http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging: Blog
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/img/s/v-5/u545147143-o1038192551-50.jpg 2016-06-13T22:12:00Z (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2016/6/north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout-2016-mike-gerken North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2016

North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2016

Hosted by Mike Gerken & Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC

©2016; All Rights Reserved

Attendees and Olympus crew for the 2016 NC Wreck•Shark Shootout

From left to Right:  Justin Smith, Chris Bronk, Robert Purifoy, Andre Labuda, Seth Moyette, Frankie Womack, Chuck Wingo, Matt Steere, Lucas Koch, Hanz Lehrke, Michelle Peabody, Mike Gerken, Nicoile Travis, Will Strickland, Barry Gregg, Tyler Mahler, John Palmer, Tim Fischetti, Annette Papa, En-Min Chua, Dawn Birmingham, David Alpert, Julian Hogan, Bob Birmingham, Gavin Volmer, Juergen Scharner; Not Shown: Scott Stitt, Ian Ford, Stuart Gibbons, Dale Rhoton and Stuart Vernon

     Holy White Shark! That is exactly what we saw at this years shootout. Due to strong currents offshore we were relegated to diving the inshore wrecks of the Indra and the new tugs. Nancey Cost, one of the participants, requested I have a look at her cameras screen to help her identify a shark she saw and photo'd. Thinking it was maybe a bull shark or a sand tiger I took a look with the usual interest. Low and behold she shows me a photo of a 8-10' Great White Shark! My jaw dropped to my knees. This was indeed a rare sighting. Fortunately for her, others saw it as well to confirm the sighting. What a rush to see a rare and majestic great white only 8 miles from shore in only 60 feet of water! And this was how we started our NC Wreck•Shark Shootout for 2016. What a rush.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Great White Shark Spotted and photographed by Nancey Cost on the Tramp and JJF Tugs 8 miles from Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

     This years shootout was attended by 30 excited shark hunters using an assortment of cameras from the arsenal. Nikon and Canon SLR's, SeaLife and GoPro point and shoots to name a few. By the end of the third day the gang took some handsome images of sharks and the wrecks that they inhabit off the North Carolina Coast. Mother nature did create a few obstacles to deal with such as strong currents offshore, a passing tropical depression and a dive or two with less than desirable visibility (but oodles of Sand Tigers).

     At the awards dinner, catered by Floyd's 1921 restaurant, I was more than happy to give out some amazing prizes to the winners of the competition judged by photo journalist Scott Johnson. I handed out liveaboard trips, land based excursions, dive gear, photo equipment and plenty of swag. (See full list of prizes here.) The only real negative of the trip was the winds picked up on the last day of the shootout and we had to cancel the diving. I couldn't complain too much for we did get out for 3 out of the 4 days and managed to see a nice variety of sharks on 4 different wreck sights.

     The two days previous to the shootout (the recon dives) we had 80-100' vis on Papoose with plenty of sand tigers, sand bars, groupers, giant southern stingrays and so much more. The Atlas Tanker the next day was nothing to shrug off either. 50-80' vis with amazing sand tigers and more of the bountiful marine life that makes North Carolina diving so famous. These dives are the pinnacle of what NC diving has to offer. 

     Without a doubt, plans for next years shootout are already in the works. I will be making an announcement on Facebook, Twitter and my personal newsletter within a few weeks and will be accepting deposits immediately. This shootout continues to grow in popularity and that is mostly due to the awesome sponsors and the great people that attend. Having such people to share my love of diving, sharks and wrecks is a highlight of my year. Thank you to all!

Video Highlights 2016

    And the winners of the 3rd Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2016 at Olympus Dive Center are:

Grand Prize Winner

Best in Show - David Alpert

Truk Odyssey Liveaboard Trip

Sand Tiger Shark

 

Best Shark Photo

First Place Winner - Juergen Scharner

Sam's Tours/Unique Dive Expeditions Dive/Hotel Package

Sand Tiger on the Atlas Tanker

 

2nd Place Winner - Stuart Gibbons

Sea & Sea YS-D2 Strobe

Sand Tiger Shark on the Atlas Tanker

 

3rd Place Winner - Andre Labuda

Big Blue Underwater Light System

Sand Tiger Shark

 

Best Wreck Photo Category

First Place Winner - Stuart Gibbons

Caribbean Explorer II Liveaboard Trip

Sand Tiger Shark and diver on the USCGC Spar

 

2nd Place Winner - Scott Stitt

Olympus Dive Center Dive/Lodge Package

Sand Tiger inside Club Aeolus

 

DCIM\100MEDIA

3rd Place Winner - John Palmer

Wreck Diving Magazine 1 yr subscription + T-Shirt + OMS SMB and Thumb Spool

Key Hole of the Aeolus

 

Best Video Short Edited

First Place Winner - Frankie Womack

Utila Dive Center Hotel/Dive Package

 

2nd Place Winner - Andre Labuda

Dive Aventuras Dive Package

 

 

3rd Place Winner - En-Min Chua

Hollis Mask + OMS SMB and Thumb Spool

 

 

Best Video Short Unedited

First Place Winner - Andre Labuda

Sea Life Micro 2.0 Camera

 

 

2nd Place Winner - Barry Gregg

Tusa Mask, Fins & Snorkel

 

3rd Place Winner - Juergen Scharner

Backscatter $100 Gift Certificates

 

Best Point & Shoot Photo

DCIM\100MICRO

First Place Winner - Bob Birmingham

Scubapro MK21 Regulator

Diver and Sand Tiger Shark

 

2nd Place Winner - Juergen Scharner

Sherwood Blizzard Regulator

Sand Tiger on the Atlas Tanker

 

3rd Place Winner - Barry Gregg

Wreck Diving Magazine 1 Yr subscription + T-Shirt

Sand Tiger Shark inside the Aeolus 

 

Best Vivid-Pix Fix

Winner - Nicole Travis

Vivid-Pix Editing Software

 

     I wanted to quickly list all the sponsors here for the event. Without them, I could not put this together. Sam's Tours and Unique Diving Expeditions in PalauSea & Sea Photo, Karen Doody's Dive Aventuras, Scubapro, Sherwood, Hampton Dive CenterBackscatter, Wreck Diving Magazine, Vivid-PixSea-Life Cameras, Explorer Ventures Liveaboards, Utila Dive Center and of course Olympus Dive Center. Your support has made this event a memorable event. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Thank You Sponsors

Truk Odyssey Liveaboard

Explorer Ventures Liveaboards

Sam's Tours/Unique Dive Expeditions

 


Olympus Dive Center

Unique Dive Exped.

Scubapro

Sea & Sea; Tusa

SeaLife Cameras

Vivid-Pix

Hampton Dive Center

Wreck Diving Mag

Backscatter Photo

Utila Dive Center

Dive Aventuras

 

See you all next year Wreck Shark Lovers! 

 

Please visit the other Blog Reports in this gallery and share your comments here or on Facebook.

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2016-06-07T13:38:41Z 2016-06-07T13:38:41Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/8/schooling-sand-tigers Schooling Sand Tiger Sharks

Schooling Sand Tiger Sharks

by Mike Gerken

©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved

A shiver of Sand Tiger Sharks (Carcharias taurus).

     Being calm under pressure is a key ingredient to taking quality photographs underwater. This was easier said than done in late July on the wreck of the Caribsea off the North Carolina Coast. At this time, conditions were optimal for an aggregation of sand tiger sharks with at least 50-75 sharks present (I'm being modest in this estimate). Everywhere you looked there were sand tigers; under your feet, over your shoulder, in front and in back of you. One had to be careful to not let them bump in to you. The action and great photo ops were everywhere! Whatever cool calm demeanor I had was enveloped by the "kid in a candy store" mentality; I just couldn't fit enough treats into my pockets. Fellow photographer, Tanya Houppermans of Blue Elements Imaging, was right there shooting away along side of me on these dives. A few high fives were exchanged and arms pumped with both of us acting like teens at a Beatles concert. By the look on each others faces, it was evident we obtained some quality images. Moments like these in nature are rare and I, for one, felt blessed to see this event.  However, his was not the first time myself or others have witnessed this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A short video clip showing a shiver of sharks on the Caribsea.

    Not a lot is known scientifically why sand tigers appear on this wreck in vast numbers at this time of the year but, there is a definite pattern that have been observed by myself and co-workers and friends at Olympus Dive Center over the last five years. It would appear that come mid-July each year, the sand tigers on the Caribsea, which normally are spread out over a wide area along the bottom, come together in mid-water where the visibility is clearer and the water warmer. They tend to gather in larger and denser numbers around 40-70 feet and swim in to the current when the current is running. The photo at the top of this blog is a decent representation of the numbers of sharks present, however, there were many more spread out around the area coming and going in to the mix.

     Also, nearly everyone of these sharks was a female in the 7-10 foot range with a few definitely showing signs of pregnancy. Their behavior is somewhat different as well where the sharks are considerably more approachable than usual. Under different conditions and times of the year, getting close to the large females is not so easy. They tend to be a little shy and do not like head on courses. During the schooling, all these rules go out the window. Sharks are coming at you and swimming away from you in all directions. The feeling of being surrounded by these large toothy sharks is enough to get any ones adrenaline running, myself included. 

     What else can be said is that these sharks mate during the late winter and early spring months which is evident by the fresh mating scars (see inset photo) on the pectorals on the female sharks. The males must bite the females in this area in order to hold on during mating hence creating these wounds. Once the mating is over, it would seem that the males skip town while the females relax and take it easy reveling in the fact that the annoying males are gone.  Maybe the schooling is part of the gestation process after mating or maybe it is a defensive technique. Its hard to say really since no advanced studies have been done yet on this specific phenomenon. One thing for sure, it is not a coincidence. These sharks have a purpose schooling over the remains of the Caribsea. The fun part will be trying to figure out what it is.

Definition: 

Shiver - A group of sharks.

Photo Album

Carcharias taurus

Photographer, Tanya Houppermans and friends.

 

Sand Tigers Everywhere!

A silhouette of sand tigers. 

See More Photos from North Carolina 2015 Here!

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2015-08-05T16:23:40Z 2015-08-05T16:23:40Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/6/north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout-2015 North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2015

North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2015

by Mike Gerken

©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved

Attendees and crew for the 2015 NC Wreck•Shark Shootout

From Left to Right; Abbey Coakley (front) Bud Daniels, Scott Faatz (rear), Dan Fisher (rear), Robert Purifoy, Gavin Volmer (front), Sara Faatz (front), Sammy, Frankie Womack, Annette Papa (rear), Dawn Birmingham, Terri Allen (barely visible), Liz Logan, Kathy Coakley, Bob, Birmingham (middle), Andre Labuda, Chris Bronk (middle rear), Travis Dickenson, Mike Gerken, David Benyamin, Tim Fischetti (right). Not showing; Scott Johnson, Maris Kazmers, Tanya Houppermans, Scott Houppermans, Laurie Czyzewski, Steve Everhart

 

     Without a doubt this years Shootout was an overwhelming success! The M/V Olympus with Olympus Dive Center managed to get offshore 4 days out of 4 with stunning conditions on the Atlas Tanker, WE Hutton aka Papoose and the USCGC Spar. Sand Tiger Sharks were bountiful but, even better yet, we spotted a total of 5 shark species in 4 days with numerous Sand Bar Shark sightings on the Papoose and Atlas as well as Bull Shark, Hammerhead and Black Tip on the Atlas. Many wonderful images were taken and great prizes given out, old friends reunited and new friends made. It was a feel good time for me especially when many have already indicated they will be back next year (stay tuned for dates and info coming very soon). Thank you to all the participants for coming this year. Some did not shoot or submit work for the competition but came for the pure enjoyment and company of the people and the awesome diving. That says a lot about the character of the people drawn to this event.

 

    Lastly, I wanted to quickly thank all the sponsors for the event. Without them, I could not put this together. Sam's Tours and Unique Diving Expeditions in PalauSea & Sea Photo, Karen Doody's Dive Aventuras, Scubapro, Sherwood, Hampton Dive CenterBackscatter, Wreck Diving Magazine, Vivid-PixSea-Life Cameras and of course Olympus Dive Center. Your support has made this event a memorable event. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Also, thank you to Annette Papa for being my assistant, therapist and girlfriend. 

Thank You Sponsors

 

Video Highlights from NC Shootout 2015

North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout Video 2015Here are highlights from the Shootout 2015

     Without further delay, here are the winners of this years North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout:

Grand Prize Winner Best in Show - Tanya Houppermans 

Sam's Tours/Unique Diving Expeditions Dive Package

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sand Tiger Shark on the USCGC Spar

 

Anything Goes

First Place Winner  - Maris Kazmers

Dive Aventuras Diving Package

Shark slideshow

 

2nd Place Winner - Terri Allen

Vivid-Pix software + Fro Knows Photo DVD tutorial

Sand Tiger Shark on the Atlas Tanker

 

3rd Place Winner - Andre Labuda 

Wreck Diving Magazine 1 Year Subscription

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sand Tiger Shark cleaning off parasites on sea floor.

