About Me

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I am a Shark and Big Animal Photographer and the Founder of Big Fish Expeditions. I also pilot research submersibles on rare occasions but primarily I photograph sharks and rays. The shark images that I take have been used in many commercial publications but most importantly I try to concentrate on shooting rare and endangered species of sharks for conservation initiatives. It is a labour of love.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

TEN WAYS TO AVOID A SHARK ATTACK

shark attack


Statistically, you have a far greater chance of being injured while driving to the dive site than when you're bobbing around in the water surrounded by hungry sharks. However, it doesn't hurt to learn some basic shark diving etiquette in order to minimize the risks.

RULE #1 BLACK IS BACK
Sharks are attracted to bright colors. Most sharks are fish eaters and fish tend to be silvery, yellow or a variety of other iridescent colors. Fortunately, modern wetsuit makers favor black neoprene but fin, snorkel and mask manufacturers delight in making brightly hued accessories. Although you may look great in pink fins, think like a ninja if you're attending a shark dive.
The same principle applies to exposed skin. Wear dark gloves to help the sharks distinguish between your hands and the bait.

diver in black with a large oceanic whitetip shark

RULE #2 GET AWAY FROM THE SURFACE
If you're attending an organized shark feed, the sharks will likely hear the boat arriving and start circling long before the divers enter the water. In this case, its important to get underwater as soon as possible.
Objects floating at the surface tend to be either sick or dead animals or debris that host small fishes. All of these attract the attention of sharks.
If you have to stay on the surface, keep your head underwater at all times so that you can see what is approaching you from below.

diver on the surface fending off a shark attack

RULE #3 AVOID SHARK DIVING AT DUSK
Although shark diving operators entice sharks to feed during the day, many sharks naturally start hunting at dusk. Once the sun begins to sink towards the horizon many species become more alert and agitated as they prepare for their nightly hunt. Shark attacks are far more likely at this time so its a good idea to get out of the water at least an hour before sunset.

sharks are more likely to attack at dusk

RULE #4 WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS
Not all sharks give warnings before they attack but some do. Watch for agitated behavior in the form of fast bursts of speed, jerky movements, lowered pectoral fins and exaggerated side-to-side head movements. These all indicate that a shark is feeling stressed. If you encounter this no matter how subtle it may seem, slowly back away and stop doing any activity that may make the shark feel threatened.

bronze whaler shark with pectoral fins down

RULE #5 BECOME ONE WITH THE REEF
Sharks respond to movement so it is a good idea to remain as still as possible. 
Most shark feeds take place on the sea floor. Divers descend with a little more weight than they would normally wear so that they can kneel comfortably on the sand without bobbing around in the current or surge. Even better than sitting on the sand is to put your back against the reef but make sure you are not damaging any corals in the process.
In blue water feeds such as when chumming for oceanic whitetip sharks at Andros Island in the Bahamas, the seabed may be more than 1000m below you. In this case, it is important to maintain neutral buoyancy. Invariably, the diver that descends deepest, gets the most attention from the attending sharks.

diver and tiger shark next to the reef to avoid a shark attack

RULE #6 MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT
White sharks, tiger sharks and many types of reef sharks hunt by sneaking up on their chosen prey. They will often only attack if they have the advantage of surprise so if you make it clear that you can see the sharks around you, you have less chance that they will think of you as potential prey.

diver making eye contact with a shark to avoid an attack

RULE #7 NEVER CORNER A SHARK
If you see a shark in a cave or swimming close to a reef wall, avoid blocking its exit. A shark attack can take place simply because a shark is trying to escape but has nowhere to go except through the diver.

cornered grey reef shark

RULE #8 AVOID MURKY WATER
Diving in turbid water is asking for trouble. Not only is it harder to keep an eye on where the sharks are, they may have trouble differentiating between you and the food if their vision is obscured.

sharks in bad visibility may lead to an attack

RULE #9 BRING A BIG STICK BUT DON'T USE IT
During a shark feed, its quite normal for the attending sharks to approach all of the divers to see if they have any food. More often than not, they pass nonchalantly by but sometimes they give divers a little bump with their noses to see what get dislodged or just to see what we're all about - think of it as an exploratory prod from an animal that has no fingers. 
If you are uncomfortable with this level of contact, bring along a short length of PVC pipe (or better still a big camera) and hold it in the direction of the shark as it approaches. This is usually enough of an incentive to make the shark turn long before it makes contact.
Never jab the shark with the pole as this could cause an aggressive response.

