Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging: Blog https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog en-us (C) Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging [email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Sat, 11 Mar 2023 08:35:00 GMT Sat, 11 Mar 2023 08:35:00 GMT https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/img/s/v-12/u545147143-o1038192551-50.jpg Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging: Blog https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog 90 120 Sea Lion Craze https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2023/3/sea-lion-craze My mood as a diver and underwater photographer fluctuates from highs to lows. It is the typical adrenaline junky scenario. "What can I do to top the last dive; the last photo?" After 4-5000 dives it gets more and more difficult to sate my appetite. Fortunately the world and all its wonders above and below the water is vast. It is merely a matter of time and commitment before I discover something new and exciting to experience. 

I returned to the US from being "Stuck in Truk" in March of 2022 where I participated in some of the most intense wreck diving of my personal life. I was now looking for the next tower to climb. (See previous "Stuck in Truk" Blog Reports).
After a stop off in North Carolina where I conducted the Wreck•Shark Shootout and a few other shark-centric dive trips, I received an email from friend and fellow photographer Scott Johnson. In short, he said, "Mike would you like to join me in La Paz, Mexico to photograph the Sea Lions of Los Islotes on the Sea of Cortez? I have it all set up." I'm pretty sure I responded rather quickly with an emphatic, "Absolutely". 

The trip was in October of 2022, a time I am told the sea lion pups are old enough to stray out of the protection of "Mom & Dad sea lion" and still young enough to be adorable. I have always wanted to dive and photograph sea lions and have heard plenty of stories and seen enough photos to support my desire to do so. Now another box would be ticked off the proverbial bucket list. 

In short, Scott with his wife Lauren flew into Mexico and we dived with The Cortez Club located in La Paz. The plan was to dive 10 days and spend as much time as we could at the sea lion colony of Los Islotes which is about a 70 minute boat ride from The Cortez Club. You might think that is a long trip but it is well worth it. Trust me. 

My first sight of the guano covered rock outcropping of Los Islotes was impressive as was the strong odor emanating from it. The sound of sea lions barking at each other could be heard over the hum of the engines and the dozens of vultures flying over head reminded me of the harshness of nature present here. Wasting no time Scott and I rolled over the side and swam towards the island. It didn't take long before several females came over to "flirt" with us. I was to understand that touching them was not allowed but didn't hear the part of the briefing that said "unless they seek your attention". One female was nuzzling up to me and I foolishly ignored her. Soon she swam around behind me and gently bit me in the ass for not petting and showing her some respect. I have never experienced this behavior from a non-human before (but humans yes). 

I quickly became enamored with the sea lions and the stare from their sentient eyes. I was hooked. We spent 2 dives at 60 minutes each before starting our way back to La Paz and diving some other sites on the way home each day. Scott and I, before we even arrived here, agreed that we would spend as much time at the sea lion colony as we would be allowed.  As a photographer you don't want to spread yourself too thin. Focus you camera on less subjects for longer periods of time to obtain the best quality images possible. We went back 7 out of the 10 days of our total diving package with each day yielding new experiences and photo opportunities.

By far the most fun I had was diving with and shooting the sea lion pups. Their eyes could melt the hearts of even the most hardened criminal. Photographing them was like trying to get a group of 2 year olds to sit still for a portrait. Frustrating but at the same time delightful.

Sometimes when I was trying to line up a shot I could feel the tugs on my fins. Looking down I would see these impish little eyes staring at me as if to say, "Play with me, now!" They would bite and tug on my strobe arms, my head or any thing else they could get there mouths on. It was too much fun. 

The delighted feeling I had most of the time was occasionally switched off with sudden anxiety when a 600lb bull sea lion would patrol near me to check on his harem of "ladies". The loud barking and bubble blowing was a warning to all us humans. I did as instructed and looked down and away from the bull and moved away from his territory each time this happened. On one occasion I was photographing a female up close. As I was focusing in on her suddenly a black mass with huge whiskery face appeared in my view finder. I believe this bull thought I was too close to his "girl". Although I backed away the bull swam atop me and pressed me into the rocky bottom with his huge belly. After the mass passed by I looked over at Scott and all he could do was shake his head in disbelief. There was definitely a smile beneath that mask though. 

Overall, the experience left an indelible mark on me. It is not often in nature where a wild animal will voluntarily interact with humans in their territory and on their terms and even do so with displays of affection. The sea lions were not just photogenic as stand alone subjects but the background that was the rocky island of Los Islotes made the perfect underwater studio. Composing images that went beyond sea lion portraits was most satisfying. 

The exploratory trip to the Sea of Cortez went so well that I went ahead and booked a group trip there in Oct of 2023. I would very much like to share my experiences with you and maybe help you achieve some great imagery. I will guide you through the process of diving La Paz while staying at a luxury resort and spa. Besides sea lions we will be diving other famed sites there such as wrecks and La Reina dive site to look for mantas, pelagics, eels and much more. It is not just the sea lions. 

Please visit this link that will take you to the trip page in this web site:



See complete photo gallery here: https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/p145625210





[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) diving sea of cortez diving with sea lions la paz diving la paz scuba los islotes Mexico sea lions sea of cortez The cortez club underwater photography sea lions https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2023/3/sea-lion-craze Sat, 11 Mar 2023 08:27:01 GMT
Stuck in Truk - Final Chapter https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2022/3/stuck-in-truk-final-chapter

Isolating in Truk Lagoon - (Continued)

(Please read the past blog reports for context.)
Part I of "Stuck in Truk"

Part II of "Stuck in Truk"

Part III of "Stuck in Truk"

Part IV of "Stuck in Truk"



Fujikawa Maru Machine ShopFujikawa Maru Machine Shop
          After two years of tending to the Odyssey in Truk Lagoon the time has finally come to pack up and head back to the USA (at least for a while). The owner of the Odyssey was able to enter into the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) after an arduous quarantine process that took nearly a month to complete. (The FSM is still closed at the time of this post). With his arrival I can now depart and the Odyssey will be in good hands.

             Using the catchphrase “Stuck in Truk” these past few years made it sound as if I was truly marooned here. The fact is, I could have left at any time but chose to stay. For health reasons, it seemed a prudent decision to not leave a virus free country during a global pandemic. The virus, whose name I won’t mention, has caused hardship for everyone these past two years so it would be wrong of me to complain about my situation here in Truk. Whatever financial losses, social isolation and boredom I have experienced, the world was coping with the same but while also combating the pandemic. Katsuragisan MaruKatsuragisan Maru
            As for myself, I have not experienced a single day of wearing masks, social distancing or living in fear of the disease. The FSM did a wonderful job of keeping the virus out and its people safe while they went through the monumental task of vaccinating a population of only 150,000 or so people spread out over an island region twice the size of the US with a land mass equivalent to Rhode Island. Considering the sparse resources and complex geography it was impressive how they have vaccinated more than 70% of its people to date. I was proud to be a part of this effort. The Odyssey was used to deliver vaccines and health care professionals to the various islands in the Lagoon. We just returned from yet another vaccine trip just a few days ago from the date of this post. It was exactly on the 1 year anniversary from the first vaccine trip we ran.

Momokawa Maru Control RoomMomokawa Maru Control Room
             When I reflect on the past two years I try to see the bright side of the experience. After all, I did manage to accomplished the most rewarding and complex wreck diving of my life. Dives I had never had the time to attempt due to my obligations as a captain and tour leader. Photographically it was a coup. Not only was the diving awesome but the two people I dived with made it all the more so. I couldn’t have asked for better dive buddies than Keisuke and Eri of Treasures Divers here in Chuuk. With their dive operation also shut down they too wanted to make the best of the time on their hands and explore the wrecks like they had never done before. The three of us dived, feasted and laughed together. We made a great team. It was just what the three of us needed to be able cope out here in Truk Lagoon. I will miss them.

            Although I am excited to rejoin the rest of the world and reboot my life beyond Truk Lagoon, I’m not doing so without apprehension. This is the longest I have stayed in one place continually since 1998 and it’s only natural to feel some angst when lifting off again. My spirit, although restless, has a sedate side to it that is demanding and hard to ignore. However, the wheels are up in a few hours and I'm off to the next stop.

Join Mike on the Truk Odyssey for Rec•Tec 2023 & 2024 


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk corona virus cv-19 deep diving diving federated states of micronesia fsm liveaboard diving scuba scuba diving social distancing tec diving travel ban truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2022/3/stuck-in-truk-final-chapter Sat, 12 Mar 2022 04:46:50 GMT
Truk Lagoon's Top 5 Most Challenging Dives - Part II https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2021/3/truk-lagoons-top-5-most-challenging-dives---part-ii Truk Lagoon's Top 5

Challenging Dives - Part II

Photos & Text by

Mike Gerken

Read "Part I": "Truk's Lagoon's Top 5 Most Challenging Dives"


Diving the wrecks of Truk Lagoon over the past 20 years has produced many memorable experiences but none as challenging as the top 5 listed in this article. Below are my accounts of the top two. My friends and dive team members, Keisuke Yokota and Eri Umino concur with the ratings in this list. For background and the other top 3 wrecks please see the link above.


#2 The Amagisan Maru

The TelegraphThe telegraph is a key reference for navigating around the lower engine room.             If there is a single dive etched into my memory it was a hair-raising one several years ago on a foray into the heart of the Amagisan Maru. The Amagisan was torpedoed and sank in 190’/58m with the top of the wreckage at 110’/33m. This wreck appeals to divers with a wide range of skills from advanced to expert. However, the lower engine room of this 450’ merchant ship is complex and not for everyone. The ship lays 75 degrees on its port side making it extremely disorienting 3 levels down inside the wreck at 180’/55m. To make matters worse, the visibility is often poor and the stairwells are blocked by debris. The Amagisan Maru Torpedo striking the Amagisan Maru.

