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BIO OF ANDY MURCH

 

 

WHAT IS ELASMODIVER?

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 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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ELASMOBLOG: The ramblings of a frustrated shark photographer

 

This page contains the archives of my Elasmo-blog which is always about sharks and rays in one sense or another. Sometimes it is a personal account of an encounter with a new shark or a progress report from a road trip that I am on. Sometimes its a rant at the shark fishing industry and sometimes its just a way for me to let off steam when I can't do what I love which is photographing sharks.

 

So if you are so bored that you are seriously considering reading this self-indulgent section of Elasmodiver; have fun but don't say I didn't warn you.

 

For the sharks

Andy Murch

 

 

Life and Death in the Sea of Cortez

April 14th 2009

 

After striking out with the fishermen in La Paz we headed north. For the past few days we have been camping on the beach near the dusty little town of Mulege about a third of the way up Baja's east coast. Initially we thought that this would be a place that we could shoot all the species of round stingrays that are common in this region but after chatting in my terrible Spanish to the longline fishermen that work the bay I managed to convince one Captain (Martťn) to let me accompany him and his crew on one of their longlining trips.

The boats mostly bring in tiny Pacific sharpnose sharks and (over the winter) juvenile smooth and scalloped hammerheads. When I told the fishermen that I wanted to jump in the water with the sharks they thought that I was a little crazy but they were ok with it as long as I didn't get in the way.

We set out early in the morning but it took a long time for them to get any sharks. In total they put out four kilometers of longlines containing 1400 hooks baited with chunks of yellow striped fish that looked like some kind of grunts. For their effort, the fishermen landed 7 sharks weighing a total of around 20kg. I asked Josť, the other fisherman who has been in the industry a long time, what it was like in the old days. He told me that on his best day at sea he had landed over 1700kg of sharks.

I spent my time swimming around the panga shooting the sharks as they came up the line. It was a depressing thing to document. The sharks were still alive but beyond recovery by the time they were tossed into the bottom of the boat.

I took some shots of the carcasses and then sat there wondering if I was really cut out for this kind of thing. I believe that getting images of long liners doing their work is important from a conservationists perspective but to sit idly by while sharks are left suffocating in the bilge of a panga is a tough gig.

While I sat there Josť pulled up a very lively sub-adult sharpnose shark and tossed it at the others. It immediately started flapping around so it was obviously still in good shape. I asked Marten what he thought this shark weighed and he said around 1.5kg. They had already told me that they get just over a dollar per kilo from the traders that periodically shows up to buy the sharks so I explained as best I could that I would like to buy this particular shark. They got the idea and from the bemused look on their faces they obviously thought that I was completely loco but they agreed to sell me the shark and I grabbed it gently by the tail and dropped it back in the water before it could beat itself senseless on the deck planking. Two bucks for the life of a shark! What would it cost to keep these fishermen home for good.

I know that I didn't really achieve anything by liberating one little Pacific sharpnose shark but maybe my token act had some effect even if it's a small one. We talked as best we could in broken Spanish about the problems that sharks are facing and their important place in the ecosystem. They already understood the big picture maybe even better than me. I asked them what they would do if they couldn't fish for sharks and they shrugged and said that they would fish for something else. Doing anything other than fishing seemed to be a bizarre concept that they did not want to entertain. If any real change is to take place it will have to come from the next generation.

After bidding farewell to the fishermen Claire and I went for a long hike along the rocky shoreline north of Mulege. Just before sunset we spotted some birds in the distance and went to investigate. What we found was a shoreline littered with discarded shark and ray heads. It was a tragic site. They were mostly Pacific sharpnose sharks and small smooth hammerheads but there were also a number of guitarfishes and the carcass of a butterfly ray. All in all it was a grim day.

The next day we returned with our cameras to photograph the grizzly remains and then spent the afternoon chasing round stingrays in the shallows next to our campsite.

In 5ft of water the stingrays were everywhere. It was a refreshing change to see so much life after so much death. We must have seen two or three hundred rays. Mostly round stingrays and a few Cortez stingrays.

The rays were very skittish and exploded out of the sand and darted away as we approached their hiding places but one older male round stingray let me get really close. I followed him around for a good half an hour and just as I was planning to head for shore he ducked down and latched onto a female ray that was sleeping under the sand. For the next 5 minutes I was able to watch an amazing spectacle as the male ray struggled to subdue his mate. The female put up a valiant fight as they spiraled around and around eachother oblivious to the flashes emitting from my camera system.

That night I slept a lot better. The balance of species may be shifting but at least there is still life in the Sea of Cortez.

 

We had wanted to look for Mexican Bullhead Sharks further north in Baja but it appears that they are so rare that no one I have spoken to has ever seen one so we have decided to spend a couple more days slowly driving north and then head straight to San Diego. Southern California here we come.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Leaving La Paz

April 6th 2009

 

For the last few days we've been based in La Paz trying to hook up with the artesanal shark fishermen that ply the waters on the north side of the bay. Last time we were here I managed to get some good shots of smooth hammerhead sharks but this time the fishermen are even more illusive than the sharks and we have had a great deal of difficulty tracking them down. I was hoping that we could document them while they fish for Pacific sharpnose sharks. This is their main target species that lives year round in La Paz bay and elsewhere along the coast. It is a fairly abundant little shark but it still needs to be carefully monitored to make sure that the sharpnose stocks do not fall to critical levels.

The fishermen average about 5 sharks per trip at this time of year but they take considerably more in winter. The sharks are too small (max one meter) for the Asian fin market but the locals relish the meat and the sharks fetch around 60 pesos (4US$) per kilo at the fish market. That makes their trips worthwhile even if there are not that many sharks around.

We're planning to try one more time tomorrow to catch them at their fishing camp and then give up and move north.

The Easter holidays (Semana Santa) ramp up over the next few days. Easter is a massive event in Mexico and in Baja anyone with a tent heads to the beach. That means that the beaches around the main population centers down near La Paz will be zoos for the next few days. We want to get as far north as possible in the hopes that we'll miss the flood of Mexican holiday makers but the chances are that wherever we end up we'll probably still be swept up in the festivities. That's ok; 'when in Rome' and all that.

I haven't been in the water much since our last blog but I've still been talking sharks. A few days ago we met up with Documentary Maker Mike Hoover at the La Paz opera of all places. I haven't seen Mike since our last trip to Guadalupe Island. Mike is a fascinating guy. His career in the film industry has been colorful, exciting and tragic in equal measures but his resilience and no nonsense astute personality are what I like about him the most. He is best known for his frontline work in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion and his cutting edge mountaineering films (among others) that have been well received by audiences around the world for decades. He has also worked on blockbusters like Forest Gump, Crimson Tide and The River Wild. More recently, he has been involved with numerous films about Great white sharks aboard his expedition ship the Captain Jack which is how I met Mike for the first time last year.

This time we only managed a short conversation before the singing started so I hope that I get another chance to talk and work with him soon.

Our next stop will be a day's drive north on one of the white sand beaches around Bahia Conception. There are many beaches that we have never had the time to visit and some that are old favorites. All of them are home to hundreds of tiny Round and Cortez stingrays so we'll be strapping on the snorkels once again and chasing rays until the sun goes down.

We wanted to keep this trip as fluid as possible but everyone we plan to visit has schedules so we're slowly having to nail down dates for each adventure. The good news is that we have had a great response from all our friends and some once in a lifetime offers to do some very exciting diving. It now looks like we may be able to take a crack sevengills in the wild with our shark tagging buddy Walter Heim. And, when we finally get to the Mississippi Delta we have an invitation to join a field trip with Dr Eric Hoffmayer from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. The GCRL is conducting an abundance and distribution study on coastal sharks and rays so that means that we will get to photograph lots of hard to find species like finetooth, Atlantic sharpnose, juvenile bulls and who knows what other sharks, not to mention all the illusive ray species that inhabit that part of the coast - I'll be in elasmogeek heaven.

You can now follow our schedule at the following link:

http://www.elasmodiver.com/northamericansharkdivingtour.htm#Itinerary

For the sharks

Andy Murch

 


 

 

Elasmodiver North American Farewell Tour - Mobula Rays don't play nice.

April 1st 2009

To view this blog with images please follow this link:

http://elasmodiver.com/northamericansharkdivingtour.htm

 

We have just left the sleepy village of Cabo Pulmo which is at the end of a very bumpy 'washboard' dirt track in Baja California Sur.

We were there to shoot mobula rays but unfortunately mobulas do not like to be photographed. There were certainly plenty there to shoot (they were schooling in their thousands) but as soon as we slipped into the water they would descend as deep as they could and stop breaching until we were so exhausted from chasing them that we had to get back on the panga. Then, they would start jumping again a few hundred meters away. It was fantastic to be in the water with such an enormous biomass of animals moving below us in formation but utterly frustrating to not have the chance to get close enough to record the encounter. If I was a better free-diver I might have been able to swim around at 40 or 50 ft and nail the shot but breath hold diving is not one of my strong points. If anyone out there wants to try the same thing next season I have one piece of advice; bring a rebreather. I believe that it is the only tool that can really do the job. We did manage to take a few snap shots of them both breaching and some murky shots of them gliding by in the darkness but none that are print worthy.

While we were out on the panga we tracked a humpback for a while and shot some pretty tail pics and then swum around with sea lions and played with a giant school of big eye jacks but all told it was meager pickings for jaded shark divers.

The highlight and most productive session in Cabo Pulmo came right on our door step. While snorkeling off the beach where we were camping we came across a very accommodating banded guitarfish. It picked up and swam a little at first but eventually it got used to the flashes and let me shoot frame after frame. The pics are some of the best I have of this ray.

Camping on the beach outside town was a great way to start this adventure. There were no 'facilities' so it was a big change from crewing and living on a megayacht! All went well until I drove a little too close to the sea and my VW camper van got bogged down. After much wheel spinning things went from bad to worse. I've played this game on ice and snow but I've never been stuck in sand before. Unlike snow, sand just gets deeper. We started digging and thought we were making progress but the wheels continued to spin and then I realized that the wheels were no longer touching. We had sunk so low that the floor pan of the van was sitting on the sand! After about an hour more digging and a push from some passers by we finally managed to reverse back onto the hard pack. It was a tense couple of hours!

North of Cabo Pulmo we tried navigating another dirt road and almost exactly the same thing happened but this time we were able to get a tow from a passing truck. I don't think that VW had this kind of off roading in mind when they came up with the Eurovan! Fortunately, what goes around comes around and were able to squeeze a family of six onto the bed in the back of the van to give them a lift into Cabo when their rental car broke down. My van (which is missing a bushing on the front axle) groaned and clanked most of the way but we finally arrived in the village in one piece.

Next stop will be the artesanal shark fishing camps north of La Paz (along another dirt road). We're not sure what reception we will get or how much we'll be able to communicate with the fishermen in our rudimentary Spanish. Hopefully they will let us accompany them on their fishing trips but more about this in the next update.

Since we posted this blog about the trip we have had many emails from friends old and new asking when we will be in each area. It's great to know that we will have the chance to catch up with so many people and we're looking forward to every encounter. Unfortunately it is really tricky to estimate exactly when we'll get to the next town let alone when we'll be in Miami or Massachusetts! But, don't let that put you off if you want to catch up with us. we're going to cram as much diving and socializing into this tour as we physically can.

It now looks like we will get a chance to go out with a Mexican researcher on the Pacific coast of Baja that works with smoothhound sharks. We also got an invite to socialize with shark tagging veteran Walter Heim and maybe hunt for sevengills in San Diego. That would be amazing if we can pull it off.

Sean Van Sommeran of PSRF up in Elkhorn Slough also agreed to give us the skinny on Gray Smoothhounds where he conducts his research so our west coast agenda is looking fantastic.

 

A quick thank you to our friends in Cabo Pulmo: Muchas Gracias Javier and Juan for trying everything they could think of to help us get the mobula shots. If anyone wants to take up the gauntlet and carry on where we left off, these brothers will get you to the mobulas. The rest is up to you. You can contact Javier at: Javycastro@yahoo.com.mx he says Fidel is his uncle but I didn't notice a resemblance.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Elasmodiver North American Farewell Tour

March 26th 2009

 

We're leaving. The owner of the boat we were working on turned out to be a tyrant and life is simply too short to waste time tiptoeing around angry people. Consequently we are free. We have a little money saved and we're hell bent on embarking on the craziest, most ambitious road trip that we have ever dreamed up.

After this epic adventure we will fly to Australia, get married and spend the foreseeable future photographing the hundreds of shark and ray species that call Australia home so this trip is our last chance to take in the incredible sights and diverse elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) that North America has to offer.

Our starting point is the southern tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. We have our ailing VW camper loaded to the gills with diving and camera gear and enough tunes on our IPods to last for 37 days.

Our first stop driving north will be Cabo Pulmo. Home of diamond and longtail stingrays, banded guitarfish, schools of pacific cownose rays and (at present) jumping mobula rays that seasonally converge on this isolated reef system in their thousands.

Next stop La Paz to join shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos for one more visit with the artisanal shark fishermen that ply the bay for smooth hammerheads and Pacific sharpnose sharks.

Then up to the beaches south of Mulege; Urolophid central. Camping on the beaches by night and snorkeling with round, cortez, and bullseye stingrays by day.

We'll skip through the rest of the sleepy towns in the lower Sea of Cortez and cross the desert into Northern Baja. Then cut back east to the remote village of Bahia de los Angeles where I have a hunch we can find Mexican bullhead sharks near the sea lion colonies.

After that it's time to cross the border. First stop in Cali is San Diego. Leopard sharks at the marine room in La Jolla, possibly soupfins in the cove, and horn sharks at night in La Jolla Canyon. Its all shore diving so we can dive our hearts out and still have enough cash for a feed. Gotta shoot the harbour seals too.

North to Santa Barbara. Camp at Refugio Beach north of the city and hunt for swell sharks in the kelp forests. 15 minutes further north, Tajegis Beach is one of the few places where angel sharks are reliably found but the vis is often horrendous.

After Tajegis we'll drive along Big Sur and resurface in Monterey. Hit the aquarium (the sevengill sharks are awesome) and then go play with the seals and sea lions and look for big skates. Then cruise north as far as San Fransisco.

San Fran pier fishermen report that they catch brown smoothhound sharks by the bushel (mostly at night). We'd like to do some exploratory dives under the piers to see if they're approachable. SF Bay may be like diving in coffee so if anyone has some experience diving there, I'm all ears.

Then its adios west coast. Death Valley, Grand Canyon (hey, Claire is an Australian tourist) and then Texas. Maybe dive the gulf on the way to Venice, Louisiana. Splash out in Venice for some big critter diving. Scalloped hammerheads, duskies and silky sharks are common on the humps about 70 miles from shore. It will be a real highlight because we'll be hooking up with the Shark Diver Magazine crew: Eli Martinez, Paul Spielvogel and Nathan Meadows. Haven't seen the whole gang since we shot Summer of the Sharks so it'll be a great reunion.

Mississippi beckons with the promise of numerous little sharks in the estuary. Finetooth sharks and Atlantic sharpnose sharks among others. I don't have any contacts in the Gulf of Mexico so if anyone reading this blog can introduce me to some friendly researchers willing to let a coupla shark photographers tag along on a field trip please let me know.

Next stop Panama City, Florida. Camp at the state park within camera schlepping distance of the pier. This is a great place to shoot Atlantic stingrays and occasionally bluntnose stingrays too.

We have to stop at Crystal River on our way down through Florida. I know that manatees are not sharks but come on, manatees! they're so cool!

Down to Tampa, visit Mote Marine, kick up a few prehistoric mako teeth on Venice Beach and then head through the Everglades to Miami. Would love to go look for smalltooth sawfish but they're pretty tricky to find.

Through the keys for a couple of days to dive with nurse sharks, southern stingrays and yellow spotted stingrays then we'll head up the east coast.

We will probably drop in on some old friends in West Palm Beach that regularly go spear fishing among bull and lemon sharks and then we'll say goodbye to the oppressive heat of Florida and drive directly up to the outer banks of North Carolina where sandtigers rule the wrecks.

Further north still, in and around Maine, there are plenty of blue sharks and spiny dogfish to keep us entertained. If possible we'll try to stay posted on the basking shark migration. If they're in town when we head up the New England coast we'll have to find a way to get out to where they are feeding.

Our final stop in the US will be in Massachusetts. The beaches around the Cape Ann Peninsula are home to winter skates in the winter and little skates in the summer. I'm not sure when the transition takes place but if we're lucky we'll be able to shoot both species. Cape Ann also has a population of Atlantic torpedo rays but so far I haven't seen any.

By the time we cross the border it should be warm enough in eastern Canada to go diving without having to break the ice first :)

Before we get there, I'll check in with the porbeagle shark fishermen to see what they are up to. I've done two trips to the Bay of Fundy and the water is always like green tea so I am hoping that this time I can shoot porbeagles in NS where the water is much clearer.

Then northeastward to Gaspe to shoot harbour seals (they're different to the californian ones) and then a ferry north across the Saint Lawrence River to chase Greenland Sharks in Baie Comeau.

That pretty much sums it up. After that we'll drive west to Ontario and sell my camper (assuming it makes it that far) and fly to Western Australia.

We figure that should take around three months unless we stop to work along the way. If we're frugal, we have enough cash to keep the van fueled up and pay for groceries, tank fills, the occasional dive charter, truck stop showers and the odd campground.

