Scoopheads, Alligators and Tiger Tales
I have just returned from a Big Fish Expeditions trip to Tiger Beach and I have to say that Tiger Beach is no longer the best tiger shark dive in the world.
Don't get me wrong, Tiger Beach is as sharky as it always has been with scores of lemon sharks ready to play as soon as the boat drops anchor and plenty of tiger shark action including regular visits from Smiley the resident tiger shark that has a damaged jaw leaving her with a permanent one sided grin.
But there is a new site close to Tiger Beach that is even better for shark action especially if you're looking for dramatic backdrops for your shark portraits.
The reef is named Fish Tales but that's a bit generic for such a great shark diving spot so I'm calling it Tiger Tales for the tiger sharks that regularly wander by.
The site consists of a healthy coral reef in 40ft of clear blue water. It is overrun with packs of bold Caribbean reef sharks and a few resident nurse sharks. There are always some lemons swimming around also and it doesn't take much effort to swell their ranks and bring in the tigers that inhabit the area.
It was normal for us to see all four species of sharks on each dive and we even had a few flybys from one or two large great hammerheads but the hammers were too timid to approach the divers.
All in all, it was a phenomenal week and I can't wait to go back next year. With such great photo ops it was hard to decide what to include in this overview but here are few scenes from that week to give you an idea of how intense the action was:
Even before setting sail for the Bahamas, I was already in shooting mode. I spent a few days chasing American alligators in the swamps of South Florida with Film Maker Joe Romeiro.
As I have no experience shooting big reptiles, I was pretty nervous being around the lizard king and wondered if I should have bought a pole cam with me to put a little distance between me and the gators but even the big animals were reasonably well behaved.
The images (shot with a fisheye lens) are an interesting addition to any shooter's portfolio and after posting them on my Facebook page I was asked if I planned to lead gator trips. Its an intriguing idea but I'll stick with big ocean animals for now.
In March I spent some time in the Darien jungle talking to fishermen about the endemic shark species that live in the area. After a lot of hunting, I was finally able to get the first in-water images of a scoophead shark. This is one of the smaller hammerhead species that has eluded photographers for so long.
Scoophead sharks are far too timid to approach a diver (no matter how much chum is in the water) so to get the shots I spent a lot of time in a small panga shadowing the fishing boats as they pulled in their nets. The scoophead in my images came up on the last day of the trip and after a short negotiation involving the promise of a bottle of rum, the fishermen allowed me to release the ailing shark.
Global shark populations are dwindling and inshore endemic species like the scoophead that have limited ranges are particularly vulnerable to gill netters. Obtaining representative images for conservation initiatives is extremely important.
Its sad to say, but in some ways my expeditions to shoot the world's most illusive and endangered sharks, are my way of recording archival footage of species that may soon be gone.
THE OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARKS OF CAT ISLAND, BAHAMAS.
Another shark that has seen better days is the oceanic whitetip. Virtually eliminated from the Gulf of Mexico, there are few places left where oceanics can be reliably found. One of those places is Cat Island on the eastern edge of the Bahamian chain. In May of this year, I will be joining 7 guests on a week long, land based expedition to dive with these ocean ocean predators and a handful of other shark species that call Cat Island home.
With just a few weeks to go and one spot still open, I am running a last minute special for one lucky diver - $1995. Includes 5 days of boat diving and beach house accommodation on Cat Island. Email me if you want to come: firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer trips and beyond....
On the first weekend of August.... Sharkfest is back!
If you missed the action last year there is a trip report on the epic shark diving that we enjoyed, plus film screenings and fun. This year we're stepping it up by adding a night dive with the sandtiger sharks on our first day. Space on the boat is limited and right now there are only five spots left so sign up now if you want to come. 3 days of shark diving, dorm accommodation, BBQ, film screenings, and a Sharkfest Tee Shirt $640.
Later in August we'll be chasing humboldts and whales in the Sea of Cortez (only 4 spots left). This will no doubt be the most eclectic trip of the year. In a nut shell, we'll be diving Baja's best reefs each day while we cruise north to Loretto. Between dives we'll be scouting for fin whales, sperm whales and pilot whales to jump in the water with. Once we get to Loretto we'll be diving by day and jigging up humboldts in the evenings and hopefully getting in the water to shoot free swimming humboldt squid if everything goes to plan.
As if reefs, whales, squid and sea lions wasn't enough, the operator has agreed to let me try chumming for sharks at some locations. This is a bit of a wild card and we are not sure what species (if any) will show up but I can't go all the way to Baja without looking for sharks.
MALPELO ISLAND FEBRUARY 2012
There are no links or images on the Big Fish Expeditions Website for this one yet so I'll blog about it more in the next update. But to give you a brief idea, at Malpelo (a day's boat ride off the coast of Panama) you can expect to see schooling scalloped hammerheads, silky shaks, Galapagos sharks, random sightings of mantas and whale sharks, and many other pelagic visitors as well as reefs crawling in morays and large stingrays.
But in February and March on the deeper reefs around the rocky island, there is the chance to see enormous Smalltooth Sandtiger Sharks (Odontaspis ferox) which are the sandtiger's big cousin from the depths.
If you think you've seen it all you have to dive Malpelo.
We'll be on the liveaboard Inula. Although I have barely talked to anyone about this trip there are already only 6 spots left so please send me an email if you want more info.
Between expeditions, I'll be enjoying the diving around Vancouver Island with Pinnacle Scuba Adventures. Pinnacle is southern Vancouver Island's newest and most versatile dive charter operator. We'll be diving some of the best sites on the south end of the island and exploring new locations each week throughout the summer. Join us if you're up this way.
For the sharks,