 

Honorable Mention Winner - Laurie Czyzeswki

Wreck Diving Magazine 1 Year Subscription

DCIM\100GOPRO Sand Tiger Shark with diver.

 

Best Wreck Photo Category

First Place Winner  - Tanya Houppermans

Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sand Tiger Shark on the USCGC Spar

 

2nd Place Winner - Terri Allen

$100 Backscatter Gift Certificates

Inside the boiler of the WE Hutton aka Papoose

 

3rd Place Winner - Scott Faatz

Vivid-Pix Software

Sand Tiger Shark on the Atlas Tanker

 

Honorable Mention - Liz Logan

Fifth Element Beach Matt

DCIM\100MICRO Sand Tiger Shark on the USCGC Spar

 

Best Shark Photo

First Place Winner  - Tanya Houppermans 

Olympus Dive Center Package

Sand Tiger on the USCGC Spar OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sand Tiger Shark on the USCGC Spar

 

2nd Place Winner - Scott Faatz

Fro Knows Photo DVD Tutorials (x2)

Sand Tiger Shark

 

3rd Place Winner - Terri Allen

Vivid-Pix Editing Software

Sand Tiger Shark on the USCGC Spar

 

Honorable Mention Winner - Andre Labuda

Fifth Element Beach Matt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Best Video Short Edited

First Place Winner - Frankie Womack

ScubaPro Regulator

 

2nd Place Winner - Dan Fisher

Sea Dragon Dive Light

 

3rd Place Winner - Liz Logan

Vivid-Pix Software + Fifth Element Beach Matt

 

Best Video Short Unedited

First Place Winner - Andre Labuda

Sherwood Brut Regulator

 

2nd Place Winner - Tim Fischetti 

Sea Dragon Dive Light

 

3rd Place Winner - Liz Logan

Vivid-Pix Software + Wreck Diving Magazine Subscription

 

See you all next year Wreck Shark Lovers! 

 

Please visit the other Blog Reports in this gallery and share your comments here or on Facebook.

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2015-06-02T16:59:50Z 2015-06-02T16:59:50Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/5/palau-wreck-diving Mystery Wreck of Palau

Mystery Wreck of Palau

Photos & Text by 

Mike Gerken

©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved

Mystery Warship of PalauWatch the video and see the story of this newly discovered wreck during the 2014 Rod MacDonald Expedition to Palau. Video highlights from the mystery wreck of Palau.

     Most people who have heard of Palau think of the azure blue waters, majestic mantas and menacing sharks that are prevalent with this beautiful island nation. ​Most aren't aware though that beneath the warm tropical waters, beside the stunning walls are more than two dozen Japanese wreck sites that were sunk there in 1944 during WWII. This is a fact that myself and the guys at Unique Diving Expeditions of Sam's Tours, Paul Collins and Richard Barnden are trying to change. Recently, wreck diver and author Rod MacDonald came to Palau to explore and document the wrecks for his new book scheduled to be released this year on wreck diving in Palau. I tagged along with the team to photograph and film the wrecks. Although we dived 20 sites in 10 days, this report focuses on only one of the dives; the mystery Japanese warship that we visited on the last day. 

     Paul and Richard, some weeks prior to our arrival, were approached by a mutual friend of theirs who had come across the location of an unknown wreck that was stumbled on while researchers were conducting oceanographic studies with side-scan sonars. The wreck had been dived on by only 3 or 4 people to date but, nothing had been documented or photographed. This was a golden opportunity for Rod Macdonald and team members Paul Haynes and Gary Garspeed along with myself, Paul and Richard to explore the wreck and look for clues that could help identify the origin and name of this ship.  In addition we were keen to capture the first images ever. Anytime a wreck diver has the chance to dive on a new wreck site is one he or she will not pass up. 

Sub Chaser GunSub Chaser GunThe bow gun on the foredeck of the mystery Japanese auxiliary sub-chaser in Palau. This was the first photo ever taken of this unknown WWII shipwreck. It was taken during the Rod MacDonald Palau Wreck Diving Expedition in 2014 with Sam's Tours and Unique Diving Expeditions.      It wasn't until our last day of the Palau Wrecks Expedition that we slated this mystery wreck in to our itinerary. I guess it was the old saying 'save the best for last'. Finding the wreck wasn't difficult with the waypoints that we had in our possession. We were told by the divers who first found the wreck, that we need to enter the water up current from the dive site and follow the the sloping wall down to about 150-160' and the wreck should there. We did just that and with great results.

     I can't speak for the others but, my adrenaline was high while scanning the sea bed looking for the wreck. When I first saw it it was a mere faint outline and I could see the other divers in the team all pointing at the wreck at the same time. With my video camera rolling, we swam up to the bow first and immediately saw a gun mounted on the very tip of the foredeck. We all new it was likely that what we had here was a warship; a small one but, a warship all the same. After shooting some video and taking a few still pics it was time to explore the rest of the vessel. At 155' time was not on our side and we needed to work quickly. 

    What we found would classify this wreck as a Japanese auxiliary submarine chaser with a length of approximately 130'. Depth chargers were discovered on the stern while a hydrophone was found on the keel. Two distinct clues that this ship was used to hunt and destroy enemy subs. In addition, the wheelhouse was collapsed but, the helm stand clearly visible in the wreckage. A large cable winch was found along the port side that was likely used to haul in and out of the water anti-sub hunting gear called paravanes. The smoke stack was intact but broken off at the base and neatly laid out in the sand. This would indicate that the vessel didn't roll down the sloping wall but sank and then rolled to the side. 

Palau Wreck Expedition 2014Palau Wreck Expedition 2014Rod MacDonald and friends on the 2014 Palau Wreck Diving Expedition.

Mystery wreck dive team (left to right) Capt Jimmy, Paul Haynes, Mike Gerken, Gary Garspeed, Rod MacDonald, Paul Collins, Michael Brainsfield

​    Even though many of the team members were diving rebreathers, the time went by very fast and it was time to make our way up. I took this opportunity to take a few birds eye shots of the wreck before surfacing. You can see this and much more in the video highlights above. Unfortunately, this was to be our only dive to this site on this trip but, the information we retrieved was substantial. We do not know the identity of this long lost remnant from WWII but, Rod has a pretty good idea and will announce his finds when he knows for sure. I hope to join the team next year for further exploration of the mystery warship as well as the many other significant wrecks of Palau.

    Most of the dives we made in the Palau ten day expedition were interesting and very worthy of diving by recreational and technical divers all the same. However, for me it was diving to the unknown that became the dive that stood out the most. It's only fitting that I report this wreck first. In the near future, I will have additional Blog Reports on Palau wrecks such as the fleet oilers Sata and Iro. Stay tuned for more to come. 

Please visit the other Blog Reports in this gallery and share your comments here or on Facebook.

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2015-05-16T17:16:08Z 2015-05-16T17:16:08Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/4/dumaguete-muck Dumaguete Muck

Dumaguete Muck:

A Small But Savage World

Photos & Text by 

Mike Gerken

©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved

Male Harlequin Shrimp w/sea starMale Harlequin Shrimp w/Sea Star

A male Harlequin Shrimp with its prey, a Sea Star. The much larger female harlequin shrimp is directly over-head waiting for its mate to return with its meal (lower left image).

  Female (top) and Male (bottom) Harlequin Shrimp w/sea starFemale (top) and Male (bottom) Harlequin Shrimp w/Sea Star            A helpless sea creature makes a valiant attempt of escape to freedom but, the claws of the determined hunter grasp a leg and drag it back to its lair. Here the rapacious predator will continue to tear bits of flesh away and consume the creature little by little being careful not to dispatch it entirely. It must keep its quarry alive so its limb will regrow and provide a continuous and sustainable meal for itself and its mate for many weeks if not months to come. This macabre undertaking may sound like a fictional scene from a John Carpenter film however; it is in fact a small sea star the size of my thumbnail being eaten by an even smaller male harlequin shrimp on a reef in Dumaguete, Philippines. It is just one of the many horror stories that can be found in our natural world; a world that is not just full of majesty and beauty but of savagery. Even though these small critters are innocuous to humans doesn’t make their behavior any less fierce than say a lion tearing the throat out of a zebra. It’s relative.

            Dumaguete, Philippines has become one of the premier locations in the world to experience macro marine life encounters such as I just described. The array of tiny critters that can be seen here often making homes in our trash is vast. Critters with an entertaining colorful names such as flamboyant cuttlefish, clown frogfish, ornate pipefish and of course the harlequin shrimp are found in tin cans, glass bottles or boat moorings. The ‘muck diving’ as it is called is world class. Its not a glamorous name but this brand of diving is interesting all the same. Scientists are regularly discovering new species and documenting new behaviors in Dumaguete. It is all very exciting.

Flamboyant CuttlefishFlamboyant Cuttlefish

A Flamboyant Cuttlefish hunts with its long pair of needles which are projected out from its mouth at lighting speed snagging the unsuspecting prey.

            It was for these reasons that my old friend Randy Randazzo of the Hampton Dive Center in Riverhead, New York decided to escort one of his dive groups to Atlantis Resort, Dumaguete in March of 2015. I was honored to accompany Randy and his people as their photo/video pro. As an established wide-angle photographer who occasionally dabbled with macro photography, I was excited at delving in to my first encounter with ‘muck’ diving. Armed with my brand new super macro 105mm Nikkor lens I was ready to get up and close detailed shots of fish species that are often hard to spot with a human eye; at least my human eye. This is where the experienced dive guides of Atlantis Resort shined. Follow the guides and within minutes they are pointing out wee critters with their underwater pointers to us blind tourists. Their highly trained eyes rarely missed a sighting.

Painted Frog FishPainted Frog Fish             Shooting tiny sea creatures is not as easy as one would imagine. The optics of the lens are highly magnified hence making the smallest movement a large movement in the view finder. It is often a struggle to fill your frame with a fish that is the size of a dime without cutting off a head or tail. Flawless buoyancy is critical for this style of photography. Needless to say, I had a blast shooting the critters with additional results at the bottom of this page. I’m already making plans to work with Randy again and conduct a photo workshop at Atlantis Resort in the future. If you think you might be interested in such a trip please contact me.

            In closing, I can highly recommend Atlantis Resort Dumaguete for delivering a wide variety of diving with the macro subjects as the highlights. The resort is a finely tuned establishment with top-notch local talent who will make your stay a comfortable and enjoyable one. There is no shortage of underwater subject matter with over 1500 documented fish species found in the Dumaguete area; a list that will keep you happily diving and searching for all of them for a very long time.

           

Photo Album

Mantis ShrimpMantis Shrimp The Mantis Shrimp is a hybrid of its name and considered one of the deadliest marine critters in the world due to its high speed talons that will kill its prey before it even knew what hit it. Some say the mantis shrimp can damage camera dome ports.

Trunk FishTrunk Fish Waste is often used as refuge for many fish species such as this trunk fish.

Blenny w/Bull Dozer ShrimpBlenny w/Bull Dozer Shrimp Symbiotic relationships are often found in the Muck of Dumaguete. This Goby and its sidekick blind bulldozer shrimp help each other out. The shrimp builds the den while the Goby stands guard and warns the shrimp when danger is present. 

Ornate Ghost Pipe FishOrnate Ghost Pipe Fish Camouflage is often used by reef critters to protect themselves from predation such as this Ornate Ghost Pipefish.

More images from Dumaguete here.

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2015-04-27T02:38:15Z 2015-04-27T02:38:15Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/1/getting-deep-in-truk Getting Deep in Truk

Getting Deep in Truk

Photo's and Text by Mike Gerken

©2015 All Rights Reserved

      "Go Deep or Go Home" jokingly was the unofficial slogan for the "deep week" on board the Truk Odyssey in October of last year. Some of you might be asking at this point, "What is a deep week?" Basically, it's when a group of technical divers charter the boat specifically to dive on the often overlooked deeper wrecks in the lagoon. Deep usually entails going below 130'. This particular week long event was charted by Jane Bowman and Warrick McDonald from Ocean Divers in Melbourne, Australia. These two have been on the dive scene for some years now and have a tremendous amount of dive experience between the two of them not to mention a very strong following of talented divers who join them on such expeditions.

San Francisco Bow GunSan Francisco Bow GunThe gun on the San Francisco Maru is pointed hard to port. The depth of 160' inhibits coral growth allowing for a better view.

     The prospect of spending 6 days diving wrecks, that I had yet to dive even after 6 years of working in Truk Lagoon, was exciting. It is not to say that the deep wrecks are better than the shallow ones, it's just that they are different and offer a new set of challenges. A diver must be far more disciplined in order to safely visit these wrecks at depths of 150' to 220' for more than a few minutes. Our bottom times were on the average of 20-25 minutes yielding more than 60 minutes of decompression. There is little room for error when doing such dives making the experience a more substantial feeling of achievement.

