Not just a
huge collection of
Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
to help divers find the best places to encounter the different
species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has
slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on
all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.
now more than 10,000 shark pictures and sections on shark
evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of
reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a
monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are
numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is
now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and
pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be
First published in
Shark Diver Magazine - issue 18 summer 2008
It was bitterly cold. Mind-numbingly so. My air gauge was on
empty confirming what my straining lungs already knew. To complicate
matters, a quick glance at my dive computer revealed that I was at 104ft
looking at seven minutes of much needed decompression before I could safely
break the surface.
The shark that I had been chasing had long since slipped into
the void leaving me feeling curiously vulnerable. I sucked in a final
shallow breath from my empty cylinder and considered my options.
The surface beckoned seductively but I am experienced enough
to know that the short term relief I would feel from kicking upwards and
filling my lungs with cool fresh air would soon give way to the onset of
tingling, numbness, joint pain and an inevitable trip to the nearest
recompression chamber where I would lay in agony waiting for the bubbles in
my blood to shrink back into solution. Even paralysis and death might be
waiting in that direction. No, surfacing was not an option.
I shook the icicles from my mind and wondered wryly how I had
ended up in this dark and lonely place.
I was on my way to New Brunswick to look for Porbeagle
Sharks. Baie Comeau, favourite haunt of the rarely photographed Greenland
Shark, lay on route providing me with the opportunity to shoot two illusive
species in one trip. I contacted Sylvain Sirois the local shark guide and in
no time, here I was descending into the jade green waters of the St Lawrence
The first shark appeared almost immediately as if it had been
waiting for us to jump in. It was soon swarmed by divers and bathed in
incandescence from too many dive lights it bolted quickly for the safety of
My chances of getting a good shot amid so much excitement
were small so in my shark obsessed fervour I outpaced the other divers and
disappeared into the fog. I swam alone for a long time crisscrossing the
muddy bay. At 60ft I finally found two massive sharks slowly swimming
Multiple Greenland Sharks in the same frame would make an
admirable addition to my portfolio and I tried desperately to squeeze off an
image or two before they separated. Frustratingly, the autofocus on my
camera could not pick up enough information in the plankton saturated water
and the shutter simply refused to trip.
The sharks, both females I think, drifted apart and I
followed the lighter of the two into deeper water. In retrospect, it would
have been prudent to follow the darker shark up into the shallows but I was
looking for a vividly contrasting shot (not safety) and I kicked down after
the huge departing tail fin.
There is a knack to chasing sharks. All out pursuit with
rapid and explosive fin kicks is unlikely to have the desired result.
Invariably the shark will speed up keeping it tantalizingly out of reach.
The key is to adopt a powerful yet leisurely kicking style while maintaining
an almost meditative breathing pattern. Although the shark may pick up on
your secretly pounding heart, you will have a way better chance of falling
into step beside it if you take slow shallow breaths.
By the time I had achieved this uncomfortable state we were
much deeper than my computer was happy with at this late stage of the dive.
At 100ft I could no longer deny my starving muscles. I composed one final
shot during which the shark turned and almost knocked the camera from my
freezing hands, and then I began gulping in enormous breaths.
Now I was kicking much harder to keep pace with the agitated
shark. As a result of all the heavy breathing, my air supply had dwindled to
around 700psi and I knew that I needed to head back really soon. The shark
was outpacing me with each subtle flick of its caudal fin. Rather than break
off pursuit, I tried to increase my gait even further and then the
unthinkable happened. Without warning my regulator froze open and started to
Air belched out from my second stage uncontrollably. With
bulging cheeks and lungs at full expansion I spat out the mouth piece and
watched in horror as the precious gas shot skyward in a violent stream of
bubbles. In no time at all it slowed to a trickle and then stopped, leaving
me with no air at all.
Fortunately, I donít have much of a panic reflex. Once while
mountaineering, I lost my footing and tumbled 300ft down an ice slope. I was
exquisitely aware that below me lay 2000ft of vertical headwalls and jagged
outcrops of rock. Survival was unlikely but even after I lost contact with
the cliff I continued to flail towards it with my axes in the hope of
somehow slowing my descent. There was no question of my giving in to panic.
