Not just a
huge collection of
Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
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.
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
First published in
Shark Diver Magazine - issue 17 spring 2008
Shark's Last Stand
This summer, I made the long pilgrimage to Southern
California to photograph Shortfin Mako Sharks. A week at sea passed
blissfully in the company of the fastest fish in the world. Midnight blue
streaks appeared from nowhere, tore scraps of fish from the bait line, posed
briefly in front of the camera, and left as quickly as they came. I simply
hung in the water and documented what I could. Many Makos later, I had a
hard drive filled with images and a burning desire to shoot some new sharks.
I drove north past the red triangle: that notorious stretch
of California coastline where surfers occasionally fall prey to white
sharks. Dismissing the idea of chumming for Great Whites, I continued past
Ventura and an hour later I pulled off the road at Refugio Beach north of
Santa Barbara with a scuba tank, my trusty Nikon, and a vague idea of where
to find California Swell Sharks.
I chose Refugio on the advice of my good friend Ron Clough
who organizes the California Shark and Ray Count. Ron and his band of
volunteers diligently document every shark and ray encounter in an effort to
monitor the health of the entire ecosystem. Logically, if there are a lot of
resident sharks in a particular area, this indicates that the reef is
healthy, containing an abundant food supply that can support many apex
predators. If there are only a few shark sightings or none at all, the reef
may be in trouble.
I had inadvertently picked a great day to attempt a beach
entry. The rollers were less than a meter high and the sets were far enough
apart for me to get well into waist deep water before the first big wave
tried to rip my camera from my grasp. Kicking hard, I made it past the surf
zone and swam out to the edge of the kelp forest about 100 meters from
shore. Being part of the Jaws generation, surface swimming in temperate
water gives me an uneasy feeling. However, the prospect of missing the shot
because I had squandered my tank gas on a needless underwater swim was more
of a concern to me than a shark attack so I gingerly soldiered on.
I descended once I hit the kelp line about 100 yards
offshore. Swimming through a thick web of kelp fronds is almost impossible
but in the shadowy world below the canopy, the endless branches braid
together into well defined trunks, between which, there is enough room to
swim unimpeded. At the base of each ‘kelp tree’ a fibrous root called a
holdfast anchors the entire organism to the rocky seabed. I sank down among
these structures, and began my search.
The relentless wave action at Refugio has sculpted the soft
rock into a series of enormous overhanging shelves. The sharks (if present)
would be resting under these dark cornices, so I wandered through the forest
looking for the right overhang. I became absorbed with the colourful urchins
and carpets of strawberry anemones that clung to every available surface. As
I swam deeper into the kelp I abandoned any futile attempt to keep track of
my position and simply drifted along, waiting for a swell shark to show up
under the next ledge, or the next, or the next.
It took about twenty minutes for me to spot the first swell
shark aka Cephaloscyllium ventriosum. It was a young female buried so
deep inside its hiding place that it was almost invisible. I would have
missed it completely if my flashlight had not lit up its golden hued eyes. I
thought about giving it a gentle nudge but I did not think that I could coax
it out of such a narrow crack without doing it harm so I moved on to look
for a less camera shy animal.
The second swell shark that I found was resting rather
precariously upon a group of purple sea urchins. Unlike most sharks that I
have encountered it made no attempt to flee. It sat there like a swami on a
bed of nails and stared at me defiantly. It was not until I repeatedly
flashed it with my camera strobes that it finally darted over a ledge and
disappeared into the kelp.
Thinking that this might be my only chance for an interview
with this particular species, I followed it at a leisurely pace, waiting for
it to settle somewhere. To my delight, it did a quick 180 and stalled next
to a bed of strawberry anemones. I rattled off a fusillade of quick shots
and then lowered my camera to absorb as much about this shark as I could.
Its body was soft and flabby looking which makes sense for a
shark that can suck water into its stomach and swell to twice its size. I
have read that it does this in order to firmly lodge itself into its hole
when harassed by a predator. It probably also uses this faculty to hold
itself in place when the surge is at its most violent. Its teeth form a line
of tiny indistinct burrs reminiscent of Velcro. Although they posed no
threat to me, they are no doubt perfect for their intended work of holding
onto small fish and crushing mollusks and crustaceans.
While I studied the chocolate coloured saddles on its back,
bordered by tiny pale dots, I mentally thanked Ron for guiding me to this
particular spot. Two decades ago, California Swell Sharks were relatively
common along the So-Cal coastline but their numbers have dwindled alarmingly
and chance encounters by divers are now quite rare.
Unnerved by my close scrutiny, the swell shark glided into a
nearby fissure. Fair enough I thought and I swam back to the beach hoping
that this little pocket of kelp would not become known as the California
Swell Shark’s last stand.
Shark Egg Case 001
For further information on the California Swell Shark including a species i.d.
guide, distribution, behavior and info on diving with swell sharks in the wild please visit the
California Swell Shark Information Page.