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|WETPIXEL BAHAMAS SHARK EXPEDITION, MARCH 27 - APRIL 4, 2005|
Wetpixel Bahamas Shark Expedition 2005, with Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures
If you're interested in underwater photography, check out Wetpixel.com!
If I had to write a personals ad for last week, here's how it would read: Hey there! Any ladies out there want to hang out me, four software engineers, one deepwater engineer, an architect, a Swiss businessman, and a marine biologist, all of whom have a passion for underwater photography? We'll be on a small boat for a week with 1,000 pounds of stinky bait, and there will be plenty of sharks in the water. We plan on spending daylight in the water, evenings glued to our computers, and nights in bunks, having the crap beat out of us by potentially stormy seas.
Fine, then. All but one of the guys who signed up are married, anyway. I wonder how a guy manages to convince his wife (or vice versa) that swimming with sharks is, in fact, something that you might want to pay money for. Anecdotes suggest that it's not always easy. :)
Jim and Anna Abernethy run a fine scuba diving operation out of Palm Beach, Florida, and are unique in their ability to stick interested parties in front of large tiger sharks, great hammerhead sharks, lemon sharks, bull sharks, and reef sharks -- all in Bahamian blue water, without a cage. Our group of nine photographers have ten digital SLR rigs with us, and while the boat feels cramped with so much gear on board, we're having such great experiences in the water that it doesn't really matter. On an shark expedition like this -- with cooperative weather, a daily swim with large sharks becomes reality for seven full days.
Comments on this site? I'd love to hear from you!
Group photo from the Wetpixel 2005 Bahamas Shark Expedition [1600 pixel version]
|MARCH 27 - APRIL 04, 2004: TRIP JOURNAL|
March 28, 2005 - 16 Gig Refuge - 76°F
Through a serendipitous turn of events, we broke ground on a new dive site this afternoon. After a mild crossing, we reached West End at 3am to check out of immigration and customs (and by "we," I mean Jim Abernethy and the crew).
In the morning, we discovered that the forecast was predicting 40 knot winds (and by "we," I mean the people who woke up before noon) and were forced to seek refuge behind an island to wait for calmer seas. On a normal Bahamas dive trip, waiting for calmer seas means sitting around in the galley watching DVDs, but this is a WETPIXEL SHARK EXPEDITION. Most of our group jumped into the rough seas to photograph juvenile green and loggerhead research turtles we brought to release into the ocean. And, of course, since we're a shark expedition, the crew dumped a couple of bait crates into the shallow, sandy area.
At 4pm, Doug's voice rang out across the salon (at least an octave higher than normal): "TIGER! TIGER! TIGER!" Jimmy must have teleported out from his bunk where he had been napping, because he was suddenly outside. Two small tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) had arrived and were circling the boat slowly. Doug jumped in to retreive Karl, who was on the bottom taking pictures of who-knows-what, and within a few minutes, Gray had a snapper head out on a line, ready for some shark wranglin'. By 4:30, there we had seen four tiger sharks, one lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), and a huge nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). One of the tigers was bigger than the rest (probably 11' or so) and had a sharply notched fin, so we dubbed it "Nicky" (its sex yet to be determined), and man, was the action good. We had tiger sharks wrangled up onto the swim step, and I filled my camera's frame quite a few times -- even while using a full-frame fisheye lens (which means that the shark was within merely inches, for you non-photographers out there).
The nine of us, plus Jimmy, shot 16 gigabytes of tiger shark goodness, so we later crisstened the new dive site, "16 Gigabyte Refuge." It was a great start to a week of shark diving -- and we haven't even been in the water with them yet.
In the evening, we had a proper shark dive briefing, followed by a presentation (by me) on shark photography tips.
Shark Count: 4 tigers, 1 lemon, 1 nurse
March 29, 2005 - 16 Gig Refuge, Tiger Beach - 76°F
In the morning, teams A and B hopped into the water at 16 Gig Refuge (staggered entries). Five tiger sharks circled the Shear Water, but only one or two swam down our underwater "V" formation at a time; most of us in the water had no idea that there were so many in the water with us, because visibility was terrible. It was most of the group's first close encouter with a tiger shark, and for a few, it was the first close shark encounter of any kind! It was quite an introduction to sharks, and everyone came out of the water very excited. Marty, who was part of team A, surfaced at noon -- two and a half hours after he jumped in. "I just came up when I was down to 400 psi," he said. Time flies when you're surrounded by tiger sharks.
