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ANDY MURCH ELASMO GEEK

 

WHAT IS ELASMODIVER?

Not just a huge collection of Shark Pictures: Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web based shark field guide to help divers find the best places to encounter the different species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.

There are now more than 10,000 shark pictures  and sections on shark evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be accessed here:

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The North American Shark Diving Tour - A Flash of Menace

First published in Shark Diver Magazine March 2010

 

 

A Flash of Menace
 

Ever since I saw Walter Heims insane mako image leaping off the cover of issue 13 of Shark Diver Magazine, Ive wanted to emulate that shot. It is one of those images that stays in your mind long after the storyline has faded.
I should point out that you cant get an epic shot like Walters while diving with any old mako shark. Makos tend to come in hard and fast and mouth everything in sight (including outboard motors) but their boisterous behavior usually only lasts a minute or two. After their initial enthusiasm, they back off and start patrolling the perimeter while they figure out what is really edible and what isnt. More often than not they lose interest completely at this stage and swim away, dashing any chances for close up photography.
Working with mako sharks is always challenging. Getting the shot invariable comes down to a combination of time in the water, a little skill with the camera and plenty of luck.
The first hurdle is finding the makos, which are not as plentiful as they once were. Luckily, I am good friends with Walter himself, who is a veritable mako magnet. When I returned to San Diego at the end of the shark tour Walter was kind enough to take me out in his boat to look for cooperative sharks.
The first mako that showed up was a textbook shark that stuck around just long enough for me to suit up, jump in and get cold. The second shark was different. It had one of those rare streaks of bravado that shark photographers wait a lifetime for.
At first I didnt realize how the encounter would develop. By the time I had slipped into the water this mako had backed off just like they normally do but it didnt bolt when it saw me swimming around. Walter tossed a mackerel in the sharks general direction and after a little hesitation; it streaked towards the fish and engulfed it. I closed the gap to nail a couple of profile shots before the shark could turn and swim away, but rather than flee, the mako lunged towards me mouth agape. After an intense moment in which I didnt know if he was going to bite my camera or not, he swam off to a safe distance.
I stayed close to the boat, bobbing around watching him circling at the edge of visibility. Walter tossed me another fish and I dropped it in the water where the mako could see it glinting in the sunlight.
The mako shot forward like a bullet, inhaled the sprat and continued in my direction. As he approached within a couple of feet he opened his jaws to their full extension and started repeatedly biting the water in front of me. I understood immediately why he was doing this because Ive seen this behavior before...
When I was a teenager hitchhiking through Europe, I was attacked by a thief in a sleazy Parisian metro station called Les Halles. He snatched my cash and ran off into a subway tunnel so I chased him into the darkness. When I confronted him, he pulled out a blade and started slashing the air between us. My French is almost as bad as my Mako but the message was clear on both occasions: Back off! This is mine now! Dont make me use this knife (or these teeth).
Obviously, I have learned nothing in the last 20 years because rather than swimming away, I started taking pictures. The mako immediately swam right up to my dome port and ramped up its gaping threat display. Each time my strobes fired, the makos head jerked up and down aggressively. We danced around each other for what seemed like a minute or more and then the shark finally broke off and swam away.
I was a little stunned but I never really felt that the shark wanted to bite me. If fact, it seemed like he was doing everything he could to explain to the stupid monkey that he meant me no harm but if I didnt take the hint it was going to end badly.
Being a slow learner, I continued to confront the mako while he devoured fish after fish, until (disgusted with my poor comprehension skills) it finally gave up and disappeared into the sunset.
The images are open to interpretation. Im sure that sooner or later theyll get used to show how scary sharks are. However, after reading about this encounter you know better. What they really demonstrate is how restrained and intelligent sharks can be, even when confronted by dumb photographers that dont know when theyre supposed to back off.
 

 

Author: Andy Murch

Andy is a Photojournalist and outspoken conservationist specializing in images of sharks and rays.

 

 

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