            Entering the lower engine room is easy but, like a maze carved out of hedges, exiting is the hard part. On my first “memorable” exploratory dive I become momentarily lost in the hazy water. Losing your bearings even for a mere few minutes at that depth seems like an eternity. Without citing the half-dozen rules I violated let me just say it was complacency that nearly caused my demise. After this humbling experience, I went back to the Amagisan engine room a week later with a proper plan and imprinted the route to memory. It took 3-4 progressive dives to learn this section of the wreck but when I was done it became as familiar to me as my own bedroom.

            Phone BoothOnly remnants of the wooden phone booth remain with the handset at the end of the white cord. There are some interesting attractions inside the engine room and knowing there are very few who have seen them makes the dive more exciting. The telegraph and master controls are within a few feet of each other and are an important reference for navigation. Moving away from the control room there is a decayed wooden phone booth (right photo) with handset, cable and ringer still intact. Of course, the usual racks of gauges, valves, whatchamacallits and thingamabobs are plentiful and cool to look at. Diesel powered cargo vessels were modern technology in the 1930's and 1940's while today it looks archaic. This engine room is one of the largest I have explored and have yet to see it all.


The TelegraphKeisuke examines the telegraph in the hazy engine room.

The ExitKeisuke exits the engine room through the skylight.

Engine RoomThe Upper Engine Room



#1 Aikoku Maru 

Aikoku MaruAikoku MaruJapanese merchant raider, Aikoku Maru in WWII.

The Control RoomKeisuke and Umi explore the control room in the heart of the Amagisan Maru.
            Thump, thump, thump. “What was that sound?”, I thought to myself while penetrating deep into the engine room of the Aikoku Maru. It became clear after a moment that is was the din of my pounding heart. No other dive in Truk Lagoon has made me feel such a way. Maybe it is the deep depth or the complex penetration or maybe it is the souls of the dead that haunt me.

            This 500’ long merchant raider met a fiery end when the entire forward half of the vessel erupted in a massive explosion during "Operation Hailstone". The blast killed over 700 men and annihilated half of the ship. The upper engine room collapsed but the lower section is partially intact. Navigating to it at over 180’/55m is no easy task.

  Fuel Site GlassesWhat is believed to be sites for examining the fuel.            Of all the dives in Truk Lagoon, this is one that I believe a line reel is mandatory for navigation. Finding narrow exit points in a silt-out can be impossible without one. Pieces of steel disintegrate into a puff of smoke when touched. Visibility seems to always be hazy and deteriorates rapidly every passing minute of the dive. Heavy clumps of rust knocked loose from our venting bubbles rain down from above. The silt inside is so fine that an over-zealous fin kick can cause a plume 6 feet away. For these reasons photography is an after-thought while diving deep in the engine room of the Aikoku. Focusing too much on it can be hazardous under these circumstances. The images in this article took 6 dives to obtain. That is a very low ratio of dives to photos.

Silt OutEven the most gingerly of divers will suffer silt outs like this one in the Aikoku Maru.             Adding to the adrenaline deep inside this eerie wreck are the site of human remains scattered about. On one dive, I clamped off a light and turned it on for a photo opportunity. The powerful beam shined directly onto a skull nestled in the silt about 6 feet away. It was staring directly at me. I quickly adjusted the light and pretended it didn’t happen. Getting rattled in these conditions is not in ones best interest. Many of the human remains were reclaimed by a Japanese dive organization in the 1980’s but it evident that not all were removed. There is rumor that a further reclamation project is planned in the future but I’m not aware of the status.

            The Aikoku Maru lower engine room is the most intense dive in Truk Lagoon; at least it is for me. Although all of the dives and photos obtained in this list required serious planning with high risk to accomplish, I would do it all over again. It was the challenge that made it worth doing.

Special Thanks

          I wanted to say thank you to Eri “Umi” Umino and Keisuke Yokota from Treasures Dive Shop here in Truk Lagoon. Like myself, Keisuke and Umi (which means Ocean in Japanese) were stuck in Truk during the country wide shut down. Together we accomplished some of the most exciting dives in Truk Lagoon and we did so without incident. Both have shown exemplary patience and professionalism. I was fortunate to have divers of their skill level in front of the lens. Thank you Umi and Keisuke! I look forward to future dives together.


            If you desire to dive one of the top 5 most challenging dives in Truk Lagoon, please do not arrive and expect to be able to do so without a lot of pre-planning. For one, most dive operators will not take a diver that has not displayed adequate skills on basic dives prior to attempting these more challenging ones. A certain level of familiarity or comfort level with a diver is required. This takes time; time which most visitors do not have. Contact your operator and see what can be arranged.

            In addition, you will likely need to charter a private boat to bring you specifically to these locations. A dive boat may run into the problem with divers who do not have the skills requesting to follow a team who does. “if they can do it, why can’t I” paradigm.

            Lastly, each of you reading this should be honest with yourself and determine if you have enough experience to conduct technical dives such as these.


Join Mike in Truk Lagoon on the Odyssey for

Rec•Tec 2022 


Rec•Tec 2023


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[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aikoku aikoku maru Amagisan amagisan maru best wrecks chuuk decompression diving deep diving engine rooms federated states of micronesia FSM fumitsuki fumitzuki i169 japanese submarines japanese warships micronesia most challenging dives odyssey operation hailstone photo tips photography reiyo maru shinohara shipwrecks tec diving tech diving technical diving top 5 challenging dives truk lagoon truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography warships of wwii what is the most challenging dive truk lagoon world war ii subs wreck diving wrecks wrecks of truk lagoon wwii shipwrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2021/3/truk-lagoons-top-5-most-challenging-dives---part-ii Tue, 30 Mar 2021 10:00:00 GMT
Truk Lagoon's Top 5 Most Challenging Dives - Part I https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/12/truk-lagoons-top-5-most-challenging-dives Truk Lagoon's Top 5 Challenging Dives - Part I

Photos & Text by Mike Gerken

The Dive TeamEri Urmino on left who goes by Umi which means Ocean in Japanese; Keisuke on right and the author center.
The wrecks of Truk Lagoon have something to offer every level of diver. From the newly certified to the advanced technical diver, Truk has it all. However, this list is not about the simpler pleasures that Truk provides. This is about the most challenging dives I have personally encountered in the past 17 years working here as crew, captain and photo-pro on board the M/V Odyssey. Due to the closure of Truk these past 10 months, I have had the opportunity along with fellow Truk dive pros, Keisuke Yokota and Eri Umino, to explore the wrecks in ways we have been unable to in our long careers working here. We were experienced, calculated and methodical in our approach and above all, we came to trust each other’s abilities on the leisurely dives before attempting the more challenging ones. By writing this piece I did not intend to promote or encourage others to attempt these dives on their own. I am simply sharing my explorations and photography with you. I hope you enjoy them.

#5 Reiyo Maru – Lower Engine Room

            Due to severe bomb damage splaying open the wreck, the lower engine room of this merchant vessel is not particularly difficult to enter or exit. It is the max depth of 215’/65M that has secured the Reiyo into the number 5 slot. Depending on your skill set, you may argue that 215’ is not particularly deep but, when your are penetrating in a confined space three levels down with severe silting hazards, the risks increase dramatically. Time is a factor at that depth and you don’t have much of it to deal with a crisis if it should occur.

Reiyo Maru TelegraphOdyssey crew member Dar Hubsch examines the telegraph in the control room at 215'/65.5M. One of the deepest dives in Truk Lagoon.             To date, I have made one dive to the lower engine room with a team of 3 divers in 2019. Two of them were on closed circuit rebreather using trimix while I was on open circuit scuba using air. This depth is about at the edge of where I want to be on open circuit and I aspire to obtain a CCR unit in the future; if for any other reason than to quell the complaints from my CCR buddies about my venting bubbles creating too much silt (which is an undeniable truth). 

            This wreck is seldom visited and the lower engine room even less so. Due to the lack of highlights and extreme depth the Reiyo is not considered a “must-dive” here in Chuuk. With more than 3 dozen wrecks to choose from, she is often overlooked.

Reiyo Maru A massive hole provides a fairly easy entrance into the Reiyo. The upper engine room has much damage.

Bomb Damage

The SkylightsThe open skylights provide a fare amount of ambient light into the upper engine room but most of it dissipates deep inside. The Skylights and air cowling. 


#4 Fumitsuki Destroyer – Engine Room

            Built in 1928, this pre-WWII steam turbine driven destroyer is a rarity in Truk Lagoon if not in the world. It is difficult to determine the functionality of much of the hardware. There are numerous gauge panels, gate valves, voice tubes and main controls complete with a pair of telegraphs to be seen. The photo Fumitsuki engine roomTwin gauge panels in the rear section of engine room. opportunities here are vast but very difficult to achieve. Silting occurs rapidly even with the most well-placed fin kicks. Multiple attempts were made to obtain a mere handful of images.

            Entering the narrow skylight at 120’ into this destroyer’s engine room does not look possible wearing a twin tank configuration so I opted for a single tank. Once inside movements must be made gingerly and contemplatively. There is plenty of machinery and hardware to squeeze past. The “bull in the china shop” approach will lead to possible entrapment and silt-outs. The engine room is by far the most confined space in Truk Lagoon I have dived in. Several fatalities have occurred in here over the years so extreme caution must be used to dive it or simply abstain entirely from entering. Due to the reasonable depth, the engine room of the Fumitsuki lands at number 4. Any deeper and it could have been easily bumped up to the number 1 slot.

Control RoomKeisuke explores the control room complete with telegraphs in the background and these main steam valve controls. The control room.

Voice TubesThis personal discovery came at one of our last dives into the engine room. In the port corner towards the stern were these voice tubes in immaculate condition. A full set of voice tubes.

Control RoomI grabbed this shot of Eri while she was filming the control room. How she managed to get into that spot without silting out the area is a testament to her dive skills. Eri filming in the tight confines of the control room.