     When I discussed the itinerary with Warrick and Jane, I knew these people meant business. They wanted to dive 200' wreck sites twice in one day and visit some that are off the beaten path, such as the Oite destroyer which is a 90 minute run up to the north pass. This schedule was fine by me as long as everyone took all the precautions required to do repetitive deep dives. This would also allow me more time to do a photo shoot on each site. Photographing wrecks at 200' only adds to the technicalities of diving. Not only do you need to pay attention to your diving and self preservation but, your camera and dive buddy need your consideration as well. Speaking of which, Annette Papa posed for me on many of these dives with, what I thought, were outstanding results. Thanks Annette!

     At the end of the six days of diving it could be said that it was a safe and exciting week. Jane and Warrick and their gang from Oz all had a great time and have since rebooked the Odyssey for 2016. I'm counting the days until their return.

    Here are a few images from deep week:

Oite Destroyer

Anti-aircraft gun on the aft deck of the Oite destroyer. Max depth 200'

Aikoku Maru

Aikoku MaruAikoku MaruThe stern gun on the Aikoku Maru points ominously skyward as she tried to defend herself before being sunk.

Aikoku Maru stern deck gun. Max depth 200'.

San Francisco Maru

San Francisco Maru Starboard TanksSan Francisco Maru Starboard TanksA pair of battle tanks atop one another on the for deck of the San Francisco Maru.

A Japanses battle tank on the San Francisco Maru. Max depth 200'.

Katsuragisan Maru

Katsuragisan BowKatsuragisan BowThe Katsuragisan is the deepest wreck dive in Truk Lagoon. This image was taken at 190' above the bow.

The bow of the Katsuragisan Maru. Max depth 220'.

Shotan Maru

Shotan MaruShotan MaruThe Shotan Maru is a rarely dived wreck in Truk Lagoon but an interesting dive.

Whip corals with mast in the background on the deck of the Shotan Maru. Max depth 170'.

Hokuyo Maru

Hokuyo MaruHokuyo MaruThis image shows a model posing next to the antennae on the pilot house roof of the Hokuyo Maru.

The radio antennae on the roof of the wheelhouse on the Hokuyo Maru. Max depth 190'

More images from Truk Lagoon here

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2015-01-22T09:16:34Z 2015-01-22T09:16:34Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/8/threshers-of-malapascua Threshers of Malapascua

Threshers of Malapascua

Photo's and Text by Mike Gerken

©2014 All Rights Reserved

Thresher VIIThresher VII

A Pelagic Thresher Shark of Malapascua, Philippines. 

     I try not to discriminate against anything based on appearance. I believe  all living things should be given equal due respect regardless of what they look like. However, in the western world, some creatures are placed on higher pedestals than others based on, what I call, the 'cute and fuzzy factor'. i.e. If you fall in to the 'adorable' category then you have a better chance of not ending up on the dinner plate. I do my best to practice this belief but, every now and again a critter comes along that tests my good senses. This is what happened to me when I met the thresher shark. The large round sentient black eyes, the smooth blunt nose and the mouth slightly ajar all convey a human expression of surprise or even innocence. "Charming" is the singular word that pops in to my mind when I saw these guys swimming across the reef. Thresher VThresher V

     It was in Malapascua Island in the Philippines where I had my first encounter with Alopias pelagicus, the pelagic thresher shark. Malapascua for some years now has been one of the 'go-to' locales for a near guaranteed sighting of these magnificent sharks. After viewing plenty of images on the internet, I decided it was time to check these guys out in person.

Evolution DivingEvolution Diving       Annette Papa and myself arrived in Cebu, Philippines on board the dive vessel M/V Odyssey for the vessels scheduled three year refit. (Presently, I'm the captain of the Odyssey in Truk Lagoon and Annette is the dive instructor for six months out of the year from June till January.) After a few weeks of cutting, pounding, scrapping and painting during the dry dock, it was time for our scheduled two week holiday. We decided to head to nearby Malapascua Island to stay and dive at the Evolution Diving resort which is owned and operated by Matt Reed (no relation to Evolution Underwater Imaging). I first met Matt in 2003 when he worked on board the Odyssey while I was working on the neighboring Truk Aggressor II.  After Truk, we bumped in to each other now and again in our work and travels and stay in touch via Facebook. 

Evolution DivingEvolution Diving ​     Annette and I found Evolution Diving to be perfect way to spend a quite holiday in a rustic island setting. The staff were courteous, friendly and always went out of their way to make sure you had everything you required. The facilities were very comfortable and ideally located right on white sand beaches. The diving of course, was beautiful with a great diversity of macro life and soft corals. However, the signature dive site for all of the operators was Monad Shoal, a 'cleaning station', where near guaranteed thresher shark sightings are conducted. It was explained to me that the threshers dwell mostly in depths of 100-300 meters. They come up to the shoal in the very early hours of the morning, when the reef comes to life, in order to have parasites picked from their mouths, gills and bodies by cleaner wrasse.

BancaBanca     To dive with the threshers, one must arise from a deep vacation slumber around 4:30am too catch a 5am departure. That's right, 5am! It was still dark as I stumbled down the beach to the banca (local style boat) which would take us too the dive site. The run out to Monad Shoal from Malapascua was an easy 20 minute boat ride. The divemaster gave us a quick briefing explaining that there is a roped off viewing area at the top of the shoal that no diver is permitted to cross. This is done to prevent the shy thresher shark from being spooked by invasive divers during their morning cleaning. In addition, we photogs were told that flashlights, strobes or any artificial lighting was prohibited on this dive. Spending most of their time in deep low light environments, the light sensitive threshers startle easy when powerful strobes and video lights are blasting away at them. With these rules at hand (necessary rules at that), I knew getting a killer shot of this awesome shark would be difficult but, I always rise to an occasion and looked forward to the challenge.

Monad ShoalMonad Shoal     The dive itself is pretty simple. Swim down to the shoal at about 70 feet and wait behind the rope for the threshers to show up. On day one, we managed to see only one thresher; my first one. At around 8 feet in length, this was a nice specimen but, did not come in close for a good photo. It was exciting to have this incredible shark, that hunts by whipping and stunning prey with their long powerful tail, swim right along side me. The dive guide at the end of the dive looked disappointed due to there being only one shark since upwards of a dozen can be seen on other days. This dive in my book was still a success even though I had no photos to show for it. Such is the way it goes when you are an underwater photographer. Patience is required in getting 'the shot'. I would be back.

Thresher IVThresher IV     Day two yielded a better dive however, the first 20 minutes there was nothing. Nada. No sharks and things looked bleak. That was until our dive guide had a hunch and led three of us down deeper away from the primary viewing area to see if the sharks were being coy. Sure enough, after a 5 minute swim, three threshers in 80-100 feet arrived and were swimming loops around the sloping wall while cleaner wrasse darted around their head and bodies like a hungry man at a breakfast buffet. With every swing passed me, I hoped they would come is close enough for a clean shot. As luck would have it, I managed to collect a handful of 'keeper' shots for the portfolio and to share with you all in this blog.

Thresher VIThresher VI      As my stay with Evolution continued, my thresher shark dives each day got better and better. More sharks with great close-ups left me like a kid in a candy shop and wanting to go back for more. Unfortunately, duty called and it was time to head back to Cebu to assist in completing the work on the Odyssey before heading back to Truk Lagoon. Something told me that I will be back to dive with these sharks again one day soon.

​     Thresher IThresher I While viewing my images on the laptop, I couldn't help but chuckle every so often at the endearing  and clueless expression on the thresher sharks face all the while reminding myself not to fall for these sharks based on their looks alone. I couldn't help it though. At the end of my editing session, the thresher definitely gained ground in my list of favorite sharks based on a perceived personality.  In the end, I guess I am a sucker for a cute face after all.  

Happy Diving,

-Mike Gerken

Visit my web page for more photos from Malapascua.

Tips for Photographing Thresher Sharks

1. Stay low to the reef so not to spook the sharks but, do not damage the corals. Perfect hovering is a key skill in obtaining eco-friendly shots.

2. Do not chase the sharks. You will lose this race.  Be patient and at the ready and wait for the shark to come in close.

Thresher IIIThresher III 3. Flash photography is not permitted so use a wide angle lens with the widest f-stop you can afford. My Nikkor 16-35mm, F4 was sufficient but, I wished for a F2.8 or better.

4. The sharks are moving targets. Shoot at a minimum of 1/80th of a second to prevent blur. Any faster than this and your light will be too low.

5. The dive is very early morning and ambient light is low. Pump up the ISO to as high as your camera will go without excessive noise. I was shooting stills at ISO1650. 

6. Try to get low and shoot high to allow more light and better angles with more contrast in your shot.

Photo Gallery

Thresher IIThresher II

 

NC Wreck FishNC Wreck Fish

Malapascua diving has more to offer than Thresher Sharks. 

False ClownfishFalse Clownfish False Clownfish of Malapascua.

MalapascuaMalapascua

Topside scenery at Malapascua Island.

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2014-08-29T23:30:22Z 2014-08-29T23:30:22Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/6/1st-annual-north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout 1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout

by Mike Gerken

 

     Pulling up the marine weather forecast 48 hours prior to the start of this event, I was pleased by what I saw. 5-10 knots NE wind with a high in the upper 70's. That would work, I thought to myself. When Thursday afternoon of May 29 arrived all was set and  all I could do was wait for the participants to arrive from as far away as Michigan and   Canada and as near as Havelock, NC. The 1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout was a go and I for one was very excited. For years now, I had hoped to pull this event off but, was unable to due to a conflicting work schedule as captain of the very boat I intended to charter, the Midnight Express at Olympus Dive Center.

     Thursday night was the meet and greet at the dive center where a schedule of what was to come was given, rules were stated and introductions made all around to the 14 participants. Those who attended were as follows: Kathy and Abigail Coakley, Bill Eckart, Andy Bennis, Maris Kazmers, Frankie Womack, David Dewhirst, Mike Love, Scott and Sara Faatz, Timothy Fischetti, Liz Logan, Chris Bronk, Andre Labuda After meeting everyone, I had a positive vibe with the chemistry of these people. Here we had divers and photographers coming together to share a common love of sharks, wreck diving and the marine ecosystem as a whole. In addition, Olympus Dive Center was the perfect venue to bring this all together.

     Friday morning brought light winds and calm seas as predicted. Cool temps in the morning caused everyone to don sweaters and the like but, moral was very high. I decided that, with these conditions, a trip to the Caribsea on the east side of Lookout Shoals was warranted. The Caribsea of course is infamous for large numbers of sand tiger sharks, the primary targets for this photo/video shootout. Upon arrival at the Caribsea we had a choppy sea but, it was bad enough to cause any discomfort on the boat. Justin Smith, one of the Midnight mates, radioed up from the bottom to indicate conditions were nice with about 30-40 foot of viz and plenty of critters to be had. It didn't take long to get these trigger happy divers off the boat and swimming with the sharks. Both dives this day were a total success and moods were of a happy nature. Once back to the dock, there was a grill set up that pumped out plenty of dogs and burgers to the hungry divers. Only the smoke in my face from the grilling caused me to grimace, otherwise all was right in the world.

    That night I conducted a presentation at the local chamber of commerce office where I talked about wreck diving with sharks and showed a few pics and videos to get everyone even more excited than they were. Weather for the next day was still promising and everyone went home to get some well needed rest after the presentation. At least that is what they told me.

North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout Video Highlights 2014 Video Highlights of the event.

    It was time to make a run due south on the second day. The W.E. Hutton aka Papoose was calling and I wanted to see if there were still sharks dwelling there such had been the week before. The ride out was slick calm and beautiful. The Northeast wind once again caused a minor chill in the air but, was certainly not a detriment. As luck would have it there were plenty of sharks on the Papoose and vis was decent at around 40-50 feet and even better up off the bottom. Divers spread out up and down this 400+ foot long ship that lay upside down in 120 feet of water. Shutters were snapping and video cameras rolling. Once we were done on the Papoose we made a run in to the wreck of the USCGC Spar, which also had a big population of sharks on it the weekend prior. The Spar definitely scored points with the divers with plenty of marine life and shark activity to be had. The hot water shower was definitely the most popular amenity on board the Midnight with shivering but, smiling divers enjoying the steamy water. The cabin heater scored a second place award with many hunkered down in there regaining their core body temp.  Later that night, a photo/video workshop was offered to anyone interested and nearly everyone showed up. I was happy to share what secrets I knew in taking better photos and video. By all reactions, I believe it was a big hit.

    High Northeast winds threatened are diving for day three but, we were lucky to make it out to the inshore wrecks of the Titan Tug and the Ario aka W.E. Hutton. The shallow dives of only 60-70 feet made for some great bottom time and the calmer seas were well appreciated. Only a few sharks were spotted on this day but, amazingly moral was still very high. All present were laughing and carrying on with big smiles. By this point friendships were being forged and camaraderie was present everywhere.  