At noon, we pulled anchor and drove back to Tiger Beach, which had improved a lot since the day before. The bait crates went in, and ten minutes later a few large lemon sharks showed up, their pale yellow sheen showing strongly even through eight feet of water. About an hour later, an enormous shadow made its way to the boat, followed by a much smaller one: Tiger shark regulars "Emma" and "Baby Cakes" had arrived to play. Emma, a fearless, slow-moving 13 foot female, and Baby Cakes, a gentle, 10 foot female, are both "players" of the most playful kind. Jimmy immediately dumped all nine of us in the water, and we spent the next 100 minutes with the two tiger sharks and four or five large lemon sharks. Lemon sharks sniff around without regard for our presence and often end up between legs, but one quickly learns that they are harmless despite their toothy grins.
After surfacing from the long dive, ten notebook computers appeared out of nowhere, and we all began Photoshopping furiously. Hours later, it's still going on, so it's a good thing there are no significant others on this trip. I've discovered that sausage-festing = unabashed unleashing of one's inner geek.
Shark Count: 11 tigers, 6 lemons, 1 nurse
March 30, 2005 - Mt. Mokarran South
The practical jokes are starting. Jimmy put the hose between his legs and let out a stream of sun-warmed water onto James and Chris, who were both facing the other way on the swim step, photographing tiger sharks. James looked up, and in sheer terror jumped off of the swim step into the ocean. Now we know: James prefers tiger-shark-infested waters to golden showers. :)
Jimmy's also been having fun winding up Jurg. I walked by yesterday and overheard one of their conversations.
We spent most of the morning and early afternoon wrangling tigers and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) onto the swim platform. The weather today was perfect: the sea was flat calm, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Underwater, we could have used a bit more current (to bring in sharks from further away), but enough came in to make things interesting. There were at least five tiger sharks, ranging in size from six feet to about ten feet long, two 10' great hammerheads, and two small bull sharks. We sat three at a time on the swim step, shooting blindly underwater while sharks beached themselves onto the swim platform right in front of us. James even scored a tiger shark tooth scratch on his dome shade!
After wrangling for a couple of hours, Chris, Jimmy and I jumped in and attached ourselves to hang lines just below the surface, and over the course of the next two hours, the rest of the group slipped in quietly. Eventually, eight of us were in the water photographing sharks as they came in on the wrangling line. More than one of our guests said things like, "what the HELL am I doing?" before entering the water -- but they got in, nonetheless. :) Four or five photographers stayed attached to a line extending out tens of yards from the boat, which was connected to a weighted hang line attached to the stern. Some of the guys didn't have experience in the shallow blue, and it definitely took an entire dive for them to ... get everything they had to think about under control. But by the end of the dive, people seemed to re-gain control of bouyancy. To get the most out of this trip, you have to be comfortable in the blue -- so practice, if you're coming next year! :)
None of the sharks came close enough for any award-winning images; you really have to be in the water with a camera to appreciate how close you have to be to a large shark to make it fill the frame.
Shark Count: 16 tigers, 2 great hammerheads, 2 bulls, 6 lemons, 1 nurse
March 31, 2005 - Tiger Beach & El Dorado
It's 11:50pm right now, and Chris (sitting next to me) just said, "Man. I'm still on a high from today. I'm not sure I'll be able to get any sleep!"
Tiger Beach was *glorious* this morning: clear water, a bright, sunny sky, and lots of sharks. At least eight large lemon sharks swam around (underfoot, as usual) while five tiger sharks came in and out of view. Two of the tigers were most active: Baby Cakes, sticking her nose in front of many of dome ports, and a new tiger shark named "Sharon Stone," with an open mating scar on her left side (she was about the same size -- 10' or so in length). I hopped in for a full 120-minute dive and snapped 252 16-megapixel frames of tiger and lemon shark goodness. Both Baby Cakes and the Sharon Stone were like big puppies. They would just sort of hover in front of divers, wagging back and forth literally inches away before angling upward to swim over. Being in the water with five tiger sharks and eight lemon sharks sounds like it might be too much to handle, but it's not so bad if done properly, in the right conditions. Tiger sharks swim slowly and make repeated passes; they really look at you, and it's easy to anthropomorphize them because their eyes are so human-like. Lemon sharks swim faster and approach in big gangs, but are basically harmless. In fact, one eventually starts to treat them like obstacles to getting nice tiger shark photos. :)
In the afternoon, we anchored at El Dorado and dropped in to photograph the local gang of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi). These guys get easier to photograph every time I see them. When the current is running, the sharks will literally line up and come in two or three (or four, or five!) at a time; in really mild current like we had today, the sharks mill around in a much less-organized fashion. Still, it was easy to get sharks to approach to within inches of a camera. Two great hammerheads and two tiger sharks were also spotted here today, but I didn't see them.