Along the way we will try to hook up with as many of our old friends as possible. We're also looking forward to bumping into other shark divers, shark researchers, and anyone else out there that wants to talk shark. We'll be updating our blog once or twice a week with pictures and stories of our encounters both underwater and above and posting them on a new page on Elasmodiver.com where you can follow our progress: http://elasmodiver.com/northamericansharkdivingtour.htm Our first stop Cabo Pulmo is totally off the grid at the end of a long dirt road but as soon as we make it into a town we'll upload the first progress report.

Well, it's 1.30am and we're leaving in the morning so I guess I better call it a night.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Almost Famous

March 23rd 2009

 

Have you ever seen the movie Almost Famous? It is about a young reporter on his first assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine. He goes on tour with an up and coming band and the groupies that look after the band. I'm not sure whether its the reporter, the band, or the girls that the title refers to but it works either way. It is about almost making it, almost hitting the big time and people trying to live out their dreams. Its one of my favorite movies.

Being a shark photographer is a far cry from being a rock star but its a bit like being the rock stars reporter. One of the most accomplished underwater photojournalists of all time is a guy by the name of Doug Perrine. Over the years he has been just about everywhere and shot almost everything that you're likely to see underwater including inordinate amounts of sharks. He is a phenomenal photographer, an excellent writer and a really nice guy. Doug deserves all the accolades that our small industry has bestowed upon him. But, I bet my Nikon that most people reading this blog have probably never heard of him. That's ok, after all, we're just the photographers and the creatures in from of the lens are the real stars of the show.

But, even far lesser known photographers like me get occasional ego boosts. Last week I learned that Steve Alten who wrote the Meg novels (widely read horror genre books about a rampaging megalodon shark) gave me a walk on part in his next book Hell's Aquarium. I devoured the other Meg books so I was grinning like a schoolboy when I found out. Then today I read that the Summer of the Sharks movie that I'm "starring in" along with Shark Diver Magazine Editor Eli Martinez is doing pretty well. We got our first good review from a well known critic. That's cool. Its fun to be 'almost famous'.

Last year I nearly went one step further. I was approached by no less than three different production companies that were interested in producing a TV series that would follow me around while I photograph sharks. None of these proposals actually resulted in a TV series but it was fun to play around with the idea and maybe at some point one of those producers will find a way past all the stumbling blocks and I'll end up on the big screen.

I think it would be a wild ride. I'm ambivalent about actually being famous but the prospect of being told by a team of media professionals to do the one thing that I love to do would be a surreal experience.

Shooting unusual sharks is generally so expensive and logistically difficult that being paid to do it would almost feel like I was cheating. I think I would have a perpetually guilty look on my face through the whole series. But it would be an amazing opportunity. I would be able to go after some of the world's most threatened and inaccessible species of sharks and I would have a ready made platform to tell the world about them.

Alas, that reality has not materialized yet and until it does I will continue to shoot sharks using whatever ingenious methods I can think of to help me do my job. Sometimes it involves convincing a dive operator to let me tag along in exchange for a story. Sometimes its just a matter of diving in an area so often that sooner or later I'm in the right place at the right time and I get the shot. And, sometimes it takes years of research, months of planning and the help of numerous researchers to get to some bizarre destination in the middle of nowhere that only a handful of people know about. Those tend to be the best trips. They are the ones that stick in my mind and get me fired up when I tell people about them. I'm hoping that one of those trips comes together a little later this year but we'll see.

Enough musing. Since shooting bull sharks in Playa Del Carmen three weeks ago I have not had a chance to get back in the water. That's pretty shameful considering that I am living on a boat in the Sea of Cortez but the area in which the boat is moored is actually rather poor for diving so I am hoping that the owner lets us move it up to La Paz where we'll have much more access to sharks and rays.

Mobula ray season will soon be at an end here in Baja and right now I don't have a single photograph to show for my efforts. But, I am a little wiser than I was a month ago. I now know that if I want to shoot mobula rays I can't do it on scuba. The closest I came to getting the shot was being dumped into a school of hundreds of mobulas which stayed tantalizingly out of reach. As I swam towards them they parted around me and stayed on the edge of visibility. Very frustrating but exciting just the same. Next week I will probably head up to Cabo Pulmo and camp there until I see a big school. Then, with camera and snorkel at the ready we'll see what I can get.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


Bull Sharks!

March 3rd 2009

 

I talked to Eli Martinez (Publisher of Shark Diver Magazine) last week about the bull shark shoot that he had just returned from in Playa del Carmen. He was raving about how good it was but said that the if I wanted to go I was gonna have to hustle because the bull sharks are seasonal and they were gone by March 1st last year. From his description of the feed I started to get really excited but I had to go to sea on the yacht that Claire and I work on so there was no chance to arrange tickets. I thought that we had missed the boat for this year.

As soon as the yacht got back to Cabo we raced into town and found some cheap flights but the plane was scheduled to leave only three hours from when we bought the tickets so we had to scramble to get all the photography gear together and get to the airport in time. It was a crazy morning but we made it.

We were met at Phantom Divers in Playa Del Carmen late that night by Jorge Loria (Chino to his friends) who pioneered the bull shark feed. He showed us some video of what to expect and we spent the night tweaking the cameras and getting ready.

The sharks were spectacular. It was the very end of the season so there were only 7 sharks on the first day and 4 on the second but it was still worth the effort to get there. The sharks were all big females around 6 to 8ft long. It was a very deep feed in strong currents and the sharks were a little hesitant to take the bonito that Chino was hand feeding them with but we eventually had enough opportunities to shoot some pretty good Bull shark pictures to replace the low resolution ones that I had on Elasmodiver before.

Chino is really keen to find out where the sharks go at the end of the season so I put him in touch with my buddy Mauricio who conducts the Great White Shark tagging study at Guadalupe Island. Hopefully next year they will be able to gather some interesting data.

 

Now I'm back on the boat trying to get all my shark and ray pics sorted out. I have been busy shooting around Cabo whenever I have free time and I've got some nice new images of a number of species. I also have a new shark but I'm saving that one until I've got a story to go with it.

Elasmodiver has been expanding again. With Mauricio's help I have converted my Shark Picture Index into Spanish so that it is easier for native Spanish speakers to browse through the shark and ray species. Now I need to find some French and German marine biologists that would like to help me load the index into their languages too! Click on this link ImŠgenes de Tiburones y Rayas to take a look.

 

Lastly, Ekrem from Spain sent me a link to his fun but sad sharks in danger of extinction cartoon that I promised to share with everyone.

 

If time permits, I'll be loading new ray shots every few days so keep checking back.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch  

  


An Unexpected Find

February 13th 2009

 

A few days ago I went out snorkeling with my friend Mauricio Hoyos. He is a shark researcher based in La Paz. He has a number of projects on the go including a distribution study on Great White Sharks at Guadalupe Island. From September through December each year he camps on the remote island west of Ensenada to track white shark movements and document predations from his little panga. It is a lonely and sometimes unrewarding project but he is fanatically dedicated to the task.

When he is back in La Paz he spends his time writing proposals for funding and finding creative ways to finance his work. He is also studying the movements of Scalloped hammerheads in the shallow bays north of La Paz. Mauricio thinks that the area is a nursery ground for this species and the sharks probably stay there for a long time before moving out to a more pelagic environment. If he is right then his work may lead to stricter regulations for the fishermen that long line along the coast.

To track the baby hammerheads Mauricio goes out with the long liners. If they bring up a live scalloped hammerhead shark he implants an archival tag into the torso of the animal and releases it. The tag records temperature and depth information which can be analyzed later (if the animal is caught again) to estimate the shark's movements.

Mauricio invited me to join him on one of these trips and we spent the day north of La Paz with a couple of local shark fishermen. It was tough to watch them work. They did not have much success but all of the little sharks (none were longer than one meter) that they did bring up were already dead. Some shark lovers may have reservations about a shark photographer and outspoken conservationist working among shark fishermen but I believe that I did not contribute to or encourage the deaths of any sharks and the understanding that I gained about the shark fishing industry will stand me in good stead for future arguments. In the words of the warrior philosopher Lao Tzu "Know your enemy".

We waited on the panga while they slowly pulled in their lines. They brought up a couple of tiny Pacific sharpnose sharks and then the line began to jerk and spin. The fisherman pulling it in indicated that something big was coming up so I slipped into the water with my camera and stared down at green nothing. The Sea of Cortez is heavily laced with plankton and visibility rarely opens up. A pinkish blur solidified below me and swam in agitated spirals around the line.

Mauricio had told me that the long liners sometimes catch rayas violaceas but I had never heard of Violet Rays and nothing fitting that description was in any of my local fish i.d. guides. Once the ray was close enough to see it clearly I recognized it as a Pelagic stingray Pteroplatytrygon violacea.

It is a unique animal among stingrays because unlike other whiptail stingays it swims in open water instead of hiding under the sand. 

It is rarely if ever encountered by divers. I have never seen one and thought that I never would so I was thrilled to get the chance to see it in action but wondered what the fishermen would do with it. I assumed that they would add it to the catch which was piling up in the bottom of the panga but they carefully pulled it along side and removed the hook without causing it too much damage. The ray turned and flapped quite slowly back into the green. I gave chase for a few kicks and then let it go.

The unexpected care with which the fishermen released the ray was quite surprising and it made me think a little harder about who they are. Their job is certainly destructive to the environment and devastating to the future of sharks but I believe that they mostly do not fully comprehend or believe this. They are proud fishermen that have chosen to fish for sharks and consider themselves no different from other hard working fishermen. As we watched them set their lines they told us about some of the strange creatures that they have encountered over the years like the 5 meter long oarfish that swam by one day. It is clear that at least some of them are just as fascinated by the wonders of the ocean as I am but they choose to exploit its resources where as I believe that the ocean has given up too much of its wealth already.

Change does not always come from forced legislation or a big stick. Sometimes the most productive change comes from subtle discussions intended not to offend but to educate. So, I will go out with these fishermen again if Mauricio invites me and perhaps in time we will have a chance to discuss why their shark catches are dwindling and what they can do to help shark stocks recover.

 

To find out more about Mauricio's work please follow this link: http://www.tiburonblanco.org/

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Sailing down to Mexico

January 17th 2009

 

Our long overdue exodus from Canada has finally finished. I am writing this aboard the motor yacht that I work on part time which has just arrived in Puerto Los Cabos in San Jose del Cabo right down near Lands End at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula. It was surprisingly smooth sailing all the way from British Columbia; clear skies, huge pods of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and even a shark on the surface as we sailed south.

During the trip I had the chance to clean up some of my new Cortez round stingray pictures and Banded guitarfish pictures that I took a few weeks ago in Baja when we were driving my camper van down. That trip was short and sweet but this one is basically a one way trip. Now that we are in Cabo we'll be putting down roots for a while and I'll start calling some of my contacts that have promised to show me some new sharks and rays.

Rays abound in the Sea of Cortez but sharks are now few and far between due to over fishing. My friend Mauricio Hoyos (a shark researcher from Mexico City) has invited me to come shark tagging with him in La Paz next week. This is very exciting news because Mauricio tags the little sharks that divers rarely (if ever) see. I have some idea of what species to expect but I'm keeping it to myself until I have some shark pictures to load onto Elasmodiver.

To keep everyone happy until I load some new shark species, I have one new species of river stingray loaded. It is the most common species kept by aquarists because of its stunning coloration and comparative ease of keeping. If you're interested take a look at the new Motoro Stingray species profile and Motoro Stingray Pictures page.

 

The word is spreading in Mexico that shark stocks are at critical levels and conservation efforts from groups like Iemanya Oceanica in La Paz have gone a long way to help protect the remaining stocks. More about Iemanya soon.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 

 

If you can't sail, drive.

December 29th 2008

 

Who doesn't need a week in the sun? After returning from Guadalupe Island to Port Angeles in Washington State to pick up the boat, I found out that the ship I am supposed to crew to Baja has a steering problem. That should be fixed within a week or so but Claire and I have had enough of the cold Pacific North West so rather than spend a week here waiting for the motor to be fixed (and for the weather to change) we have decided to drive our camper down to Cabo early.

Of course we will do some shark and ray diving along the way if we can find some. I'm not sure what conditions we should expect in Southern California over the new year so I have contacted my buddy Ron Clough for a heads up. Ron organizes the California Shark and Ray Count and he is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Cali shark divers out there.

Failing California I'm sure we'll find some rays in the Sea of Cortez once we make it that far.

The timing is good for some new pics. I just loaded the last species I had images (of the round stingray) onto elasmodiver.

So, it is definitely time for some new blood. Mobulas would be a good start. There are four species that migrate through southern Baja in January. Hopefully we'll be able to intercept some.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

 

Psssst!

December 19th 2008

 

I am back from Guadalupe Island but don't tell anyone. I had this long narrative planned describing all the amazing action over the last few weeks but sadly on the final day I was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement which restricted me from telling anyone what happened. My images are also under lock and key so I have nothing to offer up except this advice: never work with a large network if you like to share your experiences. At least I had time to add a few more pages to elasmodiver while I was at sea.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

A change of plan...

November 25th 2008

 

All of the red tape standing in the way of the proposed Isla Guadalupe trip was suddenly cut away. So, I am flying to LAX on Monday morning. By the afternoon we will be underway for white shark central. I am hoping that the crossing will be smooth because there will be a lot of prep work to do on route. This particular sub has been idle for quite a while.

Once there, we will spend every available minute underwater hoping to catch a particular sequence on tape. We have two weeks to get the shot then we're flying back to the mainland (I didn't realize that Isla Guadalupe had an air strip). I'm officially employed as a sub pilot but I'm planning to sneak my Nikon and housing into my luggage. You just never know how its all going to work out.

I'd love to give away more about the mission but its all confidential until it hits the big screen.

Unfortunately, the shoot coincides with the yacht's departure from Canada so I will not be on board for the trip south.

One way or another we should be settled in Cabo by xmas but then again... plans change.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

 

The ups and downs in the life of a Shark Photographer

November 14th 2008

 

My apologies; for the last week Elasmodiver has been offline. Really it should be Webserve Canada that is apologizing but given their track record that is unlikely which is why Elasmodiver has moved servers. Re-uploading hundreds of pages and thousands of pictures is a slow process hence the interuption. Everything should be back to normal soon except at Webserve Canada who just lost another client. Was that enough of a negative plug for Webserve Canada? You get the point :)

Ok, onto something sharky:

A few days ago I got some bad news. I had been tentatively invited to pilot a submersible for a film shoot at Guadalupe Island for a few weeks but the project ran into a snag and had to be delayed indefinitely. That was a blow. It would have been awesome to spend day after day under water at the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks. Who knows what new behaviors we would have witnessed. At least the shoot is still a future possibility.

Then I got some great news; a shark diving buddy of mine - Nathan Meadows, is joining my project to build a deep water camera system: Project Deep Shark. Specifically, Nathan has offered the use of his machine shop to help with the construction of the housings. I'm very happy to have his help because it will make a huge difference to the construction time. Perhaps more importantly, Nathan is bringing his usual enthusiasm which is contagious and may have an even more profound effect on how quickly the project takes shape. I met Nathan a few years back (shark diving of course) and then I bumped into him again this summer when he joined the Shark Diver Magazine trip that I hosted in eastern Canada. He also wrote an article in the last issue of SDM and I have a feeling that (like the rest of us) he will become more and more fanatical about sharks as the years go by. Nathan's wife Lindsay is also a big shark fan and with that kind of support you can achieve anything. And once sharks have a grip on you there is no escape.

In other news, it looks like it will be even longer before we will finally head south. The refit of the ship that I am working on in British Columbia has had a number of setbacks. Nothing too serious just time consuming. So, our new ETD from Canada is December 6th. I believe that we will actually make this departure date unless something catastrophic happens between now and then. But it means that we will not be in sunny Baja until late December. Fortunately the mobula ray migration which we want to document, is at its height in January, so we should still have plenty of time to shoot after we get to Cabo. Its getting really cold here now and the nights are drawing in, but hey, maybe we can get some skiing in before we go! There is always a bright side.

Last night I was walking along the shore winding down after a busy day at the boat yard. Some kind of fox (or maybe it was a coyote) was scavenging at the waters edge. It was lit up by the moon and I got a great chance to enjoy it before it finally became too nervous of my attention and trotted off into the bush. It got me thinking about how isolated we are from nature. I can't remember the last time I saw anything that big foraging so close to the city. With so little contact with the natural world around us its not surprising that it is so hard to generate support for conservation for our local fauna. And if even that is a struggle what chance do sharks have?

Its been a while since I got on my soap box and I'll spare you the whole story this time but remember the key points and tell as many people as you can:

Sharks are in decline. They are heavily over fished and can't bread fast enough to bounce back. Even if you don't like sharks we need them. Because of their low birth rate, sharks are the only animals that can maintain a healthy balance in our oceans. Without them the food chain will collapse with catastrophic consequences.

Spread the word, boycott restaurants that sell shark fin soup, join conservation groups like The Shark Trust and Sea Shepherd, and try to dispel the myth that sharks are mindless killers. Its a tough message to get across to people but its very important to keep trying.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Project Deep Shark - Beyond the world we know.