diver and hammerhead

RULE #10 DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME
It may be tempting to throw a bag of chum in your boat and head out to sea on your own but without proper training and experience this is asking for trouble. Attracting sharks that are not used to being fed is more dangerous because they will be extremely unpredictable.
Always go shark diving with a reputable, experienced operator. Each encounter is different, with its own unique variables and potential risks. Rather than learning the hard way, join a trip with a company that has a track record of safe encounters.

shark diving trips



shark photographer Andy Murch
Author: Andy Murch

Andy is a professional big animal photographer and the founder of BigFishExpeditions.com
Over the last two decades Andy has photographed more species of sharks than virtually anyone alive. His passion for sharks and their survival has led him to create the elasmodiver.com shark and ray field guide and PredatorsinPeril.org


Monday, March 9, 2015

A BIG YEAR FOR BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS!



When I last had time to write a newsletter I had just returned from an action packed trip to Tiger Beach. Since then, we have enjoyed so many incredible encounters that it is going to be tricky cramming them all into a few short paragraphs with enough space left to tell you about our brand new Big Fish Expeditions. But here goes:

AMAZING SHARK ACTION IN FALSE BAY 
The first stop on our back-to-back summer schedule was our annual South African Shark Safari. This year was our best yet: not only did we see spectacular aerial displays by multiple great white sharks at Seal Island, we also had intense activity around the cages, immersed ourselves in a kelp forest overrun with sevengill sharks and all manner of cat sharks and spent a day with 25+ blue sharks and four makos. Check out some of the pictures in the full trip report here: False Bay Shark Safari 2014 Trip Report

Breaching great whte shark, False Bay, South Africa.

BAIT BALL MAYHEM ON THE SARDINE RUN
After the False Bay Shark Safari, we drove east with some of our guests that wanted to experience more of South Africa. It was our first year on the Wild Coast and after this year's trip I can't wait to get back there. Between exploratory dives on the reefs, chumming sessions attended by beefy bronze whaler sharks, snorkeling sessions with humpbacks and better bait ball action that I could ever have anticipated, we definitely nailed it! Follow this link to all the action: Sardine Run 2014 Trip Report


BASKING SHARK BUST
I will always tell it like it is. We got completely skunked on our Scottish Basking Shark Expedition this summer. Next year we going a month later when the baskers should be there in force. Basking sharks are always tricky to find but we have the right boat, the right crew, the right attitude and the right intel to find these elusive giants in 2015. Our guests seem to think so too as we only have one spot left!

SALMON SHARK SUCCESS!!!
This was a trip that I thought might be difficult but as soon as we arrived at the lodge we saw salmon sharks breaking the surface! Follow this link to read what an amazing adventure it turned out to be, with salmon sharks, salmon, great reef diving and spectacular topside vistas: Salmon Sharks 2014 Trip Report 

Salmon shark diving

WHALE SHARK WONDERLAND
July is always a month for big animal encounters in North America. After just 4 hours back in Canada after our salmon shark trips, I jumped straight back on a plane to fly to Mexico for our annual Whale Shark Expedition. From there I went immediately onto yet another trip so I didn't have time to write a 2014 Whale Shark Trip Report but as I have come to expect from Isla Mujeres, the whale sharks showed up in force and did not disappoint any of our guests! 
For two weeks we had whale sharks every single day. There were also a few mantas here and there, schooling mobula rays and schooling cownose rays. Isla Mujeres is the undisputed Whale Shark Capital of the World! Join us in 2015 for what I am sure will be another great season: Whale Sharks 2015


WORLD CLASS BELUGA WHALE ACTION!
As our whale shark guests departed for home, I boarded a plane bound for Churchill, Canada. 
Better known as the 'Polar Bear Capital of the World', Churchill also has the world's most accessible population of wild beluga whales. We spent one epic week bobbing around in Hudson Bay with curious and exceedingly playful white whales. True to its word, Churchill also delivered great topside polar bear encounters and we enjoyed surreal excursions into the tundra in search of other arctic wildlife. I can't wait to get back there next year for more time interacting with the 'canaries of the sea'. Read about our fantastic beluga adventure here: Beluga Whale and Polar Bear 2014 Trip Report


