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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:

WHAT'S NEW?

Shark picture - green sawfish

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PINTA ROJA: DIVING WITH REDSPOTTED CATSHARKS

Published in Diver Magazine 2013.

 

 

Chile is the worlds longest north-south running country. With 4630km of coastline to choose from, Chilean divers have access to one of the most diverse aquatic playgrounds on the planet. Until a couple to decades ago, diving was far from the mind of the average Chilean but the days of Pinochet are long gone and with Chiles newfound prosperity and stability, comes a new generation of adventurous divers pioneering sites from the Peruvian border all the way to Tierra del Fuego.
 

Zapallar Harbour


Two kilometers off the coast of Zapallar in central Chile, slate grey storm clouds crackling with electricity, roll menacingly across the sky. Our tiny fishing boat bucks and rolls in the heavy chop while I queasily shrug on my drysuit; one eye firmly fixed on the watery horizon to maintain my inner equilibrium.
Keen to escape the heaving swells, we slip below the surface of the South Pacific and embrace Chiles mind-numbingly cold Humboldt Current. Instant brain-freeze. Falling through water the colour of liquid detergent, I level out next to Eduardo Sorensen; an underwater photographer working for Oceana Chile who has kindly offered to be my guide.

Dj Vu
We float over an alien landscape comprised of tufts of stunted kelp and enormous yellow ear sponges sculpted by the surge. The twisted kelp stalks are reminiscent of the Pacific North West but this species of mega-algae named Lessonia trabeculata, is endemic to Chiles pink stone reefs.

 


Resting under a holdfast is a small borrachilla; a type of combtooth blenny apparently common in these waters. The little reef dweller holds its ground until a particularly strong wave pushes me closer than intended, causing it to dart into the foliage.
The surge is relentless. I try to outsmart it by descending further but the surface swell is so powerful today that it sucks the entire water column back and forth with every passing roller.
By jamming one hand into a crack in the reef, I am afforded just enough time to examine a mating aggregation of Antarctic pink stars Stichaster striatus before the surge tears me away again. These large flesh-coloured pentapeds look uncannily like the pink stars back home in Canada but I am told that they belong to a separate genus altogether.

 


Here and there are Chilean sunstars Heliaster helianthus. These many-armed southerners can grow forty or more arms but they do not reach the proportions of their larger northern cousins.
Why such a slow moving group of animals that live poles apart have evolved so similarly is a long debated topic among echinoderm specialists. Most likely, they share common ancestors that lived centrally along the Pacific coast of the Americas before climate change warmed equatorial seas; splitting the sea star population into two isolated temperate groups.

Pinta Roja
After 45 minutes of battling surge, we retire to Zapallar Harbour and back roll into the shallows to look for catsharks. Except for the occasional bottle, the harbour is surprisingly devoid of the trash one regularly sees in long used anchorages.
Eduardo vanishes almost immediately. There is little need for us to stick together in such calm shallow water so I wander off on my own to investigate a large stand of kelp. Within the forest, twenty or so mermaids purses (egg capsules) are securely tethered to one of the thicker stalks. The eggs were almost certainly deposited by Redspotted catsharks Schroederichthys chilensis. Locally called Pinta roja, they are the only Chilean sharks that lay their eggs in such shallow water.


 

Redspotted catsharks deposit two egg capsules at a time by rubbing themselves around branches of kelp until the tendrils at the end of each capsule become suitably entangled. Other gravid females then follow suit until a bouquet of eggs weighs down each branch. The saying Dont put all your eggs in one basket springs to mind but it appears to be working well for this abundant species.
Ten meters away, a catshark nonchalantly rests, draped over a small boulder. The 40cm predator twitches slightly upon my approach then dozes off again. It is a female, perhaps even one of those that contributed to the egg mass on the adjacent kelp frond. Bold chocolate brown saddles run down the sharks orange torso but it somehow blends perfectly against the broken pink rock.


