|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
- Itinerary (Exploratory)
- Photos: Other Coverage
- Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures
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|BAHAMAS OCEANIC WHITE-TIP SHARK EXPEDITION, JUNE 5 - 16, 2006|
Last month, I got a call from Jim Abernethy of JASA notifying me of a last-minute opening in an exploratory oceanic white-tip shark expedition. I was also contacted by Tony Wu about a trip to Tonga in late July. So what had originally been a relatively free summer has turned into one with only several days at home. How quickly things change. :)
Last year, Jim Abernethy took Brian Skerry out to the Bahamas on an exploratory expedition to photograph oceanic white-tips for National Geographic. As far as I know, our June trip is the first open expedition to photograph oceanic white-tip sharks in the Bahamas. Our itinerary also included San Salvador, a place commonly rumored to have schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks in shallow water.
Oceanic white-tip sharks have been the top shark on my list for some time. Their boldness is legendary, and their long, rounded (and white-tipped!) pectoral and dorsal fins are something I've wanted to photograph for a long time.
Trip participants: Eric Cheng (me), Jim Abernethy (staff), Jake Ziegler (staff), Jeffrey Philips (staff), Don Kehoe (FNG/staff), Wade Walcher (cook), Mike and Gary Cuny (the fishing brothers), Jon and Helen Cooper, Robin Tomes, and Paul Krupela
Comments on this travel journal? I'd love to hear from you!
To book a trip aboard the Shear Water, contact Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures and let them know that Eric Cheng of Wetpixel referred you. To book a Wetpixel Bahamas Shark Expedition, contact me. I'm in the process of setting up two trips in 2007 and three in 2008.
June 6, 2006 - Hole in the Wall, Abacos
Cat Island is a two-day trip from Palm Beach, Florida. We stopped briefly to do at a dive at a place called Hole in the Wall, near the Abacos. Two small holes lead downward from a large, circular indentation in the ground. Jimmy and I followed both of them down to around 120', and in some places we had to squeeze through constricted areas that opened up into larger spaces beyond. I'm not sure how far the tunnels go, but we were unprepared for further exploration and had to turn around when it became too deep.
June 7, 2006 - Tartar Bank, Cat Island
Our first real destination was at Tartar Bank near Cat Island. We dropped bait crates into the water, and while we waited for something to show up, our fishing enthusiasts Mike, Gary, and Don put hooks into the water and caught some fish (tuna and a really beautiful mahi). We dove on the wall a few times; when I dropped in (to around 85'), I was really taken by how quiet it was down on the reef. There was the typical growth you find on Bahamian reefs: barrel sponges and gorgonians, with french angels, scrawled filefish, squirrelfish, and more wandering around, but the reef was absolutely silent. It was my first silent reef. I was down there alone for about forty minutes before I swam up the water column to find the boat.
Shortly after, I was in the salon watching a movie (Helen has been putting movies on non-stop!) when the outside door banged open in utter chaos. Jimmy had cut three of his fingers down to the bone with a rusty knife, and we had to stop the bleeding, haul the bait in, and get to the nearest clinic. Luckily, he was still able to curl his hand up into a loose ball, so we knew that his tendons were most likely intact. One of the locals at Cat Island lent us his car, and Jeffrey and Don drove Jimmy out to the clinic for 16 stitches and orders not to go into the water for seven days. It's going to be interesting watching Jimmy try to stay out of the water. :)
June 8, 2006 - Columbus Point, Cat Island
The fisherman at the Cat Island harbor yesterday said that they just been out fighting with oceanic white-tips for hooked fish, so we wandered out onto Columbus Point and dropped some bait in the water. The usual suspects were fishing, and at one point pulled a fish out the water with bites taken out of it. We even spotted an oceanic white-tip on the surface, but it didn't stick around to play.
The weather was really rough, and after being thrown around for most of the day, Robin and Jon finally jumped in to have a look. All they saw was a single silky shark out under the bait craits, but on their way back up to the platform, they were surprised by a large oceanic white-tip shark who showed up a mere foot underneath them! The shark must have been doing what the fishermen had reported earlier: hiding under the boat and darting out when the boat was backed up (what fisherman might do when about to reel in fish). Naturally, everyone jumped in to have a look.
By the end of the day, we counted 4 oceanic white-tip sharks, each with their own distinct personality. Others in the group saw a striped marlin, too (I wish I had seen it).. The two smaller oceanic white-tips were more... "aggressive" than the larger ones were, but all of them displayed the behavior oceanic white-tips are famous for: uninhibited investigation of everything in the water!
At dusk, the weather was still really bad, so we decided to pull anchor and go around the island to hide.
Day 4: nailed oceanics! :)
June 9, 2006 - Columbus Point, Cat Island
Day two with oceanic white-tip sharks. At noon, a friendly female with three photogenic pilot fish showed up, and we had her swimming around us for nearly eight hours before we quit for the day. We named this shark, "June," and we discovered that she would investigate everything at the surface, including apples and oranges. In fact, she ate one of the orange slices. :)
Jimmy became really excited today and was unable to stay out of the water (although he did manage to keep his stitched hand dry). Most of his underwater photography was accomplished via pole-cam, and after one dive, I swam up to the camera for a photo and noticed that there was a water line in the dome! Yep: Jimmy had flooded his 20D. Too bad...