November 9th 2008

 

A while ago something unfortunate happened on the way to a dive site. The clip that I use to grip my camera housing with came loose when I picked it up. The housing dropped about 18 inches and hit the tarmac with a loud crack! Aquatica housings are so strong that they could probably survive a plane crash but sadly my Nikon D2X is not so robust. Some of the delicate components parted ways resulting in a camera that still works but has a non-functional review screen.

I sulked for a while considering my options. After drooling over the specs of the new Nikon D3 I eventually decided that selling my van to buy a new camera was a bit extreme so I searched EBay and found a reasonably priced used D2X which is presently on its way.

Never one to waste an opportunity, I am now figuring out how to build a deep housing for my damaged D2X. The plan is simple; to construct a housing with a dome port that can withstand the hydrostatic pressure 6000ft under water. The housing will have two externally housed Nikon TTL strobes and an ultra-low light, deep water camera attached to a monitor on the surface that will show me when I need to trigger the shutter release on the D2X. The housing, strobes, and camera will be attached to a small baited sled that can be lowered via a winch to the seabed.

I have been playing with this idea for some time but now I have the  incentive to put some energy behind the project. If you would like to read the details and see a diagram of the proposed setup please follow this link: Project Deep Shark

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Shark Mail

1/11/08

 

For the last two weeks my emails have gone astray which has created no end of chaos here at Elasmodiver. My apologies to anyone who has tried to contact me lately and gotten no response. Elasmodiver now has a new contact address: ELASMODIVER@GMAIL.COM. I've been having so much trouble with the old address that I figured I'd switch to a reliable system and Gmail is generally awesome.

On the shark front, I have finally cleaned up some more ray images from my Canary Islands trip. For the first time on Elasmodiver I have loaded images of a species of butterfly ray. These rays have the most intricate markings and seeing one gliding slowly across the sand is a breath taking experience. I hope that you all enjoy them: spiny butterfly ray pictures.

I have been out of the water for quite a while finishing the refit on the yacht that I am working on. Hopefully soon we will be on our way to Baja in time to catch the schooling rays that arrive in their thousands. The trip down from Canada in the winter storm season is not an enjoyable prospect but hopefully it will go smoothly.

I'm getting very excited about all the species that I will be exposed to but right now its all talk and no diving so I'll keep quiet until I've got some shots. In the mean time I still have more shark and ray images waiting to be added to the database so keep checking back.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Summer of the Sharks - The Movie

19/10/08

 

Two summers ago I left on a road trip with Eli (the Editor of Shark Diver Magazine), Rafa Flores (rancher, shark diving fan, driver and part time videographer) and Rusty Armstrong (Film Editor, topside Camera wielder and eventually Director). The plan was to document a typical summer season for us on the road chasing sharks. It began with a three week road trip in Rafa's RV followed by a series of flights that took us to both coasts of the US with side trips to Mexico and the Caribbean. The trip was a great adventure for all of us. Rusty (fresh out of film school) got his first chance to put a full length feature together, Eli got to fulfill his dream of producing the first movie about shark diving and I got to spend almost a whole summer photographing sharks.

Rusty documented almost every aspect of our lives as the story unfolded and originally it looked as though the footage was destined to become a TV series. In fact the first few episodes of 'Chasing Sharks' actually made it into the can but for a bunch of reasons the show finally morphed into a full length movie.

I got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago and chose to watch it while Eli was showing it for the first time on the big screen in Texas to a few hundred friends and acquaintances. I was nervous because it was the first time that any of us except Rusty had been involved in the movie industry and I was expecting to wince at the quality of the footage. I was thrilled with the result. It was obviously shot on a budget but the footage was awesome and more importantly it summed up the whole shark diving lifestyle that we have immersed ourselves in.

I guess it is hard to be unbiased about a movie that I am so much a part of but I think it is a landmark movie in the diving world. A little rough around the edges but it stands as the quintessential movie about shark divers. It has plenty of action, a strong conservation message and... its funny!

Eli and Rusty have submitted it to many upcoming film festivals. Hopefully it will be well received and stand up to the scathing cynicism of the professional critics.

Ultimately the movie is destined for DVD release sometime in 2009 so I hope that many of you will pick up a copy. If you're crazy enough about sharks to be reading this shark blog then you'll probably enjoy it.

For press releases and further info about 'Summer of the Sharks' follow this link: http://summerofthesharks.com

 

Today I loaded some more images of Porbeagles onto Elasmodiver. Some of the images are of a dead and bloody carcass of a Porbeagle Shark. They are quite gory and I am expecting some negative feedback. The dead shark was presented to the researchers that I was working with by a fisherman that found it wrapped up in a line. The images while provocative show the stark reality of life in the ocean especially when sharks come in contact with humanity.

There are still plenty of images that need to be cleaned up and loaded onto the site but I have been very low on time lately with the refit of the ship that I am working on. Next month we sail for Baja and then I will hopefully have a little more time to dedicate to shark photography. There are many species of sharks and rays in Baja that I have yet to shoot so I am looking forward to a very sharky year or two.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


The Last Generation of Sharks

07/09/08

 

I have a friend who lives on the Pacific coast of Mexico. He runs a sport fishing company and wants to expand into the shark diving industry. He speaks fluent Spanish and has talked in depth with the local Mexican fishermen that ply the coastline in search of sharks. Unfortunately, the answer is always the same; there is nothing to see - all the big sharks are gone. There are a few juveniles left that the fishermen are now targeting but the mature adult sharks have been fished so heavily (both by the artisanal fishermen and the offshore long-liners) that the only animals remaining are the small juvenile and sub-adult sharks.

As fishing pressure turns towards the juveniles, the chances of them reaching maturity and spawning another generation diminish. Sharks simply cannot handle this level of pressure. They take too long to mature and reproduce too few young. Many shark species are facing imminent extinction and the juveniles that we are seeing now may quite possibly be the final generation unless we can find a way to restrict or ban shark fishing on an international scale.

The problem is a global one but it is difficult to generate enough international support to generate a  global answer. Fortunately, shark conservation groups like Iemanya Oceanica based in La Paz, Mexico, work on a domestic level to combat shark fishing. The organization helps shark fishing communities to change from fishing to more sustainable industries. They allow the communities to come up with a viable alternative such as whale watching tourism or fresh water production and then help the community to make the leap. Iemanya Oceanica is a shining example of what a dedicated group of grass roots individuals can do.

In December Claire and I are heading to Mexico on the ship that we crew. It will be stationed in San Jose del Cabo near the tip of the Baja Peninsula. While we are there I will try to photograph the many species that are disappearing without even being recorded. Sharks like the Whitenose Shark (Nasolamia velox) have been practically wiped out without even an image to record their passing. Hopefully, I can get a picture or two of a whitenose that I can use to publicize it's fate while a few of it's kind still remain.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch


Sharks and Storms

30/08/08

 

Right about now I should be arriving in West Palm Beach to board a boat heading to the Bahamas. It would have been my first crack at Oceanic Whitetip Sharks but unfortunately King Neptune had other plans.  There is a tropical storm building about a 1000 miles off the coast and the captain decided that hurricanes and shark diving just don't mix. If it was up to me I probably would have gone anyway which is why I'm the shark photographer and he's the captain.

The Bahamas trip was supposed to be the final trip of the summer so I am now sitting in a boatyard back in Vancouver wondering what comes next. Some time in November Full Circle (the ship that Claire and work on) is heading down to Baja via San Diego with the promise of many shark and ray encounters if we time things just right.

Before then I plan to dedicate the majority of my time shooting the local marine fauna in BC. The reefs in Western Canada are some of the most colourful in the world. There are not that many visible sharks except Spiny Dogfish and the occasional Sixgill Shark (I've seen two in 7 years of diving here) but small bony fishes and invertebrates run wild here so there are plenty of critters for me to add to my portfolio. Although rockfish are not as sexy as sharks they can still pay the rent if the images are good enough so I am officially changing lenses and shooting small. It always scares me when I do that because I'm well acquainted with 'Sods Law'. This is the law of physics that makes the toast always land butter side down on the carpet. In diving it means that if I put a macro lens on my camera to shoot colourful but tiny nudibranchs, a pack of Sixgill Sharks will immediately show up and start mating right in front of me, posing in every position in the shark Karma Sutra. Of course when this happen I will kick back to shore change lens and swim furiously back to the same spot only to find that the sharks have gone and a tribe of tiny pipefish are giving birth on a kelp leaf - Sods Law :)

Today Claire and I are heading back to Victoria to dive some of our favourite sites. I am hoping that we can go hunting for Big Skates. The site where we are most likely to find them is a monochrome mud beach. The dive involves a 20 minute kick straight out to sea over the featureless kelpy substrate. Being an elasmobranch fanatic I'm fine with this but Claire might need some convincing to come along.

While we're swimming along looking for skates I will work on a plan for shooting more sharks. There must be a way I can add to Elasmodiver I just haven't thought of it yet.

 

For the sharks

Andy Murch

 


Porbeagles and Greenland Sharks

12/08/08

 

For a change, life has been going to plan over the last month or two. I flew to Italy at the beginning of July and worked as a submersible pilot on a private yacht and then returned to Canada to lead the shark diving trips for SDM on the east coast.

The Quebec leg started slowly. I was a bit worried that we would be completely skunked but on the third day Kaz and I stumbled upon a nine foot female. The weather was sunny and warm and the days among our small but avid group of shark divers drifted by easily. The water by contrast was so cold that every couple of minutes a chunk of ice would fly out of my regulator and hit the back of my throat. On the first day the water registered a bone chilling 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Days 2 and 3 rose to a balmy 40 degrees and we joked about not bothering to wear gloves if it got any warmer but in truth none of us could handle being in the water for very long.

Luckily, I managed to fire off quite a few shots when the shark showed up. I will load all the shark pictures shortly.

The Porbeagle Shark trip in the Bay of Fundy was much more productive. We had multiple sharks each day. This was not an average shark diving adventure. We were aboard a fishing boat with a team of researchers from the University of New Brunswick. The plan was to initially try to get the sharks up to the boat using chum alone so that the divers could snorkel with them and try to get some decent underwater images. Sadly, the Porbeagles were just too timid .  Secondly we needed to fish up the sharks in order for the researchers to weigh and measure them and attach tags. This proved to be much more successful and we managed to hook 7 sharks on the first day alone. Day two and three saw less sharks but it was still a record trip for the researchers. It almost doubled all of their previous catches.

While the Porbeagles were on the line I jumped in with two other shark divers (Nathan Meadows and David Cooke). The water was too dirty to get any good shark pics underwater but we had a great view of these magnificent sharks swimming around.  Photographer Doug Perrine (our other guest) stayed on deck to document the tagging process. With so many sharks being pulled in, we were all eventually able to get topside shots as well.

The research team (headed by Dr Steve Turnbull) had bought along two satellite tags as well as the normal passive ones. These are expensive units that detach after one month and upload their information to a satellite tracking system. Many thanks to Nathan for sponsoring one of the tags! Pam who is one of the researchers has promised to forward the data to me once the tag floats up in a few weeks. Then we will be able to see if the sharks (one is called Nat in honor of Nathan) are sticking around in the Bay of Fundy or just popping in for a quick feed.

Right now I am enjoying some much needed down time. The plan is to clean up a bunch of pics for Elasmodiver and then get ready for the next adventure. The next trip starts with a week with my boys in Ontario and then the expedition to the Bahamas to look for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. Its gonna be an incredible trip beginning with four days at Tiger Beach to get the shark fever out of everyones system. Then we are heading way out into the blue for some serious deep water chumming. I have never seen an Oceanic Whitetip Shark so I am pretty excited but I am also wondering what else will show up. Shortfin Makos, maybe even Longfin Makos! who really knows. That is what makes it so much fun.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Summer of the Sharks / Submarines

July 9th 2008

 

My relaxing summer on Vancouver Island lasted just over a week. I fly to Italy tomorrow to pilot a submersible for two weeks for a prominant VIP. It will be great to get back in a submersible again.

After that I get one day back in BC and then I'm off to eastern Canada to run a couple of Shark Diver Magazine trips. Eli (Editor of SDM) was supposed to lead the trips but he was asked to co-host a shark show on Animal Planet and fame got the better of him. So, I get to go chase Greenland Sharks again and then continue to the Bay of Fundy to join one of the world's great underwater shooters in search of Porbeagle Sharks. It will be a great adventure. Incidentally, if anyone wants to come dive with me on either trip there is still room. Send me an email if you're interested.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time you will probably remember the TV series that we were shooting way back in 2006. Well, after many changes it has finally morphed into a shark diving documentary that will hit the film festival circuit this summer.

After the Greenland Sharks and Porbeagles I am heading back to BC for some down time but Seamagine Hydrospace is already talking about sending me back to Europe to pilot again so we'll see. Then at the end of August I get a week with my boys in Ontario and then fly on to West Palm Beach to jump on a boat to the Bahamas. I'll be diving with Eli, Paul Spielvogel, and a bunch of shark nuts that want to go look for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. It should be an awesome trip.

While all this is happening my girlfriend Claire will be in Vancouver supervising the refit of a large motor yacht that is owned by a good friend of ours. Once that is done we will take it down to San Diego and wait for hurricane season to finish in Baja. Then on to Cabo where we will moor the boat and look after it for the owner.

Of course while we are there we will be taking advantage of all the shark and ray action around the Sea of Cortez. I have a friend who has promised to put me in the water with Mexican Bullhead Sharks and possibly Pacific Sharpnose Sharks - new sharks for Elasmodiver.com!

Life is looking pretty exciting right now.

 

For the sharks

Andy Murch

 


Back to Canada

June 16th 2008

 

Just when I though I had my summer nailed down it looks like the Mediterranean is not going to work out. After a great trip to the Canaries to shoot sharks and rays, we returned to Palma to look for work on the yachts but this year the med season is starting slowly. I'm not much of a sit around and wait kind of guy so we decided to head back to Canada to work on Vancouver Island over the summer.

This involves flying to Toronto with my girlfriend Claire to where my camper is being stored, hopefully seeing my boys Aron and Luke if they have time and then starting an epic road trip back to British Columbia. I'm a bit worried that my ailing camper van won't make it over the rockies but as they say "nothing ventured, nothing gained".

The pay off will be a long hot summer on the island working hard and chasing sharks and skates. It has been too long since we got to hang out with old friends, mountain bike, climb and all the other things that you just can't do when you're on the road with no luggage space for toys other than cameras and dive gear.

I will run at least one photography workshop while we're there so if anyone is interested in tweaking their underwater shooting skills, please send me an email.

We haven't even arrived there yet but I am already figuring out where we can go next to get some new shark pictures while we're in the north west. A whole summer with nothing new to shoot would be too frustrating! So, I am looking into a trip to shoot Salmon Sharks in Alaska. I expect that it will be frustrating, cold and fraught with unforeseen difficulty just like the trip I did last summer to shoot Porbeagle Sharks in the Bay of Fundy. If you enjoy a challenge and you're interested in joining me on a trip fitting this description please let me know.

Other plans include an expedition with Eli from SDM to look for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the Bahamas and then sometime in the fall Claire and I are heading down to Mexico to shoot Mexican Bullhead Sharks and possibly Pacific Sharrpnose Sharks.

Lots of plans, lots of time, not much of a budget but enough of an obsession to make it happen regardless.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


A quick trip to the Canary Islands

June 10th 2008

 

I have just returned from the Canary Islands. It was a good trip for shark and ray pictures. Thanks to a couple of very helpful dive shops I managed to return with five new species for Elasmodiver and much better images of the Roughtail Stingray that I previously had only one fuzzy shot of. Not bad for five days of diving. I will eventually load a page for each of the dive centres and the encounters that they facilitate but for now I want to at least give them a quick plug. They are:

Davey Jones Diving in Arinaga, Gran Canaria. These guys can find Angel Sharks at times of the year when other operators cant. Brian (the owner) is an eagle eyed guide and keen naturalist with a knack for finding Angels under the sand. His store has been instrumental in collecting shark info for an ongoing university study.

Los Gigantes Dive Centre in Los Gigantes, Tenerife. Neville (the owner) has been operating a ray feed since 1996. The by-weekly feed attracts 3 to 6 species of rays and sometimes also brings in Angel Sharks. Neville and his staff went out of their way to help us chase down the rays that we were looking for.

Thanks to both dive centres for all your help!

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Crossing The Big Blue

May 10th 2008

 

I am writing this shark blog while sailing from St Maarten in the Caribbean to Mallorca in the Mediterranean. I have been hired to help deliver a 103ft Swiss super yacht named Gliss. It is my first transatlantic crossing and everything seems to be going well on the surface but of course I prefer to be under the surface so for me the whole experience is novel but a little frustrating.

We have been at sea for almost two weeks. There is plenty of food on the boat but each day the more carnivorous members of the crew trail lures in the hope of catching some fresh fish. I have warned them that if they pull up a shark I will cut the line but there appears to be little chance of that. What is disturbing is that after hundreds of hours of trawling they have failed to get a single bite. Perhaps they are just terrible fishermen but the process isn't rocket science so I can only assume that the seas are now basically empty. It is a sad testament to the state of the oceans.

Since there is no marine life to document except for the occasional flying fish, I am using my down time to make as many changes to Elasmodiver as I can. Consequently, there is a new shark story entitled The Swell Shark's Last Stand in the shark stories section and a new page on the Thornback Ray which will be the last new species that I upload until I can get underwater and take some more shark pictures.