Engine Room StuffThe purpose of this tower of valves and gauges is unknown but it is impressive. Engine Room Stuff.

Light BulbThe engine room has many gauge panels such as this one and intact light bulbs.

An intact Light Bulb and gauge panel.


#3  The I-169 Submarine –  Engine Room          

            A crew member of the I-169 failed to close a critical valve when diving to evade air attack. Part of the sub flooded and was unable to re-surface and the crew within all perished. Half of the ship was scuttled by the Japanese command but for reasons unknown the stern section of the vessel remains intact aft of the conning tower.

I-169The Japanese sub, the I-169 in her entirety. To the left is the intact stern and the scuttled bow to the right.

The I-169

            Diving inside the confined remains of a WWII submarine is no easy task. After all, they were not known for their spacious accommodations during the war never mind penetrating a flooded one at 130’/40M wearing a full complement of tech diving gear and carrying a large camera. There is only one other wreck that is more cramped and that is the Fumitsuki.

The Engine Room HatchKeisuke easily navigates through the engine room hatch from astern. This is the easiest of the hatches to penetrate.             Navigating past several tight hatches and hanging machinery requires even more caution as any of the dives in this list. Simply turning around without creating a silt-out is difficult. It is a nightmare for a claustrophobe. In addition, you will want to thoroughly vet your dive buddy before attempting this dive. Dealing with a panicked diver deep inside the sub is a scenario I never want to face. Any crisis encountered must be resolved calmly and quickly on the spot. Egress out of the sub takes at least 3 minutes. We padded this number to allow for complications during our exits. We often had ample time left upon emerging and used it to explore the exterior of this fascinating WWII artifact. The I-169 edged out the Fumitsuki at number 3 due to longer and more complex penetration into the engine room. Any deeper and this dive would be tied for the number 1 spot. Several lives in years past have been lost trying to explore inside the I-169. Some say the ghosts of the crew who perished are to blame for the diver’s demise. The Engine RoomKeisuke and Eri carefully navigate between the two diesel engines.

The Engine Room

Voice TubesKeisuke examines an array of voice tubes with an interesting red paint coating the inside. Possibly antifouling paint.

Voice Tubes

Engine Room HatchA wide angle view of the aft engine room hatch. The Hatch


A Ghostly ShotAnother eerie look at the engine room shooting aft. Ghostly Engine Room

A Tricky ExitKeisuke demonstrates a perfect exit on side mount. The outer hatch, the torpedo loading hatch were photographed through the angled loading hatch. The Exit

The Outer HatchEri is of a smaller size and you can see how tight the hatch is while she exits on side mount. Squeezing through on back mounted twins is tough. The Outer Hatch

The Top 2 most challenging dives to come soon in Part II.


Join Mike in Truk on the Odyssey for Rec•Tec 2022 and 2023


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[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk decompression diving engine rooms federated states of micronesia fumitsuki fumitzuki i169 japanese submarines japanese warships micronesia most challenging dives odyssey operation hailstone photo tips photography reiyo maru shinohara shipwrecks tec diving technical diving top 5 challenging dives truk lagoon truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography warships of wwii what is the most challenging dive truk lagoon world war ii subs wreck diving wrecks wrecks of truk lagoon wwii shipwrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/12/truk-lagoons-top-5-most-challenging-dives Mon, 14 Dec 2020 08:05:17 GMT
Inside the I-169 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/9/inside-the-i-169 I-169Intact stern to the left; bow to the right

Composite of the I-169

The Dive TeamEri Urmino on left who goes by Umi which means Ocean in Japanese; Keisuke on right and the author center. The Team

You might think living and working in Truk Lagoon offers me unlimited access to the wrecks and the ability to photograph them the way I want, anytime I want but, that just isn't the case. Guest satisfaction on board the Odyssey always takes precedence over my photography and I always have guests. That was until Truk Lagoon closed to tourism in March leaving me with free time and a long list of shots to work on. I might as well make the best of a bad situation. 

Engine RoomKeisuke (right) and Eri (left inspect the controls and gauges of the twin engines.
Shortly after Truk closed I was fortunate to meet two Japanese dive pros who were also stuck in Truk. Treasures dive operators, Keisuke Yokota (owner) and Eri Umino (dive guide) were eager to join me to dive and photograph the wrecks in a way we have not been able to do because of our obligations to our guests. One such dive on our "to-do" list was the Japanese submarine I-169. Although we had dived the outside of the wreck before, none of us have ever penetrated inside. It was time to make plan.

The I-169

The crew of the historic I-169 met a grizzly fate on April 1944 when the vessel made a routine emergency dive during a US air raid and was to never see daylight again. A vital valve had been left open flooding the control room preventing re-surfacing. After several failed rescue attempts the survivors within perished from suffocation. Salvage work continued for another 6 weeks with only 32 bodies recovered. Not wanting the sub to fall into enemy hands the Japanese command at Truk destroyed half of the vessel forward of the conning tower. In August of 1973 a Japanese salvage team removed the human remains and personal effects of 70 additional personnel and conducted a Shinto funeral in town.

Engine Room HatchKeisuke enters the engine room through the aft water tight hatch. Training 

Due to the confined spaces and a single small hatch as an entrance and exit point, penetrating the I-169 requires advanced training and coordinated teamwork. Eri, Keisuke and later on Norio Kaneko dived with me from the Odyssey tender for several months before we developed a trust in each others abilities. You want to make sure the person next to you inside a metal tube at 130'/40m can handle stress in a situation and not panic. Only after we acclimated to each other did we discuss an attempt at a penetration dive into the I-169; one of the more complex dives we have made. 

ExplorersUmi investigating machinery in the engine room. The Dive

At first glance I knew it would be difficult entering wearing twin tanks and carrying a myriad of photo gear. My two dive buddies wisely let me attempt squeezing through the outer hatch first while they waited safely outside. After a minute of cautious adjusting and wiggling I found myself in the aft torpedo room (which is not particularly spacious). Looking forward I saw another circular hatch that was only half open. Getting through it was even more harrowing than the outer hatches. With some cautious maneuvering I found myself in the circuit breaker room and then the generator room after that. Continuing on and looking forward I saw yet another circular water tight hatch leading into the engine room; the last intact section of the I-169. At this point, perceptual narrowing is taking place and my Communication TubesThis station in the generator room has 6 communication tubes aligned in a row. The red coloration may be a chemical reaction seawater is having with the bronze metal.
heart rate is increasing. There is no quick egress inside a sub. Any problems encountered, such as gear malfunction or entanglement must be dealt with quickly and calmly. I entered the engine room and then paused a moment to acclimate. It is told that the first divers to enter the sub in the early 70's found a pile of bones on top of the engines indicating the crew may have climbed up to reach the last pockets of air as the ship slowly flooded. Thinking of the souls that perished within was not conducive to keeping my cool so I focused the camera and began shooting. Numerous valve handles, gauges, ducts and unknown equipment are at every glance in this complex heart of the ship. The twin diesels were powerful and propelled the I-169 at an impressive top speed of 23 knots while surfaced. Swimming forward between the two behemoths to the control panel yielded a view of a complex array of gauges and plenty of whatchamacallits. With Keisuke coming in behind me, I turned and snapped a few photos while he posed like a pro. 

EgressKeisuke egresses from the I-169 on side-mount through the aft hatches. The top hatch is the outer hull. The lower is through the pressure hull. The photo was shot from the opening of the torpedo loading hatch. The End of the Line

At this point we have come to the end of the line. Continuing on is not possible. The hatch forward of us is partially open leads to a blown up section of the sub. It is now time to turn the dive and head back out through the haze we created from our venting bubbles dislodging rust and silt from above. Despite the three of us gingerly swimming through the wreck, silting is unavoidable. We inch our way along periodically checking on each other. Eventually we see the refreshing glow of sunlight emanating down through the hatch. I now have the confidence that getting out should not be an issue since I already managed to get in. I squeezed through the hatches and popped out the other side as if I was reborn. The feeling of excitement and relief came all at once. 

Umi EgressingUmi fits easily through the narrow hatch using side mount technique. A bit more effort is required with the authors twin back mounted tanks. Umi and Suke exit behind me without incident and conduct our decompression for the next 40 minutes before surfacing. We just completed a complex dive without a single issue and are all elated at the experience. That night we sat around the Odyssey dining table, drinking beer and eating chicken wings discussing our next dive. We were in unanimous agreement. We definitely wanted to go back inside the I-169 to continue our survey and take more photos. 


At the writing of this blog we have conducted 6 penetration dives into the sub yielding one or two images per dive. Prior to each dive I conspired with Eri and Keisuke as to what our goals were and how to complete them. Strategy is important when taking photos under these conditions. Each shot must be taken within a few minutes of entering a room before silting occurs, lights must be strategically placed to offer more details of the environment and we need to choreograph our movements so not to throw off our buoyancy. There is little room for error. 

Engine RoomAn eerie apparition or Keisuke emerging from the haze? Diving the I-169

This dive requires training, years of experience and a calm demeanor to pull off. The Odyssey does not permit penetration dives on the I-169. It will lead to conflict and dangerous copy-cat behaviors with too many divers vying to enter. This dive must be done from a private boat with a dive guide willing to take you in and a dive operator willing to allow you to penetrate. A maximum of two divers at time is recommended; three at tops as long as you are coordinated as a team. Silt outs are a major hazard and peak buoyancy is mandatory! A dive operator may require a period of familiarity with any diver before they will conspire to help you with this dive. That includes me. Please contact myself or the other operators before arriving in Truk and requesting a tour inside the I-169. If I can't help I will try to find someone who can but, I make NO promises!

Join Mike in Truk on the Odyssey for Rec•Tec 2022

Engine RoomA close up of the controls of the starboard engine.