     Once all returned to the dock, it was time to scramble around and get photos and video files in to me before 5pm which was the cut off time for submissions. There was lots of excitement in the air and last minute decisions to be made. Now it was time for myself and my lovely girlfriend and partner, Annette Papa to assist me with the winning selections. We both agreed that it was not an easy thing to do. After about an hour of debating we had our winners and it was time to head over to Floyd's 1921 restaurant for our awards dinner. The spread of food that was put out was wonderful with chicken Piccata, shrimp and sausage pasta, sautéed string beans, salad and dinner rolls. Most enjoyed a glass of wine or a cold beer to wash it all down.

    Once everyone's appetite was sated, it was time to announce the winners. I thanked Robert Purifoy of Olympus Dive Center and all the staff and crew then the prizes were announced and images displayed on the screen. Here were the results:

3rd Place for Best Shark Photo went to Liz Logan who won a Wreck Diving Magazine t-shirt and U352 water bottle.

2nd Place award for Best Shark Photo went to Maris Kazmers who won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.

1st Place for Best Shark Photo went to Scott Faatz who won a 2 day dive package with Olympus Dive Center.

3rd Place for Best Video Short went to Sammy Faatz, Scott and Sara Faatz's daughter who produced a cute video on the realties of the food chain. Sammy won a Mike Gerken fine art print, a Wreck Diving Magazine and a Tshirt. She was so excited and anxious to continue to produce more great films in the future. Ya gotta love this.

 

2nd Place for Best Video Short went to Liz Logan with her wonderful profile shot of a sand tiger. Liz won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.

804_6768804_6768


And 1st Place for Best Video Short went to Kathy Coakley for her cute bit on a angel fish.

 

3rd place for Best Wreck Photo went to Andy Bennis who won a Wreck Diving Magazine t-shirt and magazine.

2nd place for Best Wreck Photo went to Scott Faatz who won a 1 year subscription to Wreck Diving Magazine.

1st Place for Best Wreck Photo went to Andy Bennis who won a dive package to Dive Aventuras, "Mexicos Riviera". 

 

The 1st place award for "Anything Goes" category went to Frankie Womack for his wonderful video short that had a bit of everything going on in it. Frankie won a Scubapro Mark 25MK regulator.

Once all the awards were given I then handed out a The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon and a The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge video to all those who participated but, did not win an award. Everyone was a winner at the 1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout.

    By time the event was over, most everyone was eager to sign up for next years event. This was a big indication that it was a huge success. I for one had a great time organizing this event and cannot wait until next year. Speaking of which, pencil in the 2nd Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout on May 28 thru May 3 of 2015. This time I will be chartering both the Midnight Express and the Olympus and taking over the entire dive operation in search of the most sharks on the best wrecks. There will be more sponsors, guest speakers and bigger prizes awarded and lots of friendly competition. Stay tuned for additional news on this event. If you want to put a deposit down now and secure your spot, email mike@evolutionunderwater.com.

    Lastly, I wanted to thank again, Robert Purifoy whose assistance would not have made this event what it was or even possible. Additional thanks to all the staff at the dive center, the Midnight Express crew, Buck Wilde, Justin Smith, John Fifer. Also, thanks to Joe and Heidi Porter from Wreck Diving Magazine, Karen Doody of Dive Aventuras, Scubapro and Annette Papa who was such a huge help to me in every way.

    See you all next year.

Happy Diving,

-Mike Gerken

 

 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2014-06-06T09:29:48Z 2014-06-06T09:29:48Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/4/april-10-2014---dive-captains-wish-list Dive Boat Captains Wish List

by Mike Gerken

Disclaimer: The expressed opinions here within are of those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or beliefs of another dive operation, boat owner or boat captain.

     I have been a dive boat captain on liveaboards and day boats for more than seven years and crew member for longer than that. I certainly haven't been doing this for as long as some captains but, I have been doing this long enough to witness diver practices on board that I wish would improve. My comments here are not meant to be  disrespectful but, to offer constructive criticism. Even after more than 30 years of diving, I still remember what it was like to be stumble along the way to becoming a more experienced boat diver. I have made my share of mistakes and was lucky to learn from them and do no harm to myself or others. Take what you will from this article but, I believe this information may add to your enjoyment of the sport, improve your social standing on the boat as well as your personal safety and the safety of others.

 

1 - Rules

     Every boat owner/captain has their own set of rules. It's simple. Learn them. If you do not like them, find another boat operator to go diving with. Breaking the owner/captains rules is not only dangerous but, very disrespectful to authority.

2 - Organization

    Every captain, even those who are not as anal-retentive as myself, prefer their boat and the passengers on board to be well organized. Stow your equipment and personal items in the appropriate places and be courteous to other divers space. Do not leave your gear laying about where it does not belong. For example, I have seen countless dive masks crunched from a tank by a returning diver plopping down on to the bench. Divers who are meticulous and methodical are less likely to forget important tasks like turning their air on before a dive or securing their tank before walking away from it. Crew are there to check these things but, every so often a problem can sneak past our 'radar'. And oh yes, don't show up late for the boat. I have done this a few times and received the 'stink' eye from the captain and passengers for making them wait. However, I was lucky, for some captains wouldn't wait at all but, would wave to you as they are pulling away from the dock. 

A well organized boat and group of divers.

3 - Equipment

    Set up your gear and test it before leaving on charter. Too often I hear someone say to me standing over a leaky regulator, "I just had that serviced". This being said only a moment before pressurizing their tank for the first time right before a dive. Bring only what you need and a few spares of the important items like a regulator or mask.  Please minimize and pack accordingly for the dive trip at hand. 

4 - Briefings

   Stop what you are doing, sit quietly and pay attention to both the safety briefing and the dive briefing alike while they are being given. This information goes beyond being a convenience but, may very well save your life in a emergency situation. Even if you have heard the briefings before, sit tight and don't do anything that may distract the other divers from paying attention to this valuable information like fidgeting with your gear. Doing so is a discourtesy to the captain, crew and other passengers.

Divers paying attention to the dive briefing.

5 - Attitude

     Recreational divings primary objective is to have fun and be safe and not prove how your diving exploits might save the world. There was a dive boat captain, who shall remain nameless, who had a sign on his boat that read, "Leave your ego on the dock". It was a fitting statement. An over inflated sense of pride will not only be a nuisance to others but, can be down right dangerous when you participate in a dive activity that you have neither the training, fitness or experience to perform and all because your ego told you otherwise. Believe me, I am as guilty as anyone of this last statement when I was younger.

A diver with a positive attitude.

6 - Behavior

     Have a look around and take note of who you are sharing the boat with for the day, week or maybe longer. After doing so, ask yourself, is it appropriate to curse like a truck driver or carry out vulgar antics in the company of these people? Are you being respectful to those around you? Also, shouting on board in a non-emergency situation, is not acceptable. There are enough problems a captain has to deal with at sea that causes them stress without having someone jokingly shout out, "man over board" or someone else yell to their friend at the top of their lungs to grab them another beer. Speaking of which, alcohol consumption on liveaboard diving can lead to serious issues when someone has just a few too many. Be a responsible drinker, enjoy your holiday but, remember to stay in control. 

John T. keeping it light hearted. 

7 - Eco Friendly

     Nearly everything we humans do has a negative impact on the environment including scuba diving. As divers, minimizing these impacts to the best of your ability is all anyone can ask. Do not handle or harass marine life. When spearfishing, abide by size and quantity restrictions and be a discriminate hunter. Do not throw your rubbish in the water. (You will definitely score points with me when I see you return to the boat with trash you found.) Teach by example. Do not destroy corals intentionally or unintentionally. Take only photos and leave only bubbles. Try to give your business to operators who do their best to be 'green'. Lastly, if you must smoke, please smoke down wind in designated areas and do not throw your butts in to the ocean. I have heard some captains have are banned smoking on their boats completely. In my opinion, smoking has no place on a dive boat. It is a nuisance to other divers who are fighting sea sickness and is a danger to their own personal safety as a diver. I have seen smokers alienate themselves from other passengers many times due to their own bad habit.

8 - Physical Fitness

     Over the years, I have seen the general physical fitness of the average diver deteriorate and become the cause of more dive injuries or near injuries than I have time to tell. I'm not going to throw DAN (Divers Alert Network) or training statistics at you but, I am sharing my first hand experiences. As a captain, it is my job to assess divers before the boat leaves on charter and try to determine if anyone will be a harm to themselves. How do you assess whether someone is physically fit to dive? It is most often not an easy task if not impossible without alienating yourself and your company. Diving, most of the time, is a passive sport that requires little exertion and can be done by nearly anyone as long as they pass the fitness test of the certifying agency and indicate they have no medical conditions. (With all due respect to the training agencies, the fitness test is not very difficult to pass and some students lie on their medical forms.) However, when a physically unfit individual comes upon a rare stress related situation, injuries, illnesses and accidents are more likely to occur and sometimes with fatal consequences. Diving, as with life in general, will be more enjoyable and safer if we took better care of ourselves by exercising daily, eating right and getting regular checkups at the doctor. This practice most certainly applies to myself as well. My last wish is to stay fit to participate in diving for the rest of my life, however long that may be.

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2014-04-14T12:51:57Z 2014-04-14T12:51:57Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/10/the-sand-tiger-shark-wreck-denizen The Sand Tiger Shark: Wreck Denizen

All content copyrighted©Mike Gerken; Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC

MesmerizedA sand tiger shark amongst a mesmerizing school of bait.

Carcharias taurus or the Wreck Denizen of North Carolina. ©Mike Gerken

Sand Tiger Shark      As an underwater photographer who loves sharks, I’m frequently asked by fellow divers, “what is your favorite shark?” My answer unequivocally is, the sand tiger shark or Carcharias taurus, “Wreck Denizen of North Carolina”. I say so not necessarily because the sand tiger is the fastest of sharks, such as the mako or as formidable such as the great white or even as handsome as say the silver tip. No, my love affair with the sand tiger was more of a process of association.

     I began diving the wrecks of the Outer Banks of North Carolina recreationally in the late 90’s and found myself on numerous dives surrounded by these lethargic, but sinister looking sharks that range in size from a modest 4 feet to a whopping 10. Its rows of crooked gnarly teeth jutting from its jaw reminded me more of a Hollywood villain than hero. I returned to North Carolina in 2009 to work as a captain at Olympus Dive Center located in Morehead City. In total, I spent 7 seasons conducting hundreds of wreck dives up to 40 miles off the Carolina coast in to the Atlantic Ocean. Many of these dives were in the company of sand tiger sharks. At times when aggregations were the strongest, I had counted well over 50-75 sharks and on a few occasions their numbers were over 100! Nowadays, spotting at least one sand tiger shark on most wrecks is nearly guaranteed.

Schooling Sand TigersOn rare occasions, schools of sand tigers can be seen on the wrecks in large numbers as depicted in this image.      With each sand tiger shark encounter, I gradually developed an interest in this docile and vastly misunderstood animal. The sand tigers behaviors, unlike many shark species, is fairly easy to observe in their natural habitat. Most other sharks, such as tiger sharks or bulls require artificial feeding in order for prolonged encounters with these species to take place. Because of this, shark feeds have become a popular tourist attraction all over the world such as in the Bahamas, Fiji, and Mexico. The theory is, where there is blood in the water there will be sharks. Where there are sharks there will be divers willing to shell out good money for a close up experience with these amazing creatures. The sand tiger shark on the other hand requires no blood in the water to attract. They tend to dwell in the same rock ledge or wreck site for days if not months on end and do not startle easy and appear rather comfortable in the presence of divers. This allows for very close observation for prolonged periods of time without altering the sharks behavior.

San Tiger posing inside the wreck of the Aeolus.      Any diver can get close to a sand tiger or a group of sand tigers. All that is required is calm and subtle approach underwater. Heavy breathing, excessive limb movement and/or moving directly towards them will likely cause the sand tiger to veer away from the diver at a slow, but steady pace. To view the shark, it is best to swim parallel to it or do not swim at all. Since the sharks tend to travel up and down or around a wreck over and over again, one need only hover in the water motionless and it is only a matter of time before a shark will swim within 10 feet or even arms reach of you. A very stealthy diver may even have to get out of the way of an approaching shark to avoid contact. However, touching these sharks is not recommended. Not because there is a threat of an attack, but you will likely scare the daylights out of them. When these sharks startle, they will turn tail in a flash and dart off at high-speed in the opposite direction in which they came leaving a wall of displaced water in their wake. When this happens, as a diver, it is best to put your arm up to protect your face from the thrashing tail and concussion of water coming at you to prevent your mask from being knocked off. Otherwise, to get bitten by one of these sharks is rare and highly unlikely event unless you provoke the animal by grabbing it or if you were carrying dead fish on your person. With that said, common sense would dictate, do not try to ride these sharks or spear fish in their presence.