I have been reading up on South Africa which will hopefully be the subject of my next big shark photography adventure after I find my feet in Europe. The plan is to head to Cape Town to shoot as many catshark species as I can find before I run out of time and resources and then fly back to Spain to work on mega-yachts again for the rest of the summer.

So, if anyone reading this blog dives in the Cape Town area (or anywhere in SA for that matter) I would appreciate any advice that I can get on dive sites there. This type of helpful communication was the original reason for the existence of Elasmodiver - to promote the two way flow of information that helps divers find sharks and rays around the world. One of the excellent letters on South African shark diving that I received some time ago is posted in the shark talk section. It includes a very detailed summary of diving options along the South African coastline and it is packed with useful tidbits and contact details that would be hard to gather unless you lived or regularly dove in a particular place.

This kind of information whether long and detailed or just a couple of sentences in a email is always welcome especially if it is about an obscure location that the average diver would not think of going to. So if you live in Suriname, Vladivostok, Chile, Norway, or anywhere else with a coastline that has sharks and rays, drop me a line and tell me what is there.

Nothing to me is more inspiring than an email from someone I haven't met, describing somewhere that I have never been and telling me where I can find a shark or ray that I have yet to photograph. This is how new adventures are born.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 

More Sharks in Peril

February 18th 2008

 

If I add 9 new sharks to the list of species on Elasmodiver it means that I have had some great opportunities to shoot new shark pictures in the wild. It is a cause for celebration.

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) add 9 new sharks to their list it is a bad day for sharks. The red list is a compilation of all of the world's animals that are endangered. The list represents the indisputable findings of the international scientific community and does not rely on speculation or probability. On top of the IUCN listings there are probably even more species that are also critically endangered but there is not enough data to prove it.

Sadly today the IUCN announced that 9 more sharks will soon be added to the red list including the scalloped hammerhead shark which was once commonly seen in enormous schools close to many offshore seamounts. These new species will bring the total number of sharks on the list to 135.

Hammerheads are particularly vulnerable because of their predictable seasonal congregations and because their fins contain a very high concentration of fibers that are used in the production of shark fin soup. Consequently, they are heavily targeted. Researchers now believe that scalloped hammerhead populations have plummeted by a staggering 99%.

As an individual I often feel ineffectual in the fight to save endangered shark species. My images have been used by the Shark Alliance, the World Wildlife Fund, Sea Shepherd and many others to publicize the plight of these majestic and incredibly important creatures but while the heavyweights go to war to force through protective legislation, millions of sharks continue to die at the hands fishermen on the high seas.

It appears that after 400 million years of shaping our environment, sharks have finally found an insurmountable obstacle laying in the way of their continued survival.

As the last sharks swim into history some people will no doubt rejoice believing that the world will be a safer place but this attitude stems from ignorance. Removing sharks from the oceans will allow vastly more dangerous animals to rule our seas. Voracious Humboldt Squid have already begun to extend their range and can now be found in record numbers along the coast of Baja and California. And some bony fishes (also usually over fished) will soon have no natural predators to keep their populations healthy and in check.

Let me lay it out in a simplified way...

The sharks physiology limits the amount of offspring that it can produce. Blue sharks are one of the most prolific species but even they can only give birth to one hundred or so pups. On the other hand, apex bony fishes can lay eggs in the tens of thousands. Imagine the havoc that an explosion of barracuda could have on a population of reef fish. Anything large enough to become a meal would be wiped out within a very short time leaving only the smallest fishes to enjoy their own population explosion.

In the same way that the barracuda would decimate their food supply, so would their tiny cousins and there lies the really enormous problem. Very small fish eat plankton.

There are two types of plankton: zooplankton which is composed of all the microscopic animals that drift around at the mercy of the currents and phytoplankton which consists of microscopic plants. If the population of tiny fish gets out of control they will begin to deplete our plankton supplies.

So what. Maybe a few whales will go hungry right? Wrong! Not only is plankton the building block of the entire marine ecosystem, phytoplankton is responsible for the production of most of the oxygen that we breathe. No plankton; no breathable air. Now tell me that we are better off without sharks.

I will continue to write letters to politicians, loudly boycott restaurants that sell shark fin soup or salad, sign anti-finning petitions, and try to capture memorable images of the worlds endangered sharks whenever my finances permit it. What will you do for sharks (and yourselves) today?

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Switching Hats

January 9 2008

 

I have been shooting sharks for a long time and I still spend as much time as I can in the ocean with sharks and rays large and small. However, life moves on and I am ready to move on with it. I am embarking on an exciting new career in the yachting world. It will give me the chance to travel the globe aboard some of the most beautiful boats ever made. The pace aboard busy charter boats can be hectic but time permitting, when I arrive in a far flung destination I will do my best to dust off my wetsuit and shoot some pictures of the sharks and rays that are endemic to those waters. Perhaps I can convince one of the owners to buy a sub and explore the parts of the ocean that I haven't had access to since I left Seamagine Hydrospace back in 2005.

My book project is still in its infancy but I will continue to plug away at it when I can. I now have my STCW95 which is the first level of competence required to crew on mega yachts. With this and my diving credentials I should be able to find an interesting position.

Elasmodiver will sadly gather dust for a while but keep checking back. I have a few shark stories to add that have not been published yet and a few more species that I have been meaning to write about.

If you get a chance, check out this month's issue of Diver Magazine which has the article I wrote on chasing Porbeagle Sharks in the Bay of Fundy.

 

Still for the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Shark Diving - the definitive guide and the reality of being a 'shark photographer'

December 12 2007

 

I am sitting in a cafe in St Maarten contemplating my position in the cosmos. No doubt there are many sharks milling around lazily within a mile or so of my table just waiting to smile for a photographer but sadly it has become difficult for me to get in the water with them. Although I dive almost every day, I am invariably leading divers along the reef or putting new divers through their paces. This means that I am unable to carry a camera let alone concentrate at the level necessary to get good shark pictures.

Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine outlining the awesome week that he has just had in the Bahamas with Tiger Sharks and Great Hammerheads. I'm thrilled for him that he finally got the images that he has been seeking. I would have liked to have joined him but my finances are running thin. Earning $8 an hour as a Dive Instructor in the Caribbean is not a good way to finance costly dive trips, and because I do not earn anything from my images, I cannot consider the shark trips that I take as an investment. For the last few years I have been financing my shark photography with my savings but the coffers are now empty so if I want to continue to sponsor my addition to shark photography I have to get creative.

The advertising on Elasmodiver now covers the upkeep of the site so there is no danger that Elasmodiver will stop existing. The site receives around 10,000 hits a day so I believe that it is a valuable resource and I should keep it online at all costs.

About a month ago a friend of mine bought me some publishing software. So, now that I have less time for shooting but more evenings for writing it makes sense that I turn my attention to a project that has been ruminating in my mind for some time. I would like to put together the Definite Guide to Shark Diving.

I would like to structure it in such a way that it is split into three sections:

The first will incorporate an introduction to the sport, a brief history of the pioneers (from Hans Hass to Rodney Fox), the dangers (real or perceived), chumming techniques, cages, photography options, and more.

The second section will be travel oriented with descriptions of all of the great organized shark dives around the world and many of the more obscure shark encounters that divers can enjoy if they are a little more adventurous.

The third section will be a species i.d. chapter geared specifically toward divers. No spiral valve counts or tooth numbers - just the basics of how to identify each species underwater. Incorporating as many shark pictures as possible.

There will also be stories of shark encounters sprinkled throughout the book to keep it interesting to readers with a less clinical head space and I will try to include as much of a conservation message as possible without putting people to sleep.

In my shark biased mind the result will be thoroughly absorbing and utterly readable but I am willing to admit that others may not share my fanaticism for sharks so if you have any words or encouragement, suggestions, or simply think that I should go get a real job, please drop me a line.

The book will be a learning experience for me in many ways. I have little knowledge of publishing but I enjoy writing and I am not afraid of structure as you can see if you have explored Elasmodiver.

I estimate that this should keep me busy for the next couple of years. Maybe I can cut that in half if I can get a publishing house or private sponsor behind me but I have no idea where to look.

Today I have added some California Swell Shark pages to the site so Elasmodiver lives on. I still have a couple of rays left to load in the next few weeks and some stories that have recently been published in some different magazines so keep Elasmodiver bookmarked!

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Helping Elasmodiver Grow

November 16 2007

 

If you're a regular visitor to Elasmodiver you will have noticed that a few months ago I added some 'ad space' in the margins of the site. Now there is a Google search bar at the top of every page. There are two main reasons for this trend.

Firstly, when viewers decide to surf the web through Elasmodiver it adds a small revenue stream that helps offset some of the costs associated with running a website. So, make Elasmodiver your homepage and Google away as you normally would. It is as anonymous as using any other form of Google and helps me keep Elasmodiver plodding along.

Secondly, Elasmodiver has grown into a monster over the last few years. There are hundreds of pages and thousands of pictures.  Some hidden in dark corners that even I have forgotten exist. Therefore, a search bar is not a bad thing. If you're looking for info on a particular shark on Elasmodiver, the site search button will find all but the most recent pages that Google hasn't indexed yet. So have fun hunting.

If you're concerned that Elasmodiver is selling out, rest assured that I will also continue to add important content whenever I get the chance and there are many new ray and shark pictures waiting to be added as soon as time permits.

It will be interesting to see what I can dig up in St Maarten over the winter. There are plenty of Caribbean Reef Sharks at the shark feed that Dive Safaris conducts and the occasional Blacknose Shark also attends but I am hoping that I can Photograph something that I haven't seen before. There are a few stingrays and guitarfish that I haven't shot in the Caribbean lots of small sharks but like always it will come down to time in the water, patience, and resourcefulness. If I get something new you'll be the first to know.

I just read a new report issued by the IUCN outlining the plight of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea. A combination of over-fishing, bi-catch, and habitat degradation has led to some staggering depletions in numbers. The IUCN estimate that 40 percent of Mediterranean shark and ray species are now threatened with extinction. A sad testament to our collective mismanagement and another reason why I want to continue  documenting sharks and rays while they still swim in our seas.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Shark Feeding in St Maarten

October 31 2007

 

St Maarten is one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean. I was lured there for the first time about 3 years ago by Dive Safaris who run a popular shark feed out of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the border. The baited encounter is one of the best ways to get close to big Caribbean Reef Sharks and sometimes the CRS's are accompanied by little Blacknose Sharks which are not seen on any other shark feed that I know of.

After writing an article for SDM, Eli was excited enough to include St Maarten in the filming schedule for the Chasing Sharks TV series. That second trip cemented my friendship with the crew at Dive Safaris but with hundreds of shots of the sharks safely stored on my hard drive there was no justification for me to return until now.

This winter, I have been discussing with my girlfriend Claire where we should go to escape the cold and do something exciting. I called Dive Safaris and Whitney (the owner) invited me to come down and train as a feeder. Between feeds I'll work as a Dive Instructor and dive manically on my days off in order to collect as many images of marine species as I can. Meanwhile, Claire will be able to use her sailing experience to crew for Dive Safaris and hopefully race Americas Cup Yachts.

It looks like winter is going to be a lot of fun and if we get into the island groove winter may end up lasting for a long, long time.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Porbeagle Sharks and Little Skates

October 8th 2007

 

Because of the abuse that my computers get when I'm on the road they usually only last about a year. Consequently, after my east coast adventure finished a month ago, my laptop fell apart. This was highly frustrating because I was unable to update my blog or even view a lot of the images that I took on the trip. If you have been curious to hear whether it was successful or not read on:

On a cold fall morning we headed out to the middle of the Bay of Fundy. The sea was a grey/green soup, the currents were intense, and the sharks were skittish and few and far between. Working behind the boat was a challenge in the three to five foot swells and nobody really had any idea of how to do it right but through luck and stubbornness we eventually got the Porbeagle Shark Pictures we were looking for. Unfortunately you're going to have to take my word for it until the next issue of Shark Diver Magazine is published because I promised Eli that he could be the first to print the images.

After I dropped Eli back at the airport I drove south towards Boston. A few years ago when I was a novice photographer with a simple point and shoot digital camera, I dove there to look for Winter Skates. There were plenty of them around back then, so I thought it would be worth a return visit while I was on the north east coast to try to get some more skate pictures, this time with a DSLR camera.

It only took two dives to get what I needed but surprisingly the skates that I found were all Little Skates instead of Winter Skates. Go figure, same time of year, same conditions, same dive site, brand new species. No complaints from me because now \i have another species for Elasmodiver that I didn't expect to get. Pictures and species profile coming soon.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


Dodging Death with Sylvain Sirois and the Greenland Sharks of Baie Comeau

September 3rd 2007

 

I am sitting in a coffee shop in Moncton, New Brunswick, waiting for Eli (the editor of Shark Diver Magazine) to arrive from Texas. At 3am we are slated to board a fishing boat and head out into the middle of the Bay of Fundy. Our objective is to be the first to get good images and footage of a live Porbeagle shark in the wild. I have no idea if it will be possible but it definitely wont be possible if we dont try.

On the long drive here from British Columbia, I stopped in San Diego (a bit of a detour but well worth it for the shark pictures that I got), and then in Ontario (again well worth it to see my boys Aron and Luke), and finally in Baie Comeau, Quebec to look for Greenland Sharks with my old friend Maris Kazmers (actually he's not that old). Kaz introduced me to Sylvain Sirois who pioneered the Greenland Shark encounter at Baie Comeau which is on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence river estuary. I only had time for two days of diving but as it happened that was enough. Sylvain is a Greenland Shark magnet and on the first dive we encountered 4 enormous Greenland Sharks ranging from 8 to 11 feet long.

The encounters were brief (lasting from a few seconds to a minute of two) but it was enough to get a sense of this enigmatic creature.

The sharks were very slow moving, docile animals that reminded me of the sixgills which I have spent so many dives chasing near my home town of Victoria in British Columbia. However, the similarities are superficial because Greenland Sharks are members of the Sleeper Shark family which is more closely related to dogfish than cow sharks.

The water on that first day was only a degree or two above freezing. The initial shock of jumping into ice water was a rude awakening but it cleared my head quite effectively. I followed Silvain down the line and we were soon approached by the first shark. The encounter was brief and afterwards I kicked off on my own, reasoning that if I was alone I would have a better chance of a long encounter before the next shark got spooked. After drifting through the fog for a few minutes a pair of Greenland Sharks materialized in front of me. I tried to compose a shot of both sharks but they quickly separated and I followed the closer of the two down into the depths. Frustratingly, my camera auto-focus had difficulty locking onto the dark shark as it sank deeper and deeper into the twilit, frigid water.

I followed it as far down as I dared, breathing hard and adding air to my suit as I descended. I was getting low on gas and at 100ft I was about ready to break off the encounter when catastrophe struck. My regulator began to belch air uncontrollably. The combination of icy conditions, overexertion, and rapid descent had caused my first stage to freeze open. As the air puffed out my cheeks like a chipmunks, I tried to staunch the flow with my tongue but it was no use. Within a minute or so the tank was empty and I was left with very few options.

Because I knew that I had slipped into decompression I was reluctant to kick for the surface and risk getting bent or worse. From the first second of the free flow I had begun swimming back towards the area where I believed the group to be. Navigation was tricky over the featureless sand but I was convinced that I was making progress. I forced myself to stay calm and settled into a slow but steady frog kick. I have an advantage over most people in these situations because my adrenalin gland doesnt work very well. It makes me a bit slow sometimes but the upside is that I practically never panic.

After about 70ft of airless travel I could feel the carbon dioxide building in my lungs. The mist cleared in front of me and 30ft ahead I spotted the second group of divers heading into the darkness. Off to my left Kaz was following the fourth Greenland Shark and I had the momentary urge to change direction and try for a quick shot. Putting this irrational idea out of my mind, I headed onward. I let out a few squeaks along the way to attract some attention but the divers could not locate the direction of the noises and continued moving away.

By this time I had been kicking along for about a minute on a single breath with a bulky drysuit and a 44 pound weight belt. My lungs were beginning to scream and the surface beckoned with the promise of oxygen and warmth but I resisted the urge to bolt knowing that it would be a short reprieve.

Switching to a flutter kick I crossed the 20ft in a short burst of hypoxic speed and gently reached down behind the closest diver and plucked their octopus off of its clip. One long deep breath followed by another and another. Predictably the surprised open water diver spun around and tried to pull the regulator away. Comfortable now, I stayed at arms reach and waited for them to think the situation through. I took a few more breaths and swam away towards another diver who had been watching. Prepared, he offered me his octopus and I motioned for the three of us to ascend towards Sylvain. I then thanked them with a wave, handed back the donated regulator, and kicked the last few feet holding my breath so that Sylvain could clearly see that I had no reg.

He looked utterly shocked but found his spare reg and we headed for the ascent line. Fortunately he had enough air for me to complete my deco stops without any violations so I arrived on the surface a little embarrassed but unscathed.

The next day we tried again but the viz had dropped significantly and I was the only diver to fleetingly see a shark in the soupy water. Looking back on the whole experience I am left with these thoughts and words of advice:

Firstly, thank you to all three divers who donated air.

Secondly, if you don't want to dive with a buddy that is up to you but its your funeral if all hell breaks loose.