INTENSE MEXICAN CROCODILE ACTION!
After belugas I flew straight back to Mexico to lead two back-to-back crocodile expeditions to Chinchorro Atoll. Crocs are amazing players; as fearless as they are ferocious, we were able to snorkel right up to them for some amazing encounters. Plus, we got to see manatees on both trips. Read all about it:Mexican Crocodile 2014 Trip Report


BLUES, MAKOS AND LEOPARD SHARKS.
At the end of the summer we tried our luck down in California with the blues and makos. Although we got a mako fly-by and spent some quality time with a boisterous blue shark, it was unseasonably warm when we arrived so the action was not what we had hoped. Fortunately, after the trip, most of our guests were able to join us in San Diego for some fantastic encounters with inshore sharks. As it wasn't part of the trip I didn't write a report about it but if you want to see more images please follow us on Facebook. Everyday we try to upload an image or two from our latest adventures:Facebook.com/bigfishexpeditions


THRESHER SHARKS ON DEMAND!
After some much needed down time, we headed to magical Malapascua Island in the Philippines. Monad Shoal (a 15 minute boat ride from tiny Malapascua) is the best location in the world to dive with thresher sharks.
For six mornings we dove the shoal hoping to see pelagic threshers and six mornings in a row the threshers showed up for us!
As well as threshers, we also found coral catsharks, banded bamboo sharks and all manner of otherworldly macro critters. I can't wait to repeat this trip next year!
Check out some of the images from this year's fantastically successful trip: Thresher Sharks 2014 Trip Report

Thresher shark diving in Malapascua

NEW TRIPS ON THE BIG FISH CALENDAR!

NILE CROCODILE EXPEDITION
At the end of the summer I finally had a chance to catch my breath and plan some new adventures. After two great weeks with American Crocodiles, a Nile Crocodile Expedition to Botswana was the only way to one-up that experience.
Nile crocs are not a species to be treated casually. Diving with them in relative safety requires a great deal of skill and expertise. Consequently, we have partnered with South African Big Animal Expert Walter Bernardis who has more time in the water with Nile Crocs that almost anyone alive.
We are taking a very small group of skilled divers that have racked up plenty of bottom time around big animals. Our first trip filled almost immediately so please keep an eye on our Nile Crocodile Expedition page for further dates.


BLUES, MAKOS AND MOBULAS OF THE AZORES
I also wanted to add a new location for blues and makos. In the past we have run trips to Rhode Island and California. Both of those locations are great for shark action but why repeat the same trips when there are even more interesting places to chase these species!
So, we are heading to the Azores - a remote (but easy to get to) group of islands in middle of the North Atlantic that belong to Portugal.
Why the Azores? Firstly, the Azorean island of Pico has a very healthy population of blue and mako sharks. Secondly, the Azores also provides access to world famous Princess Alice Banks - a deep reef far from shore inhabited by huge Pelagic Mobula Rays. Unlike smaller mobulas that bolt at the sight of divers, this species is extremely friendly and curious, allowing divers to swim next to them within touching distance. I have been looking forward to running a trip to Princess Alice Banks for many years. Join me there in 2016 on our first one: Azores Shark Adventure.

Devil Ray Diving

THE 2015 LINE UP:
The first half of 2015 is completely sold out but we have a few spots left if you are looking for a world class big animal encounter later in the year.