This loan sand tiger is cruising the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar.      As a photographer, the sand tiger, by far is my favorite subject.  Anyone spending a few moments on my web site will learn that quickly enough. Photographing a sand tiger stand-alone is interesting and exciting in itself, but when you combine a sand tiger with a stunning and historic shipwreck as a backdrop, the photo and a story really comes to life. Also, due to the sand tigers easy-going disposition, they make for great models. Once you come to understand their behavior, setting up a shot becomes fairly easy when the conditions are conducive. Most often, I find it easier to photograph sand tigers compared to humans. Unlike divers I can anticipate the action of a shark more than I can one of my models. The best part is sand tigers will work for free and do not complain about it.

A sand tiger shark swimming along the wreck of the U352.      There is some scientific research being conducted on sand tiger sharks today, but mostly on coastal sharks. However, little to no research is being conducted on the sand tigers that are found specifically on the offshore shipwrecks of North Carolina. It is my hope in the near future that more funds and scientific knowledge be utilized to better understand this enigmatic species of shark. The wreck denizen of North Carolina is much more than a tourist attraction. They are vital apex predators that are crucial in balancing the marine ecosystem and in turn protecting fish food stocks that are vital to us humans.

 

Visit this link for more of Mike's sand tiger shark photography.

Afterword:

If you would like to see sand tiger sharks up close and personal contact Olympus Dive Center for information on how to dive the wrecks of North Carolina.

Sand Tiger Facts

•They practice intrauterine cannibalism. This is when one shark embryo will devour the sibling embryo(s) whilst still inside the host mother. How gruesome.

•They range from as far north as Delaware to northern Florida.

•They can be also found off the east coast of South Africa, where they are known as ragged tooth sharks, as well as off the east coast of Australia, where they are known as grey nurse sharks.

•They have been found as deep as 600 feet.

•Males will bite and latch on to the pectoral fin of the female during mating producing scars.

•For reasons not known sand tigers by the dozens on rare occasions will hover in mid water swimming in the same direction in to the current.

•They are the only species known to control their buoyancy by gulping air at the surface.

•They are a federally protected shark species in the United States. It is illegal to land or kill a sand tiger.

•It is not known why sand tigers aggregate around wrecks. It is theorized they are there for the abundant food sources that can be found there. 

 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2013-10-24T20:46:53Z 2013-10-24T20:46:53Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/6/june-7-2013---a-palauan-recharge Diving Unique in Palau

All content copyrighted. ©Mike Gerken; All Rights Reserved.

False Spawning II A false spawning event of red snappers in Palau. ©Mike Gerken

            “Any dive is a good dive” is the motto of many an optimistic diver returning from a mediocre dive experience who does not want to be construed as a jaded diver. After logging thousands of dives and seeing some amazing sights underwater, I find myself at times falling in to this category. For every dive that causes my eyes to pop out of my mask and regulator to fall out of my mouth there are a dozen dives that are ok, but will not be highlighted in the logbook. This of course is the nature of scuba diving. Not every dive is going to bowl you over; that is until I started diving with Unique Dive Expeditions at Sam’s Tours in Palau.

            From September 2012 until April 2013 I was the captain of a startup liveaboard, the Palau Siren of Worldwide Dive & Sail. It was during this time I got to know Paul Collins, an expat scientist doing ocean geography studies of Palau and doubling as an operations manager of Sam’s Tours. Paul and Sam's Tour's dive guide, Richard Barnden are the reason Unique Dive Expeditions are so unique. For several years now, these two have been studying marine fish behaviors based on the lunar cycle, tidal actions and follow up accounts of Palauan fishermen and divers. Many fish species aggregate to the same reef at a certain time of the month or year with the intention of spawning and it is Paul and Richards job to study and track these behaviors so they can witness with great predictability some amazing spawning events month after month and year after year that very few people have ever seen. They take this scientific knowledge and use it to entertain tourists who travel from all over the world to dive with Sam’s Tour’s in Koror. This is where science crosses over to sport diving. By using scientific data, they can dramatically increase the odds of having a stellar dive and eliminating those that don’t make the cut. They prove with their results that there is more than just luck in finding spectacular marine life at a particular dive site.

  bumphead parrotfishBump Head            I was lucky to be able to accompany these two on several dives to witness their techniques first hand. My first mind blowing dive was the spawning event of Bolbometopon muricatum or the bumphead parrotfish. The bumphead gets it name for the bulbous hump on its forehead that is just more noticeable than the tooth plate that looks like the jaws of a backhoe. With thick scales, a green to gray hue and sizes up to 25 pounds, these fish are standouts on the reef. To see a dozen bumpheads would be considered a great sighting on any given dive. Today, however, we were about to see several thousand that arrive a few days before a new moon.

            In the early morning, right before the switch of an incoming to an outgoing tide, the bumpheads began to aggregate on the promontory of the reef in front of our own eyes. At first we saw a few dozen but within an hour their number climbed in to the thousands. During this time, in a large procession, they swam away from the reef in to blue water that was reminiscent of a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour. Pretty soon, the current began to switch to outgoing the fishes heads began to change color. (This is likely a sign to the other fish that they are ready to spawn.) Then, with several dozen divers looking on, it happened. Some of the fish swam rapidly upwards with others joining and swimming alongside. Simultaneously, the eggs from the female are released along with the sperm of the males. As the fish collide with each other I see a cloud burst with frantic fish activity all around in the water column. Then, moments later, it begins to really go off. Multitudes of bumpheads up and down the reef simultaneously perform this ritual over and over again. Trying to film the activity was confusing and difficult to know where to point the camera. There was actually too much action! After about 30-60 minutes the spawning events began to slow down and within what seemed like moments, they were gone. There wasn’t a single bumphead wrasse left on the reef.

bumphead parrotfish aggregationBumphead Aggregation

Bumpheads aggregating on the reef prior to spawning. ©Mike Gerken

            Once back on the boat I could share my excitement with the other divers as to what we just witnessed. To say I was awed was an understatement and the same could be said for the others. The chatter in the boat was filled with adrenaline and disbelief.  For millennia these fish have likely been performing the same routine on this very same section of reef with one goal in mind; to procreate and continue their species.

Bumphead Parrot Fish Spawning March 2013

A video short of the aggregation and spawning of bumphead parrotfish. ©Mike Gerken

            "This dive was just a warm up", Paul indicated. "Wait to you see the red snapper spawning."; (Otherwise known as Lutjanus bohar . With a shake of my head in assent I say, “bring it, I can’t wait!” “Well you’re going to have to wait” Paul began to explain. The red snapper don’t spawn for a few weeks. When I got home, I marked my calendar and patiently waited for the day of the dive to arrive.

            Jump ahead to two weeks and there we were motoring at high speed across the lagoon at sunup on our way to see first hand the red snapper spawning. My camera was loaded, tested and fully charged in anticipation. “This is going to be good”, I said to myself. In a playbook taken right from the bumpheads, the red snappers assembled in the same manner, but this time in the tens of thousands. When I swam down the reef, the mass of fish looked like a swarm of locusts over a Kansas prairie. As I carefully got beneath the horde their sheer numbers blotted out the sun. As we say in Long Island, New York, “This is awesome!”. To make matters more exciting, four eight foot bull sharks arrived at the gathering to attempt to make a meal out of the distracted snappers. The Bulls meandered around the perimeter looking for a weakness keeping their distance from the divers. At one point, Richard got close to one and snapped a photo and the bull shark, not liking the brilliant strobes and electronic impulses, turned tail and swam away at high speed.

 

Swarm

A massive aggregation of red snappers that blotted out the sun at times. ©Mike Gerken

            In a matter of moments, like clockwork, the spawning began. Dozens of fish converged around what looked like one fish ascending upwards. Like fireworks on the 4th of July the cloud bursts of sperm and eggs flowed with the outgoing tide and tarnished the gin blue water above me, below me and on all sides. Predicting when the action was about to happen proved as difficult as with the Bumpheads and my camera was jutting too and fro with excitement. This process repeated itself over again dozens of times up and down the reef.

 

A beautiful assembly of red snappers at Shark City, Palau. 

            Pretty soon, all the red snappers fulfilled their duty and began to disperse to all corners of the reef, returning to wherever they started from, leaving the stunned divers behind to marvel at what we just saw. To add to the party, large aggregations of barracuda, giant trevally, big eye jacks, black snapper and even a lemon shark appeared adding to the wonderful layer cake of a dive.

               Afterwards, Paul explained that the dive we just did had an average attendance of snappers. “Average” I squawked! I couldn’t imagine more fish than what we just saw, but I took his word for it. Unfortunately, I left Palau before I could return again to see if he was telling the truth. This certainly will give me an excuse for returning very soon.

 

Red Snapper Spawning April 2013

A must see video of the aggregation and spawning of red snappers. ©Mike Gerken

            To this day, Paul and Richard at Sam's Tour's continue to refine their dive techniques tweaking the entry times and locations on the reefs to deliver, in my professional opinion, the best diving Palau has to offer. Most of the dives I did in Palau were fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, manta rays, gray reef sharks and healthy populations of fish were all part of the joy of diving there, but nothing held a candle to the dives I did with Unique Dive Expeditions. With their science data they were able to deliver great action beneath the waves. When you have been doing this as a long as I have, every so often, you need your batteries recharged and these dives were just the power source I needed.

Afterword

To set up a dive trip with Unique Dive Expeditions of Sam’s Tours, contact reservations@samstours.com or email paul@uniquedivexpeditions.com. Many of the unique dives offered require very early pre-sunup departures, deep dives to over 30 meters with strong currents a factor. If these conditions aren't for you then best to sign up for the standard fare Sam's Tours has to offer which is also outstanding. 

Photo and Video Gallery

Black Snapper Spawning Another one of Paul and Richard's dive's is a jaunt to the north of Palau to see the aggregation of these

cute little black tail snappers. I was witness to tens of thousands of these fish. ©Mike Gerken

humphead parrotfishBumphead Aggregation IV

Richard Barnden pursuing bumpheads for 'the shot'. ©Mike Gerken

Swarm II Look closely for the large bull shark beneath the red snappers. ©Mike Gerken

Red Snapper Spawning II

A mass of red snappers prior to spawning. 

Visit here for more photos.

 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2013-06-07T17:24:21Z 2013-06-07T17:24:21Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/12/dec-29-2012---freediving-palau Freediving Palau

Monica Ganame, of Apnea Total, inside Blue Holes in Palau, Micronesia.          

            Since we started running charters two months ago, life for me on board the Palau Siren, has been a non-stop series of tasks to get the operation up and running smoothly. The work has been challenging but enjoyable. To make matters even more interesting, my crew and I had to deal with a near direct hit from super typhoon Bopha a few weeks back. We were very fortunate that the typhoons highest winds at the eye of the storm missed us by a mere few miles. Many lost their homes here in Palau, but miraculously no one was killed or severely injured.

 

            Even though I have been tied up running a liveaboard, I have had time to do a few dives and take a few photos. Many of the photos I took were ok, but not worthy of a posting online. Sometimes a photographer needs to scope out photo ops, come up with ideas and then go back to shoot it. I was feeling a little discouraged about the images I was landing until I went on a photo shoot with free diving expert Monica Ganame. Monica owns and operates her own freediving school, Apnea Total, based out of Koh Tao, Thailand.

            I’m always on the hunt for an underwater model that possesses a natural grace underwater that gives the appearance that they are a part of the underwater realm, I spotted Monica and her talents early on in the trip and asked her if she would like to do a photo shoot in the famed, Blue Holes dive site in Palau. Blue Holes is a cavern formation that opens up on to a 3000 foot wall. The view is stunning from within and the lighting a challenge to work with. After showing Monica some of my work she agreed to the shoot enthusiastically.

 

            When dive time came, the group was scheduled to do Blue Corner, another legendary dive site only a few hundred feet away from Blue Holes. After everyone was dropped off at Blue Corner, Monica and I were dropped at Blue Holes and had the great fortune of having the entire cavern to us. No other dive groups had been there.

            As we pulled up to the entrance on top of the wall, I donned my cumbersome scuba gear and rolled over the side with the poise of circus clown. In contrast, Monica wearing only a mask, streamlined wetsuit and long freediving fins slipped fluidly below the water like a dolphin leaving barely a ripple on the surface. While I descended down in to the cavern and set my camera up, Monica remained motionless on the waters surface meditating and practicing her breathing exercises. By breathing in slow and deep and using the diagram to fill up as much of the lung cavity as possible, a free diver will maximize the oxygen they can carry thus staying down longer. The physical technique however, is only part of what is required to dive deeper for longer periods of time. By relaxing the mind and eliminating the fear factor inherent in every human psyche a diver can extend their range and bottom time more than someone whose mind is not at ease with the watery environment. After all it is the brain that tells our body, “you need oxygen buddy and now!” However, like many obstacles to overcome in life, it is factor of mind over matter. Concentration is key.

 

            After I set my exposures and snapped a few test shots, Monica began her long descent down in to the cavern. I made sure the opening was in view above with the blue water shining through. With ease she made her way down to the 60 foot mark while I continually snapped away. After what seemed like a minute, she began her ascent to the surface where she rested for 5 minutes before taking another dive. With each subsequent trip down she was able to go deeper and longer and the photos got more interesting. On a few of the dives Monica swam horizontally under the cavern and ascended through a totally different opening. For most people this would have been a nerve-racking task, but for her it was no effort.