Thirdly, don't over breathe your reg in icy water especially if it has not been environmentally serviced for those conditions.

Lastly, (as usual) it isn't the sharks that are dangerous.

 

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 

 

Manhandling Sharks

August 27th 2007

 

A while ago I posted an article called The Ethics of Shark Photography. I stand by everything I wrote in that post but there is sometimes more to photographing a timid shark than meets the eye and the publishable images do not necessarily tell the whole tale.

For the first time on Elasmodiver I have loaded some pictures of a diver purposefully manhandling a shark. The animal is a Blind Shark that is barely two feet long and the diver is my girlfriend Claire. In Claire's defense I should immediately point out that it was me who reached into a crevice and picked up the resting shark. After it stopped thrashing I handed it to Claire who floated nearby looking rather bewildered by my actions.

Neither Claire nor the shark were in much danger from this encounter but there are reports of disgruntled Blind Sharks turning tail and latching onto divers that have disturbed them in a similar fashion. As long as the shark is held gently but firmly on its torso, avoiding the gill openings or fins, it should be ok. Blind sharks are hardy creatures that are known to have good survival rates even when thrown back by fishermen and when you consider the abuse and indignity that shark researchers and fishermen put these animals through in the course of their catch and release activities, removing a shark from a crevice pales by comparison.

If you're wondering why a photographer would manhandle a Blind Shark in the first place, the answer is simply that you cant get publishable shots of a shark that you can barely see tucked into a  thin crack. This is especially true if your camera housing is so big that the dome port wont fit into the crevice anywhere near the animal. The answer is to either leave it alone (not a bad course of action) or to relocate the shark onto a surface where shooting is possible and that is exactly what I did (with Claire's help) on this occasion.

Releasing the brown hued Blind Shark close to the beautifully contrasting green algae on the reef resulted in a series of images in which the shark was well defined yet still in its natural environment (although normally it would only hunt in this area at night). Within a few minutes the exhausted Blind Shark was back in its crevice, unscathed but no doubt happy that its ordeal was over.

This kind of encounter is not unusual in marine photography. I asked a prominent professional photographer how he had managed to photograph an elusive species of reef shark because repeating the method that I had used on the Blind Shark would be almost impossible with a fast swimming carcharinid. He told me that he had first caught the shark on rod and reel. He had then removed the hook from it's jaw, tail looped the animal with monofilament fishing line, and jumped in with his camera.  He was then able to get the shots he wanted while the shark (that would normally not approach a diver) swum in circles under his boat.

As I have never done this I am not sure how much stress it puts on the shark. Probably a great deal. Stress induced lactic acid build up inside the sharks body can quickly turn fatal even if the animal appears to be fine upon release. I have no desire to hurt any creature (let alone a shark) and I am not a fan of fishing but I can see how this is probably the only method that some species can be photographed. If it is your mission to catalog rare shark species, my only advice would be to make the encounters as short as possible.

Incidentally,  sharks are not the only creatures that are sometimes manhandled in the name of photography. I remember marveling at those award winning images of octopuses in mid water, perfectly composed in front of a dramatic sun-splash, with their arms splayed out all around them. As I learned more about the ocean and the habits of its occupants, I started to wonder why any self respecting octopus would be floating around in the water column. Sure enough, most of these shots are achieved by someone swimming up to the surface with the octo and unceremoniously dropping back towards the reef.

The mollusks (like the sharks) are probably not harmed by these activities so there is no real cause for alarm. You may disagree with these photography tactics but if you simply want to protect sharks there are far bigger and more worthy battles to fight.

 

Follow this link: Blind Shark Pictures to see the images.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Three New Elasmobranchs from California.

August 20th 2007

 

Summer is speeding by in a blur of shark photography shoots. I am sitting in a friend's house in Ontario desperately trying to clean and prepare my images from the last two trips before starting the next one. Next week I am leaving for Baie Comeau in Quebec to hunt for Greenland Sharks. Following that adventure I plan to continue to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswich to join Eli from Shark Diver Magazine on an attempt to find and photograph the Porbeagle Shark. Porbeagles (to my knowledge) have never been photographed by divers in the wild so it will be a historic achievement (in our small shark diving world) if we are successful.

Last week I was down in San Diego with Eli on a trip to find Mako Sharks for our readers. Over a five day period we brought in 14 Makos and although I spent a lot of time on deck I was able to get a number of new angles that can be found here: Mako Shark Pictures.

As I already had plenty of Mako shark pictures it was hard to justify the trip. Therefore, I needed to head off on my own in search of new sharks and rays after everyone left. I went north to Ventura and searched the kelp forests for  Angel Sharks and Swell Sharks. The sea was unusually calm so I had no problem locating these sharks and a new ray. The Thornback Ray is a unique animal that looks like it is part guitarfish and part skate. It is quite common in California but it was the first time I had seen one.

The west coast of North America has a very diverse array of elasmobranch species and there are still many that I have yet to photograph. Sadly, for personal reasons I am now relocating to Ontario which means that I will have less access to Pacific species but there are also a number of sharks and skates that I can now hunt for in the north east. The adventures will be more challenging but in some ways that just makes success that much sweeter when it finally comes.

Time to get back to the images. Keep an eye out for more shark pictures over the next few days.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Fish Rock

July 29th 2007

 

I have just returned from a month long 'drive and dive' up and down the coast of New South Wales, Australia with my girlfriend Claire. Almost everywhere that we went the diving was awesome. Although the visibility was poor after the 30 year storm, the shark and ray action was excellent and everywhere we went yielded a new species or two, or a new way to photograph the species that we had already seen.

The people we met along the way were exceptionally friendly and went far out of their way to help us find the sharks and rays on our hit list, especially Jon Cragg from Fish Rock Dive in South West Rocks who went the extra mile to make sure that we left with stunning images of the wobbegong sharks that we were after. Thanks Jon!

In total we dove with 6 species of sharks and 5 species of rays. Over the next month or so I will be able to add 4 new sharks and 3 new rays to Elasmodiver and that doesn't include the albino Sandtiger Shark that we saw on our last day at Fish Rock.

The diving around South West Rocks was amazing. Three species of wobbegongs, Grey Nurse Sharks everywhere, beautiful vistas, a swim-through filled with sharks, and many other rays and blind sharks nearby. Forget the Great Barrier Reef, no trip to Australia is complete without a couple of days at Fish Rock!

Now comes the slow and tedious task of cataloguing, cleaning, and uploading all of the images from the trip. This will be difficult because I am supposed to go to San Diego in a few days to shoot Makos for Shark Diver Magazine and then drive across to the north east to look for Porbeagle Sharks. Consequently some of the shark pictures will have to wait but eventually I'll get them all filed and ready for print.

One last thank you to everyone that we met in Australia especially the following people and dive shops:

 

Jon Cragg owner of Fish Rock Dive Centre

All the staff at Byron Bay Dive Centre

Dave Harasti Photographer, Marine biologist, seahorse fanatic, and expert on the life around Nelson Bay

Chris owner of Pro Dive Nelson Bay

Michael Stanton and the staff of Merimbula Divers Lodge

Aengus Moran Crazy Irish Photographer loose in Sydney

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Storm Warning

June 21st 2007

 

Over the last month New South Wales has been racked by unusually violent storms. The first one was dubbed the '30 Year Storm' as it has been that long since weather this bad has been recorded. Suburbs of Sydney and towns further afield are completely flooded, an enormous freighter remains beached and another was buckled like a tin can. The NSW premier was forced to declare a state of emergency and many residents have been evacuated.

Comfortably languishing in the Vancouver summer sunshine I would normally feel pretty removed from these cataclysmic events but this year I am nervously following the action.

Unfortunately, I have a flight to Sydney scheduled for next week. My original plan was to get as many pictures of sharks and rays as possible during my one month visit but now I am not sure if I will be able to get in the water at all. If the runoff that always follows such storms does not subside during the next week or so, there will be so much mud in the water that it will be impossible to see the sharks that I want to photograph. I cannot change my flights at this late stage so I am plowing ahead with the plan, grimly determined to go shark diving regardless of the conditions.

There is a slim chance that the weather will improve and clear water will wash away the silt that is presently filling all the bays. If that happens then all I have to worry about is that the sharks have returned from wherever it is that they hide during such events.

The rest should be relatively easy; wait for high tide, dive in from shore, locate the sharks and rays, get them to pose instead of swimming away, and capture well exposed, perfectly composed images. What could be simpler!

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Chasing Ghosts

May 24th 2007

 

A few years ago Rosangela Lessa wrote a paper on the occurrence of the Daggernose Shark in northern Brazil. In the paper she describes that the crazy looking daggernose makes up about a quarter of the local catch. To my knowledge there are no images of Daggernose Sharks in the wild so I emailed Rosangela to get more information. I was hoping that she could help me get on a boat that was fishing for sharks.

Sadly she responded with bad news. In the few years since she wrote the paper, the local population of Daggernose Sharks had been wiped out. She suggested that I try Trinidad but offered little hope of success. The story is beginning to sound like a broken record. 'You should have been here ten years ago' is becoming all too familiar.

Where next to look for unusual sharks? I am not convinced that there is any future for inshore species like the Daggernose. Unless a shark species inhabits depths that are not yet being exploited, it is vulnerable to over fishing. But, vulnerable is too subtle a word. There has never been a commercially sustainable fishery in recent history. Shark fisheries only last a decade or so until a catastrophic collapse takes place and the fishermen move on to richer pastures. To say that sharks are vulnerable is like saying that nuclear war could be a bit dangerous. It has to stop.

There is no longer any rational quota system that makes sense for sharks. A complete ban on shark fishing worldwide is the only answer.

In the mean time I will do my best to document the species that are still accessible. I will start contacting fisheries experts in Trinidad to see if any Daggernose Sharks remain there. The IUCN WWF, and many NGOs recently used my images to publicize the plight of the Spiny Dogfish. I wholeheartedly believe that in order to promote change we need compelling images to better understand what we are trying to save.

I'll keep doing my bit. Make sure you are doing yours: Increase public awareness, boycott restaurants that sell shark fins. Encourage a new global attitude towards sharks.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Teaching Photography and Shark Attacks

April 21st 2007

 

For the last month Elasmodiver has had very little growth. This is not because there has been nothing to write about or no shark pictures to add. Actually, there are so many new images that need to be uploaded that the task is starting to look overwhelming.

Over the last month I have been preparing presentations for a new underwater photography course that I am running. I thought that it would be quite straight forward but I didn't realize how much I knew until I started trying to write it all down. I think the course will be a great help to photographers who have graduated from point and shoot cameras to digital SLR cameras but have not yet mastered the art.

The first course will be in Victoria BC on the last weekend of April. I have already been talking to stores as far away as Australia with regards to further courses so keep an eye open on the photography pages for dates near you. Wherever I end up teaching I will be more than happy to talk shark with anyone that drops by.

Although I was mainly shooting rays in Baja last month I did photograph one sharky subject. While walking on the beach in Cabo Pulmo I watched a sea lion swim ashore and slowly lumber up the beach. He looked awkward and as I got closer I found out why. There was a large round wound on his rump. Around this wound were the tell tale uniform incisions left by a row of shark teeth. His head also had been opened by a row of razor sharp teeth. It appeared that he had been bitten at least three times. Possibly firstly on the head but finding it to be too bony, the shark had circled around to it's back. It had then latched on but released and reattached finally finding the right amount of flesh to shake and tear away.

The sea lion was unlikely to survive such catastrophic injuries. It was still laying on the beach nursing its wounds when I left the town two days later.

Seeing the results of this encounter was a sobering reminder of the realities and brutality of nature. I spend a lot of time in the water with sharks photographing them in an attempt to capture their power and grace. I have never witnessed a natural predation because the sharks are always intent on devouring the bait that we bring with us or they are too busy swimming away from the scary divers. To be confronted with this very natural but disturbing sight will not affect my behavior around them but it will serve as a reminder of their purpose. That sea lion was singled out for a reason. Whether it was inattentive, a bad swimmer, or smaller than its brothers, it was singled out, hunted down, and attacked. This keeps sea lion populations healthy. The genetically superior ones live to swim another day.

The message is simple; remove the sharks and you remove nature's way of keeping the entire marine ecosystem healthy. Chew on that.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch.

 


2007 - Chasing Arctic Sharks

March 29th 2007

 

Last week I emailed a buddy of mine, Paul Spielvogel. Paul has been diving with Eli and me on numerous occasions and he is a regular contributor to Shark Diver Magazine. Paul loves sharks but he also likes his creature comforts. A few years back we did a Blue Shark trip together in California. During the trip Paul donned a drysuit to avoid the big chill but after constant leaks, suit squeezes, and buoyancy problems, he retired to the deck and watched in misery while the rest of us played with the sharks. Upon returning home he gave his ill-fitting suit away, vowing never again to dive in water below 70 degrees.

I pointed out that this summer we intend to spend a good chunk of time close to the Arctic Circle in our pursuit of new shark stories. I made sure to include some of the sharks we are going after: Porbeagles, Salmon sharks, Greenland sharks, and Sixgills. I knew that would get him drooling and hoped that it would be the nudge he needed to give drysuit diving one more try. It would be a shame to dive the whole year without my buddies around me but more importantly it would be a crime for a shark fanatic like Paul to miss out on the opportunity to dive with the incredible sharks of the great white north.

Its going to be a long, cold summer. I can't wait!

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


Baja Ray Diving Update

March 13th 2007

 

The final tally from Baja is 5 species of rays and no sharks. That isn't really surprising considering the time of year, water clarity, and temp. Fortunately Club Cantamar has invited me back to continue the search in September if I can arrange a flight.

I am now heading slowly back to the freezing wastes of Canada (but it isn't really that cold where I live). On the way I am slipping into the ocean wherever possible to look for sharks. The surf is pounding, the visibility is about two feet, and so far no sharks have shown up but I don't know when I can get back here so I will continue to plug away until I run out of time or energy.

As soon as I get home next week the new ray pictures will begin appearing on elasmodiver. But for now I have to get back to the surf and snag that shark picture while I can.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

The Rays of Playa Conception

February 25th 2007

 

I have been busy chasing rays at Playa Conception in Baja. Yesterday I must have seen more than 200 Cortez Stingrays and Round Stingrays. It is not easy sneaking up on a ray the size of a small dinner plate and trying to hold your breath in freezing water long enough to get the shot. Most of the time they wont let me get anywhere near them but now and then a ray will defiantly hold its ground as I close the gap. The trick is to come in at an angle so that they don't feel threatened. Its frustrating but fun for a stingray geek like me.

Eventually I got the shots I needed so I am ready to chase bigger animals now, down in La Paz. The goal is to get some good Hammerhead shark pictures. Its another tough mission especially this time of year but I'm here so why not give it a try.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch 

 


 

Notes from El Salvador - Part 4

February 5th 2007

 

I have returned from El Salvador with no shark pictures (at least no pictures of live sharks) and no tales of extraordinary diving. What I have is a tale of adventure that led me from the artisanal shark fishermen, to the fin collectors and the largest shark fin exporter between Mexico and Costa Rica, to the conservation groups involved in protecting the sharks, and eventually to the El Salvadorian press.

The story that unfolded is too long for publication in Shark Diver Magazine so I am not sure where this story will end up. Perhaps it will only be reproduced on Elasmodiver but that would be a shame because the message that it conveys deserves a wider audience. Once it has found a home I will post a link to it on this blog.

 

For the sharks

Andy Murch.

 


Notes from El Salvador - Part 3

January 27th 2007

 

Yesterday was pretty weird. I woke up on a Panga (a small fishing boat) 5 miles off the coast. After Jacobo and his son Antonio pulled in their nets, I resigned myself to the idea that this trip was probably going to be completely sharkless. We went back to the island and Jacobo invited me to his shack on Isla Tesajera for breakfast.

His house had a mud floor but it was spotlessly clean. His wife Maria cooked eggs while we sat and talked in broken Spanish about families, sharks, and El Salvador.  Some of his 50 nieces and nephews dropped by while we ate. It was very cool.

By mid afternoon I was back in San Salvador. I strolled into El Salvador Divers and Alex invited me to a dinner party. My jeans smelled of fish and grime from sleeping on the panga but they were all I had, so I threw on a clean shirt and we drove to a ballroom.

If I had known who was going to be there I might have made a bigger effort to clean up. We missed the President of El Salvador by half an hour. As we entered the ballroom, the eyes of the most powerful lawyers and judges in the country turned in shocked amazement to see the unshaven gringo with the big grin come loping through the door. With a smile Alex turned and whispered ďtonight we swim with the most dangerous sharks in Latin AmericaĒ. Within half an hour I had been introduced to the Attorney General of El Salvador, a few of the high court judges, and a score of steely eyed lawyers, all dressed in Armani suits with trophy wives on their arms. As we met each one, Alex introduced me as El Cazador de Tiburon (The Shark Hunter). They had no idea what to say to me. It was great!

We ended up drinking the night away with a couple of lawyers. As the whiskey flowed it began to sink in that the grand plan to photograph the elusive Mallethead Shark had failed.

Tomorrow Iím gonna forget about sharks and go dive in a volcanic lake Ė Lago Ilopango. On Monday I will head to the port of La Libertad to see what sharks the fishermen are bringing in. La Libertad is a dangerous place so it will be risky to wander around with my camera. I am going more out of curiosity that anything else but if I get a lead then I still have Tuesday to go shark hunting.