Just before sunset, we spotted at least one billfish chasing baitfish not far from the boat. I jumped in with my camera, but didn't see anything except for a school of tuna about 20' below me. I did, however, attract the attentions of June, who followed me around as I swam up to the bow of the Shear Water. Even though June was just about the calmest shark I had ever met, it's still a bit disconcerting to be approached by a shark from below.
June 10, 2006 - Conception / San Salvador
We're having a tough time today. Jimmy was pretty excited about the photographic opportunities at Conception, but when we arrived, the saltwater river that runs through Conception was both shallow and cloudy because of the outgoing tide. So instead of checking out the island, we drove offshore a bit and dropped bait crates in. Later on in the afternoon, we decided to head straight for San Salvador to try our luck with scalloped hammerheads, which have been reported to be there by numerous sources. No luck today.
June 11, 2006 - San Salvador
San Salvador (a.k.a. "Shark-Free Zone") was a bust.. We've been here for two days with bait and have only seen one shark (a Caribbean reef shark), and even he wasn't interested in hanging out with us.. During the late morning, we docked and tried to ask some of the locals where we might find the scalloped hammerheads the area is so famous for. No one was overly excited to talk to us, but we did find out that guests did occasionally see scalloped hammerheads, oceanic white-tips, and others while diving in the south-west. But it might be the case that scalloped hammerheads here are like great hammerheads in Palm Beach: if you ask a local dive shop whether they see them, they'll probably say, "yes" -- but that doesn't meant that you have any significant chance of seeing one on a dive there.
Jeffrey has been talking about "Sandy the Dolphin" for as long as anyone can remember, but more and more of us are giving him blank stares when he brings her up. Sandy was a common subject in Skin Diver Magazine during the early days (e.g. before I was born), and was apparently a famous dolphin who hung out near San Salvador. Jeffrey claims that he discovered a "Sandy the Dolphin" poster while at the local dive shop, but he neglected to come back with photographic evidence, so we're still slightly skeptical. :)
Closer to sunset, a large school of tuna jumped their way around our boat. We dropped in some hooks and caught a big wahoo and a black-fin tuna. Two days is all we can afford to spend here, so we're moving on early tomorrow morning.
June 12, 2006 - Columbus Point, Cat Island
The seas rocked and rolled all early morning, and by mid-day, the seas were still quite rough. A tiger shark came up and took a tuna head from the wrangling line, but when Robin jumped in to investigate, nothing was there. I did a 3pm dive at an unspecified mooring close to a sheer dropoff and discovered a pile of 200 gutted conch shells interspersed with discarded soy bean oil tins. Quite depressing, really. This dive site should be called, "Conch Cemetary."
By 6pm, the seas had calmed down quite a bit, and while fishing, we stumbled into a large school of small tuna, who were leaping out of the water while chasing bait fish. Hundreds of birds darted around on the surface in concert, picking off bait fish pinned to the surface by tuna underneath. Paul and Robin jumped in on snorkel but were unable to see very much in the murk and chaos on the surface.
As usual, I am struggling to find a place on the Shear Water where I can work on my notebook without someone peaking over my shoulder. I can usually stomach a good deal of curiousity and interest, but after a week with nowhere to hide, it gets a bit harder. :)
June 13, 2006 - Travel Time, Dive @ Andros Island
We've travelled all night and all day, stopping at the Blue Hole in Nassau to see if it was diveable (verdict: green and murky) and at the shark dive mooring at Stuart's Cove (it was gone). No luck.
June 14, 2006 - Travel Time, Drift in the Gulf Stream near Bimini
I'm sitting across from Jim Abernethy, who is going through some images with Robin Tomes, and the conversation is pretty funny:
At 4:40pm, a tiger shark swam up to the back of the boat. We've put out a wrangling line, but she hasn't come back to play. "Remember, she isn't one of our rental sharks," Jimmy says. :)
There is a hatch in the saloon that leads down into the engine room. Don was just wandering around the hatch making motions like he might try to get down there. I put money down that he wouldn't make it in. "It's like Winnie the Pooh trying to get to the honey," Jake said. Now that's funny.
June 15, 2006 - Tiger Beach
Out with a bang! I have so many photos from a day at Tiger Beach that they are on their own page. :)
June 16, 2006 - Travel, Closing Words
Exploratory trips are an important part of discovering and refining how organized trips work. Despite our early success in finding oceanic white-tip sharks, all of us on the boat had been prepared to go out into the Bahamas for 11 days and come back with nothing. But now that we know that oceanic white-tip expeditions are possible, you can be sure that there will be more of them in the future. :) If you're interested in shark diving in the Bahamas, contact Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures and let them know that Eric Cheng of Wetpixel referred you. To book a Wetpixel Bahamas Shark Expedition, contact me directly. I'm in the process of setting up two trips in 2007 and three in 2008.
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