 

Later in the dive I am buzzed by a second pinta roja. This one is a subadult; brighter and more slender but undoubtedly the same species. Redspotted catsharks range from Peru to southern Chile where their niche is taken over by the narrowmouth catshark; an almost identical but hardier Antarctic species.
The second catshark seems oblivious to my presence. I shadow it in 15ft of water until I feel the tug of resistance on my second stage and float to the surface.

 


Back on the boat, the captain and I scour the bay in search of Eduardos bubbles but he is nowhere to be seen. Some time later, he surfaces and waves furiously towards us. Fearing the worst we race over but he explains that he has found a Chilean apron ray. Most electric rays (that divers encounter) live in the tropics, making this temperate Chilean species somewhat of a novelty. I am anxious to jump in with my camera but there are no more tanks on the boat so I plunge back in empty. It is a quick hypoxic kick down to the seafloor where Eduardo is pointing at a pink disc with tiny eyes. The apron ray looks at me disdainfully but allows a couple of snapshots before swimming away.

 



Las Tacas
The sleepy town of Coquimbo lays 500km north of Santiago on the edge of the mighty Atacama; the worlds driest desert. Just south of town, Stefano Bagoni runs Las Tacas Dive Resort, which caters to international divers and adventurous Chilenos making the multi-day trek up from the city.
Five minutes out of Las Tacas Marina, Stefano drops anchor at a small outcrop of rocks awash with heavy surf. The terrain is much like Zapallar. Outrageously bright orange, pink and yellow sponges adorn craggy pink cliffs. Snow-white anemones form frosty colonies on sheltered ledges, while their thick stalked, orange cousins cling tightly onto exposed rocks where they can devour passing food.
The seabed below the reef is strangely dark except for the orange glow of Chilean Kelp Crabs scurrying across the sand. Closer examination reveals a living blanket of turret shells; thousands upon thousands of charcoal colored mollusks piled on top of each other, stretching as far as the eye can see.

 


Unlike most marine gastropods, turret shells are filter feeders that catch dust-like particles of detritus falling to the sea floor. The visibility at ground level is not great for exploration but the suspended matter is a veritable feast for not-so-picky detritus eaters.
Stefano leads me to a Chilean shorttail fanskate laying motionless on a rock. The low profile skate magically stays put against the tug of the surge by forming a suction cup with its boldly patterned wings.
It is unusual to see skates in the shallows except during the early summer when they deposit their eggs in shallow bays. Interestingly, shorttail fanskates sometimes hide their unhatched eggs among the large egg masses of redspotted catsharks.

 



Night Dive
Back at the dive lodge, Stefano suggests that I jump off the dock after sunset to better appreciate the diversity of the area. Below the guano-encrusted jetty, the substrate is covered with low-lying red seaweed. Where the vegetation thins out, drab seastars lounge on every inch of exposed mud.

Active now darkness has fallen, a few pinta rojas openly forage for crustaceans under the algae. One of the catsharks investigates a pastel coloured anemone that miraculously sprouts crab legs and tiptoes away like no anemone should. The tiny hermit underneath struggles along under its heavy burden but the camouflage is effective and the confused catshark loses interest and wanders off to find more obvious prey.

 


Here and there, Chilean mantis shrimps exit golf ball sized holes and run at breakneck speed over the scrubby seabed. I try to corner one for a closer look but it darts sideways faster than I can follow and disappears back into the safety of its burrow. Nothing particularly big approaches me here in scuba suburbia but I am left with the impression that this site has the potential to deliver all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures if only I had more time.

 



Looking at a map of Chile before heading back to Santiago, its clear that I have barely scratched the surface. From the surf-pounded shores of the northern desert to the labyrinthine channels of icy Patagonia, Chile is not so much a destination as an ongoing project requiring multiple trips to a dozen or more exotic yet strangely familiar destinations.

 


 

Author: Andy Murch

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

 

 

 

For more information about diving in False Bay, please visit:

 Http://BigFishExpeditions.com/South_Africa_Shark_Diving.html
 

 

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