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[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk decompression diving engine rooms federated states of micronesia I169 japanese submarines japanese warships micronesia odyssey operation hailstone photo tips photography shinohara shipwrecks tec diving technical diving truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography warships of wwii world war II subs wreck diving wrecks wrecks of truk lagoon wwii shipwrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/9/inside-the-i-169 Mon, 07 Sep 2020 10:50:30 GMT
Stuck in Truk - Part IV https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/8/stuck-in-truk---part-iv

Isolating in Truk Lagoon - (Continued)

Part I of "Stuck in Truk"

Part II of "Stuck in Truk"

Part III of "Stuck in Truk"

 The scenery from the deck of the Odyssey is quintessential tropical Pacific. The flora covered isles scattered around the lagoon add perspective to the vast expanse of blue water. Fish break the surface revealing evidence of the food chain beneath, a coconut bobs along drifting off to a distance land and the familiar stream of skiffs race by with the buzz of the Yamaha Enduro outboard pushing them along. This form of transport is the SUV of the Pacific. Locals of Chuuk taxi supplies and people back and forth between the islands and the Odyssey lies directly in their path. I sit on deck and watch the traffic and realize that life in virus-free Chuuk remains relatively unchanged during this world wide pandemic. Other than a few Hokuyo Maru Torpedo HoleHokuyo Maru Torpedo Hole businesses seen utilizing social distancing rules you couldn't tell there was a killer virus running amok around the globe. The stores are busy and the supplies that fill them arrive on schedule by air and sea. Most seem as content now as they were before the outbreak; that is unless you are employed in the tourism industry. The economic survival of those that are dependent on it is precarious. A recent successful online fund raiser and government financial assistance has helped my crew and their families make ends meet. Now all we can do is scale back, adapt and wait patiently for the FSM to safely reopen. 

Kiyosumi Maru Control RoomKiyosumi Maru Control Room Until recently, I never considered Chuuk to be my home. It was my place of business; a place to dive but not a home. For those of you who know Chuuk you'll understand it is not the most conducive locale for an expatriate to live. Sure, the diving is world class but what else is there? It took being stuck in Truk during a pandemic to realize that it doesn't take movie theaters and decent restaurants to make life shine here; it takes the absence of a killer virus. To date, the Government of the FSM has been successful in preventing that un-welcomed visitor from stepping ashore. That makes Chuuk a haven. I see life back home on the news and social media and if Chuuk wasn't a paradise to me before, it is now. Facebook was once a place for open discussion and portals into our friends lives but now it's one massive sounding board for the aggrieved. Due to a new perception my attitude has changed where Chuuk however, has not.

I may be away from the distress back home but it doesn't mean I don't care. I just feel there is not much else I can do to make a difference other than social distancing and voting. Come November, I will be taking part in that American right by absentee ballot without fail.  

Shotan Maru CorridorShotan Maru Corridor In the meanwhile, I will continue to occupy my days maintaining the Odyssey and spending my free time diving the wrecks. This golden opportunity to photograph them uninterrupted will not go to waste. It's this activity that levels me, gives me a sense of purpose and motivates me to get out of bed. If given a choice, I would much rather be earning my living entertaining my guests aboard the Odyssey and showing them first hand why Truk Lagoon is so famous. However, until the country reopens I can only provide imagery to help keep the excitement alive. 


Photo Descriptions 

Top: Keisuke poses next to the torpedo blast hole in the Hokuyo Maru. This photo shoot took place at 200'.

Middle: Part of the control room on the Kiyosumi Maru

Bottom: Eri and I meet head to head in a narrow dark corridor of the Shotan Maru. 


Join Mike in Truk on the Odyssey for Rec•Tec 2022


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk corona virus cv-19 deep diving diving federated states of micronesia fsm liveaboard diving scuba scuba diving social distancing tec diving travel ban truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/8/stuck-in-truk---part-iv Thu, 06 Aug 2020 12:18:51 GMT
Stuck in Truk - Part III https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/5/stuck-in-truk---part-iii

Isolating in Truk Lagoon - (Continued)

Part I of "Stuck in Truk" Here

Part II of "Stuck in Truk" Here

As I live isolated in a virus free part of the tropical north Pacific in relative comfort and safety, the hardships many face in the outside world is not lost to me. Maybe some have battled illness and recovered or experienced the tragic loss of someone close to them. Others may be dealing with financial stresses or living in confined conditions that test the love of family like never before. My heart goes out to all of you. I wish there was something more that I can offer to alleviate the stress other than mildly entertaining imagery and a few kind words. Forgive me for my shortcomings. 

Kensho Maru CatwalkKensho Maru Catwalk As the realty of CV-19 became apparent and engrained in our psyches, I began seeing a wide gamut of behaviors on social media from the inspiring to the heart-breaking and even despicable. I discovered some people showed their best when times are worst while others do not. It is the person who can rise to a challenge and see it through with dignity that I admire. I'm moved by those who overcame the virus itself and literally sing, dance and smile after their recovery. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the self-centered who have little regard for the safety of others never mind themselves such as the protesters preventing health care workers from entering hospitals. I believe that adversity is a part of life. It is how a person deals with it that will define their character. Apparently not everyone agrees with this.

Japanese "Norm"Japanese "Norm"

Diving and photography is my method for maintaining positivity during these trying times. When I need a fix, I visit one of the two dozen wrecks to recharge. Last week I made a few dives to the Nippo Maru (see top photo) and one on a rare plane wreck, a Kawanishi E15K "Norm"This Japanese aircraft along with two others was discovered by the Project Recover organization that was here last year searching for downed US aircraft. It is interesting  to detour from the shipwrecks and explore the various aircraft. They are steeped in history and worth a few dives.

At present, I am grateful that I am not lying in a hospital bed fighting for my life and my family and friends are safe. Prior to this crisis I was at times feeling melancholic and run down. The routine of my job, albeit an exciting one, was wearing on me. Sadly, it took a pandemic to snap me out of it. I am now re-energized, taking on new projects and making new friends including a tennis ball named Spalding. I still struggle with the social isolation out here every day and lose sleep due to the stresses of the times but, if loneliness and boredom are my biggest enemies, then I'm not doing so bad. 

I don't know when I will be leaving Truk Lagoon nor do I know when the country will open back up allowing tourists in. I look forward to that day so I can once again receive passengers on board the Odyssey and share the therapy of wreck diving with them. In the meanwhile, please be safe, stay healthy and encourage others to do the same. We are in this together.

Photo Descriptions 

Top: Suke poses for a photo beside the main gauge panel in the Nippo Maru.

Middle: A composite image of the Japanese float plane "Norm". 

Third down: My newest friend Spalding at the helm.

Bottom: Dive buddies Suke and Eri gathering deco bottles on the Nippo Maru.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk corona virus cv-19 deep diving diving federated states of micronesia fsm liveaboard diving scuba scuba diving social distancing tec diving travel ban truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/5/stuck-in-truk---part-iii Fri, 01 May 2020 10:15:37 GMT
Stuck in Truk - Part II https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/4/stuck-in-truk---part-ii

Isolating in Truk Lagoon - (Continued)

Read Part I of "Stuck in Truk" Here

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) announced that the present travel ban has been extended until May 31, 2020. The country is still closed and will be for at least another 6 weeks minimum! Come the end of May, the government will re-assess the state of readiness for the arrival of CV-19 into the FSM and decide whether to re-open. They are receiving aid in the form of medical supplies and trying to establish a locale where travelers can quarantine. This ban includes FSM Nationals as well. There are many citizens who cannot return home and are stranded. With that said, this country means to keep CV-19 out at all costs and I admire the leaderships fortitude in doing so. It is in my belief the ban should continue based on what I am reading and hearing from experts, friends and family back home. This virus would cause considerable harm here if it should ever make it through immigration. 

Nippo Maru Engine RoomNippo Maru Engine Room What does this mean for me? It looks like I will continue to be stuck in Truk. With the situation in the outside world as it is, this is a good place to be. There is no virus, supplies are arriving regularly and I was given the green light to go diving. Please don't take this as a form of gloating. I am fully aware of the dire situation in the outside world and wished there was something I could do. It would seem staying put and being one less person in the world to spread the disease is as good as I can do at this time.

I was scheduled to return to the US in mid-May for a photo shootout contest I host every year in North Carolina called the Wreck•Shark Shootout. I haven't cancelled this event yet but if i do, it will be a heartbreaker for me and those attending. Over the past six years the Shootout has been one of my personal highlights where good people come together to share a common love of diving. However, safety is paramount to me and I will do what is best for the health of the divers.

The other issue for me is the ability for a crew member to arrive here and relieve me so I can depart. The travel ban will not allow a swap of personnel. There are many signs pointing for me to stay in Chuuk until the dust settles in the outside world. I should no more as to what to do in the next 10-14 days.

Heian MaruHeian Maru In the meanwhile, I continue to take advantage of this country wide shutdown and dive the wrecks of Truk as often as I can which is about 5 dives a week right now. This unique situation of being the only diver in Chuuk will not go to waste. However, I came to discover this past week two other divers who are also stuck in Truk. Eri Umino and Keisuke Yokota from Treasure Divers, a Japanese run dive center in Chuuk. Suke arrived here from Osaka, Japan some 13 years ago and established Treasure at that time. As small as this island is, I have never had the pleasure of meeting him until last week. I often would spot Suke from a distance when both the Odyssey and his boat would be diving the same wreck. Eri arrived some years later from Tokyo as a tourist and fell in love with the wrecks and has been here ever since working as instructor and dive guide. The three of us set out this past week together to dive the famed Heian Maru, their favorite wreck. The Heian was a luxury passenger liner before being converted for war time use and is a complex ship to dive. The pitch black multi-level rooms and companionways challenge ones abilities to navigate and explore within. These pulse thumping conditions make it all the more exciting. Our dive together was a a great time and we will be sure to do it again soon. Until then, I will keep shooting on my own and hopefully inspire many of you to join me out here one day when there is a semblance of normality in the world once again. 

