predators in Peril Exhibition and I’m out pounding the pavement, looking for suitable venues. The exhibition consists of a number of my most dramatic shark images. Each image is accompanied by a smaller image that conveys the plight of that species and a message about the decline of sharks in general. Sometimes I use images of dead sharks and sometimes I use images with a more symbolic reference. I plan to use fishing hooks to hang the images in each gallery if the curators don’t object. For a sneak peek at some of the images that are included please follow this link: Predators in Peril Exhibition

I have invested a fair chunk of my net worth in this project. The images are printed on archival silver rag and they look gorgeous. The intention is to educate everyone that comes through the galleries and to raise funds for the 2010 Central American Predators in Peril EXPEDITION which will take place later in the year.

Elasmo Ads

This year we’re also throwing our doors open to advertisers in the scuba diving and photography industries to help raise funds for Predators in Peril. There are banner, button and full page advertising opportunities. Our rates are unbeatable considering our web presence so if you are a manufacturer, dive shop or operator and you want a button on all 480+ pages on Elasmodiver please let me know. First come, first served. Advertise on Elasmodiver

Happy new year! Thanks for tuning in and for supporting Elsmodiver.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Shark Projects   Leave a comment

Shark Projects

September 25th 2009

Now that the shark tour is officially over, I am back on Vancouver Island formulating a game plan for next year. My fall schedule is looking a bit grim regarding actual time in the water with sharks but there are so many exciting projects that need my attention that I’ll be too busy to go diving anyway. Here are a few of the things that I am working on:

Predators in Peril

An exhibition featuring a selection of dynamic shark and ray images designed to draw attention to the critical position of critically endangered elasmobranch species. This will initially start locally but if it is well received I will try to turn it into a traveling exhibition. It is a great opportunity for me to get on my soap box in a friendly setting to reinforce the message that shark stocks are in decline and need to be protected at a global level.

There are a lot of obstacles holding the project back such as: set up, printing, framing, venue hire and advertising expenses but we have high hopes for pulling this together by the spring of next year.

Shark-Shop.com

A retail website affiliated with Elasmodiver that will ultimately become our portal for marketing limited edition prints and other elasmodiver goodies. This is not that big a project but its way beyond my web savvy so if anyone wants to lend a hand…

The Shark Dive Operator Initiative

The original mandate of Elasmodiver was to create an exhaustive shark and ray field guide on the internet where divers could look up a particular species that they were interested in and immediately find out where they could dive with it. Well, eight years later I’m nowhere near finished but I think that I’ve made a pretty good start.

One of the factors holding the project up is that I still don’t know where each and every elasmobranch is hiding and when dive operators are talking about their dive sites on the internet, they don’t usually bother saying that stingray species A is sometimes found swimming around at dive site B. Consequently, I’ve decided to approach the problem from another angle.

The Shark Dive Operator Initiative (I’m still working on the name) is an email campaign to get every dive shop or dive operator that we can find on the internet (not just those that run organized shark dives) to fill out a quick survey answering which shark and ray species they see in their neighborhood.

Once we get the results, their contact info and a brief outline of what you might encounter with them will get added to the Dive Operator Directory. I’m guessing that most dive operators will be pretty happy to have a link from one of the largest shark diving resources on the internet so the survey should get a good response. In return, we’ll get priceless information for our database and maybe even some location ideas for upcoming shark tours. It is a mammoth project. Why any sane person would attempt it I don’t know…

Elasmodiver Expanded

No surprises here. I’m swamped with new shark and ray images from the 2009 tour and it is going to take me months to add them all onto Elasmodiver. There are at least 6 new species profiles to be added to the Field Guide (like the Atlantic Guitarfish shown here) as well as location pics, some new ‘shark diving hot spot’ features and lots more that I don’t even want to think about right now.

Shark Diver Magazine Issue 21

Some of you may have heard that Eli was so inspired by the North American Shark Diving Tour that he decided to dedicate the next issue of the mag almost exclusively to our adventures. That was a nice gesture on his part but the reality is that after I agreed in principle, I soon realized that I would have to rewrite and expand upon my entire road trip blog so that it would read well in a magazine. And, sort, clean and edit lots and lots of pics so that Eli can cherry pick his favorites. It is very time consuming but its kinda fun reliving all the high points and writing about them from a more retrospective point of view.

