Archive for the ‘shark pictures’ Tag

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

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 Pictures, Shark Projects and maybe a Shark Photography Workshop   1 comment

The 2010 Central American Predators in Peril Expedition is taking shape. This will be the most exciting project that Elasmodiver has ever been involved in. If you thought that the 2009 North American Shark Diving Tour was ambitious, please have a quick look at the itinerary for the 2010 expedition. Its all laid out on the new Predators In Peril page on Elasmodiver.com
To quickly outline the mission: Beginning in early May, we will be traveling through nine countries along the entire length of Central America to photograph new species of sharks. We have arranged to work with local researchers in many locations and we will also be working with artisanal shark fishermen and with a number of Central American dive operators.
We are hoping to photograph at least a dozen new species that have not yet been documented in the wild. The images will be used in an extensive public awareness campaign and then offered to regional conservation groups to promote local conservation initiatives.
We have put in a couple of funding proposals but we still need help with equipment and field expenses. Please take a look at the Predators in Peril Expedition Wish List if you think you may be able to help. And, please spread the word about the expedition through any networks that you are involved with. Media coverage is a very important part of the project.

TIGER BEACH
In other news, I have just returned from Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. It was an unexpected last minute shoot that I almost didn’t go on but I’m glad I did because the sharks were VERY friendly on this visit and the shooting opportunities were outstanding. If you’ve never been to Tiger Beach you’d be forgiven for imagining a palm fringed island surrounded by big striped sharks but TB isn’t actually a beach at all. It’s a sand bank in the middle of nowhere that rises to within about 20ft of the surface. The lemon sharks that patrol the area have become accustomed to the occasional dive boat passing through and the sound of an anchor chain rattling down to the seabed acts like an aquatic dinner bell.
For first time visitors it can be very daunting seeing a score of large lemon sharks circling just below the swim step but lemons tend to be pretty well behaved sharks. Tigers (in my opinion) are a little more unpredictable. The tigers usually show up in ones and twos but you never really know what Tiger Beach will dish out. I’ve heard of divers encountering a dozen tigers on a single dive. I’m sure that would be fun for the adrenalin junkies that go shark diving for kicks but it would make my job a little tricky so I’m glad that we only saw a handful of tigers over the course of the week.
I need an accommodating shark that is bold enough to come in close and pose but doesn’t get out of control and swim off with the bait box. The 4 meter female that adopted us on this trip was almost the perfect shark. ‘Fluffy’ as we called her, was a beautiful animal that moved slowly among us for the better part of two days. Judging by her distended belly she was either digesting a turtle or almost ready to give birth to the next generation of baby tigers.
Between Fluffy and the omnipresent lemon sharks it turned into a great shoot:
http://elasmodiver.com/Tiger%20Shark%20Pictures.htm

MORE IMAGES ON ELASMODIVER
After Tiger Beach I had a week to kill in Florida which would normally have involved lots of snorkeling with stingrays and hunting for little coastal sharks but I’m ashamed to say that I barely got wet even though I was holed up right next the beach in Fort Lauderdale. I spent the week sitting in a darkened hotel room cleaning and sorting all of the images that I have taken this year. It was a mammoth undertaking but I’m finally caught up (almost). Pretty soon there will be a whole lot of new images on Elasmodiver.com – I promise!
Here are some new leopard shark pics to keep everyone happy:
http://elasmodiver.com/Leopard%20Shark%20Pictures.htm

2010 SHARK SHOOT IN THE BAHAMAS
While in Florida I attended DEMA – the yearly North American Dive Industry Bash. I’m glad I went because after 4 days of schmoozing with magazine editors and dive operators I walked away with lots of exciting plans for next year. So many plans in fact that there is no way I can work on them all, but even if I make half of them happen it is going to be an amazing 2010.
One tentative plan I have is a Shark Photography Workshop in the Bahamas. This is a new direction for me. Other professional shooters have done similar workshops but I have been biding my time until I was sure I had something worth offering.
Now I’m ready. We’re looking at a 3 or 4 day shoot, mostly working with Caribbean reef sharks in different environments. Two dives a day plus ‘how to’ workshops, photography critiques (don’t be shy) and daily slide shows.
The idea is that you walk away with some good pics, a better understanding of how to shoot sharks and some great stories about the crazy time you had with a slough of other shark shooters in the Bahamas. Space will be limited so if that sounds like fun let me know! Depending on interest, I’m hoping to set some dates in April before the Predators in Peril Expedition gets underway.

NEW ELASMO T-SHIRTS!
Another spin off from DEMA, I bumped into Tom Sergent who operates the company Amphibious Warrior Scuba Wear which raises money for shark education and conservation activities. Tom is a big supporter of Elasmodiver and he has agreed to produce our new Elasmo T shirts that have been getting rave reviews. His new AWSW website will soon be up and running but for now, if you want to order an Elasmo T, go to Tom’s AWSW fan page on FaceBook:
Amphibious Warrior Scuba Wear on Facebook
The Elasmo T’s are US$22. All proceeds go towards the Predators in Peril Project:

BAIT BALL DIVING IN THE SEA OF CORTEZ
Tomorrow I leave for Cabo san Lucas in Baja to shoot Marlins with Shark Diver Magazine. “MARLINS?” I hear you say. Well, its a trip to shoot marlins attacking bait balls. Don’t tell the editor but I’m only going incase some sharks show up to feed as well. If they do, I’ll just have to wait for those pesky marlins to get out of the way so that I can get the shot.

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