This is probably my last note from El Salvador. Itís a crazy place. Even though I didnít get any live shark pictures I am glad I came.

 

For the Sharks

Andy Murch

 

Post Script 29/01/07

I talked things over with Alex today. There's no way that I am going to get in the water with sharks. It just can't happen. So I was thinking about how to spend my last two days in El Salvador. Then it finally dawned on me what I need to do to end the story; I'm going to try to find 'The Hindu'.
He is rich and powerful and is probably terrified of reporters. It's unlikely that he will see me but its worth a try.
I got a ride across San Salvador today in a US Embassy armoured truck - dont ask!
 

 


 

Notes from El Salvador - Part 2

January 25th 2007

 

Yesterday I accompanied Alex to an island where we found some shark fishermen cutting up their catch. I took a lot of pictures while Alex gathered as much information as possible. One of the most talkative men was Fransisco Coto. He is a shark fin trader from San Salvador. The locals call him El Zambuzi - The Bull Shark. He talked about the industry and the prices they get for the fins. They sell them to 'The Hindu' an East Indian trader who uses San Salvador as his base to collect fins from all over Central America. He was very poor when he arrived a decade or so ago, but exporting fins has made him rich and powerful. Before I leave El Salvador I am going to try to find him.

The fishermen take their pangas far off shore in the evening to set their lines and nets. Unlike in Mexico they stay out all night to protect their gear from thieves.

The fishermen were very interested in my shark book. As they looked through it at the different species they said that they knew of the Hammerheads I was looking for but they rarely see them. I am not surprised as they are very rare everywhere.

One friendly shark fisherman 'Jacobo' who fishes for snapper with nets rather than longlines, pointed to the smooth hammerhead picture in my book and explained that this shark frequently gets tangled in his nets. He invited me to accompany him that night on his panga but I needed to prepare physically and mentally.

Alex explained to them that I wanted to get in the water with the sharks and that I hoped to photograph them while they were still alive. The fishermen thought this was interesting - they donít get many visitors and this gringo loco was very entertaining.

I wandered into the village and politely asked people to pose. They thought the whole thing was hilarious.

We talked about the plan on the way back to San Salvador. Understandably Alex did not want to sleep on a small panga over night so he is going to lend me a small air tank and some weights and cut me loose.

I am about to check out of my hotel to try to get back to the island. I'm not exactly sure how to get there or if I will get the same response once they see my heavy dive gear and camera housing. The language barrier is also going to be a problem but as they say 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.

If all goes well I will be back in San Salvador some time tomorrow.

I have money, Dramamine, some rusty Spanish, and a sense of humor. Hopefully that will be enough.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Notes from El Salvador - Part 1

23/01/07

 

I am here in El Salvador attempting to get pictures of sharks that no one has even seen. Not surprisingly it is almost impossible. Here is the first installment of the struggle:

Max (the guy who didn't meet me at the airport) was waiting for me when I returned to my hotel this afternoon. There was something about him that was off-putting. Nothing tangible but I wanted to get away from him as soon as I could. His US deportation and drug conviction stories may have had something to do with it. I agreed to accompany him to his friendís house who was supposed to be a good contact but it didn't pan out. It involved a trip into a bad neighborhood and I was nervous. I wasn't sure where I was but there was a discernable difference in the run down buildings and brooding faces that ran deeper than just the graffiti, litter, and corrugated tin roofs laced with razor wire.

Later when I checked my mail, my US contact told me that Max had blown it for the last time and that I should avoid him at all costs. Apparently he has been stealing to finance his drug addiction. That is information I could have used earlier.

I am heading east tomorrow with Alex Hasbun the owner of El Salvador Divers. He has adopted my crazy project and we are attempting to visit a village on an island near one of the river mouths. The area is fringed by coastal lagoons which are ideal habitats for inshore shark species. Its a good idea. We also have a connection in Acahutla that we can follow up if we fail tomorrow.

I'm glad I donít have to deal with Max. Alex is a great guy and a good contact. He is desperately trying to preserve the biodiversity at Los Cobanos which is the only coral reef on the Pacific coast of Central America.

He introduced me to his cousin Professor Carlos Roberto who is spearheading the Central American wing of the Shark Alliance (an international coalition of like minded shark conservation organizations). Sadly, with all his years of experience Alex has never seen a shark while diving in El Salvadorian waters.

This is NOT the Bahamas! If I eventually get the pictures it will be one hell of a story. If not, then it will be one hell of a story anyway.

Stay tuned,

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Can you help program Elasmodiver?

January 13th 2006

 

Over the last few years Elasmodiver has become a well known and well placed resource for people looking for information and pictures of sharks. I have done my best to create a body of knowledge that is both entertaining and easy to read. Along the way I have learned a great deal about the internet and the construction of websites but I have reached my limit.

In order to take Elasmodiver to the next level, I need to stop relying on Frontpage (a website creation tool) and learn how to program. That is an extremely daunting task and one that I am not sure I am capable of because my brain understands F-stops and apertures but html and syntax are another story.

So, I am putting out a call for help. If there are any shark fanatics out there that are also programmers, I would like to hear from you. Elasmodiver has so many pages now that it needs to become searchable. More importantly it needs an image search tool and from what I understand that is not the easiest thing to create. If you know your code, and you can offer advice with scripting, I would be very happy to hear from you.

 

I leave on a shark photography trip in two days. Unfortunately a low pressure front is expected to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a Jacuzzi during the time I will be in Texas so my prospects of getting some new shark pictures are looking grim. Hopefully it will blow over in time to get in a couple of dives before I fly on to El Salvador - I'll keep you all posted.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Another Year in Shark Photography

January 6th 2007

 

Where did last year go? It's a common thought in many people's minds. Fortunately, I remember exactly where 2006 went. I spent a great deal of time chasing sharks around North America. Between shooting a TV show with Eli from Shark Diver Magazine, hunting down sharks to illustrate new articles, and expanding this never ending shark website, I barely had time to think. Before I knew it I was looking for Xmas presents for my boys and planning 2007.

It looks like this year is going to be just as exciting and just as manic. I have so many ideas that I couldn't possibly achieve all of them in a mere 365 days. My first trip is just one week away and I am nowhere near ready. That's a sure sign that life is moving fast because if you haven't already noticed by browsing through Elasmodiver, I like to be very organized.

Initially I am heading down to Texas to check in at Shark Diver Mag HQ. Eli and our good friend Paul Spielvogel have organized a boat to go out into the Gulf of Mexico for 5 days. There are many sharks on our hit list including silkies, blacktips, sharpnose, scalloped hammerheads, and what I call 'exotics' i.e. sharks that we know live in the gulf but we do not expect to encounter because they are generally too deep, too shy, or too rare to make an appearance. We are expecting rough seas this time of year and life in our little shark boat will not be glamorous. If all goes well I will be able to upload some new shark pictures onto Elasmodiver before I leave Texas on the 22nd.

Next stop El Salvador. The last time that I was there I was dragged off a bus and held at gun point for two hours. That was in 1989 when the country was entrenched in a bloody civil war. Times have changed and I am looking forward to a warmer welcome this time. My plan is to document the El Salvadorian shark fishery and to find out what they are catching. El Salvador is a hazy spot on most researcher's maps so the inshore sharks that live there may be quite interesting. Being a camera toting gringo in a remote village full of nervous shark fishermen is asking for trouble but I have some contacts that should be able to make some introductions for me. Its been a while since I walked on the wild side and I am filled with a trepidation that I have not enjoyed for many years.

Stage three involves flying home and driving straight down to California. It's not written in stone yet but with luck I'll be hunting for Angel Sharks north of LA and kicking back with many old and new shark diving friends until I get the shot. Then it gets fuzzy; San Diego? Baja? We'll see.

Amazingly, that's just trip #1! Later in the year I am looking at Brazil, Mexico, back to Cali, and possibly Fiji and Australia. I have also just nailed down a summer expedition to the west coast of Vancouver Island with Ogden Point Dive Centre to search for the northern population of Blue Sharks - possibly the only decent sized gathering of blues left in the eastern Pacific.

Other plans include developing a shark photography course, becoming an Inspiration Rebreather Instructor, and expanding Elasmodiver to include an ambitious section on extinct sharks including a database of shark fossil pictures that I will slowly expand as I get permission to shoot at various natural history museums around North America.

If I work at this speed, between sharks and my kids, 2007 will be over in a flash, but life is so short that I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


A tough year for sharks and rays

December 16th 2006

 

2006 has been another tough year for elasmobranches (sharks and rays). The legal long-lining of sharks continued to chip away at the already stressed populations throughout the year and although the impact of illegal finning is hard to estimate, it undoubtedly added significantly to the death toll.

Stingrays also came under attack in 06 after the much publicized death of Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter). Beach goers and fishermen were left angry and scared and took out their frustration on any stingrays that they could find. It may take some time for stingrays to shake their new, largely undeserved, deadly reputation.

Not all the news was negative. New strides were made to protect sharks in different areas. One considerable victory was achieved when the Taiwanese agreed to stop harvesting Whale Sharks. This year's formation of the Shark Alliance also bodes well for the future. The combined efforts of its member organizations will hopefully give shark conservationists a much more powerful voice with which to fight for more realistic shark fishing quotas and a complete ban on finning.

 

Personally, I have had a great year taking shark pictures. Mostly traveling with Eli from Shark Diver Magazine, I have been able to photograph many new species to add to the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Field Guide.

As well as shark images, we have managed to film an entire season for our upcoming TV show. The first episode of which is finally edited to everyone's liking and ready to be pitched to the networks. So with luck, you will be able to catch the action some time next summer. As soon as we sign a deal, we'll post all the information here on Elasmodiver and on Eli's site.

In 2007 I will be hunting for shark pictures whenever time permits. I am already finalizing my plans for the first adventure which I hope to be leaving on by the middle of January. I am going after some rarely seen sharks that I believe have never been photographed alive before, but I'm keeping tight lipped about the details until I come home with the shots.

Eli is also putting the itinerary of the next season of the show together so between Chasing Sharks, SDM's shark photography trips, and my own adventures it is going to be a very busy year!

 

Merry Xmas and a shark filled new year.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Shark Pictures

November 20th 2006

 

I am back from the last official SDM shark photography trip of 2006. Last week in the Bahamas we were surrounded by big Tiger Sharks and hungry Lemon Sharks. On one day we actually had five different species of sharks show up including a Great Hammerhead. They were attracted by the scent of blood in our chum slick that had drifted many kilometers down current. Now, back in BC with no concrete plans to go after more sharks, I have a major case of SDW (shark diving withdrawal).

Eli (the editor of Shark Diver Magazine) is busy cherry picking through all the shark pictures from this yearís adventures to decide which shark images will be used for feature stories in upcoming issues of SDM, which will be stored as stock images to illustrate unforeseen future articles, and which pictures will be filed away on CD until the writing becomes illegible and Eliís kids use them as Frisbees.

With no more shark dives to look forward to until next year, I am faced with the laborious task of formatting all of this yearís shark pictures ready for submission to the various agencies that want them. Itís a slow and arduous process. Firstly, I have to be ruthlessly honest about which images to delete completely and which to keep and submit. Then its time to fire up Photoshop and remove any blemishes or offensive backscatter from the shark pictures that I like. Itís easy to get carried away in Photoshop. Remove a few grains of particulate here and there, maybe get rid of that diverís arm that is messing up the composition, change the tone to make the colors a bit warmer, delete those overexposed fish, bring out the contrast a little, remove that bait crate, and before you know it, an action filled shark picture becomes a sterile composition. Iíd like to be able to say that I donít Photoshop my images but Iím as guilty as most other digital photographers.

Next comes the digital labeling, copyrighting, and reformatting to pander to each agencyís specifications. I find this job really grueling and it takes forever.

Finally the files get burned to disc and mailed away.

Then, critical eyes at the various agencies go through the same process of selecting, storing, and deleting pictures, depending on their preferences and needs until my yearís adventures and memories are reduced to a manila envelope of shark images stored on each agencyís super computer. Itís a funny job.

Then, if Iím lucky, sometime next year Iíll be leafing through a fish book and Iíll see one of my forgotten shark pictures staring back at me and Iíll get a big smile on my face. Itís pretty cool getting published but also, when I see a shark that I photographed, swimming across the page, Iím transported back to the adventure and reliving the moment helps me survive my shark diving withdrawal until the next trip when Iím back in the water with the sharks.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Help me put pressure on Shark Fin Traders

November 12th 2006

Most of my blogs are either about shark diving or taking pictures of sharks but today I want to help with a campaign that is putting pressure on a very big player in the shark fin trade. Alibaba.com provides a service that helps connect shark fishermen with shark fin wholesalers and dealers. Discouraging Alibaba from continuing this aspect of their business would impact the availability of shark products and disrupt the entire industry. Please follow the links to learn more about what Alibaba does and then lodge a complaint with their company. Many voices have joined the appeal already but we need to create an extremely negative atmosphere before anyone in this large company will pay attention and reconsider their position on the shark fin trade.

Recent anti shark fin letter writing campaigns have worked to change the attitudes of companies as large as Visa and Disney. Please don't waste this opportunity to make a difference.

 

To see the scope of global shark buying visit

http://importer.alibaba.com/buyeroffers/Shark.html.

To see Alibaba.com management visit

http://www.alibaba.com/aboutalibaba/management.html.

To locate the Alibaba.com office nearest you visit

http://www.alibaba.com/aboutalibaba/contact.html.

To voice your concerns about Alibaba.com shark trade postings visit http://www.alibaba.com/trade/servlet/page/static/help/contact_us_answer.

 

On a different note, I am back from the Bahamas with some great new shark pictures and my next post will contain a report on the entire trip.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


Bahamas Bound

November 2nd 2006

 

Tonight I leave for West Palm Beach to board a ship bound for the outer reefs of the Bahamas. It will be a shark safari that I hope will attract Tiger sharks, Great Hammerheads, and perhaps 4 or 5 other species. I already have pictures of most of the sharks that are likely to show up so I have been thinking hard about what I should concentrate on photographing this year.

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with marine life photographer Andy Salmon about how easy it is to get respectable shark pictures with the new generation of digital cameras that are now on the market. Andy's opinion was that in the digital age, the role of the professional photographer has changed. It is no longer enough to get 'respectable' shark pictures to make the grade, it is necessary to raise the bar both technically and artistically. This stuck in my mind and I have tried to raise the bar of my own shark photography whenever and however possible. On this trip the pressure to get publishable images is higher than normal because Shark Diver Magazine has already covered the Bahamas many times so my images need to be exceptional to make them worthy of publication.

I'm not sure if I can achieve the caliber of images that I am looking for but I will give it my best shot. The key I believe is a combination of patience, ingrained familiarity with the camera, time in the water, getting very close to the sharks, already having the image in your mind, and having cooperative sharks. When all these factors come together at the right moment spectacular results are sometimes possible but there are no guarantees.

For good or bad, when I will update this blog on my return from the Bahamas, my new shark pictures will speak for themselves.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch


 

The Ultimate Shark Quest

October 26th 2006

 

A few days ago I was talking to the Editor of Shark Diver Magazine (SDM) about a Small Spotted Catshark Article that I wrote. He was planning to call it simply; Cat Shark. I pointed out that if he did that then he couldnít run another catshark story for some time and considering that there are 138 different species of catsharks that seemed like a bit of a waste.

The conversation drifted into a discussion about the upcoming Shark Divers TV show which has changed considerably since it was first penned. The original idea was to make a show about shark diving and us getting shark pictures and stories for SDM. That is still the primary focus of the show but we have added an additional challenge; we want to film 100 species of sharks. Why? Well, apart from the fact that it probably hasnít been done before, itís another excuse to do what we love doing. I will also be able to add a lot of new species to the Elasmodiver Field Guide to Sharks and Rays.

It would be a lot of fun trying to film that many species for TV. In fact, I would be satisfied just trying to get that many shark pictures for the magazine, but after the catshark argument I sat down and started to think through the idea more clinically. Was it a realistic goal or would it become a show about a couple of guys failing to film 100 shark species? I made a mental tally of the sharks I have seen since I started diving. I believe I am just shy of 50 species. Not bad considering that I didnít become a professional photographer until a couple of years ago but then again, itís been getting a lot more difficult to find new animals lately.

Getting new shark pictures has become a challenge that is slowly consuming me and the difficulties are not all related to budget or my limited time in the water. Of the almost 500 species of sharks that are out there, a tremendous number are simply beyond the reach of the average diver. I have the advantage of being a part-time submersible pilot but even in that job I have few opportunities to locate deep water sharks. Not surprisingly, when a large metallic submarine cruises over the seabed with lights blazing in all directions, the sharks of the abyss (with their sensitive opalescent eyes) turn tail and flee at lightning speed. Iím not just talking about deep sea lantern sharks and dogfish. Thumbing through my Collinsí Sharks of the World it appears that nearly all of the ornately patterned catsharks that would look so at home on a shallow coral reef, actually inhabit the twilight zone below 100 meters.

Another nightmare that limits my quest for shark pictures is the phrase Ďprefers turbid water and muddy baysí Turbid water is caused by wave action churning up the sediment or by rivers dumping huge quantities of silt into the sea. Lots of species of sharks live exclusively in these low visibility environments. Their highly tuned senses are more than adequate for them to navigate through this sightless world but shark photography is virtually impossible.

