Mike Gerken's
UW Photography &

Diving Blog

View some of Mike's latest photographic and video works and read about the stories behind the images. 

 

Getting Deep in Truk

January 22, 2015  •  2 Comments

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


Threshers of Malapascua

August 29, 2014  •  1 Comment

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.


1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout

June 06, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

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

 

 

 


Dive Boat Captains Wish List

April 14, 2014  •  1 Comment

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.

 


The Sand Tiger Shark: Wreck Denizen

October 24, 2013  •  2 Comments

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. 

 

 

Favorite Companies

Odyssey Liveaboard

Subscribe
RSS
Archive
January February March April May June (1) July August September October (1) November December
January February March April (1) May June (1) July August (1) September October November December
January (1) February March April (1) May (1) June (1) July August (1) September October November December
January February March April May June (1) July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December