From what I’ve seen so far, the mag is going to look awesome. Here are a couple of screen shots that Eli sent me. That’s Claire surrounded by silky sharks on the cover:

Elasmodiver on Facebook

Elasmodiver now has a Facebook Page:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elasmodivercom/130919737853

A month or two ago a friend of mine started an Andy Murch Shark Photographer Group on Facebook. That was going well but I couldn’t figure out how to keep everyone updated unless they actually visited the group to see what had changed. So now there is a simple page that anyone can join. Once you join Elasmodiver (or become a fan of it) on Facebook you’ll get all my website updates zapped straight to your Facebook status updates page – much easier for me to manage.

Speaking of Facebook,

Lately it has seemed like there are so many shark group postings and worthy causes that its difficult to know which ones to support. I am sure that they are probably all worthy causes. The Shark Safe Network is trying to get likeminded organizations to work together. In their own words:

The Shark Safe Network provides a framework to combine and focus the efforts of committed individuals and shark conservation groups towards specific shark conservation campaigns. If you have a passion to protect sharks, Shark Safe Network helps you to get involved and make a difference – by participating in a current campaign or by launching your own campaign in your community.

Shark Safe Network provides the information, tools, raw materials and support. You provide the passion!!

The goal of every Shark Safe Network campaign is to reduce and ultimately eliminate wasteful and unsustainable activities and products that threaten sharks’ survival. Shark Safe Network invites and welcomes participation from any and all organizations and individuals, provided that all campaigns are conducted according the Shark Safe Network campaign principles.

And we always keep in mind that helping sharks = helping people. When you consider any of the issues that threaten sharks today, there is also a corresponding negative impact on humans and the planet.

Shark Safe Network is all about getting involved and doing something that counts. Join the Shark Safe Network and you will make a difference!

Many organizations have already endorsed the initiative so if you’re looking for an effective way to make a difference, take a closer look at what the SharkSafeNetwork is trying to do.

DEMA
There are lots more projects that I would like to start at some point but these will keep me busy for a while.

I am planning to go to DEMA in November so if you see me wandering around in an Elasmodiver T-shirt please come up and say hello. It’ll be a busy weekend but there is always time to talk shark.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

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

Walking the Dog…. (shark)   1 comment

Walking the dog

August 1st 2009

Sorry for the long overdue update. My PC died and I have spent the last couple of weeks learning to speak mac.

After two very frustrating weeks in the Gulf of Mexico waiting for spare parts for our camper, we needed a shark fix. It had to be a good one too, not just a momentary glimpse of a fleeing nurse shark or a mad scramble after a bolting stingray. Unfortunately, uncooperative weather continued to thwart any attempts to head out to sea so rather than battle the elements we drove north to land locked Atlanta.

Now, at first glance Atlanta may not seem like a shark diving hot spot but a dip in the Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium is a quick way to tick off a dozen or more shark and ray species from your life list without even driving to the beach. And, if that in itself isn’t enough of a draw; topping the bill in the football field sized tank are four enormous whale sharks which were transported here from Taiwan in the bad old days before the Taiwanese banned the harvesting of whale sharks for consumption.

As whale sharks go, these ones are still relatively small but they are impressive never the less and with a regular diet of krill (or fish pellets that do the same job) they are growing fast. Sadly, two of the original sharks died from a reaction to an antibiotic but these have been replaced and all four of the present sharks appear to be in good shape.

Claire and I listened intently to the dive briefings and watched the video that all potential divers get before entering the tank and then eagerly jumped into the crystal clear water and descended to the sand. As soon as our entourage of divemasters were happy with our buoyancy we drifted into the centre of the upper bowl of the tank. This half of the exhibit consists of a large shallow area devoid of obstructions where different species of sharks and rays can swim around unimpeded or sprawl on the bottom as they see fit.

While the other divers marvelled at the giants gliding overhead, I made a beeline for a large sawfish that was lurking on its own in the far corner. Sawfish absolutely fascinate me. How exactly they evolved to have an enormously long rostrum studded with wicked looking spikes is beyond me.

Unfortunately, their saws which they use to slash into schools of fish when feeding, have also become their downfall. Sawfish often get inextricably tangled in fishing nets and even if the nets are recovered before the sawfish die, many fishermen would rather kill them than risk injury trying to extricate them unharmed. There are also a few unscrupulous fishermen that actually target sawfish and hack off their saws to sell as curios on the black market. Consequently, they are now critically endangered worldwide.