Please continue to be safe, listen to the experts and stay healthy. We will get through this.


Join Mike in Truk Lagoon.

Click Here!

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk corona virus cv-19 deep diving diving federated states of micronesia fsm liveaboard diving scuba scuba diving social distancing tec diving travel ban truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/4/stuck-in-truk---part-ii Wed, 22 Apr 2020 11:22:20 GMT
Stuck in Truk https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/4/stuck-in-truk-cv-19

Isolating in Truk Lagoon


Due to CV-19 Truk Lagoon is closed; the home of worlds greatest wreck diving. Tourists have all departed, the lagoon is virus free, you are the captain of a luxury liveaboard dive boat and it is fully laden with fuel and supplies to last months. The wrecks are all to yourself. What do you do? This is exactly the position I was in and didn't go diving! At least not at first. So how did I end up here?


I spent the better part of January in Japan enjoying my yearly ski holiday while intently following  the development of CV-19. By the time I was ready to leave Japan and head back to my captain job on the Truk Odyssey in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) the virus was beginning to go global. The FSM took a defensive measure early on and adopted one of the strictest travel bans in the world making it difficult for me to return to work in Chuuk. I was required to quarantine for 14 days in a country or territory with no current cases of CV-19 before being allowed in. At the time, Guam had zero cases so I held up there for a few weeks before boarding a flight bound for Truk Lagoon. Upon arrival a small team greeted me wearing masks and acting official and intense. My temperature was taken and I was asked a few questions  about my health. After noting a normal temperature the officer inspected my passport where it was deemed I was 60 minutes short of my quarantine. Yes, 60 minutes! I was briskly escorted away to the VIP room for one more hour of isolation. In actuality, I was 14 days 6 hours in quarantine. After making a protest and demonstrating how many days I was in Guam by counting on my fingers and toes, the examiner said I was free to go. 

I finally returned to Truk Lagoon but, with the absence of my charges. I had a skeleton crew to help maintain the vessel with enough food for a nuclear winter. My days were spent supervising boat projects, tending to personal chores and discovering "Zoom" but, not diving. I'm not fully sure why I hesitated to get in the water. Maybe it was my obligations to the Odyssey that kept me away. Or was it solidarity to my dive friends around the world who were bunkered in their homes and couldn't dive? Maybe it was melancholy festering from an uncertain future at the hands of this killer pandemic. I really can't say for sure but, I snapped out of Kensho Maru Engine RoomKensho Maru Engine Room this momentary lapse of reason and eventually returned to what I love; diving and photography. I didn't see the harm in it and maybe the images I would take would motivate those in isolation and inspire them to look forward to returning to the activities that give life purpose.

Back to Diving

The issue of diving alone for me was not a problem. Trying to set up shots with other divers in the vicinity can be challenging so solo diving is preferred. After a busy day working on the boat, I Shanghai'd Odyssey crew member, Madison Aisek to drive me to a wreck in our tender. After loading up a single set of doubles, a deco bottle and my camera gear we raced across the Lagoon in search of one of the dozens of wrecks to choose from. There was plenty of local boat traffic going to and from town. Without the virus present it was business as usual here. With the exception of a few who are employed in the tourist industry, most haven't been feeling the economic crush as of yet.  After arriving it was as simple as rolling off the back of the boat and dropping down to the wreck beneath me. However, the solitude felt different this time. Knowing I was likely the only diver in the water in the entire lagoon was simultaneously exhilarating and eerie. (They don't call them the "Ghost Ships of Truk Lagoon" for no reason). Within a minute of my first descent a pair of spotted eagle rays swam directly toward me on the Kensho Maru. It was as if they were coming over to say hello and ask me, "where did everyone go". Once they tired of me it was time to get down to business. Photographing the engine rooms of the wrecks is often challenging due to other divers creating silt and thus reducing visibility. So that's where I went. On this day there was no one else to blame but myself if the vis went bad. The experience of having no concerns for other Shinkoku Maru Engine RoomShinkoku Maru Engine Room divers was relaxing. So much so I nearly forgot to check my instruments. During and then immediately after the dive I felt a sense of relief and satisfaction. What ever wrinkles there were on my soul they were ironed out. While feeling euphoric I asked myself again, "why did it take you nearly a month before getting back in the water?" Since then I have been diving nearly every day but only one dive per day. I plan to keep doing so until it is time to leave Chuuk. 


At first I believed the travel restrictions and the reaction to CV-19 were too strict in the FSM. It didn't take long before the facts behind CV-19 became apparent to me and that it was far more destructive than I understood. I also realized my knowledge of infectious diseases and how to combat them was poor. The progressive leaders of the FSM had hindsight and prudence creating the travel ban for their vulnerable island nation. Knowing Chuuk and the FSM as I do, CV-19 would have wreaked havoc on a scale surpassing that of the outside world. The Chuukese people live in tight quarters with many family members under one roof. Practicing social distancing would be nearly impossible never mind counter to their culture. Then add a dysfunctional and ill-prepared medical system as well as a society with numerous pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. It would be a recipe for disaster. 

As of the writing of this blog, the FSM is now closed to all flights including residents desiring to return home. The country is receiving aid to prepare for the arrival of the virus when the doors are reopened. The date when this will happen is not known at this time. Once it is safe to travel again, I will consider boarding a plane and flying 7000 miles through 4 different airports for more than 30 hours. Till then, you know where to find me. 

I am hoping all of you come through these tough times healthy, happy and ready to tackle the problems this pandemic has created. Despite my apparent enjoyment diving solo in Truk I look forward to taking you diving here and elsewhere. If anyone would like to join me in Truk Lagoon or beyond please visit the "Travel" drop down menu at the top of this page. This to shall pass and we will all be traveling and diving again soon.

Kensho Maru Engine RoomKensho Maru Engine Room

Join Mike in Truk Lagoon on board the Odyssey. 

Click Here!


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk corona virus cv-19 deep diving diving federated states of micronesia fsm liveaboard diving scuba scuba diving social distancing tec diving travel ban truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/4/stuck-in-truk-cv-19 Sun, 12 Apr 2020 12:21:15 GMT
CCR's - Pro's & Con's https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/3/ccr-pros-cons

Closed Circuit Rebreather (CCR) vs Open Circuit (OC)

Friends of mine who have ventured down the road of closed circuit rebreather (CCR) use are universally asking me when I will get certified on a unit. I have been debating doing so for several years but have yet to pull the trigger. Even though I have been an Open Circuit (OC) diver since 1980 and a trimix diver since 2003, I have resisted the temptation of crossing over to CCR. This blog lays out the Pro's & Con's that are fostering my debate.

Closed Circuit Rebreathers (CCR) have advanced greatly in the past 35 years since I became a recreational diver. (For the layperson reading this, please refer to the link above for an explanation of CCR diving). I'm seeing more and more units appear on the boat I captain, the M/V Odyssey in Truk Lagoon. Truk is an ideal place to practice CCR diving due to the more challenging depths and the rebreather friendly atmosphere of the Odyssey. CCR is a logical path to go for the recreational diver who wants to push their training and experiences further. I believe that the decision to go this route should not be taken lightly. CCR diving has serious inherent risks that go beyond recreational OC diving and one should have all the facts before delving in. Maybe this blog will assist you in your decision making. 

San Francisco Maru Depth ChargesSan Francisco Maru Depth Charges Pro's

•Increase bottom time while decreasing deco. As a professional photographer, this simply says that I have more work time in the water per dive on CCR without incurring excess deco. This equates to accomplishing more in one dive on CCR that I could in two or more dives on OC. More work time = more photos = increased livelihood. This is at the top of my pro's list and the primary reason that I would crossover. 

•Savings on gas consumption. The basic concept of recycling your gases with a CCR means consuming less O2 and expensive trimix compared to OC diving. The savings could be as much as 75% equaling hundreds of dollars saved or even thousands per expedition depending on depths and number of dives conducted.

•Accessing deeper dives. It can be debated whether it is safer to do 300'+ dives on OC vs CCR. I will point out that at those depths and run times you will be carrying less gas and bottles on CCR vs OC which means less drag in the water and more maneuverability and less chance for error with gas switches. This is an important factor as a photographer when I'm already carrying a large camera housing with added task loading. My motto is minimalism and CCR's can offer that for deep diving. If you desire to explore deeper CCR could be the way to go. Most of the diving I do is less than 200' so CCR's are not crucial to reach those depths. 

•Silent factor. CCR's eliminate noise from venting bubbles as with OC. This is beneficial to accessing closer proximity to marine life that are normally skittish around OC divers. Getting closer is the name of the game with underwater photography. Closer could yield more impactful images.  

Hoki MaruHoki Maru Con's

•Time. Will you be diving with CCR friendly operators that permit extended bottom times that CCR's make possible? As for me, the answer is mostly no. As a liveaboard captain, I believe that it is not a prudent practice to be off the boat more than an hour or so. If I didn't get the shots I needed on one dive I will be back the next week and the week after that etc. There is usually no stress or shortage of opportunities to collect my images. 

•Maintenance. This is related to the time factor. Just ask any responsible CCR diver and they will tell you that CCR units require diligent time consuming maintenance. Packing and repacking scrubber, checking sensors, repairing micro-leaks. etc etc. I see CCR divers tinkering with their gear more than OC divers hands down. However, they are a hi-tech piece of equipment that warrants this level of care. 