Dive with Great Whites, Sevengill Sharks, Makos, Blue Sharks, 5 species of Catsharks and Spotted Gully Sharks in False Bay, South Africa.Two spots left in on our False Bay Shark Safari in June: Ten species of sharks in 5 days of diving plus a full day game drive to shoot the big five!
Expect, breaching great whites, lumbering sevengill sharks, a good variety of catsharks and blues and makos. You can't beat this trip!
Join us for the greatest shoal on earth. We have 4 spots left on our excellent East London/Port Saint John Sardine Run Trip. Between bait balls, we will also be chumming up bronze whaler sharks and other Wild Coast sharks that are attracted to our slick. Last year's expedition was amazing!
One spot only on our Scottish Basking Shark Expedition. If you want to dive with the second largest shark in the sea. Join us in the Inner Hebrides next July!
Swim with the largest aggregation of whale sharks on planet earth in the warm, blue waters of the Mexican Caribbean. 
You may also see mantas, schooling mobula rays, cownose rays and even the occasional sailfish. You will definitely see whale sharks! 5 spots left for next July: Whale Sharks of Isla Mujeres
Join us on our second year of beluga whales. On our first trip we had exceptional encounters with both belugas and polar bears. Next year will be a trip to remember! Beluga Whales of Churchill5 spots left!
Three spots left on our Mexican Crocodile Expedition. This encounter is an amazing opportunity to get up close to American crocodiles in the wild. If you are looking for the ultimate in dramatic images, join our newest trip leader Pro Shooter Terry Steeley in Mexico next August. 
This is your chance to enter the water with enormous Great White Sharks. Join me next September for a very close encounter that you will never forget! We leave for Guadalupe Island from Ensenada - just a few hours south of San Diego. 5 spots left!
Due to popular demand, we have added a second week to our Midriff Islands Big Animal Safari. Expect great reef diving in the Sea of Cortez plus encounters with pilot whales, baleen whales, whale sharks, humboldt squid, Mexican horn sharks and much more!
Join us next December in the Thresher Shark Capital of the World! Plus experience world class macro diving. Six days of threshers, bamboo sharks, octos and macro mayhem. Don't miss this awesome trip!

Overwhelmed? Me too, but life is too short to procrastinate. Join us in 2015 for a big animal adventure you will never forget!

See you down there.

Andy Murch Trip Leader

Andy Murch is a professional big animal photographer and the founder of BigFishExpeditions.com

Monday, May 5, 2014

MORE WILDLY SUCCESSFUL BIG ANIMAL EXPEDITIONS!


Whale shark at Roca Partida

'Wildly Successful' pretty much sums up this year so far. Our 2014 expeditions have been wildly successful! As I mentioned in my last update, we found the Killer Whales we were looking for in Norway, we had two amazing Great Hammerhead weeks in the Bahamas and we swam with hunting Sailfish and False Killer Whales in Mexico. Since then. we've added two more great expeditions to our list of successes. Read on to find out more:

SOCORRO & ROCA PARTIDA
We enjoyed a great week of world class encounters at Socorro Island and Roca Partida aboard the MV Southern Sport.
Not only did we see Giant mantas, Galapagos sharks, scalloped hammerheads, silvertips and whitetips in abundance, this year we had an (out of season) whale shark circling Roca Partida to the delight of everyone on the liveaboard. All the action and some great images can be seen here: Socorro and Roca Partida 2014

Dive Socorro

INSANE TIGER SHARK ACTION AT TIGER BEACH
This was our best year ever for tiger sharks at that infamous sand bank in the northern Bahamas that has come to be known as Tiger Beach. There were so many sharks that it was impossible to keep track of them all but at one point I counted at least 5 tiger sharks, a handful of nurse sharks, more than a dozen lemon sharks and countless Caribbean reef sharks. If you want to see the images of that crazy adventure, please follow this link: Tiger Beach 2014 Trip Report

Dive with three tiger sharks at Tiger Beach.

PREDATORS IN PERIL BAJA 2014
After Tiger Beach we headed down to California and San Felipe in Northern Baja, Mexico. This was partly a scouting trip for California shark species and partly an opportunity for me to take more shark fishing pictures for the Predators in Peril Project.
While in Long Beach, California, I went out chasing makos with expert shark tagger Keith Poe and Captain Chris Wade who will be our host for our California mako shark trip this September. The water was amazingly clear compared to other places where you can sometimes see makos and we saw at least ten different shortfin mako sharks in a single day. It was great trip and I'm looking forward to coming back for our Big Fish Expeditions California Mako Shark Adventure. Join us in Long Beach this September!

mako diving California

After California we continued into Baja. Mexican shark fishermen head out of sleepy San Felipe to gill nest for a number of different food fish. Unfortunately they inadvertently pull up a number of different sharks that they collectively refer to as Cazon or Tollos. The bycatch generally includes a number of smoothhound shark species plus Pacific sharpnose sharks, mall blacktips, juvenile hammerheads and tope (soupfin) sharks.
Some of these species are heavily fished and are in danger of depletion in parts of their range. Our intention was to find out what species they were catching and at what times of year. There is virtually no accessible catch data available so a field trip was the only way to gather this kind of information.
As I have come to expect, the fishermen were cautious but approachable and I managed to talk my way onto one of the fishing boats to get a broader understanding of their efforts. While I was onboard I saw a number of grey smoothhound sharks come up in the nets. Sadly only one was still swimming and after a quick negotiation with the Captain I returned it to the ocean and took a few images as it swam off into the jade green waters of the northern gulf.
We left San Felipe with the intel and contacts we needed to plan a second trip that will hopefully result in some images of new species and the release of far more sharks.