There are two species of sawfish in the Atlanta Aquarium: green and largetooth. The largetooth sawfish are impressive in their own right but the green sawfish are impossible to ignore. Under the soft lights of the tank they appear to radiate a subtle golden light.

Sawfish are not the only large rays in the tank. There are a number of alien looking bowmouth guitarfish and some enormous shark rays. All of these are accustomed to close encounters with divers and snorkelers so it is possible to plonk down on the sand right next them and really study them in detail; not something that is easily accomplished in the wild.

Other rarities include fantastically patterned leopard whiptail rays which I have tried to shoot in the wild in Australia but could not get anywhere near before they exploded away in a cloud of sand, and southern stingrays, pink whiptail rays, small groups of cownose rays and amazingly, a manta ray!

As for sharks, during the dive we were regularly buzzed by great hammerheads, zebra sharks and sandbar sharks. Sandtigers floated around as only sandtigers can and a number of wobbegongs (both tasselled and spotted) sprawled lazily on rocks and on the acrylic tunnels that were full of wide eyed spectators.

After snapping away in the upper bowl for a while we drifted down into the deeper half of the tank and checked out some of the sharks and rays that prefer to stay in that area. As instructed, we did our best to remain in the lower third of the water column so that the whale sharks could swim around in peace. Occasionally, one would swim by quite closely, perhaps to check us out, but for the most part the whale sharks stayed at the surface where they could cruise in long straight lines without interruption. The tank was designed so that the whale sharks have enough room to turn, swim towards the far end of the tank for a while and then glide for a bit. Studies of other aquarium sharks have shown that this is important because the sharks do better if they can rest for a short time before they have to turn again.

The whole time that I was swimming around I was trying to gauge whether the tank’s inhabitants were suffering from overcrowding. I’m still not totally sure but I didn’t see any sharks or rays trying to avoid each other by sudden directional changes. In fact the only time that any of the animals moved quickly was when I invaded their space. Also, very few of the animals had grazes on their noses or pectoral fins which would be a sure sign that they are having trouble swimming or are generally not comfortable in the tank.

With so much to look at it is not surprising that the dive was over long before we were ready to surface. We reluctantly exited the tank and cleaned up. The staff then presented us with goody bags full of sharky stuff and we sat down with Dr Bruce Carlson who filled us in on some of the research that the aquarium funds.

The Georgia Aquarium is involved with a number of projects including a long term study of the yearly whale shark aggregation near Holbox, Mexico, which is the largest known annual gathering of whale sharks in the world. In conjunction with Bob Hueter from Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, the aquarium has been tagging and measuring as many whale sharks as possible each summer to try to determine where they migrate to, how fast they grow and many other unanswered questions. Dr Hueter is expected to publish his findings shortly.

We spent the rest of our day roaming the halls of the aquarium and people watching. Whether you’re pro-aquarium or not there is no denying how engrossed everyone was with the shark tank and that is a lot better than seeing people drawn to a large shark carcass hanging from the gallows on a fishing pier.

Armed with a fist full of new species we hopped in the shark bus and drove north.

Because of the van delays we had to skip NC with it’s famous sandtiger shark dives but thank you to Outer Banks Diving for the invitation. Next time we’ll get there even if we have to hitch hike!

From Georgia we drove straight to New England to look for skates. We spent a fun week exploring the New England coastline in search of skates but our time in Rhode Island is a hilarious story in itself. This is what I jotted down at the time:

WALKING THE DOG

In the quest to photograph rare and endangered sharks and rays I have found myself in some unusual situations. I’ve jumped off research vessels into racing currents, snorkeled down rivers and hitched rides on commercial fishing boats. Today however, I took part in one of the funniest shark shoots I will probably ever have.

Claire and I are in Rhode Island staying with Joe Romeiro who’s latest short film Death of a Deity recently won him the ‘Best Emerging Film Maker Award’ in the Blue Underwater Film Festival.

Joe is a self confessed shark fanatic. His house is a shrine to everything sharky, complete with a large tank that holds a variety of small sharks that Joe has rescued from fishing nets and cramped home aquariums and is in the process of rehabilitating.

When I told Joe that one day we hoped to photograph a chain dogfish which is a beautiful little catshark that lives all along the east coast from New England to the Caribbean, Joe suggested that we take one of his recovering chain dogs for a walk at the beach. Initially, I thought he was joking but the more we talked about it, the less hair brained the idea seemed.