•Discipline. Are you disciplined enough to use a CCR? I'll vouch that there are Control Room Reiyo MaruControl Room Reiyo Maru
many who are not. Complacency is potentially the primary cause of injuries and fatalities with CCR divers (a debatable topic). Diving CCR requires abiding by serious pre-dive checks that are more intense than the standard OC buddy check. I've been witness more times than I care CCR divers doing inadequate or non-existent checks and even by-pass carrying bail-out bottles. This is a recipe for disaster. As a photographer, I can vouch that the task loading of taking UW imagery pulls my attention away from monitoring my life support. CCR diving requires upmost due diligence; more so than OC and I wonder if I will become another statistic due to my photography distractions. 

•Cost. CCR units and training are expensive. You can buy used units or the cheaper models but do you really want to skimp on a hi-tech piece of life support equipment? Do you want to shop around for the cheapest instructor. Not this guy. When all is said and done add another $10,000-$15,000 to your credit card bill. That is a piece of change the average photo pro and dive boat captain just doesn't have laying around. If I could justify it as a business expense, the cost would become less of a concern.

Reiyo Maru SkylightReiyo Maru Skylight



Photos from top to bottom:

•CCR diver examines a stockpile of depth charges at 185' on the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon.

•CCR divers swimming through the ruins of the Hoki Maru in Truk Lagoon.

•CCR diver inspects the telegraph deep in the engine room of the Reiyo Maru at 215' in Truk Lagoon.

•CCR diver exits the engine room of the Reiyo Maru in Truk Lagoon.



Join Mike in Truk Lagoon on board the Odyssey. 

Trips: https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/mike-gerken-truk-lagoon-rec-tec-photo-expedition-odyssey


and many more in the travel tab in this web site.








[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) CCR chuuk closed circuit rebreathers deep diving diving liveaboard diving OC open circuit photo tips san francisco maru scuba scuba diving tec diving truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography underwater photography tips wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/3/ccr-pros-cons Sat, 07 Mar 2020 04:05:09 GMT
Evolution of a Shot https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/1/persistence-patience-perfection  

"The engine room of the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon"

Persistence, Patience and Perfection

As a photographer, it pays to have an obsessive compulsive personality; that is if you want to obtain high quality imagery. Depending on how severe a case of OCD you have depends on whether or not you will ever be content with your photos. Review your images, be your own worst critic and have the persistence to go back and take a shot over and over again until you are satisfied. No matter how good the photo is, a perfectionist will always want to do better. Using this approach will likely result in a continual improvement in your photography but, it may drive you a mad if you are not being patient during the process.

The Evolution

The sequence of images below is a shot that evolved over the years with the last one being the most recent and the one I'm most satisfied with to date. The San Francisco Maru is one of Truk Lagoon's premier dive sites but it rests in 200'/61M of water making it a challenging environment to shoot in. Having to penetrate the engine room for this photo makes it more demanding and difficult to closely analyze the images during the dive. I had to shoot and scoot, return to the editing station, review the shot in detail and come up with a new plan afterward. Was all the effort worth the payoff? I feel it was.

<Attempt 1

2008 Nikon D200. The engine room was hazy, the dynamic range of the camera poor and the angle was off. 


2017 Nikon D800. The results weren't good even with improved dynamic range and visibility.


Oct 2019 Nikon D850. Superior dynamic range, increased high ISO and secondary lighting all helped. 


A month later I tried again but from a different angle. Obsession setting in.


Two weeks later I added a second video light but vis was poor.


One week later the haze cleared and used the same plan. Am I done? I don't think so. I may have a few new ideas to play with but for now this will do. 

Join me on one of my dive photo expeditions, including Truk Lagoon, where I will be offering comprehensive photo and video techniques. Visit the Travel drop down menu above. 

Join me in Truk Lagoon for Rec•Tec 2020: https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/mike-gerken-truk-lagoon-rec-tec-photo-expedition-odyssey


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk deep diving diving liveaboard diving photo tips san francisco maru scuba scuba diving tec diving truk lagoon underwater photography underwater photography tips wreck diving wreck photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2020/1/persistence-patience-perfection Mon, 20 Jan 2020 12:39:53 GMT
Dolphins of Socorro https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/12/dolphins-of-socorrro

"A remarkable display of trust by a wild dolphin."

Touch It?

With the increase in environmental awareness in most diving communities, touching marine life has become taboo. But, what if a dolphin invited you to touch it? Could you resist? Should you? Although this may sound remarkable, there is a special pod of wild dolphins in Revilligigedo Islands (aka Socorro) that do want you to touch them and without enticement from food. These bottlenose dolphins approach divers, hover vertically in the water and wait to be stroked like pets. I had heard about this phenomenon of Socorro as well as the abundant sharks and manta rays commonly seen there and was intrigued enough to sign up for a week on board the dive vessel Solmar V.


The dive guides briefed our group on what to expect before we set off to find some of these friendly cetaceans (or should I say, allow them to find us). Mid-way through our dive, several dolphins arrived and did exactly what we had heard they would do. The divers reached out to the dolphins and began petting them like a lap dog. One even came in for a quick belly rub with a new born circling her nearby. This was an incredible display of trust. It was simply amazing. I thought to myself? Are they enjoying the free massage or is there a more complex social behavior going on? My instincts told me it was the latter. Regardless, I saw no harm in the activity going on before me. 

The Bonus

While the petting session was taking place, a giant manta ray hovered over me allowing the rising bubbles to tease its underside. To the left of me were ticklish mantas; to the right affectionate dolphins; this was too good to be true. However, touching mantas is not permitted. Fish, unlike mammals, have a coat of slime on their skin that protects them from infection and other harmful elements. Removing this coating could injure the animal. All of the divers abided by this rule and simply watched these beautiful animals from arm’s reach.


It was inspiring that day to see dolphins trusting humans. They have many reasons not to based on our historically abysmal treatment of them. Many marine mammals around the world are held captive in small aquariums to entertain humans with silly tricks and in some communities, such as Taiji, Japandolphins are hunted commercially and slaughtered for food. When I saw the dolphins of Socorro stretching out to us for a rub I thought there is hope. Is there an evolutionary process taking place? Is there a bridge being developed between species? If humans can act responsibly down there and cultivate our relationship with these wild yet sentient beings, hope can turn into reality. 

Getting the Shot

•Getting to Socorro is half the battle of getting good imagery. The three primary islands, San Benedicto, Rocas Partida and Socorro are 250 miles from the tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The 24 hour open ocean crossing is well worth the pitching and yawing.  

•Once there, do as the dive guides tell you to do and wait for the dolphins to come in and play. It's that simple.

•Ask yourself, are you more interested in touching the dolphins or getting good photos? It is not easy to do both. 

•Be sure to take some test shots first and adjust your exposure and flash settings for up close wide angle. Getting near to the animals is not the problem.

•I found the biggest issue in getting quality images was dealing with the other divers. Of course, everyone wants to get in on the interaction so finding a window to shoot required a bit of patience and gently easing myself in for a shot.

•The other problem I had was one of the best problems one could have. I was so focused on shooting giant mantas that I didn't notice the dolphin spa going on behind me. In hind site, I should have been focused more on the dolphins and given the mantas a back seat. 

Join Mike on a photo expedition to the Revilligigedo Islands in May 2021 on board the Solmar V. 

Get Full Details Here!




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) cetaceans diving diving mexico diving with dolphins liveaboard diving manta photo tips rays revilligigedo scuba scuba diving socorro socorro dolphins Socorro" solmar v swimming with dolphins touching dolphins underwater photography underwater photography tips https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/12/dolphins-of-socorrro Fri, 20 Dec 2019 09:29:20 GMT
Creative Lighting Techniques https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/12/creative-lighting-techniques Fujikawa Maru Machine ShopFujikawa Maru Machine Shop

Please scroll down for photo descriptions.


For the purpose of this blog, I'll define underwater creative lighting as the utilization of artificial lights that are in addition to or exclusive of the primary strobes synced to the camera. This can be dive lights, video lights or additional strobes with slave triggers. 



Someone smarter than me once said, "Photography is all about light, without it you have only blackness". The most common questions I'm asked by budding photogs is inevitably about lighting. How many strobes to use, how to position them and how much power is needed? My answer is simple, "put the light where it's needed".  The techniques on how to achieve this when talking about creative lighting are more complicated. Here are a few tips to get you going.

The Engine Room of the Nippo Maru The Dilemma

Using on-camera strobes by themselves has its limitations. They can only cast light so far from the shooter regardless of how powerful they are. Add too much power and your foreground is overexposed. Too little power and the background is underexposed. In addition, if there is even a hint of turbidity in the water the strobe will produce excessive glare (or backscatter). The more power = the more glare. It's like driving with your brights on in fog. 

The Solution

By manually placing remote lights in your background they will light up areas you couldn't with on-camera strobes and thus open up a world of photographic possibilities. 


The first images that had impact on me using creative lighting were of caves. To truly appreciate the vastness of caves a lot more light than what is attached to your camera is required. When illuminated properly the results were stunning.  Hoki Maru Port PropHoki Maru Port Prop

On the wrecks of Truk Lagoon I attempted to use ordinary strobes set on slave mode as my remote light sources. This went abysmally. If the strobe was too far away or the slave sensor was not facing the camera they wouldn't fire. I abandoned the technique not to revisit it for many years. That was until I began seeing images of fellow shooter and friend Pete Mesley a few years ago right here in Truk. By adding one or more high powered video lights strategically around the inside of the wrecks, he was capturing a whole new essence of these ships. It was time to rethink how I was going to work with lighting.

What Lights to Use

Technology in underwater dive lights has come a long way from the clunky, heavy, under-powered and pricey dive lights from 20+ years ago. The lights today are more powerful and compact.  Presently, I am using a pair of Big Blue 33,000 lumens video lights for all of my creative lighting and video needs. These are powerful lights and more than what is needed for 3/4 of my shooting conditions but they have rheostats to step down the power as needed. Big Blue has a variety of lights in different powers, weight and sizes for every application.  