So, unless we intend to catch all these elusive sharks and relocate them to places where they are easier to film (youíd be surprised how many shark pictures are staged) we are in for some frustrating shark trips. Can it be done? I believe so but even if we fall short of our target we have lost nothing and gained one hell of an adventure. I guess Iíve always been on this mission anyway so publicizing it on a TV show merely adds some time constraints to a  quest that I was expecting to last a lifetime.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch


 

Seven Shark Species in Seven Days

September 20th 2006

 

California was amazing. Not a single day went by without some kind of shark interaction. I spent the first day of the trip snorkeling with a large aggregation of Leopard Sharks (Triakis semifasciata) off of La Jolla in San Diego. Despite the low visibility this would have been a great start but to top off the experience a shy Grey Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus) swam by for a quick cameo. Sadly the shark pictures tell the story of how much sand was being kicked up but regardless of the grainy results I was thrilled to encounter these two species and I look forward to uploading the images as soon as possible.

Day two involved a trip out into the gulf with a new friend - Walter Heim. Walter has been tagging Makos off the San Diego coast for some years. Prior to this he was a recreational shark fisherman but as the numbers of Blues and Makos declined in the 90ís he switched hats and he now gathers data for Shark Tagger. I spent three glorious hours in the water with two small Mako Sharks and a couple of Blues. The offshore viz was great compared to La Jolla and the Mako Shark Pictures speak for themselves.

I spent the third day on Catalina Island terrorizing Horn Sharks and searching in vain for Soupfin Sharks. In close proximity to the Horn Sharks I stumbled on a number of Swell Shark egg capsules and although I didnít see any adult Swell Sharks its good to know that they are there somewhere and busy procreating.

On day four I hooked up with Ron Clough who organizes the California Shark and Ray Count. Ron and his band of volunteers keep tabs on all species of sharks and rays around the LA/Ventura area in order to assess the general health of the marine ecosystem. A healthy apex predator population equals a healthy reef. Ron was able to find an Angel Shark in horrendous visibility but other than a token couple of Angel Shark pictures I wasnít able to maximize the opportunity. Apparently the Angels are resident in the area so Iím hoping that I can try again when I head back down (probably in January).

On day five I snuck in another dive with the leopards while I waited to board a bus to Ensenada but a storm had kicked the swell up and the vis was even worse.

Day six was spent cruising to Guadalupe Island aboard the Solmar V. No time in the water but a boat full of sharkoholics to hang out with made the day pass quickly.

On days seven, eight, and nine I spent most of my waking hours snapping away at Great White Sharks in the cool clear waters around Guadalupe. The White Shark action was consistent for almost the whole time that we were there. If you want to see the Great White Shark Pictures, they are already loaded onto the Shark Pictures Database database. 

All in all it was a great trip and you would think that I would return satiated for a while but all it did was wet my appetite for more opportunities. California is only a two day drive from where I live on Vancouver Island. Compared to most places I dive it is tantalizingly close and I can already hear the sharks calling me back. In the mean time I have a whole lot of new shark pictures to clean up and upload and two new ray species to write about so keep an eye on the updates page over the next couple of weeks.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 

 


California Shark Safari

September 1st 2006

 

After the frustrations of Sixgill Shark hunting in BC for the last month, its finally time for me to head back out with Shark Diver to get some new shark pictures for the next issue of the mag.  We have a really exciting itinerary that will take us along the Southern California coast in search of some of the coolest sharks you can find in the Americas.

Drive and dives are always fun but road trips through California are packed with opportunities. We are planning to hop between Catalina Island, LA County, San Diego and Guadalupe Island. If you know your sharks then youíre already reeling off the potential subjects: Horn sharks, Leopards, Soupfins, Smoothhounds, Swell Sharks, Angels, Makos, and finally Great White Sharks at Guadalupe Ė what an awesome agenda! Of course, weíll be filming everything we can as part of the Shark Divers TV show so even if youíre not coming along youíll be able to catch all the action (eventually).

This trip is an extra special one for me because although I have dove with around 50 species of sharks it has been a standing joke between Eli (Editor of SDM) and I that I have never seen a Great White Shark. In the past whenever a trip was planned I was always busy shooting somewhere else but finally it has all come together and weíre going after Mr. Big, Jaws, White Death, The Man in the Grey Suit, The caretaker, or whatever else you want to call him. Its gonna be very cool to come face to face with the most notorious face in nature for the first time.  Crystal clear water, lots of white sharks, a warm drysuit, a giant memory card, and three days to film Ė heaven.

Hopefully my next post will include links to some great new shark pictures but first I need to change the oil in the Sharkmobile and follow the sun from Canada to Cali. I'll be hugging the coast all the way down so if the ocean beckons before I hit LA I'll simply pull over, dive in with my camera, and go look for sharks. Time to go pack...

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Summer of the Sharks Trailers

August 16 2006

 

The second trailer for the Shark Divers TV Show has just been loaded onto the web. It isn't what your average documentary watcher is expecting to see and hopefully that's a good thing. The last thing that the 21st century viewing public needs is another slow paced shark documentary showing the exact schematics of a shark's biting mechanism, or a show about how important it is to tag white sharks in the hope that we'll find out where they're going, what route they are taking, and their internal temperature while they swim there (yawn).

Don't get me wrong, I believe that this information is valuable. In fact I believe that it is critical if we want to save the increasing number of shark species that are being exploited. If we enter the arena armed with irrefutable information and statistics in support of conservation measures then we stand a much better chance of persuading governments to ban or limit shark fishing.

The problem is that scientific stats only appeal to a small group of TV watchers. What if we could get a much bigger chunk of TV viewers to watch a shark show and what if the characters on the show were funny enough to entertain people and crazy enough to make people want to tune in next week. Shark Divers hopes to do just that and at the same time sneak in a critical conservation message in a way that doesn't make people's eyes glaze over. Its a unique formula that wont appeal to everyone but hopefully it will be a refreshing change of pace for lots of jaded viewers and if they start to relate to the characters on the show then inevitably some of them will begin to voice the same opinions and little by little the chorus of voices chanting 'save the sharks' will grow louder.

I take pictures of sharks. Some of the species in my shark pictures are rare or at least rarely photographed but from experience that doesn't turn people on. They want in your face action and the shark pictures that generate the most interest depict divers interacting with the sharks. Relating that to the Shark Divers TV Series I think a lot of people are going to eat this show up.

So check out the trailers at this link: Shark Divers Trailer and if you have any comments let me know - after all, getting people talking about sharks is what its all about.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 

 


 

Shark Season

August 5th 2006

 

For most of the year I have to travel a long way from home to photograph sharks but for a brief spell during the summer my local Vancouver Island waters fill with sharks large and small. Having just returned from filming 100+ Whale Sharks in Holbox, Mexico I am in no great hurry to dust off my drysuit and plunge into the uncomfortably cool waters of the Pacific North West but July has ended which means that Sixgill Shark Season is approaching fast. The first Sixgill has already been spotted by a commercial diver in 170ft of water so I know theyíre out there and thatís all the incentive I need.

Sixgill Sharks are large elusive animals that spend most of their time down at unreachable depths. During the northern summer for reasons that are probably related to the pursuit of food they choose to enter the relatively shallow bays of Vancouver and Puget Sound where they occasionally bump into scuba divers. Trying to find and photograph these sharks is no easy task but like most successful underwater photography it comes down to preparedness and time spent in the water.

It took me an entire summer of floating around in deep water to get some images of my first Bluntnose Sixgill Shark. The next place I went searching for them I found one on the first dive but that was the only time they were seen there all summer. Fortunately, while the Sixgill Sharks are deciding whether to make an appearance I can get my shark fix by photographing Spiny Dogfish Sharks which migrate north in large numbers and make much more dependable subjects.

In late August the dogfish will be moving south and my search will take on a new twist. At the end of the Summer divers start to see occasional Big Skates feeding on crabs and mollusks off the beaches around Vancouver Island. Doing long solo search patterns in the mud far from shore is a bit unnerving at times but for the chance of getting some decent Big Skate pictures itís worth the time and the spooky drift diving in featureless terrain.

The pursuit of skates should keep me busy until mid September which is when I have to be in California to attend a Great White Shark trip with Shark Diver magazine so life could be way worse.

The Sixgills are out there somewhere and with my rebreather I have a very good chance of finding one so Iím heading out right now to take a look.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Dead Sharks In Holbox

July 22nd 2006

 

Taking a compulsory day off, I wandered the streets of Holbox today with Eli until we came upon a devastating sight. A truck drove by with an enormous Tiger Shark hanging limply over the end of the flatbed. It was so long that itís tail dragged along the dirt road as the truck moved forward. We estimated it to be around 12 or 13ft long and easily 600lb. After talking to the locals we were able to find out where it was being taken and we intercepted the truck in a boat yard where the fishermen were in the process of packing the carcass in ice for the trip to Cancun where a shark fin dealer called ĎEl Coyoteí would purchase it and export itís fins to the Far East. The fishermen were reluctant to talk to us but they allowed us to film their work and even posed over the monster they had conquered. It was exceptionally sad to see such a magnificent animal reduced to soup stock, fish chunks, and fertilizer.

Returning to the beach we witnessed many more sharks being hauled in, mostly juveniles that had not reached maturity and therefore could not possibly have left little sharks as a legacy before they were ripped from the ocean.

I have wanted to photograph dead sharks for some time in order to illustrate the articles that I write about over fishing, but now that I have finally seen the bloody carcasses of sharks floating in the surf I wish that I could erase the images from my mind as though the opportunity had never arisen. One long-line shark fisherman told us that he brings in about four sharks a day. They are usually juvenile Bull and Tiger Sharks in the 4 to 6ft range. He has agreed to let us film his work tomorrow so hopefully we will be able to capture the whole process on tape and use it to stop the carnage.

 

Follow this link to see the images of dead sharks.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

I have become a Whale Shark Picture Machine

July 21st 2006

 

There are so many Whale Sharks to photograph near Isla Holbox (north of Mexicoís Yucatan Peninsula) that most of the time I donít know which way to point my camera. It is day four of an eight day shoot and I already have more good images than I have taken on all of my other Whale Shark trips put together.

I think that in the last three days we have seen around 55 animals but its hard to tell since the panga that is taking us from one encounter to the next may sometimes be guiding us back to Whale Sharks that we have already swum with.

 

Shooting stills is very challenging in the green plankton rich water but with the amount of sharks in the area itís possible to just keep on swimming until the perfect opportunity arises, and then itís down to luck and a little skill with the camera. The luck factor rests with the Whale Sharks. If you swim quickly but quietly into their path they sometimes swim almost directly into you, changing course a meter or two short of a collision. Then itís down to you to decide whether you want to go for the shot or side peddle as fast as you can. It is unusual for the sharks to plow forward after they notice you. They have keen eyesight as well as a lateral line system that can detect a swimmerís vibrations long before they materialize out of the soup so they generally veer off, mouth still agape in their endless search for microscopic organisms.

 

Each morning so far, I have jumped off the boat to shoot my first Whale Shark and not climbed back onboard until all the sharks have submerged which happens around midday when the sun is highest and the plankton begins to sink. I am amazed that other divers on the panga would choose to swim for a while and then lounge on deck when such a unique opportunity is a quick kick away but I guess thatís the difference between people who like sharks and people who just canít get enough shark action and its no secret which category I am in.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Hardcore Aquarium Diver?

July 11th 2006

 

I try to expand the horizons of elasmodiver.com whenever I can. Sometimes that means going on an exotic trip to some previously uncharted island paradise and photographing schools of marauding but little known sharks but that's not always possible. Now that the Summer of the Sharks Pilot is out of the way (the trailer is being reviewed by some heavy hitters this week) its time to work on the aspects of elasmodiver that are perhaps a little less glamorous such as indexing the species that I was able to photograph in the Houston Aquarium.

Its still pretty cool that I was invited to dive in their well stocked shark tank but there are members of the diving community who would consider this activity to be a waste of time if not a complete embarrassment. Hell, I'm supposed to be the Staff Photographer for Shark Diver Magazine not some geek who floats around in a goldfish bowl. Well I have news for anyone who considers Aquarium Diving to be suspect... The almost two hour long dive that I did in Houston was one of the most productive for shark photography that I have ever achieved.

Not only was I able to get way closer to the gnarly looking Sandtiger Sharks than ever before, but I was able to get images of two species of Sawfishes (Green Sawfish and Freshwater Sawfish) that I would probably never have seen in the wild. Apart from the expense of another long and grueling trip down under, the chances of locating a river or estuarine environment where the water visibility would be good enough to find and photograph the animals is almost zero. Combine this with the fact that these species are critically endangered (according to the 2006 IUCN Red List of Endangered Species) and it becomes obvious that the images I took are extremely rare and that I was very lucky to have the opportunity.
That doesn't mean that I don't want to jump into the Fitzroy River one day and wrestle crocodiles in an effort to shoot sawfish in the wild (I still have my undeniably stupid streak) but I am a convert to the benefits of slipping into a nice clean shark tank to get easily composed images of highly exotic species in crystal clear water.

There was a time when I had my reservations about the very existence of Aquariums and I still have some issues with keeping large marine mammals in captivity, but in today's seas where many species of sharks and rays are being decimated by over fishing aquariums become a useful tool in educating the masses to what we are quickly losing in the wild and the captive breeding programs that these facilities provide are sadly the only way that some species are likely to come back from the brink of extinction.

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

Manically Manipulating Shark Pictures

July 8th

 

Time between shark shoots is moving almost as fast as the shoots themselves. Between press releases, cutting a trailer, cleaning and filing hundreds of digital shark images, and reminding my two boys that they still have a dad, it's hard to find time to do any local shark diving. That's a shame because word has it that the Spiny Dogfish Sharks have started to arrive and soon the sporadic Sixgill Shark sightings will start. This year I have my Inspiration Rebreather ready to roll at a moments notice. If I hear that a Sixgill has been spotted at any of the local dive sights here on Southern Vancouver Island I'll drop whatever I'm doing and try to locate it. This will be my first chance to try a rebreather on this species and I'm curious to see if the lack of noise will encourage them to stay around longer giving me some better photo opportunities.

If you hit the What's New button on the Elasmodiver toolbar you'll see that many new species from the  Summer of the Sharks trip have already been loaded into the field guide and the Shark Picture database. We have been considering how to present all the new species in Shark Diver Magazine and we've decided that we need to produce a special edition of the mag just on the three week tour for the movie. We have plenty of topside images to complement the shark pictures and we're bubbling over with stories so it should be a great read. More about this later if it materializes.

The first challenge after the Whale Shark trip will be to edit the next issue of Shark Diver. Congealing a handful of shark stories, advertisements, and storyless but publishable shark pictures into a readable format is not as easy as it sounds. I'd rather be in the water with the sharks than watching them swim across my computer screen but either way I'm involved with sharks and that's good enough.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 

 


 

Notes from the Shark Bus Part 3

July 1st

 

St Maarten is now a blur of aggressive sharks and late nights. True to form the Caribbean Reef Sharks were ready to rumble as soon as we entered the water. After six dives including one in which Eli donned chain mail to feed the sharks we had all the CRS footage and still shots we could possibly want. The  Blacknose sharks were as elusive as ever but a few close passes allowed me to improve my collection of Blacknose images (see the new Blacknose Shark images added to the Shark Pictures Database).

The scheduled chumming in deep water didn't turn up a single shark. After hours of bouncing around in a small skiff with multiple chum bags sending a healthy slick out to sea, we admitted defeat and returned to Big Momma's Reef for yet another shark feed (you can never do too many).

Back on shore we were told about a shark attack victim who was willing to relate his ordeal, so we gathered up the cameras and went in search of a story. What we found was no local fisherman nipped on the ankle. The victim was none other than Leroy French who was famously mauled by a white shark while diving at the Farallon Islands in California back in the days when no one knew that this notorious group of islands was a favorite feeding ground of Great White Sharks.

Leroy told us how he was struck multiple times by the 14-16ft shark until Al Giddings was able to reach him and drag him back aboard their boat. After extensive surgery Leroy returned to diving and now runs a dive shop in Simpson Bay on St Maarten - small world!

 

Returning from St Maarten our Summer of the Sharks Adventure was all but over except for a quick dive in the Houston Aquarium's shark tank. Not such a bad way to end the trip. The staff graciously allowed us free reign of the tank for a couple of hours during which we snapped away feverishly at shark and ray species that we would otherwise not have had the chance to document. I came away with some unique images of Green Sawfish that are almost impossible to photograph in the wild.

After an extensive behind the scenes tour we climbed back on the bus and sat around unsure of what to do next. No more sharks to film, and no more shark fanatics to meet, the road trip was at an end.

 

Three shark infested weeks, sixty five hours of film in the bag, thousands of still images, and enough memories to last a lifetime. Flying home to Vancouver Island I had mixed emotions. My kids were waiting for their Dad but the shark action was hard to let go of or even to put out of my mind. Fortunately the tour will be back on the road very soon. In three weeks we are heading for Holbox Island in Mexico to film the largest known aggregation of Whale Sharks in the world. I guess the adventure never really ends, there are just intermissions between one shark dive and the next.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Notes From the Shark Bus Part 2

June 8th (Day 6) 10am

 

Frustration!