Grey smoothhound shark San Felipe Mexico.

A BUSY SUMMER AHEAD!
May will be a busy month at Big Fish Expeditions HQ on Vancouver Island because at the beginning of June we launch into an insane summer season of back to back shark trips. Here is the run down if you are looking for a great adventure:

FALSE BAY SHARK SAFARI June 1-8. 1 SPOT AVAILABLE
Flying Great Whites, Sevengill Sharks, Catsharks and Blues and Makos!

THE SOUTH AFRICAN SARDINE RUN June 8-18 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Baitball action with Bronze Whalers, Blacktips, dolphins, feeding Brydes Whales and diving birds.

SCOTTISH BASKING SHARKS June 22-28 SOLD OUT
Migrating basking sharks around the Isle of Mull, Scotland.

ALASKAN SALMON SHARKS July 6-12. 1 SPOT LEFT, July 12-18 2 SPOTS LEFT.
Salmon Sharks, Bear watching, Salmon dives and exploratory reef diving in pristine Alaska.

MEXICAN WHALE SHARKS July 20-25 5 SPOTS AVAILABLE. July 25-30 SOLD OUT
The largest aggregation of Whale Sharks on Planet Earth.

CANADIAN BELUGA WHALES August 3-9 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Encounters with thousands of friendly Beluga Whales in Hudson Bay.

MEXICAN CROCODILES August 17-23, 24-30. SOLD OUT
Snorkeling with American Crocodile at Chinchorro Banks, Mexico.

CALIFORNIA MAKOS AND BLUES August 31 - September 4. 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Makos, Blue Sharks, Angel Sharks, Horn Sharks and More.

THRESHER SHARKS OF MALAPSCUA
thresher shark diving

As soon as the exhaustion has worn off from our summer expeditions, it'll be time to head to marvelous Malapascua Island in the Philippines. Monad Shoal (a 10min boat ride from tiny Malapascua) is the best location in the world to dive with thresher sharks.
Around Malapscua you can also find whitespotted bamboo sharks, banded bamboo sharks, coral catsharks and all manner of crazy macro critters like pygmy seahorses, blue ringed octopuses, mating mandarinfish and reefs ablaze with beautiful orange soft corals.
As I write this, we have four spot left on the expedition. Join us there! Thresher Shark Expedition.

Dive with bamboo sharks

LOOKING FAR, FAR AHEAD...
In 2015 we'll be back at many of these great locations, starting with another chance to swim with orcas in Norway, cavort with Melonheaded Whales in French Polynesia and enjoy two back to back Great Hammerhead trips in the Bahamas. All of these are either full or almost full so please email us if you'd like to snag one of the last spots.
There are opportunities to enjoy world class big animal dives with us throughout the year as we now have 20 expeditions on the schedule and more in the planning stages! To see what you can join and when, please visit our schedule page: BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS DIVE SCHEDULE

  
  
 Dive with Great Whites, Sevengill Sharks, Makos, Blue Sharks, 5 species of Catsharks and Spotted Gully Sharks in False Bay, South Africa. 
  
  
  

INTRODUCING THE HUMPBACK WHALES OF THE SILVER BANKS
I am very excited to announce that in March 2016 we'll be spending a week swimming with humpback whales and their playful calves at the world famous Silver Banks in the Dominican Republic.
News of the trip has already got out so if you would like to enjoy a world class adventure in the company of whales, please let us know as soon as possible: Humpback Whale Expedition 2016.

Humpback Whale snorkeling, Silver Banks, Dominican Republic

That's it from me. Time to break out my drysuit and enjoy some great Vancouver Island kelp forest diving while the visibility is still spectacular.
See you down there,
Andy


Andy Murch is a professional big animal photographer and the founder of BigFishExpeditions.com