Fujikawa Maru Control RoomFujikawa Maru Control Room Shooting Tips

•When shooting in low or zero ambient light conditions it is best to use a camera that logically shoots well in low light, has a high dynamic range and is forgiving with high ISO settings. With my Nikon D850 I often shoot on ISO 5000-6400 with a shutter speed of 1/60th and F stop 4-5.0. This camera is ideal for this application.

•By shooting with higher ISO's you can reduce strobe strength greatly thus reduce the backscatter or glare in turbid water. The trade off shooting at high ISO's is image degradation from noise; some of which can be filtered out in post-processing. 

Kiyosumi Maru Engine RoomKiyosumi Maru Engine Room

Lighting Tips

When it comes to creative lighting there are no rules set in stone. Experiment and learn by trial and error.

•Scout out dive sites, find a composition that has potential and see if it is feasible to set up lights in it or around it.

•Do not point the lights directly towards the camera. You will get nothing but a big blob of white hot mess. 

•When shooting wrecks look for dark corners that you want lit and set up the lights accordingly. 

•Place lights behind objects to help define their edges and make them pop.

•In the beginning, work with a single light adding additional lights only as needed. I believe too many lights is a distraction.

Nippo Maru Engine RoomNippo Maru Engine Room •Try to hide the source of your light from the image to imply that the scene was not constructed. It may look more natural. 

•Persistence is important. You may spend an entire dive dedicated to shoot one scene only to find you don't like it and want to do it over again. 

•Try not to create silt when placing lights. One wrong kick and your shoot is done for. 

•Strategize. Maximize your time in the water by not stumbling around without a plan. 

•Above all else. Be smart! Be safe! Do not place your self in a dangerous situation just to get the shot.


Photo Descriptions - Top to Bottom

Fujikawa Maru Machine Shop - Two 33,000 lumen lights were hung from the ceiling with low power strobe settings.

Heian Maru Control Room - A single light was placed behind the pipes lighting up the two telegraphs with a low power strobe settings.

Hoki Maru Prop - Two lights were used; both not visible to the camera. One for back lighting Nippo Maru Boiler RoomNippo Maru Boiler Room
behind the prop and one off screen to the left. Strobes were used in addition.

Fujikawa Maru Engine Room - A single light was placed on the ceiling shining down on an angle towards the camera far enough away to reduce the intensity of the light. A second light was not needed. Strobes for foreground were used. Conversion to black and white was made due to turbid conditions. 

Kiyosumi Maru Control Room - A single light was used shining down the stairs while strobes exposed the control room. Strobes also used.

Nippo Maru Engine Room - Two lights were placed on opposing sides. Strobes on low power were used. 

Nippo Maru Boiler Room - A single light hung from above to show scale of the room. 

About Mike

Mike has been shooting for more than 15 years and is currently the captain of the Odyssey liveaboard in Truk Lagoon where he shoots the famed Japanese wrecks of WWII on a daily basis. He is the sole proprietor of Evolution Dive Travel and uses his vast knowledge to organize and conduct photo/video expeditions to a variety of destinations around the world. His work from Truk can be seen in this web site along with portfolios from other destinations. Visit the "Travel" tab in the main menu for trip dates and destinations. 

Follow Mike on Facebook: 


Truk Lagoon: "Rec•Tec 2020": 



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) big blue lights chuuk creative lighting d850" deep diving diving evolution dive travel evolution underwater imaging fujikawa maru heian maru hoki maru japanese wrecks kiyosumi maru mike gerken nauticam nikon nippo maru pacific wrecks photo tips scuba scuba diving sea & sea shinkokuk maru tec diving truk dive trips truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photo workshops underwater photography wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/12/creative-lighting-techniques Sun, 08 Dec 2019 11:48:04 GMT
Papua New Guinea - "Sum of its Parts" https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/11/papua-new-guinea-sum-of-its-parts Spiked Cheek Anemone FishSpiked Cheek Anemone Fish

"Yes, I like taking pictures of fish sometimes" -Mike

The Offering

Certain dive locales are renown for the specific encounters they offer. For example, Guadeloupe has its white sharks, Tonga it's humpback whales and Truk Lagoon has it's wrecks. The results of my recent jaunt to Kimbe Bay in Papua Barracuda SwarmBarracuda Swarm New Guinea yielded some of the best reef diving I have experienced and due less to one singular feature but more the sum of its parts. Upon descending to the reefs, it doesn't take long to notice that PNG has the highest marine biodiversity in the world. The variety of fish and coral species is immense. The tiered layers of hard corals are majestic and surrounded by magnificent sea anemones, enormous barrel sponges and gorgonians. Within this multi-dimensional reef are a community of fascinating species with elegant names such as ghost pipe fish, devil scorpions, pygmy sea horse, star-gazers and, Nemo's cousins, the false clown and spine cheek anemone fish. The extent of the diving doesn't stop there. Unlike other destinations, that have been noticeably "fished-out", the reefs of Kimbe Bay have larger reef inhabitants and a plethora of pelagic fishes. Schools of trevaly patrol in circles, dog-tooth tuna and
Kimbe BayKimbe Bay Napoleon wrasse can be seen on the fringes with large schools of barracuda circling above. If that isn't enough, toss in an occasional shark as an added bonus. Grant it there are no manta rays or whale sharks but this should not deter anyone from visiting this dive destination. It is a true paradisal wonderland under the waves with so many smaller tangents merging together to create the "big picture".

Old Growth RainforestOld Growth Rainforest Walindi Resort

Nestled in the shadow of an active volcano along the edge of a tropical rainforest is this splayed out waterfront resort called Walindi Plantation. The property is umbrellaed by old growth trees with a large assortment of flora and fauna surrounded by a sprawling palm oil plantation. The bungalows were quaint and comfortable with all the amenities a traveler would need. There was an absence of air conditioning but, the ceiling fan was more than adequate and I did not long for the chill of artificial climate control the entire two-weeks of my stay. The restaurant dished out some very tasty meals using local ingredients and the bar area with pool in the central part of the resort was a perfect place to unwind with a cold beer or a glass of wine after a wonderful day of diving. Spine Cheek Anemone FishSpine Cheek Anemone Fish

Although Walindi has two liveaboards that operate out of the resort, I opted to go land based for my two week stay. As the captain of a liveaboard I needed to get my feet on terra firma for a spell. However, I plan to try out one of their two liveaboards in the future since they can access more remote dive areas easier than the land based dive boats. This will be for another time. 


Garbuna VolcanoGarbuna Volcano

The Volcano

Besides the top-notch diving, the land tours were something special at Kimbe Bay as well. On my last day, prior to flying out, I signed up for the guided six-hour round trip trek to the crater of Mount Garbuna; an active volcano belching out steam and sulphuric gas. It was the hike up to the crater that was as equally exciting as the actual volcano itself. Our guides led us up a narrow and steep trail cut out of the forest with machetes. The old growth Red Tooth TriggeRed Tooth Trigge trees towered over us where abundant exotic birds dwelled and produced a cacophony of screeches. Although the shrieking was astonishing to listen to it was somewhat intimidating as well. The avians maneuvered stealthily around the forest canopy while seeming to communicate a strategy with one another to coordinate an attack and drive the foreign invaders from their realm. Then again, I have a steep imagination. We pushed on through and eventually came to a clearing that was reminiscent of scene from an apocalyptic movie genre. In 2006, Garbuna blew its top spewing out sand, steam and sulphuric rock while leveling the trees in the area. Fortunately, I was told no one was killed in this explosion. The scene was impressive and the smell pungent.

Mitsubishi A6M ZeroMitsubishi A6M Zero The Zero

Lastly, let me not forget to mention the Japanese WWII Mitsubishi Zero plane wreck that is available to dive on. This aircraft was found less than two-decades ago and is in remarkable condition. The plane was successfully ditched close to shore and the pilot pushed back the canopy, climbed out and swam to shore where it was purported that he found his unit again with the help of locals. Nearly the entire aircraft is there with little damage. It is a must stop upon any visit to Kimbe Bay.

Getting There

An affordable and direct four hour flight from Chuuk to PNG, Port Moresby is available once a week. From Port Moresby it is a 65 minute domestic flight to Kimbe Bay. This convenient connection makes PNG ideal for an add-on trip to Truk Lagoon. If you board a plane in PNG at 0700 on Saturday you arrive 10 hours later in Chuuk and embark the Odyssey immediately. One should travel to the other side of the world and maximize ones time. A Reefs to Wrecks dive excursion is in order. 

The Future Barracuda CycloneBarracuda Cyclone

I am nearly finished finalizing plans for a return to Kimbe Bay prior to my Truk Lagoon Rec•Tec Expedition starting Oct 24, 2020. If you are interested in joining me for one or both trips, contact me at your convenience. Stay tuned for details on a liveaboard trip to PNG coming in 2021. Dates to be announced.

Contact [email protected] for details and to get on the mailing list to receive updates.

Or follow me on Facebook: 



Truk Lagoon: "Rec•Tec 2020": 


Visit the "Travel" drop down menu above for additional trip details ie Socorro, Palau and North Carolina wreecks!

PNG Photo Album


Barracuda Junction


Barracuda CycloneBarracuda Cyclone A cyclone of barracuda


Trio False Clown FishTrio False Clown Fish False Clowns

Kimbe BayKimbe Bay A view of Kimbe Bay 


CrinoidsCrinoids Crinoids


Red Sea WhipsRed Sea Whips Flitting Fish


Devil ScorpionfishDevil Scorpionfish Scorpion Devil Fish - Look Closely


False Clown FishFalse Clown Fish

False Clown


False Clown FishFalse Clown Fish

False Clown

















[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) anemone fish barracuda clown fish dive papua new guinea diving kimbe bay mount garbuna papua new guinea port moresby scuba diving scuba png underwater photography walindi resort worlds best reef diving zero aircraft https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/11/papua-new-guinea-sum-of-its-parts Fri, 22 Nov 2019 20:06:24 GMT
Salvaging Bad Dives https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/10/salvaging-bad-dives HaloHaloA silhouette of a Sand Tiger Shark (Odontaspis taurus), Outer Banks, North Carolina.

