Not just Shark
Pictures: Elasmodiver contains photos of sharks, skates, rays, and
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
There are now
more than 5000 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:
Chasing Angels - Diving with Angel Sharks in
the Canary Islands
First published in
Shark Diver Magazine December 2008
Some shark dives are planned months in advance and some just
come together out of nowhere. This one was as random as they get.
Claire and I were sitting in a café in St Maarten figuring
out where to go next. We were contemplating flying back to Canada for the
summer when the phone rang with a job offer. Would we like to crew a 103ft
racing yacht from the Caribbean to Valencia, Spain? Hell yes! Three days
later we set sail on our first transatlantic crossing.
It was a smooth trip except that I had some problems with my
camera charger and couldn’t shoot the whales and dolphins that we
encountered on route – that sucked.
When we finally hit the Azores, I Googled ‘Valencia Nikon
D2X’ to see if anyone might have a charger that I could borrow. Juan Moro’s
name popped up on the internet so I emailed him for help.
When we met him at the dock in Valencia he handed me his
charger and then asked if we were there for the festival. It turned out that
the biggest underwater film festival in Spanish history was starting the
next day in the new Valencia Aquarium and Juan was working as an underwater
cameraman for the Spanish company Blue Screen. He is also a self confessed
shark nut – isn’t everyone? The next day he introduced us to another guy
named Juan (there are a lot of Juans in Spain) from the tourism bureau who
issued us with press passes and put us up in a fancy hotel with the rest of
the paparazzi from different dive magazines around Europe. Sometimes you’ve
just gotta toast the shark gods and smile.
As soon as the other photojournalists found out that I worked
for SDM, the conversation turned to sharks and all the European shooters had
the same question “Have you dove with the Angel Sharks in the Canaries yet?”
Angels are usually really hard to find so we were stoked to
find out about a place where sightings were virtually guaranteed. After the
festival we bummed around Spain for a while but the action was slow so I
emailed a couple of dive shops in the Canary Islands. I got through to Brian
Goldthorpe from Davy Jones Diving in Arinaga, Gran Canaria. He told me that
not only do they see Common Angel Sharks on a regular basis but that he was
working with a team from a University in Las Palmas to track Angel Shark
sightings. It sounded like he was our man.
We scoured the internet for cheap flights and snuck all the
heavy camera equipment into our hand luggage. Brian found us a cheap hotel
and before we knew it we were in the El Cabron Marine Park bouncing along a
dirt track in a beat up mini van.
El Cabron is a daunting place. It consists of a barren
volcanic hillside covered in Saharan sand deposited by the relentless
tropical winds that carry the scorched grains all the way from mainland
Africa. Not much survives above the high tide line but underwater life
We geared up, tiptoed down a gravel path and descended to
70ft where the Angel Sharks are supposed to reside. I looked around for
awhile hoping to spot a tell tale fin tip or the pulse of a partially
covered spiracle but nothing caught my eye so I bowed to experience and fell
into step behind Brian who was methodically exploring the sand close to the
rocky slope that we were drifting along.
Before long Brian stopped swimming and pointed downward at
the sand. I could see nothing and looked vacantly back at Brian as he
hovered above the shark. Settling on the bottom he began to gently fan the
sand away until the head of a Common Angel Shark began to take shape. He
then swam off and let me head in for a better look.
Even among angel sharks, these ones are crazy looking. Most
angels are plain or spotted but the Common Angel Sharks in the Canaries have
adapted to the black and white sand by developing a lattice of lines that
mimic the local terrain perfectly. Consequently they are almost impossible
to see when lying still, covered with a little sand.
Predictably, the shark took off as soon as I started shooting
but Brian was able to find another and over the next few dives we had enough
encounters for me to build up a nice variety of pictures.
The sharks would swim away at about 2 knots which meant that
they were just about possible to keep up with. Over three days in the water
we developed a routine for maximizing my shooting time. Brian would find a
shark and then leave me to uncover it. I would shoot for as long as it let
me and then give chase to get some swimming shots. Claire would then kick
like a woman possessed and get on the far side of the shark to encourage it
back towards me. Being the professional that she is, she would do this
without breathing so as not to wreck the shot with bubbles. If you think
that’s easy, next time you’re underwater see how far you can swim at full
speed on one breath!
Exhausted, Claire would eventually veer off and I’d swim away
into the blue chasing the shark at a distance, hoping that it would get used
to me and slow down before I ran out of air, energy or both.
This worked well until the last day. It was towards the end
of the final dive and we had swum right out of the bay and into the next
one. Brian found a particularly stunning shark and I took off in pursuit.
The shark swam quite slowly, tantalizingly out of shooting range but close
enough for me to really appreciate its fluid swimming motion as it glided
over the sand. I was in 50ft of clear water and feeling pretty comfortable.
There was a swell up on the surface but I was so focused on the beautiful
shark that I tuned out everything else and simply frog kicked along beside
After about half an hour of this, my air supply was getting
low and I knew that Brian would be getting worried so I drifted up to the
surface and took in my surroundings. Reality really sucks sometimes. I was
looking up at a coastline that I didn’t recognize. I was no longer in a bay
at all, but drifting past an unscalable cliff face that the Atlantic rollers
were slowly pushing me towards. The surf was breaking on submerged boulders
at the base of the cliff and white water was shooting skyward and raining
back down around me. If I let the surge drag me any closer to the rocks it
wasn’t going to be pretty.
I slipped back underwater and kicked as hard as I could out
to sea. Fortunately the current was not too strong and when I next surfaced
I had made some ground in the right direction. When a particularly high wave
picked me up I could see the bay where I should have exited. It was a good
kilometer from where I was now so I took a reverse compass bearing and
flipped onto my back for the long swim home. At one point I started getting
sucked over a submerged shelf that spun me around like a top and there was a
counter current that wanted to pull me out to sea if I was careful (next
stop Brazil) but the swim was otherwise just a good workout. After about 40
minutes of kicking I could see Brian and Claire standing on the far shore
with binoculars. I gave them a big ok and then sank underwater to swim the
last leg more comfortably. Brian assumed the worst and plunged back in to
assist. I thought this was pretty funny but I have to commend his diligence.
If you ever make it to Gran Canaria, look him up: davyjonesdiving.com.
Claire was her usual calm self throughout the whole
adventure. Later she came out with the classic line “I knew you were ok
because you swam off with a shark”.