Yesterdayís planned early morning exodus from Houston dragged on to the early afternoon. We had every intention of driving all the way to Atlanta before sleeping which would have given us plenty of time to stop in at the Aquarium to see the new whale sharks. Two females arrived a couple of days ago to complement the males that are already on display. Now we are scrambling to make up time as we want to tour the Aquarium and still meet our guests in North Carolina at 8pm. I donít think we have a hope in Hades of getting all the way there on schedule but how can we turn down the chance to go see the largest fishes in the sea.

Itíll be great to finally meet up with our old friends like Kaz and Mad Marc Seda in NC. Itís been months since we last dove with them and weíre looking forward to catching up on each otherís wild adventures.

Iím also really excited about diving with the Sandtiger Sharks again this year. I have a bigger and badder camera system with me and Silent Diving Systems is flying my Inspiration rebreather down so that I can get closer than ever to the Sandtigers without my bubbles scaring them off. Weather permitting; this should be one hell of a trip.

To give you an idea of life inside the shark bus, Iím sitting on a monster subwoofer that Raf had installed while we were diving with the Silkies. If it was any louder I think my ears would start bleeding. Rafa who sang in a hard rock cover band in college is screeching at the top of of his lungs. Eli is slapping together another plastic cheese and miracle whip sandwich, and Rusty is working intently at his computer at the back of the bus. Rafa is now working himself into a classic rock frenzy barely able to still drive with the raw power of AC/DC coursing through his veins and the Atlanta skyline is looming on the horizon.

 

June 8th Day 6 10pm

We are on our way to Morehead City. Itís been a busy day. The Atlanta Aquariumís staff were very welcoming this morning. They gave us a behind the scenes tour of the whale shark exhibit. I was very impressed to see the sharks and rays acting so naturally. The Cownose Rays that normally flap around aimlessly in smaller exhibits, were actually swimming in formation, schooling just as they would in the wild. The whale sharks themselves are eating well and cruising around the edges of the tank to the delight of the endless stream of visitors crowding into the viewing tunnels. 

 

June 14th Day 12 8am

Iím in the Shark Bus heading down to Venice, Louisiana. North Carolina is already a blur in my shark infested memories.

We managed to dodge the tropical storms quite well and dove 4 out of the six days we had there. I would have liked those extra two days to shoot but visibility was pretty low anyway so my Sandtiger Shark pictures were mostly shades of gray.

The shark action was consistently good. Every dive had at least a handful of cooperative Sandtiger Sharks of all shapes and sizes from inquisitive three foot long juveniles to cautious remora clad adults that hovered at a respectable distance. On one safety stop we even had a school of Blacktip Sharks swim by. This was a rare treat and Eli being closer than myself, managed to swim over with his video camera and record the experience for posterity.

I had planned to dive for three days on scuba and then another three on my Inspiration Rebreather to see if it made much difference to the distance I could get to the sharks. Sadly the weather cut the experiment short but my single day of diving without bubbles was enough to drive the point home; the sharks practically ignored me. They were still a little wary of my bulk but diving silently allowed me to drift along right beside them without them bolting. Only when I released a jet of air to adjust my buoyancy did the sharks move away and as long as I kept calm they were soon back at my side.

We concentrated our diving efforts on a wreck called The Spar. It was purposely sunk a couple of years ago to provide a new habitat for marine life and the sharks seem to be pretty happy with the new accommodation options. One Sandtiger in particular could be seen on each dive. I mentally labeled her Hook Jaw as she was easily recognizable by the large steel hook that was embedded in her cheek. I doubt that she feeds very well with this hindrance and the scrapes on her skin imply that she is either used to getting bullied or she isnít heeling very quickly.

At this stage it is hard to know if we have the footage we need for Summer of the Sharks but at least I have plenty of still images for the magazine and for Elasmodiver.

In a few hours we will be in Venice. From the map, it appears to be on a waterlogged peninsula consisting of river deltas and swamps. We have been told that nothing survived from Hurricane Katrina so anticipating the worst, we have stocked up with enough supplies to feed ourselves during the three days we plan to dive there.

I am also mentally preparing myself for an encounter with large sharks Ė possibly Makos. I am not nervous of the animals themselves but Makos traditionally hit the bait hard and leave. That potentially leaves me seconds to get the shot, no set up time, no practice shots, and no second chances. That adds up to a lot of pressure to shoot under. If we get a player that stays around to feed, then itíll be easier Ė I will only have the sharks themselves to be careful of. Either way, itís a new destination with new opportunities and to me thatís an irresistible challenge.

 

June 18th Day 16

 

7pm

Back in the bus heading for Houston. Venice was amazing. Although we didnít find any Mako Sharks, the other shark action was extremely intense. For two days we had a giant swarm of Dusky Sharks nipping at our heals. Iím exploding with stories from Louisiana but Iíve sworn to save the details for the movie. One thing is certain; weíll be back in Venice the first chance we get. The conditions were primitive (e.g. showers using the hose at the fish gutting table) but the diving was so good that the topside details were insignificant.

Tomorrow we fly to St Maarten for yet more action. It will be a perfect way to end the shark tour and Iím very excited about going after Blacknose Sharks and chumming for who knows what out in the blue where no one has chummed before. It just keeps getting better.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Notes from the Shark Bus Part 1

June 3rd (Day 1)

 

Iím here. I am aboard the Shark Bus with Eli, Rafa, and Rusty. Rusty seems like a good guy. Heís young and enthusiastic and it looks like he knows his way around a camera.

Getting here was a struggle. I left Victoria yesterday morning and flew to Vancouver. I approached the US immigration officer nervously but foolishly they let me in again. Flew to Denver and hit a snag. Big delays due to weather. Finally arrived in San Antonio at 1am but no matter how long I watched the belt turn my luggage never came through the gate. Left instructions to forward my bags (which contain an entire camera system, my dive gear, and all my clothes) to Houston for pickup later today.

Then grubby and exhausted I jumped a cab to the Greyhound Station downtown and waited for 4.30am to roll around. Slept most of the way to McAllen and then waited for Eli to take me to the office.

Eight hours later Iím arriving in the Shark Bus in Houston, a Corona in hand, a glazed expression on my face, and a viral infection raging through my sinuses and throat. I donít think anyone realizes quite how sick I am yet and Iím keeping quiet for now. Hopefully Iíll bounce back from this one pretty quickly but tomorrowís diving might be a bit painful Ė weíll see.

 

June 5th (Day 3) 10.00 am

 

Chummed yesterday but didnít attract many sharks. We think we had a big Sandbar shark on the bait but he chose take out.

My voice slowly dwindled to a croak by the end of the day and now Iím reduced to writing because I am literally speechless. So much for the Eli and Andy show. I just hope that I can get some good images today to redeem myself. Itís dumb to feel guilty for being sick but I feel as though Iím letting the team down. If I can express myself in images for the next couple of days, I will feel better. Iíve never lost my voice before and I have no idea how long it will last. Iím on about four different medications so letís hope one of them fixes me up.

Eli was pretty pissed off this morning because it took so long to get away from the dock. I donít blame him at all. Our future in the industry is resting on the success of this pilot. Eli has borrowed a pretty big pile of money to finance everything including the charter we are presently on which as yet has yielded no results.

Today weíre on our way to Stentson Bank where Silky sharks reputedly gather. By tonight weíll either be despondent and somber or busy reviewing some new shark footage and images.

Weíre staying out overnight which will give us the opportunity to chum continuously for 24 hours. If that doesnít bring in sharks then weíre too late. It will imply that the numbers are so depleted by long lining that looking for sharks in the Gulf of Mexico is no longer viable.

 

June 6th (Day 4) 11.30 am

 

Spent yesterday chumming up Silkies. The action wasnít exactly amazing but by the end of the day I had some respectable Silky Shark images for the mag. Eli wrangled up a cute little two footer and Raf managed to hand cam the action in a way that made it look like a monster. Spent last night sleeping on the couch in the lounge which was the coolest room on the boat. Slept fitfully but woke up feeling ready for some serious shark diving. Testing out my vocal chords it seems that Iím a croaky version of my old self today which is good for me and probably for Eli who has had to do all the talking lately.

At 9 oíclock the Captain told me that he wanted to pull anchor and head in at 11. This was a blow and I wasnít sure why he was cutting our charter short. He seemed pretty grumpy so maybe he had some grievance with us that I wasnít aware of. I quickly woke Eli who couldnít get anywhere with him so we jumped in and swam over to the Oil rig for a last attempt at some filming.

Up current from the rig we found a good sized school of Silkies. They were all around 3 to 5 ft long and wanted nothing to do with us. Repeatedly we kicked out towards them but each time they evaded our efforts to get close enough to film.

Finally I untied one of the chum crates and swam up current from the swirling fish and sharks and shook the hell out of it mimicking a shark tearing at a carcass.

The smaller jacks flocked in and I was soon so surrounded by silver bodies that I could no longer see the oil rig. I was sure that this activity would encourage the sharks to investigate but it was not to be.

Perhaps if the sharks were bigger they may not have felt so threatened by my presence but unfortunately there were no big adults around. I hope they havenít all fallen victim to long-liners.  

Swimming back to the rig I hung in the current snapping grainy shots of the distant school that I hope will convey the sense of the moment. Then feeling the breathing resistance on my reg I kicked up and floated over to the boat.

The captain, in better spirits now, has offered to drop us on another bank on the way home for an extra dive. We have no chum left but if the seabed is shallow enough we might be able to find something to photograph. Hell, itís all bonus footage as far as Iím concerned. We have a story, plenty of pictures, and Iíve got my voice back. Life could be way worse.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

New Shark Pictures

May 30th, 2006

 

In three days time I leave to begin filming Summer of the Sharks. We have big plans for the new Shark Divers TV series that this film will lead into. As soon as the movie has been shot the crew will begin the laborious task of editing the footage and hopefully turning our vague ideas and lofty aspirations into a watchable and entertaining shark film. While this is taking place I will return home and start editing the new shark pictures that I will have taken during the trip. We are planning some unique chumming sessions so we really have no idea what species of sharks will be photographed but its a fair guess that there wont be any Great White Shark Pictures until later in the year (but it would be one hell of a story if a Great White Shark showed up to lunch in the southern Caribbean). If we're very lucky we may get Mako shark pictures but there are no guarantees. So, unless both my cameras flood I should have some new images loaded by the end of June.

While I'm out of touch with the world I'll be working on a new section of Elasmodiver dedicated to the Shark Champions; those fearless ambassadors of the elasmo world who battle everyone from politicians to fishermen to help protect the worlds dwindling shark populations. The idea is to create a database of shark protection organizations that readers can wade through until they find the one best suited to their own ethics and agendas. Each company intro will have a link straight to their joining page so that anyone inspired by the work that they are doing can easily join up and add their support. Keep an eye open for it.

 

For the Sharks,

Andy Murch

 


Assuming the worst about sharks

May 25th, 2006

 

They were busy devouring anything that they could fit into their mouths millions of years before Homo sapiens walked the earth. Even now they have a reputation for consuming all manner of things outside of their normal diet and examination of their stomach contents has turned up everything from seaweed, to old clothes, to books, and plastic bags.

Man has long been plagued by their existence but they are actually a staple in certain poorer countries where their meat is dried, salted, and preserved for long journeys. They are considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures where vast quantities are often consumed.

They have a much lower birth rate than bony fishes and are extremely rare in Antarctica but they have adapted to survive in almost every other environment resulting in an exceptionally broad global presence. They can even be found swimming in fresh water.

Larger specimens are extremely dangerous especially when cornered or if food is present and there are many documented instances of attacks resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

In some places protective barriers have been installed to try to keep these evil creatures at bay but invariably they break through or find their way around them with dire consequences.

Probably we will never be rid of these creatures and will have to live in an uneasy truce with the knowledge that they are out there eating everything they can.

GOATS - damn them!

Yes, Iím intentionally misdirecting the reader. The fact is that everything I wrote is true about goats but more commonly expected of sharks. Sharks are actually extremely picky eaters for the most part. They also generally have no desire to get anywhere near humanity. In fact, of the 500 or so species of sharks that swim in the worlds oceans only a handful are seen along beaches where people are likely to be swimming.

A barrier is also a misnomer underwater. The Ďbarriersí that are strategically positioned along beaches where Great White Sharks and other species patrol are not designed to keep sharks out. They are designed to catch sharks and drown them. Sadly this works all too well resulting in a drastic reduction in Apex Predators in areas where seal and other large pinniped species need the sharks to hold their numbers in check.

Shark nets are not actually continuous in the way that a fence is and sharks are just as likely to be seen swimming inside the nets as outside. What would the public think if they realised that the shark nets are trapping sharks near public beaches! Even if you believe that by reducing the number of sharks the nets are a good thing, its worth noting that sharks are not the only victims. Shark nets catch many dolphins and porpoises, as well as turtles, rays, and even the occasional whale.

Iím not trying to encourage a situation that leads to more shark attacks but maybe installing marinelife death traps is not the answer. There is currently a great deal of effort being put into creating viable alternatives to shark nets. The latest idea is to string magnets that repulse the sharks before they get close enough to become entangled. Lets hope that whatever device is eventually used to replace shark nets protects the sharks as well as us.

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

 


 

Summer of the Sharks

May 24th, 2006 by Andy Murch

 

2001 was the year when starvation gave way to feeding frenzy. The media (who were starved for a headline) began feeding on the plight of shark attack victims. What statistically was turning out to be a normal year for shark attacks along the Florida coast was hyped out of proportion to feed the sensationalizing news hounds. This led to a shift in public opinion which ultimately resulted in a complete (and pointless) ban on shark feeding in Florida State waters. Following is a press release of the movie that we are working on that will hopefully capture the public's interest and shed a different light on Americas coastal sharks:

 

Five years after what the media dubbed 'the summer of the sharks', a film crew from Shark Diver Magazine are hitting the road to create their own 'Summer of the Sharks' a movie/documentary in which the team (led by editor Eli Martinez) plans to hunt for sharks all along the eastern seaboard.

The road trip begins in Galveston, Texas where silky, hammerhead, and blacktip sharks are frequently reported by fishermen. Using bait to bring the sharks up to the boat Andy Murch (SDM Photographer and host of Elasmodiver) will attempt to get close up shark pictures while Eli and Rafa Flores (underwater Director of Photography) capture the action on film.

The 2nd stop on the tour is the treacherous waters of North Carolina where deep offshore wrecks are inhabited by ferocious looking Sandtiger sharks. The team hopes to capture some extremely close up images by using rebreathers that don't allow bubbles to spook the sharks. "It's funny" says Andy "that people are absolutely petrified of sharks but most of the time the sharks are so timid that merely blowing bubbles is enough to scare them away".

Taking the 'Shark Bus' down to Louisiana the team then plans to chum for aggressive makos before flying out to St Maarten in an effort to find and photograph the rarely seen blacknose shark.

Andy's take on Summer of the Sharks: "The movie isn't about sharks, its about the dream we have to share the sea with these incredible creatures. Call it an obsession if you like but its what we do, and this is a chance for people to see into our world. The camera will always be rolling so the fear and adrenalin will be pretty obvious".

Summer of the Sharks will introduce the new TV series Shark Divers, in which the team will head to a different location each week looking for close up encounters with the world's deadliest and most elusive predators.

 

For further information contact;

Shark Diver Magazine

956-782-7969

SharkDiverMag.com

 

 

 


Why Protect Sharks

May 19th, 2006 by Andy Murch

 

What do you know about the fascinating world of sharks and rays? And, why the hell are they important anyway? Well, simply put, if we didn't have sharks in our oceans you wouldnít be able to read this blog. The catastrophic effect that this would have on the food chain would be enough to eventually create an imbalance at a planktonic level.

What most people donít realize is that most of our oxygen comes from the sea not from the rain forest. Burn the Amazon and there would be a tragic loss of species and beauty. Kill the sharks and there would eventually be very few species left all together.

This is how it worksÖ First we fish out the sharks. The next level of life in the ocean (e.g. the tuna) become the new apex predators. Unfortunately, these don't have such a slow, self regulating reproductive cycle as sharks so they multiply rapidly (now that there are no sharks around to keep their numbers in check). The inevitable over abundance of tuna then decimates the species on which they normally feed (e.g. mackerel). The mackerel stocks quickly fall below the level where they can sustain the population of tuna and the tuna start to starve. The lack of mackerel also means that the different varieties of baitfish that are their normal prey go through a massive population explosion. The baitfish then consume the plankton and the planet loses its largest producer of oxygen. Its a primitive model but the logic is sound.

The message is simple: No sharks = no plankton = no oxygen = no people. So you want to go shark fishing?

So, shouldn't we take an interest in Sharks and Rays in order to help protect them (and ourselves). Maybe or maybe we should leave it to our governments or people like myself who are active and vocal about the plight of sharks. That's fine, Iím not expecting any converts just yet but if youíre even vaguely interested in shark behavior, pictures of sharks, what its like to swim with sharks in the ocean, how you can help to protect them, their evolution, and much more, then follow this blog now and then. Or better still, explore Elasmodiver where you can find more shark and ray information than you can poke a spear gun at. Its a massive site that has thousands of shark pictures and links to hundreds of pages that are not all dry boring facts like the ones I just subjected you to.

For the sharks,Andy Murch

 

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