            So there the two if us stayed for nearly one hour; Monica diving over and over again and I taking as many images as I could. Most often I had to chase her through the cavern from behind, which was a futile effort due to the drag of my dive gear. In the end, she had a great time freediving Blue Holes and I had a great time photographing her. I look forward to our next photo shoot out there somewhere in the ‘Big Blue”.

 

           

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-12-29T04:07:30Z 2012-12-29T04:07:30Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/11/october-30-2012--maiden-voyage-in-the-palaun-islands Maiden Voyage in the Palaun Islands

 

   The luxury liveaboard dive vessel, the Palau Siren arrived in Palau on September 22nd of 2012 after a long journey from Bira, Indonesia, where her keel was laid more than 18 months prior. Since our arrival here in Palau, it has been the mission of my crew to get the newest addition to the Worldwide Dive and Sails fleet in to top condition to accept passengers on board for the maiden voyage on October 30th, 2012. With a lot of hard work, determination and the help of the crew of the Palau Siren’s local partner, Sam’s Tours, she was ready for full service ahead of schedule.

        

    As the final day approached all the crew from Sam’s and the Palau Siren were anxious to get things under way and show the people of Palau the latest luxury liveaboard in all her glory. To say we weren’t nervous would be misleading. Much effort has gone in to this project for several years now and the moment of truth was about to take place.

            The guests arrived from locales all over the world such as Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina and the UK. They were given the grand tour of their new home for the next 10 days and to my relief, many expressed great satisfaction at the many creature comforts the Palau Siren had to offer, including hard wood finished staterooms, marble inlaid bathrooms, individual air conditioning units and a brand new “in-float” entertainment system complete with a large selection of movies, music and books to choose from. The fact that the Siren had a fully stocked bar didn’t disappoint anyone either.

            Without wasting any time, all the divers began setting up their equipment on the custom made dive deck each with personal wooden storage lockers in preparation for the next days diving activities to commence. Regulators were checked, camera O-rings lubed and dive masks defogged before all turned in after having a beverage or two from the Palau Siren’s beer tap loaded with the local ales from Palau’s only brewery, the Red Rooster Brewing Company.

           The next morning, breakfast was served; briefings given and the dive boats 29’ long skiffs, powered with a pair of 115hp Yamaha outboards, were loaded up and readied to introduce the world class diving of Palau to the new arrivals.  The Siren left her home mooring in front of Sam’s Tours early that AM and made a very short journey in to Malakal Harbor and dropped anchor in a very scenic location and began loading divers on to the skiffs. Having a pair of high-speed dive boats rather than just one is a luxury many of our competitors do not have. This enables us to split our 16 divers in two groups for a more private dive experience for all. To add to the luxury, each skiff has it’s own local driver and dive guide to service them.

            The first days dives were kept simple but yet exciting, in order for everyone to get ‘their feet wet’ and warm up for the more challenging dives to come. ‘Jakes’ Seaplane, Short Drop Off and Chandelier Cave were first up. The seaplane is a remnant of WWII when the Japanese occupied the islands and used their ideal harbors as refuge to conduct their military campaigns from. The seaplane apparently, sunk at anchor and is fully intact and sits in a mere 18 meters of water. Short Drop Off is the closest reef dive site from the town of Koror and rarely disappoints a new arrival to Palau. Chandelier Cave is more of a cavern than a proper cave. With it’s shallow depths it can be a lot of fun to penetrate within and explore.

            After the days diving was over all sat down and sampled the food of the skilled chefs in the galley and enjoyed a hearty meal. Cocktails, bottles of wine and beer flowed smoothly while all sunk deep in their seats with all senses fully sated.

            Day two found the Palau Siren venturing north to the famed West Passage and Devil Fish City to try our luck at Manta Ray encounters that these sites are renown for. Although, all the diving was well received by the divers, no Manta’s had been found. However, the stunning coral gardens at the dive site, Sunken Bridge were consolation for the no show of the shy Manta’s.

            For the next seven days the Palau Siren zigzagged her way south to Ulong Channel, Ngerchung, Mercherer and Ulachong anchorages, finally ending up at the famed, German Channel. Numerous amazing dives were experienced along the way. Schools of spawning red snapper, black tip and gray reef sharks, beautiful coral walls, anemone’s, green sea turtles and of course Manta Rays.

        

    If there is any critter that causes more excitement and draws more divers to Palau it is the graceful Manta. With their huge wingspans of over 12 feet and their skills at underwater ballet, the Manta will find a soft spot in even the coarsest of humans. Needless to say, the group from the maiden voyage of the Palau Siren had their share of these gentle giants of the ocean.

            It was at German Channel where most got a front row of up to six Mantas feeding at dusk on an incoming tide. I for one was in the water on one of the dives and even though I have seen Mantas many times before, I had a level excitement like a kid on the last day of school before summer.

            With the amazing subject matter before me, I did manage to land a few decent photos but I aim to have many more as the weeks and months progress for me here in Palau. In North Carolina, it was the sand tiger shark that most interested me. Here in Palau, I can see that it will be the Manta that will get my shutter moving.

            Toward the end of the week one dive boat managed to experience a rare gray reef shark mating ritual off of the island of Peleliu in the south of Palau. More than 100 sharks were witnessed with many of the females sporting fresh wounds from the males that latch on to them during mating. The sharks seemed to be oblivious to the presence of divers in the water and came within arms reach at many moments. Unfortunately for me, I was on the boat tending to my duties here and did not manage to get this all on film, but many of my divers on board did get some money shots.

            In addition to great diving, most on board took part in the land based tour of the island of Peleliu where a horrific battle was fought in WWII between the advancing US marines and the defending Japanese troops who were dug in deep in a labyrinth of cave systems. The battle was bloody and carried on for over a month with high casualties. The men who survived this battle would say it was the worst of war.

       

     On the final day of the tour, the pair of Palau Siren dive skiffs hit a few more dive sites with our guests in the southern area of Palau before trekking back to home base in Malakal Harbor. All on board were fully gratified by the gourmet food and world class diving at their disposal for the last nine days.

            I did want to take a moment to thank my crew for an amazing job well done. I have never before had such a hard working, loyal group on board any vessel. I for one see great things in the future for the Palau Siren, her crew and passengers in the coming years if our success can be based on the great feedback received after our first trip.

            The charter came to an end with the start of the last evening barbecue on the back deck. Juicy tender beef tenderloins, chicken and an assortment of savory foods were dished up and washed down with a cold beer and glass of wine by all while a toast was made by the owner, Frank Van der Wilde in honor of the maiden voyage of the Palau Siren. I can’t speak for my crew, but I know I was very proud of what we all accomplished at this moment and I look forward to many more amazing dive excursions in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-11-19T06:37:31Z 2012-11-19T06:37:31Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/9/september-26-2012---micronesia-calling Micronesia Calling

Micronesia Calling

Photo of the Week

On September 18, 2012 (my 45th birthday) Annette spots the equator from the Palau Siren.

I'm not sure why they chose yellow as the color. 

©Mike Gerken; www.evolutionunderwater.com

      

            The human desire to be rooted and to feel the security that comes with surrounding yourself with familiar people, places and things is a powerful one. To ignore this potent human instinct and sell your possessions, quit your job, leave family and friends and travel half way around the world does not come easy for most; and that is understandable. Often it is adversity that causes people to do this more readily, such as failed relationships, to seek out a better job or simply to survive. However, adversity is not the only reason to behave so irrationally.

            There is an expression I picked up while living in Vanuatu in 2006 that explains this. It says there are four types of people otherwise known as the four M’s who pack up and move away from all they know to third world locales. They are: Mercenaries; those seeking riches and desire to pillage and plunder; Missionaries; those who desire to spread the word as they see it; Misinformed; those who are seeking the idyllic paradise on earth only to discover no matter where they go they will find problems in society regardless of how tall the coconut trees are or how brilliant the sunset is. And lastly, Misanthropes or Misfits; those who want to escape the rat race and get away from people in general. Of course, these four M’s are only humorous generalizations and don’t cover the last reason. Many, such as myself, can’t resist the human desire to explore and seek adventure. After a four-year hiatus from travelling, I found myself once again packing my board shorts, dive gear and cameras to satisfy this latter instinct. 

            This last move however was the hardest one for me to make yet. I returned to the USA in 2008 after living and working in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia for six years where I resigned as captain of the liveaboard, Truk Odyssey and took up a position as captain of the dive vessel, Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center in North Carolina. I quickly found myself in a very desirable place, closer to friends and family and enjoying the world class diving the Outer Banks has to offer. It was here, at Olympus where I met my partner, Annette Papa who, like me, has a zest for diving and a yen to see the world.

The Palau Siren awaiting departure for Palau from Bira, Indonesia. 

            In 2011, I took notice of the growing liveaboard company, Worldwide Dive & Sail (WWDS) based out of Phuket, Thailand. Worldwide has luxury liveaboards throughout Southeast Asia and the Maldives. I saw they were planning on launching a new vessel in Palau in late 2012. I approached the owner; Frank Van der Wilde at one of the dive trade shows and pitched to him the idea of me captaining the Palau Siren. I suppose with my strong background working on liveaboards in Micronesia he thought it too was a good idea. Pretty soon I was offered the job with a start date of early September 2012. Annette was also offered a job a dive instructor with the prominent land based operator and local partner of WWDS in Palau, Sam’s Tours.

The GPS as we approached the equator heading northeast to Palau.

            It was all set. I was to return to Micronesia yet again for the third time, but this time with Annette to share the ride. However, leaving Olympus Dive Center, our home in the town of Beaufort and the great friends that we had made was no easy task. The two of us had became very attached to our surroundings including my beloved sand tiger sharks that I had photographed extensively for the past four years. Leaving was downright difficult, but the call to try a new job in a new place was stronger and the opportunity to photograph on a brand new canvas only added to the excitement.

            During the day we went diving while in the evening I packed, shipped and threw out stuff left and right. Annette departed a day before I did to say goodbye to her family while I stayed on to the very end.

Lovely Annette Papa posing for a shot on the bow of the Palau Siren.

            After my last charter at Olympus, the owner and friend of mine, Robert Purifoy invited all on the dock for a champagne toast in my honor. I could not have been more flattered. As I began to pop the bottle of bubbly open I saw in the corner of my eye a large bucket that I assumed had water in it about to be dumped on my head by Robert himself. I had about 1 second to think about the contents of the bucket and how I hoped it did not have ice and Gatorade in it. As luck would have it was only lukewarm tap water. All at the dock sipped champagne and had a great laugh. This helped alleviate the sad task of having to say goodbye to my friends and co-workers. Once the last hugs and handshakes were offered I quickly made my way to the door and didn’t look back since I hate goodbyes and have had to do it this many times in my life.

            On the morning of my last day in Beaufort, NC I awoke at the crack of dawn, dragged my mattress down the stairs to the curb and left a sign that read, “Free Stuff” and placed it along side a bunch of other items not worthy for the trash. I mopped the floor and removed my keys from my key chain, placed them on the counter and with a tear in my eye sadly said good-bye to my home once again.

One of the many beautiful scenes while cruising through the Indonesian archipelago on board

the Palau Siren before entering the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

            Four days later, four flights, two hotels and eight trays of crummy airline food later, we arrived in Indonesia and met up the crew and owner of the Palau Siren to begin our 9 day, 1400 mile trip to Palau across the Pacific Ocean. The crossing was luckily uneventful with decent weather the entire trip. I suppose the highlight was crossing the equator for the first time in my life. Once the latitude on the GPS clicked to 00 degrees 00.001 minutes North the excitement was over and the ocean looked much the same once again; big, beautiful and blue.

Our first sight of Palau after 10 days of travel. The south side of Anguar Island.

It was windy, rainy and overcast; a perfect Micronesian welcome. 

           Upon arrival in Palau on Sept 22, we motored into Malaakal Harbor and dropped anchor. Once the hook was set the crew all took a deep breath and high fived one another for a job well done. Now it was time for the hard work to begin. In the coming weeks we will be preparing the Siren to start her first trip on October 30. Moorings must be set, routes planned and the boat readied. As the day fast approaches I will keep you all up to speed on the latest developments and start posting dive stories as soon as I get back in the water. In the meanwhile, the process of making Palau feel like my new home is a work in progress.

Happy Diving!

-Mike

 

Afterword

The images below of the vessels under construction are of two new Siren Fleet vessels scheduled to launch in the near future. This boat yard was located in Bira, Indonesia. The builders used many traditional techniques with mostly hand tools to complete the work. I will have a more detailed report on this in the future.

Photo Gallery

Annette in front of the construction site of two new Siren vessels.

The scaffolding may look precarious and that is because it was.            

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-09-25T23:48:01Z 2012-09-25T23:48:01Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/suds-returns SUDS Returns

SUDS Diving the Spar Photo of the Week

The Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba Dive Team.