Chain dogfish (Scyliorhinus retifer) normally live at depths between 200ft and 2000ft making them virtually inaccessible to all but the most experienced tech divers. I have heard of tech heads diving really deep wrecks in the Carolinas that are literally teaming with chain dogs but without a rather lengthy and expensive trimix course there isn’t much chance that I will see one any time soon.

While we thought about the idea we did a little shore diving, partly to try to photograph some of the skate species that live off Rhode Island and partly to find a nice site that would be a suitable spot to walk the dog. King’s beach near Newport turned out to be ideal. It was close enough to Joe’s house to so that the hardy little shark wouldn’t have any trouble with the journey and it has some nice varied terrain offering us a choice of back drops for the shoot.

We waited till late afternoon when the sun would be the least stressful to the deep water shark and with everything prepared, Joe scooped up the tiny chain dogfish (that we affectionately named Steve) and lowered him into a bucket just big enough to keep him comfortable without letting him slosh around on the windy roads. Joe then transferred Steve (in his bucket) into his girlfriend Emma’s SUV and we began the zip across town to Kings Beach.

I confess that we probably bent a few traffic laws to make sure that Steve didn’t spend too long in his cramped environment but being a buccal ventilator (able to suck in oxygen rich seawater without having to swim forward) the tiny catshark would probably have been fine for hours.

At the beach the three of us raced to get our gear on while Emma carried Steve down to the shallows and lowered the bucket into the sea to let the water temps equalize. Some curious tourists asked what we were doing with all the cameras so we said that we were going shark diving. They asked rather nervously if there were many sharks in these waters but we said “No, we brought our own” which left them with baffled looks on their faces.

It was a comical site as the three of us stood in waist deep water waiting for the shark to be released. After some discussion on how best to liberate Steve I reached into the bucket and scooped him up in one gloved hand and swam slowly into clearer water where we could follow him if he decided to bolt.

As soon as he was released he sensed freedom and shot skyward then drifted back towards the sea bed with us in hot pursuit. For a few seconds it looked as though Steve was going to disappear into the depths but before long he got used to his enormous escorts and swam slowly around while Claire and I took pictures from every angle.

Once we were happy, Joe took over with his video camera and filmed some beautiful sequences of the exquisitely patterned catshark swimming over the reef.

Claire and I headed back to shore to give Joe a little more space. Emma was waiting in the shallows with the bucket and before long Joe materialized with Steve swimming ahead of him. Every now and then he would put a hand near Steve’s left or right side to keep him pointed in the right direction. As they reached the shore Emma dropped the bucket back into the water and deftly scooped up Steve who seemed none the worse for wear.

We drove water logged back to Joe’s house and quickly slipped Steve back into his tank with the other sharks which are in various states of rehabilitation. Periodically, Joe and Emma checked to make sure that the chain catshark was doing ok and the last report we got was that Steve was behaving as though nothing had happened. I imagined the conversation in the shark tank that night “Guys, you’re never gonna believe what happened to me… ”

Considering the condition that Steve was in when Joe first got him, he is now in great shape so the next time that Joe decides to walk the dog it will be a one way trip. He plans to choose a site where there is a drop off close to shore so that the shark can find its way into a deep water without too much effort.

After New England we had just enough time to drive up to the Bay of Fundy to board the Storm Cloud. We were racing to join a Porbeagle tagging trip with Sharks Unlimited and our friends from UNB. It was a one shot deal and because it was a bit early in the season we struck out. This was my third year with the Porbeagles and I have some pretty good shots already so I was ok with that but Claire was on her first trip so she was pretty disappointed. A couple of days later the same thing happened in Baie Comeau. We could only allot one day to go after Greenland Sharks – strike two.

The moral of the story is that getting the shot is all about time in the water. If you can’t put in the time, you’ll probably go home empty handed. I’ve been telling other divers this for years but in reality I usually just get lucky. Lesson learned.

After a couple of days chasing gray seals around the Gaspe Peninsula we drove down to Toronto and took the van in for new tires and brakes. It was good timing because our next leg is a marathon drive to San Diego to look for smoothhound sharks, leopards again, soupfins, more blues, shortfin makos and California butterfly rays and then we will finish the tour in style by joining Lawrence Groth at Guadalupe Island to film Great Whites.

We stowed everything as best we could and took off for the border but unfortunately we got about 10km down the road and hit an enormous pothole on the freeway and nearly wrote off our camper.

We’re fine but our poor VW ended up back in the shop with two flattened rims, wrecked brakes, and a nasty oil leak that was rather worrying. This one hurt. Of course, it was Friday night before a long weekend – again!