While conscious, I would fight for survival.
That journey ended in a spine crushing stop on a very narrow
ice shelf. The one that I faced today would be much slower and would require
all the self discipline I could muster.
I knew that if the rest of the divers were still in the water
they had to be somewhere behind me along the slope. Staying calm, I turned
in that direction and settled into a loping frog kick stroke that carried me
Surely the group would still be floating around close to
Sylvainís dive boat. And, there was a second group that may have descended
by now and could be heading in my direction.
The blanket of emerald fog ahead of me remained completely
featureless; devoid of divers with their precious cargo of air tanks. What
if they had all swum the other way inadvertently increasing the space
between us? I put that thought aside and continued to kick.
Twenty seconds into the diagonal ascent the expanding air in
my lungs began to hurt a little. Reluctantly, I breathed out enough to
equalize the pressure and tried not to think about breathing in. CO2 build
up was becoming a problem. Carbon dioxide returning to the lungs is what
makes the body want to take its next breath (not the lack of oxygen). It
took all my will power to stifle the increasing urge to breathe. I tried to
concentrate on my kick cycles and continued to look desperately for divers
in the mist.
Onward and upward, 50ft, 45ft, 40ft. Where were they? My
lungs were screaming!
What felt like an hour but was probably less than a minute
passed in an agony of diminishing self control. Combined with the need to
breathe I was beginning to feel an increasing lethargy and dizziness. In the
back of my mind I knew that my plans would soon have to change.
Decompression sickness or not, the surface held endless amounts of air. If I
did not head up soon I might lose consciousness underwater and simply sink
to the bottom before I could make it all the way up. I needed to see divers
within the next few seconds or it would be too late.
When I hit 30ft the fog began to open up a little and far
ahead of me I finally spotted the second group descending on their dive.
They were so distant that I had no idea if I would reach them in my oxygen
deprived state. I could feel my hands beginning to flap aimlessly while the
nerves in my stomach twisted my intestines into knots.
These feelings continued for two or three seconds and then
off to my left I caught a glimpse of my friend and fellow shark photographer
Maris Kazmers kicking after a Greenland Shark. Kaz was even further away
than the group but I had a momentary urge to kick over to him and snap a
couple of shots of his shark before lapsing into mindlessness.
Ignoring that irrational idea I closed to within twenty feet
of the other divers and started squeaking into my empty regulator to get
their attention. One of them looked up briefly but not in my direction so
with a final all or nothing burst of speed I lunged towards the nearest
person and plucked their alternate regulator from their BCD.
That first long deep breath of oxygen rich air was
incredible. I sprayed spent air outwards and greedily sucked more into my
The inexperienced donor, feeling the unusual tug from behind
rolled around and immediately pulled the regulator from my grasp. I was
expecting this reaction and let it fall away. Turning towards a second diver
I gave the signal for wanting to share his air. I waited patiently until he
offered me a regulator then I motioned for the three of us to ascend towards
the anchor line where I hoped to find Sylvain.
Sure enough he was waiting in the shallows and I thanked the
two divers that had given me air and swam towards Sylvain with a big grin on
my empty mouth. There was a brief confused look on his face followed by a
mad scramble to find and donate his alternate air source. I waited bemused
now, resigned to the idea of being helped out of the water, aware that I
would have some sheepish explaining to do. So be it.
Sylvain waited patiently with me while I completed my deco
stop and then the two of us ascended and climbed back aboard his boat.
Much laughter followed but I learned a valuable lesson that
day. Sharks are definitely not the most dangerous aspect of shark diving.
Neither is extreme cold or poorly maintained equipment. The most dangerous
thing that a shark diver must contend with is shark fever. Mountaineers call
it summit fever. Wreck divers that risk all to bring back a broken plate
from notoriously dangerous wrecks call it china fever. Call it
what you want but beware of the madness that drives men beyond self
preservation in the pursuit of their passion.
Greenland Shark 001
For further information on the Greenland Shark including a species i.d.
guide, distribution, behavior and info on diving with Greenland Sharks in the wild please visit the
Greenland Shark Information Page.