Shark Count: 23 tigers, 4 great hammerheads, 2 bulls, 14 lemons, 20+ reefs, 1 nurse
April 1, 2005 - Triggerfish and Doug's Reef
Hmmm. We appear to have gotten through April Fool's Day without any pranks. When you're out on the water like this, it's hard to think about what day it is.
The wind picked up last night and was almost howling by the time we all went to sleep. I collected images from everyone and did a slideshow for the past few days; it's amazing how productive (photographically) we've been out here. Before today, the conditions were perfect, and just about everyone seems to be gathering the best shark images they have ever taken. Much of our time on the boat is spent processing images, and because there are only nine of us here, we're all learning by sitting one-on-one with more experienced participants.
Unfortunately, the weather today didn't allow for any real shark encounters. A small tiger shark showed up at Triggerfish, and a reef shark at Doug's Reef, but it was quiet, otherwise.
In the evening, Neil Hammerschlag gave an interesting talk on his great white shark research, which focused mainly on data collected at Seal Island in South Africa. Very cool stuff.
Shark Count: 24 tigers, 4 great hammerheads, 2 bulls, 14 lemons, 20+ reefs, 1 nurse
April 2, 2005 - 16 Gigabyte Refuge
The early risers got out of bed this morning to photograph shark wrangling before the storm front hit; ironically, the rough weather made it possible for us to gather some of the most dramatic topside tiger shark images taken on the trip so far. Sharks at the surface propelled themselves forward through swells and would sometimes come half way out of the water as they raised their heads. (5 tigers in the morning)
During lunch, the skies unleashed a torrent of rain upon us, but luckily, the storm front moved past us just a few hours later and the skies cleared up for sunset. Captain Grey, Jimmy, James, Neil and I went out on the back deck to shoot tiger sharks at sunset. The seas' extreme chop made it difficult to shoot for more than a few seconds before lenses would be covered in salt-water spray, but I think the resulting images were worth the effort. (4 tigers, 2 lemons in the afternoon)
One of the sharks that showed up today was Sharon Stone, a small (9-10') tiger shark we had seen previously at Tiger Beach. Tiger Beach is 20 miles away. How she got here is a total mystery!
Shark Count: 29 tigers, 4 great hammerheads, 2 bulls, 16 lemons, 20+ reefs, 1 nurse
April 3, 2005 - 16 Gigabyte Refuge
No one expects it to be 55°F and windy in the Bahamas. We stayed anchored at 16 Gigabyte Refuge for two reasons: 1) it's so windy that working another location would be impossible, and 2) our regular tiger sharks from Tiger Beach had somehow followed us 20 miles to our current location. That's right: both Sharon Stone and Baby Cakes are here at 16 Gig! Even though visibility was poor, most of the group got in the water for one last dive.
Q: What's the best thing to place between you and a 10' tiger shark trying to get to bait on a line?
The real action today was on the surface, and during magic hour, the sharks really picked up in activity. In fact, during wrangling, one of them literally knocked James backward on the swimstep (he was crouched there with his underwater camera). Between sharks trying to get into his lap and bait slapping him on the face, he took an entertaining beating for those of us watching from above. From the tower, it was easy to see that there were at least five tiger sharks around, each waiting for an opportunity to come in on the bait. Magic hour is awesome.
Furious image-swapping ensued in the evening. Gadi turned to me and said, "I hope no one has viruses on their computer," to which James replied, "friends are supposed to share everything, right?" :)
It's nearly 1am now, and only Jim (who is driving the boat) and I are awake. I have to work on the webpage and produce some sort of slideshow before I try to get some sleep.
Total Shark Count: 34+ tigers, 4 great hammerheads, 2 bulls, 18+ lemons, 20+ reefs, 1 nurse
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