North Carolina, August 17-19, 2012

From left to right; Danny Facciola-Instructor, Charles Stringer, Brett Graveline,

Preston Kaplan, Marc Robledo, Dave Lewis-Instructor, Matt White-(not shown)

     Olympus Dive Center was honored once again to have received some of the men from Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba on August 17-19, 2012 and I had an even bigger honor of being the one to take them diving on board the Midnight Express. (Learn more about SUDS in my previous Blog Report, SUDS & Subs from 2011.) Accompanied by SUDS instructors Danny Facciola and Dave Lewis the men were in good hands for the entire long weekend.

    If there is a group of men who can instill feelings of pride in your country it is these guys. Seeing them participate in scuba diving after overcoming grievous wounds received in battle is inspiring to watch. I think of people like this when I catch myself complaining about trivial matters in life and it places things in proper perspective for me since I have never heard one of these service men complain about anything on board my boat, except maybe when instructor Dave Lewis snores too loud.

    With a warm up 60' dive on the wreck of the Indra on Friday the men were off to a great start. Visibility was a bit low around 10 feet, but it helped sharpen skills and prepare them for coming dives. On Saturday, we headed to the wreck of the Caribsea to check out the sand tiger sharks that have been loitering around all summer at this premier NC dive site. The visibility on the bottom at 90 feet was a little on the murky side, as it usually is, but with the bulk of the shark population hovering in the blue mid water, it did not matter; the guys had a blast. Many stayed within eye shot of the boat in 40' of water and watched the parade of sharks by the dozens march by as well as the thick schools of spanish mackerel, little tunny's and amberjacks that made the scenery all the more exciting.


The SUDS Team - Brett Graveline, Matt White, Charles Stringer, Danny Facciola, Marco Robledo & Preston Kaplan

     Due to responsibilities on the boat I was unable to dive with the SUDS guys, but I did manage to jump in during surface interval and capture some video of my buddies, the sand tigers. As usual, I had a great experience swimming amongst these awesome marine creatures and used a few clips from this dive in the video below.

    With the coming of Sunday, it was time to head south out of Beaufort inlet and head on over to one of the hottest shark lounges in North Carolina, Club Aeolus. If you have not heard of any of the stories or seen any of the video from this wreck dive you are missing out. Sharks have been hanging out inside this wreck all summer long and their numbers seem to be growing as the weeks pass by. The Aeolus on this day was a pleasant 40-50 foot of visibility and the SUDS guys got to see what all the hubbub was all about for themselves.

    Once again I did not get to dive with the SUDS team but I did video this clip below after they all returned to the boat and I had my chance to dive.  Click play and see the action for yourself.

#48 Nashville Lifestyles Dog Cover © Moments By Moser 3

Club Aeolus 

August 18, 2012

   Once the guys had there fill of sharks, we headed over to the USCG Cutter Spar to log a dive on this top notch wreck site. This time I managed to steal away from the boat and jump in with the SUDS team and shoot a quick bit of video and still images. The team had already been down for about 10 minutes before I managed to get in the water so I had to move quick to capture the moment on video. As I headed down to the wreck I quickly caught sight of the SUDS team led by Danny and Dave, hanging about the watch tower on the Spar. Danny spotted me right off and immediately began gathering the team up for a group photo shoot atop the wreck. By the time I arrived on the scene, these well trained men were all in position for a fantastic group video and photo shot. Without further ado why don't you watch this short video tribute clip below.

VIDEO: SUDS Dives NC - Aug 17, 2012

Diving with these guys has once again been a great pleasure and honor. I feel that the training these men received and the diving they do is a small way of thanking them for the service and sacrifices they have made. I can say for sure they deserve this and much much more.

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-08-24T23:17:29Z 2012-08-24T23:17:29Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-6-2012-club-aeolus Club Aeolus

Photo of the Week
Barracuda
Taken on the wreck of the W.E. Hutton AKA Papoose. (New)

©Mike Gerken

 
     The shark lounge at "Club Aeolus" was re-open for business yesterday for the divers on board my boat, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center. Sand tiger sharks have been seen with regularity hanging out inside the wreck of the Aeolus for the better part of the season, but I will say that we saw more sharks at any one time on yesterdays dive.  About a dozen or more bold sand tigers were cruising up and down the port companionway and round and round under the top deck where the ship was broken in two some years ago by a hurricane. These sharks did not frighten easily and made for a great encounter not to mention a very productive photo shoot.
 

The M/V Olympus's very own first mate, Bud Daniels paying me a
 visit on wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
 
     Prior to this dive on the Aeolus, my group dived the wreck of the Spar only a few hundred feet away and might have encountered one or two sharks. It would seem that Spar, although still a great dive overall, is no longer the hippest hottest nightspot in town for the sharks. This trend of why they linger around one spot over another is little understood and with no doubt later this year or next the sharks will find another stomping ground to hang out at.
 
     As a photographer, you could not have asked for a better situation to photograph these sharks. With visibility edging over 50 feet and the water blue in color, the lighting was optimal as was the back drop. Getting close was absolutely no problem since the sand tigers were bumping in to my dome port and swimming directly underneath my arm pit. Making an effort to not touch them proved difficult, but when inadvertent contact did occur the sharks did not startle.
 
Sand tigers at "Club Aeolus". (New)

 

The gang from American Divers Supply. 

     Prior to yesterdays dive, the dive group from Northfield, NJ, American Divers Supply, headed up by Geoff Graham, finished out the there five day stretch on board the Midnight on Friday with only one bad weather day spent at the dock on Wednesday. Not a bad record by North Carolina standards, although batting a perfect 100 would have been preferred.


     The last day of diving on Friday brought us back to the Atlas tanker and the Caribsea for one dive a piece. This was the first dive we had on the Atlas this season and with 30' viz on the bottom and twice that on top of the wreck, it made for a very 'sharky' encounter. 
 
     Unfortunately, I personally was unable to dive this day, but received reports that were very similar to my dive experience several weeks ago on the Caribsea. Sharks by the dozens are still hanging about in the mid water cruising into the current. Many of the divers were thoroughly entertained. As far as I could tell the entire group from American Divers had a blast and I must say it was a pleasure having them on board.
 
Carcharias taurus. (New)

     For you camera buffs out there, I can report that so far my experience with the new Nikon D800 has been a positive one. I just recently added the Nikkor, 16-35MM 4.0 lens to my gear list and am working out the bugs using this ultra wide angle lens. All of the shark images in this blog were shot with this lens. The zoom feature makes it easier to fill your frame up with shark without placing the dome port within 12 inches of these usually shy critters. A full review of the D800 with Sea & Sea MDX housing will be coming soon.

 
    As for the rest of this week, the 'Midnight' does not have any trips until Friday and then will be busy through the weekend. With cooperative weather I will have some more images and stories next week.
 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike
 
 
Photo Gallery
 

Bud Daniels of the M/V Olympus having fun with the sharks.

 
 

Many of the sharks had gouges in there faces and upper body areas.
Probably a result of mating and breeding practices.

 

"Club Aeolus" is hopping. 

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
 

 
 
 
Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-08-06T10:43:00Z 2012-08-06T10:43:00Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-1-2012-double-headers Double Headers


Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus or the "Sand Tiger Shark".
Taken on the wreck of the Caribsea, North Carolina. (New)

©Mike Gerken
 
 

      One of the unwritten laws in North Carolina diving is, "when you find a dive that's great, do it again".  In other words, leaving a wreck site and chasing after better dive conditions for the second dive after you just had an outstanding dive on the first is not playing it smart. These last three days of diving on board the Midnight Express had dive groups who were following this North Carolina law to the tee. 

 
     On Sunday, July 29 we dived the wreck of the USS Schurz and found at least 40 feet of visibility on the bottom with at double that 15 feet off the bottom tot he surface. The hazy layer of water on the bottom was not soupy enough to declare the dive a poor one so we stuck around for a double on this fascinating WWI wreck. In fact, the divers from Scuba Diving Magazines, "Diver to Diver" (D2D), who chartered the 'Midnight' over the weekend, thought the dive was stunning and I had to concur with them after I got back from my photo shoot on the wreck.
 
 
 

The D2Der's at Olympus Dive Center.
Photo courtesy of Jim Stradling. 

     The Schurz was completely inundated with bait fish that were seeking shelter from marauding packs of little tunny's and amberjacks. Visibility on the wreck dropped to a mere few feet each time the predators would swoop down to try there luck at the hapless bait swirling around the wreckage. It was quite a sight to see.

 
     Monday brought another double header, but this time on the wreck of the Caribsea with American Diving Supply chartering the Midnight for the entire week; the Caribsea was the scene of a recent mind blowing dive just a few weeks ago where over a hundred sand tiger sharks were found lurking about on the wreck. (If you don't believe me click this link to watch the video from July 17.)
 
     With visibility in the 30 foot range with slightly clearer water higher in the water column, the divers managed to find themselves surrounded by still plenty of sand tiger sharks not to mention a mass of bait fish dodging for survival from more predators circling around the perimeter of the wreck. Every now and again you could watch a ball of bait instantly gather tightly around a cruising sand tiger shark while a jack would pass near bye. Sometimes the mass of bait would be so thick that the shark would disappear within them. 
 
A Sand Tiger Shark surrounded by baitfish. (New)

     I managed to get in the water for a photo shoot with me new Nikon D800 and try my luck at some shark poses. I have had a concept for a shot where a shark would be emerging from one of these perfectly shaped bait balls and have not had much luck achieving what I wanted; that is until today. 

 
     After snapping more than 130 images I managed to nail two shots that I am proud to show you on this blog report. Sometimes that is how photography underwater work; one will spend a lot of time and effort on a dive to return at the end of the day with a single 'keeper' photo and feel like the day was a success.
 
     The Caribsea was not the last double header we had this week so far. Yesterday, the same group from American Diving Supply wanted to check out the wreck of the Papoose some 32 miles from Beaufort Inlet. We experienced heavy rains and threatening storm systems the entire ride out to the wreck site but eventually made it there safe and sound.
 
Midnight Express mate, Mike Phillips.

     After my mate, Mike Philipps tied us off to the wreck he radioed up on the com that the viz was about 60-70 feet or better. "It is about as pretty as it has been all season" he stated through the head set. Once again all on board had a stunning dive with Caribbean blue water with temps in the high 70's nearly to the bottom. 

 
     The American Divers all made the jump in partly sunny skies that turned the water in to a deep hue of blue beneath. The warm clear water made it easy to see large segments of this ship that was turned in to a wreck at the hands of a German U-boat in WWII. There were a handful of sharks present as well as a school of beautiful african pompano and the usual multitudes of over sized amberjacks and barracuda. 
 
Proof of the blue water on the wreck of the Papoose.
The photo shoot wasn't a complete bust I suppose.

     I jumped in for a dive on the surface interval while all the divers sat atop huddled under the canopy in the pouring rain. Although I had abeautiful dive down there the photo shoot did not pan out so well. I suppose Mercury wasn't aligned just right with Pluto and Saturn thus throwing the universe out of kilter for me. I just couldn't get the shot I wanted. This too is a fact of life with underwater photography; sometimes you come home empty handed. 

     Three days of double headers came to an end today on Wednesday when a strong weather system offshore has kept us at the dock for the day. We are scheduled to run the rest of the week in to the weekend and when I have some new news I will be back with an updated Dive Blog Report.
 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike

Sand tiger sharks in the greenish blue hued water of the Caribsea. (New)
 
from the wreck of the Caribsea July 17, 2012.
 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-08-01T13:03:00Z 2012-08-01T13:03:00Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-17-2012-theyre-back They're Back


Photo of the Week
A gathering of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea off the
Outer Banks of North Carolina. (New) Taken with a Nikon D800.

©Mike Gerken
 
     Due to work obligations to the boat I skipper, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, I was unable to dive this past weekend and was subjected to the torment of diver after diver coming up the ladders with reports of awesome conditions and dozens of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea.
 
     Feeling rather dejected, but not defeated I woke up early on Monday to go diving on board the Olympus on my day off. As luck would have it, my brand new Sea & Sea MDX D800 housing arrived in the mail the day before and I was to be armed with my new DSLR with a whopping 36.3 Mega Pixels and 1080p HD video. In addition, Capt Robert Purifoy of the Olympus indicated they were diving the Caribsea again that day. With a promising weather forecast and Venus aligning with Mars all was right in the universe and the potential for a great photo/video shoot was now possible.
 
 
Carcharias taurus. (New)

     The morning of the dive I was scrambling to set up my new housing and get her ready for the dive. After hooking up the strobes and switching out the dome ports I was ready except for one thing. I needed to insure this pricey rig before leaving the house. So there I was at 0530 online with Diver Alert Networks equipment insurance plan signing my gear up for coverage. With that very important detail taken care of it was time to get going.

 
     We arrived at the Caribsea a few hours later and got all of the divers in the water and on there way to a great shark encounter. My plan was to wait until all had returned before heading down myself. Capt. Robert would be going in as well armed with his video camera. 
 

