Archive for the ‘shore diving’ Tag

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

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

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

Groundhog Day on the Redneck Riviera   Leave a comment

Groundhog Day on the Redneck Riviera

5th July 2009

The last couple of weeks have been a disaster. On the morning that I loaded my last blog onto the internet we drove from Panama City to Destin (about 50 miles) and blew a check valve on the exhaust vacuum line. It should not have been a show stopper in the scheme of things but once the hot air started backing up, a junction exploded and the escaping gas welded my throttle cable in ‘accelerate’. Once the initial excitement of not being able to slow down had gone through all the subsequent stages of concern, fear, desperation, drastic clutch squealing activity and eventual calm retrospective contemplation, we got a tow to a garage and considered our very short list of options. As Murphy’s Law would have it; it was 5.30 on a Friday night.

The mechanic said that because it was a VW he needed to talk to the dealer which was closed until Monday so we rented a car and hung out in a broken down hotel for the weekend.

I should point out that I am a very driven person. I will go to insane lengths to make sharky things happen and when forced to sit around and let events play themselves out I quickly go stir crazy.

Monday dawned and at 8am we were back at the garage listening to the bad news. The parts needed to be flown in from LA and would take a week. Not good. Not good at all. Didn’t these people realize that we were on a mission?

We bought a $30 Walmart tent and booked into a local campground. The plan was to ignore this setback, swallow the cost of the rental car and repairs to the van and spend the week snorkeling with rays off the local beaches. It didn’t sound too bad. We could campground hop along the gulf and zip back the following Monday to pick up the camper and head north. What we didn’t anticipate was the green goo which hits the northern beaches around this time each year rendering visibility non existent.

Every beach that we approached looked like it was covered in lime flavored Gatorade. It has been a grim week.

We spent the 4th of July frying on a muggy beach east of Port St Joe, getting nailed by sand flies and hoping that the rough surf would abate long enough for us to snorkel out beyond the algae covered shoreline but it was not to be.

At least we would get our van back on Monday and then be able to go out with Eric Hoffmayer over in Mississippi who promised to try to find us some finetooth sharks. But in true groundhog day form, this morning we awoke to another day of green goo, high surf, an email from the garage stating that the parts wouldn’t be there until at least Wednesday and a phone call from Eric saying that a storm front was moving in and the sampling trip was being rescheduled. Time to sit in the campground and suck back another Landshark Lager and shake my head at the shark gods….

Just now, as I was writing this tale of woe, Claire strolled into camp with a smile on her face. She has been talking to the couple three sites down in the big RV. It turns out that they are catch and release shark fishermen and they’re going out tonight looking for threshers. Sounds like adventure has finally struck again.

land shark lager

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