It’s all fixed now and we’re finally on our way. The camper has a few more creeks and scrapes and a little more duct tape holding it together but we’re rolling. Hopefully our next blog will be from Southern California. First stop La Jolla. Come and join us if you’re down that way.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Back in the Deep South   1 comment

Back in the Deep South

25th June 2009

Since our last post Claire and I have been shooting rays down in South Florida again and have once more returned (for the final time!) to the northern gulf. All the back tracking is a bit painful but it gave the garage time to fix up our vw van. Now we have a tour bus that purrs like a kitten and we’re in good shape to start heading north.

While in the sunny south we hooked up with our good friends who run Scuba Works in Jupiter, FL. Jupiter is the sharkiest spot in So Flo for big carcharinid sharks like lemons and bulls but sadly we were not able to entice any of them up from the depths.

The shore diving was fun and I photographed some yellow stingrays for posterity. These are not a new species for me but the last time I shot them I was wielding a Sony Cybershot point and shoot. That was back in the days when shark and ray photography was a hobby with no pressure other than the personal satisfaction of nailing the shot; ah the good old days.

We also went diving with Brendal and Ryan from Prodive USA in Fort Lauderdale. Brendal is a serious shark conservationist and is a campaigner for Shark Savers. So, between dives we sat and discussed tactics in the struggle to save sharks.

Brendal is hoping that Shark Savers will ultimately fall under the umbrella of Shark Safe (the names get confusing) which is a budding alliance of grass roots conservation organizations. The idea is that if all the shark conservation movements can work together they will have significantly more clout. I’m all for it.

The Fort Lauderdale dives were fun and we did see some nurse sharks but after a few days the call of the unusual lured us back to the gulf. Before we left we sat down with Ryan and Brendal for an interview about our tour which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ProDiveUSA

First stop back in the Panhandle was Panama City. Each time I come here I see something different. The first year it was all Atlantic stingrays, then it was mobulas and southern stingrays. This time the ocean surprised me again by offering up a pier full of Atlantic guitarfish. I love the diversity of the Gulf of Mexico!

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch


Gulf of Mexico Sharks   Leave a comment

Gulf Sharks

15th May 2009

The west coast and even Texas is already starting to blur. We are now driving around the Florida Panhandle looking for bluntnose and Atlantic stingrays to photograph. The last time I looked for stingrays here was way back in the point and shoot days long before I decided to become a ‘serious’ photographer.

Last weekend we made the pilgrimage to Venice to dive with silkies and duskies. The duskies obviously didn’t get the memo but the oil rig that we dove at had so many silky sharks swimming around it that it was hard to remember that most shark species are endangered. For more than an hour we snorkeled around the boat in the presence of 100 or more sharks. The water was warm, the viz was great and the sharks were very, very friendly!

Venice is such a sharky place that it was the perfect location to reconnect with Eli, Paul and Nathan from Shark Diver Magazine. After two years apart we had a lot to catch up on and this was my first chance to introduce Claire to the team. Good times, good diving and some pretty good silky pics!

After Venice we drove east to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to meet with Dr Eric Hoffmeyer. Each month Eric and his team venture into the Mississippi Sound to monitor the shark population. The sound is home to thousands of small sharks, predominantly Atlantic sharpnose sharks but also finetooth sharks, bulls, blacktips, bonnetheads and a variety of other species.

Eric has collected a wealth of data on the sharks that migrate into his domain each summer and over two days out at sea I was able to sit and soak up more shark science than I ever thought my tired brain could handle.

Eric was kind enough to halt his work long enough for us to jump into the muddy water to photograph the sharpnose sharks that he released. The visibility was horrendous (about 3 to 4ft) but some of the images that we managed to get are surprisingly clear. One more shark to add to the Elasmodiver Field Guide at the end of the tour.

The majority of sharks that are landed are tagged, measured, fin clipped, blood sampled and swiftly returned to the sound but a few of the sharks that come up the line are DOA. These are brought back to the lab for further analysis and Eric invited us to join him in the lab to document the dissection process. It was a side of shark research that I haven’t been exposed to very much and it was a bit gory but fascinating to watch this aspect of his work.

After our Florida leg we are planning to head back to MS to work with Eric again.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Saved by an Angel (Shark)   Leave a comment

Saved by an angel (shark).