 

 

Captain Robert Purifoy of the M/V Olympus
perched atop the bow stem, filming the hordes
of sand tiger sharks. (New)

     Word had it that the grouping of sharks were down towards the bow hovering in about 50-60 feet of water with 40-50 feet or more of visibility. The water temp on the bottom at 90 feet was about 71F with 25-35 feet of visibility. With this information I made my way down toward the bow of the wreck fiddling with my new camera and checking for leaks while I kicked.

 
    As I approached the bow I didn't see many sharks at first until I looked straight up and there they were, over 50 sharks parked end to end, side by side as far as I could see. I immediately swam for the tip of the bow, turned the video camera on and starting shooting. Pretty soon, Capt Robert showed up with his camera rolling and proceeded to sit atop the piece of metal that is left of the bow stem. Both of us spent the next 35 minutes shooting this awesome gathering of sharks. There was no shortage of subject matter. 
 
     Every time I have witnessed this event I have noticed the sharks are more docile then usual and getting in close to them without startling them is much easier. Every once in a while a shark would bump in to another shark causing both sharks to bolt away creating a loud shotgun blast sound with the whipping of their tails.
 

 

 

 

A mere handful of sand tigers that were present
on the Caribsea wreck. (New)

     Switching back and forth from stills to video and back to video again, I found the versatility of the D800 superb. My only problem was getting use to the new location of the buttons, knobs and switches on this unit. I struggled at times missing a few good opportunities but for each missed one I had two others fill its place. Over all, it was a super dive and photo shoot. Both Robert and I surfaced after that dive with a very satisfied look on our faces as did all of the divers on board that day. I can't wait to get back there.

 
My cousin Melissa Miehling on the stunning wreck
 of the USS Schurz. (New) Taken with a Nikon D300.

     Earlier in the week my cousin Melissa Miehling visited me from Virginia to do a bit of diving and enjoy the topside attractions of the Morehead City area. We managed to get out diving to the wreck of the U352 and the Spar as well as the USS Schurz. With good visibility and a strong presence of marine life we had a great time diving together. You can enjoy a few of the photos I took of her in the photo gallery at the bottom. The next time I see her may very well be in Palau when she comes to visit once I move their to be captain of the Palau Siren starting in October of 2012. More to come on these events in the future.

 
Happy Diving!
 
-Mike
 
  Photo Gallery
 
Schooling sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea, NC. (New)
 
Melissa telling fish stories underwater. 

A sand tiger on the wreck of the Spar. (New)

When I said to get closer all I got was an "ok this is far enough" look from my cousin.

Lots of bait fish and a happy diver. (New)
 
 
 
 

 

Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-07-17T15:23:00Z 2012-07-17T15:23:00Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-2-2012-sand-tiger-night-club-3 July 2, 2012 - Sand Tiger Night Club
Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus within the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
©Mike Gerken
 

      The wreck of the Aeolus, which lies 28 miles south of Morehead City, NC was the sight of a very exciting photo shoot for myself this past Saturday where numerous sand tiger sharks, maybe a dozen strong, had gathered within the wreck. Every once in a while you will find a shark or two loitering about inside the wrecks here in North Carolina, but to see this many is a rare occurrence. From the stand point of a photographer, this makes for some great subject matter.


     With my favorite 10.5mm Nikon fisheye lens and D300 camera I carefully made myself at home inside the stern section of the wreck and snapped away until my fingers bled. OK, maybe that's a stretch; my fingers didn't actually bleed, but the opportunities for great photos were everywhere and my flash was firing rapidly. The eerie light emanating from outside of the deteriorating wreck made for a superb backdrop for the sharks lurking about within their dark night club. I was a kid in a candy store with one 'keeper' photo after another filling my camera's memory card.

 

     Several sharks even swam up and down the companionway on the port side of the wreck which is lined with stunning brilliant purple colored sea fans. There's nothing like adding a little color to a scene to spice it up your image. Human models couldn't have posed for a better shot than these sharks and I don't have to pay them.

     After about thirty minutes of pure bliss with my 'fave' sharks, it was time to head up to my divers waiting up top. This past weekend a group from Seahorse Scuba in Midlothian, Virginia chartered the boat I skipper for Olympus Dive Center. They too had a look at the Aeolus and her sand tiger shark squatters.

 

     The past few years the Aeolus has had sporadic sand tiger sightings on her remains while the neighboring wreck of the USCGS Spar was the hot spot for shark sightings. Although the Spar still has sand tigers on it this season, the Aeolus seems to attract more this dive season. Not much is known why or where sand tigers roam in their range of habitat but studies are being done in Delaware State University by Dr. Dewayne Fox and by The Guy Harvey Research Institute. By attaching transmitters much is being learned of the sharks migratory patterns. When I find out more about the results I'll be passing this information on to you.

     The Aeolus wasn't the only wreck visited by the divers from Seahorse Scuba. They also got a taste of the USCG Cutter Spar and were introduced for the first time to the wreck of the legendary U-352. A visit to the North Carolina coast to dive would not be complete until one scratched a few lines into their dive log about this wreck experience. Visibility has been around 30-40 feet depending on where you dive. These conditions certainly aren't the best North Carolina has to offer, but not the worst either.

     Presently, the Midnight Express has been grounded due to bad weather on this day, but we are scheduled to run again on Tuesday and Wednesday with the gang from New Joisey's, Ocean Explorers headed up by Jim Masters and Donna Gunn. I'll have more about their dives very soon. Rumor has it we are heading to the Caribsea to see some sharkies. So what else is new?

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

 

Photo Gallery
 

 

Crazy Outer Banks weather can be scary and awe inspiring at the same time. This storm dumped more than

an inch in a few hours and caused damage up and down the eastern coast of the US.
Shot taken on July 1, 2012 at the Olympus Dive Center dock.

 

Sand tiger shark on the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)

 

Sand tiger with brilliant purple sea fans. (New)

 

Sand tiger 'strolling' down the port companionway
of the Aeolus. (New) 

 

Sand tiger hanging out in 'Club' Aeolus. (New)

 

Annette Papa shooting with her new D7000 on the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

 

A black and white sand tiger shark. A very rare species.

 

Annette Papa posing with her new 'baby'.

 

Annette Papa hanging out in the deep dark and dangerous.
 
 





     

 
Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-07-02T15:19:00Z 2012-07-02T15:19:00Z
http://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-22-2012-naeco June 22, 2012 - The 'Naeco'



Photo of the Week
The Wreck of the Naeco; the stern. (New)
©Mike Gerken


Papoose
    Midweek charters on board the Midnight Express at Olympus Dive Center were a little slow these past five days, so I took advantage of the down time and stowed away on board the M/V Olympus on Wednesday June 20 to dive the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose for a pair of dives. It was a good day to play hooky from my desk jockey responsibilities and go diving. The seas were flat calm with visibility edging over 30 feet on the bottom but with much bluer water above that. 
 
     I also managed to go diving with my lovely girlfriend, Annette who was anxious to display some of her new underwater modeling tips she learned from professional photographer Chris Crumley. (Please visit his web site to learn more about Chris and the beautiful work he does). Annette drove all the way to Virginia a few weeks ago to take Chris's course and so far so good with her new poses.
     
     With the visibility a little on the low side getting close to subjects would be the name of the game to achieve any decent images. As Annette and I swam down the wreck we started to come across some very large sand tiger sharks, but none of them appeared to want to cooperate for a close encounter photo.
 
 
Annette Papa and a very friendly giant southern stingray. (New)
 
 
     Pretty soon we stumbled upon a large southern stingray with a pair of very large cobia swimming underneath it. Cobia are well known to follow stingrays and dart to and fro as if they were following a Pied Piper. This image of ray and cobia has been on my shot list for years now and I thought I might have a chance to nail it this time, but unfortunately neither party was interested in having their portrait taken and they swam off in to the blue green water with indifference to the eager photographer behind them.
 
     Suddenly Annette and I found yet another jumbo stingray laying partially buried in the sand and I decided this might suffice. Without having to so much as look at Annette, she maneuvered herself carefully in to position so not to startled the resting stingray for a photo. After a few test shots and a very cooperative ray, I managed to get a 'keeper' for the photo album and all thanks to Annette.
 
    
Ashton Allgood inside the wreck of
the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. (New)

     On our trip back to the boat, I practiced firing off some portraits for practice for the both of us. With her new talents as a UW model, hopefully, you will begin to see Annette in print more and more in the future. Don't tell her I said this, but I think she enjoys it as well.

 
    Dive two on the Papoose was another enjoyable portrait photo shoot with long time Olympus employee, Ashton Allgood. On this dive, Ashton and I swam through the internal remains of the Papoose to try to obtain a tone of deep, dark and mysterious in our photos. Considering this was Ashton's first time posing for me I'd have to say it went rather well. She hasn't seen any if these images as of press time so I will let her decide.
 
(Scroll down to the Photo Gallery)
 
Naeco
     That night, after the Papoose dives, I received a phone call from Captain Bobby Edwards of the 'six pack' dive boat, Atlantis IV that operates out of Atlantic Beach. He asked me if I would like to dive the wreck of the Naeco the next day since I had the day off. The Naeco was sunk in WWII by a German U-boat approximately 41 miles due south of Beaufort Inlet. She lies in about 130-135' of water and is known to have fantastic visibility and warm waters from the Gulf Stream. I hadn't been to the Naeco in more than 10 years and I dared not turn down such a gracious invite. I told Bobby I would be happy to go.
 
Northeast divers on the Atlantis IV.

     That morning at the dock, as we were loading gear, I was introduced to the group of divers that had been chartering the Atlantis IV all week. One of the guys, by the name of Charlie, had looked awfully familiar to me, but I could not place the face. On the ride out to the dive site we got to talking and low and behold we discovered that we had dived together on several occasions in the north east some 15 plus years ago.  On one such trip, after diving the wreck of the USS Bass off of Block Island, RI, our dive vessel nearly sank in a wicked squall that swooned down unexpectedly upon us. The rain, wind and seas were powerful enough were we began donning our drysuits in the event we should sink. Believe me, it was hairy!

 
    Needless to say we did not sink and came through the storm much better than the S/S Minnow did. We pulled in to Block Island and sought out the nearest bar, sat out the second dive and opted for a cold beer to calm our rattled nerves. An event like this one sticks in your mind rather well and Charlie and I hugged and joked about almost perishing in that storm together. Thankfully we could laugh about this event since the alternative outcome was too grim to think about.
 
The Naeco steering quadrant in the background. (New)
 
     Once arriving at the Naeco the five divers on board jumped in for their dive as I followed slightly behind. My goal was to shoot some wide angle images with my Nikon D300. The visibility was an easy 70 feet and ideal for the type of shot I wanted to get. As I arrived at the bottom some 130' below I framed a shot and fired the shutter. The camera clicked, but the strobes did not fire. I knew that it could be a bad connection in my sync cord or just a tad bit of grease on the hot shoe. 
 
     Confronted with this problem before I decided to drop back even a little further than usual and shoot ambient light only rather than abort the dive. In the back of my head I knew that converting such photos to black and white would work well. So that is what I did and in the end I was pleased with the outcome, but I wish my strobes had fired all the same. Any photographer will tell you that if you can land one really nice 'keeper' image per dive your doing pretty well.
 
     The second dive of the day was on the  Wreck of the U-352. One of the divers on board had never been and the other four quickly agreed that it was a must dive for him to experience. The visibility however was a little on the low side at around 20-30 feet so I left my camera on the boat and took up a pole spear and caught a few black sea bass for my dinner table instead. Sea bass are in season now and abundant on the many wrecks. Many will tell you, including myself, that these modest sized fish are some of the tastiest in the ocean. Keep an eye out for my fish recipes in my next Dive & Photo Newsletter.
 
Blue water diving NC style. (New)
 
     At the end of the day, I shook hands with Charlie and all the guys, exchanged business cards and said, "see you out there again".  I have no doubt that we will see each other again. The diving industry is a small one and you never know who your going to bump in to on a dive boat in the middle of the Atlantic.
 
     I'll be back in action on the Midnight Express starting tomorrow and Sunday. The weather looks promising so we shall see. As of right now there is plenty of space on board for the following midweek dives so give us a call and book your dives. We would love to share with you what we already know is world class diving.
 
Thanks for following!
 
-Mike
 
 
 
Photo Gallery
 
Instructor Bubba Flores on video shoot for the Military Channel
with his Go-Pro head cam. (New)

 

Annette Papa swimming the hull of the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

 

Ashton Allgood inside the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. 

 

Ashton on the ascent.

 

Annette Papa hangin' out.
 
 
 

Rush hour on the ascent. 

 

Ashton and Annette stopping for a pose. 

 

Ashton Allgood, Annette Papa and Nema Triplett.

 
 
 
 
Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging mike@evolutionunderwater.com (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging 2012-06-22T13:23:00Z 2012-06-22T13:23:00Z