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North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2016

June 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

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



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


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.


Sea & Sea; Tusa

SeaLife Cameras


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.

Schooling Sand Tiger Sharks

August 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

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.


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!

North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2015

June 02, 2015  •  2 Comments

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



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



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 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



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.

Mystery Wreck of Palau

May 16, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Dumaguete Muck

April 26, 2015  •  2 Comments

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.

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