5th May 2009

In retrospect, driving north from San Diego when the bad weather hit may not have been the brightest thing to do. Refugio and Tajegis beaches were so churned up that we didn’t give them more than a cursory glance.

By the time we hit Monterey the surf had wrapped right around the headland and was hammering the usually tranquil inner harbour. We talked to shark researcher Sean Van Sommeran who conducts an annual elasmobranch distribution study at Elkhorn Slough north of Monterey. Sean has a lot of experience working with smoothhound sharks but his organization (PSRF) has not geared up for the season yet. Although he was very friendly and gave us all the pointers he could, it was obvious that mother nature was not going to favor us this time.

We retreated to the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and I spent a frustrating but enjoyable day watching the leopard and sevengill sharks swimming around their tanks. Claire spent her entire time among the sea dragons and pipe-horses. Apparently, they are as interesting to some people as sharks but I don’t get it.

Rolling with the punches is an important part of shark photography. Surface weather, underwater visibility and sporadic shark appearances are all factors that can wreck a trip when luck doesn’t run your way. Patience and the stubbornness to keep returning to a location for that illusive encounter are critical traits for anyone who thinks they might like to pick up a camera and become a serious shooter.

Sean graciously invited us to accompany him later in the summer when the weather will probably be better and with that idea in the back our minds we headed back south through Big Sur (a breath taking stretch of rugged so-cal coastline) and caught a ferry to Catalina Island.

Left: Big Sur. Right: Claire jumping in at Casino Point, Avalon, Catalina Island.

Sadly, the promised torpedo rays had come and gone from the marine park three weeks before our arrival. For three days we scoured the sea floor hoping to find a straggler limping over the sand but it was not to be.

At night we hooked up with Jon Council who taught me to fly submersibles many years ago. Jon having done thousands of dives around Catalina gave us his take on the torpedoes. Apparently off the western side of the island there is a deep reef known as Farnsworth Bank. According to Jon and confirmed by other local divers, torpedo rays regularly gather in great numbers along this reef and those intrepid divers that are prepared to risk the extreme narcosis that accompanies diving to 190ft may be rewarded with the site of dozens of torpedo rays literally laying on top of one another. Intriguing but very scary. Compared to most divers I get ‘narked’ very quickly so I am not the ideal candidate for very deep air diving. Jon suggested that we go there when Claire and I return to Cali at the end of the summer to look for smoothhounds. He offered to arrange a boat and bring scooters so that we don’t have to kick too hard at depth which brings on narcosis that much quicker. Claire, is not convinced.

Although the torpedoes eluded us on this occasion, the trip was not a complete washout. On our second day on Catalina we found a sleeping Pacific angel shark near the wreck of the valiant at about 90ft. Angels are very patient sharks and although it was completely buried under the sand when we arrived, it let me settle beside it and dust practically all of the sand off of its back without it moving a muscle.

This was only my third Pacific angel and the clear water around Catalina resulted in much sharper images than I could have gotten on the mainland.

We also came across a number of California bat rays but they are notoriously difficult to approach. Each time I saw the telltale plume of sand that indicated a bat ray was feeding nearby I would try to hold my breath and swim slowly up to it. It never worked. On our last dive in the park I stumbled upon one more bat ray and decided to try a different tactic. Kicking furiously I swam straight at it with my camera strobes blazing. Surprisingly, it worked quite well. The bat ray froze as I appeared in front of it and I managed to get some colorful head on shots before it came to it’s senses and darted away.

That was our last west coast elasmobranch and brought our tour total up to 13 species in five incredible weeks.

The next morning we dragged all our gear back to the mainland and headed east. 2 days and 1500 miles later we arrived in Houston to catch up with Shark Diver Magazine shooter Paul Spielvogel and to visit with Jerry and Melanie from Kickady Scuba who recently became the US distributors for Poseidon.

Jerry had me drooling over Poseidon’s latest Closed Circuit Rebreather.

We now have one day to rest, catch up this tour blog and prepare for the east coast leg of our adventure. Tomorrow we leave for Mississippi to accompany Dr Eric Hoffmeyer’s research team out to the barrier islands to look for a number of shark species that are rarely encountered by divers. We’re very excited about the opportunity to shoot some unusual sharks and to document Eric’s work.

After Mississippi we are heading to Venice, Louisiana to join Captain Al Walker and Eli, Nathan and Paul from Shark Diver magazine on a one day hunt for Dusky sharks and scalloped hammerheads. It just keeps getting better!

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