The shot that became Evolution Underwater Imaging's logo.
Text & Image by

©Mike Gerken

Camera: Nikon D300 

Lens: Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye          

Year: 2009

     If you're a diver, then you know the regretful feeling climbing out of warm bed on a Saturday morning, strapping on your fins and rolling off the back of a boat into a bad dive. Whether the visibility was poor the water colder than expected or the marine life absent, we have all been there. If you are one of these divers who is also an underwater photographer, I'm writing to tell you not to despair when a shoot is going down the tubes. Instead be creative, think outside the box and develop a new plan on the fly rather than pack it in and head for the bar. 

    The wreck of the Caribsea off the North Carolina Coast is famed for aggregations of sand tiger sharks; one of my fave subjects. This featured image was taken on a dive that started out as a let down. Although there was plenty of sharks about, I tried without success to shoot wide-angle but, poor visibility created hazy results with annoying backscatter (particulates that reflect like tiny mirrors when hit by strobe light). 

    With many of the sand tigers swimming in mid-water, I decided to turn my eyes upward. To my pleasure, the water color skywards was a cobalt blue and the sharks were stunning pressed up against it. Upon seeing this I thought a new strategy was needed. The strobes were shut off, thus eliminating backscatter, and the shutter speed and f-stop were adjusted for aiming towards the glare of the sun. I was going to shoot a silhouette.

     Getting directly beneath the sharks and swimming upside down while trying to frame the shot with the sun directly behind them proved trying. Bubbles kept getting in the way and the sharks would startle. To get the shot the biggest rule in scuba diving had to be broken; NEVER hold your breath. However, the only way to sneak underneath the shark and get the shot was to do just that. After maybe 10 minutes of using this amoral technique, I was heading to the surface with a compact flash card holding some digital goodness. 

     It wasn't an easy dive but, I went home that day feeling content and with an added bonus of not killing myself due to violating the golden rule of scuba. What made the image appealing to me was the sun dead center behind the shark creating a pleasant halo also known as "Snell's Window". In addition, the S-pattern in the tail implied movement in the animal; a desired result in wildlife photography. Landing one "keeper" photo from a dive that started out as a bust is, in my book, a victory. The image later went on to become the inspiration for my company logo, Evolution Underwater Imaging.

    When the tough gets going don't give up. With a little ingenuity and creativity you too can salvage a busted dive. But, please don't hold your breath!

Join Mike in North Carolina May/June 2020 for the Wreck•Shark Shootout.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea diving north carolina diving olympus dive photo tips sand tiger sharks scuba shooting silhouettes u352 underwater photo instruction underwater photography uscg spar uss schurz wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/10/salvaging-bad-dives Tue, 08 Oct 2019 10:43:44 GMT
To Feed or Not To Feed https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/to-feed-or-not-to-feed GeorgeGeorgeA Napolean Wrass named "George". Sport Diver CoverSport Diver CoverMike was pleased to have this image chosen for the cover of Sport Diver Magazine.












Images & Text by Mike Gerken

©All Rights Reserved

Photo: Napolean Wrasse

Location: Maldives

Date Taken: Dec 2008

Camera: Nikon D200

     Feeding wild fish is often good for tourism but, is it good for the fish? This magnificent Napoleon Wrasse depicted in the images above was a regular on one of the reefs in the Maldives. His name was George. George was a very friendly wrasse who was inquisitive and sought out the attention of visiting divers. I found George to be a very cooperative animal for my photography where most Napoleons are weary of humans and normally keep their distance (and I can't say as I blame them). It can be said that this species of fish is highly intelligent and with one look into their sentient eyes you too may agree with that assessment. 

     After taking numerous images of George with his face nearly pressed up against my dome port, I wondered why was this creature so fearless. It became apparent when I spotted the dive guides feeding him whole hard boiled eggs shell and all. He would swallow the egg and cleverly spit out only the shell. This Napoleon had been tamed by the feeding. A technique often applied to allow close encounters with tourists. At the time, I didn't see the harm and made no protest. After all, I just scored some nice images.

     Months later I was honored when Sport Diver Magazine selected one of these images as a cover-shot. George just made me a very happy photographer. Some time later, maybe months or years (I don't recall), I heard George had died. Apparently he was autopsied and found to have dozens of undigested eggs in his digestive tract. Poor George ate himself to death and the guides unwittingly played a hand in his demise. I too was not innocent. I increased the demand for this type of feeding with my tourist dollars.

     Before I continue let me state that I can not confirm that George died from eating eggs. I only heard through casual conversation. Based on what I saw though this story is plausible. George was fed many eggs in the mere 20 minutes I had with him.

     From that point forward, I no longer participate in animal feeds where foods that are not part of the natural diet are fed to the animals. In fact, it can be argued that feeding these animals at all is not a sound environmental activity and I am now more discerning of the practice. However, tourism is responsible for communities striving to protect their marine resources because tourists are paying top dollar to participate and photograph these animals. In turn, these dollars help drive local economies. I wouldn't want to see these economies dry up and George, a rare reef fish species, end up at the local fish market rather than in front of a lens. Options must be explored and changes made on how we interact with marine life and seek to do what is best for the people, environment and the animals. 

     In hindsight, I would gladly give up this image of George to bring him back. He is far more important to the reef and our marine ecosystem than any photograph, cover-shot or not. RIP George.







[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) dive tourism diving ecotourism feeding reef fishes maldives maldives diving napoleon wrasse photo tips reef fishes scuba underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/to-feed-or-not-to-feed Sat, 21 Sep 2019 06:07:36 GMT
Wrecks Being Wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/the-fujikawa Fujikawa MaruFujikawa MaruThe engine room of the Fujikawa Maru.


The Fujikawa Maru

Text and Image by ©Mike Gerken

Date Taken: April 2007

Location: Truk Lagoon, Chuuk, FSM

Camera: Nikon D200

Shipwrecks get there name for a reason. They're wrecked. Ships sink to the bottom of the oceans, lakes and rivers and there they will stay to slowly deteriorate. Preservation efforts can slow the process but time always wins. 

The Fujikawa Maru in Truk Lagoon is a wreck that is showing signs of age. Sunk on Feb 17, 1944 the Fuji has been deteriorating for 75 years. Being one of the most popular dives in Truk only sped up the effort due to increased diver traffic. 

The photo highlighted here was taken in early 2007 and depicts the ghostly upper engine room prior to its collapse sometime around 2013 (but don't quote me on that year). This scene is no longer there and only photography was able to preserve it.

The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon have been getting press in recent years about their degradation and the tragedy of this occurrence. I agree that it is a shame that parts of some of the wrecks have collapsed but, they are doing what wrecks do; they fall apart. None of us should be shocked. 

Don't get me wrong, I am an advocate for wreck preservation and believe in minimal impact diving. I touch the wrecks as little as possible and encourage others to do the same. In addition, in the 15 years I have been working here, I have never removed a single artifact. For me, it is about taking photos and leaving the wrecks as I found them. I do what I can to assist in maintaining this underwater museum for as long as possible however, my pragmatic side understands that nature is going to win. In the meantime, I will keep photographing and documenting shipwrecks for the purpose of posterity and enjoy myself while doing so. I think you should do the same.

Epilogue: The Fujikawa, like all the wrecks in Truk are still awing divers both repeat and first time visitors. They still have much to offer. 

Join Mike in Truk Lagoon for Rec•Tec 2020




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk diving truk diving. ghost wrecks photo tips scuba Truk lagoon underwater photo tips underwater photography wreck diving wreck preservation wrecks wrecks of truk https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/the-fujikawa Tue, 10 Sep 2019 07:24:17 GMT
Magic Moments https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/magic-moments Photo & Text by Mike Gerken

©All Rights Reserved

MesmerizedMesmerizedMike's most recent image of Carcharias taurus with a cooperative and mesmerizing ball of bait.

Sand Tiger Shark with bait on the Wreck of the Caribsea, NC. 

     Taking impressive underwater images is as much about being in the right place at the right time than anything else. Your chances of discovering the "magic moments" increase exponentially the more you dive. It's a simple numbers game. Of course having the skills and proper hardware are of utmost importance but, even the most expensive camera gear won't take great images if it is sitting on the bench at home. Get up off the couch, get out there and allocate as much time and resources as you can afford to your pursuit of underwater photography.

     Another important element to this formula is diving in locales known to have superior subject matter to photograph. For example, attempting to shoot shipwrecks in the "mud hole" off the New Jersey coast may be a waste of time. The chances of the visibility improving enough to take a photo of even a small part of the wreck may be slim. This is one of the reasons I enjoy photographing the wrecks of North Carolina. The region is subject to warm clear Gulf Stream waters offering some days with visibility in excess of 100' and with abundant marine life to boot. The photo highlighted above was one such day.

     The wreck of the Caribsea located on the eastern side of Lookout Shoals is notorious for its large population of sharks and dense biomass. It is being able to see and photograph this marine life that is the trick, for the dive site is also renown for sporadic bouts of green water and low visibility. When I used to captain the dive boat, Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, it was always a crap shoot to take passengers to dive the Caribsea. If the conditions were exceptional I was the hero that day. If they were terrible, I was a zero!  But knowing what I knew, I normally would opt to go. It was worth the risk.

     The day in 2012 that I took the photo above I recollect with great fondness. Dozens of sand tigers were swimming gently in the gin clear blue water above the wreck with dense schools of bait pulsating around the them. It was mesmerizing; a truly existential moment. All the best conditions came together at the same time. It was sensational. It didn't take long before a shark enveloped in bait began it's approach towards me. At the last moment it turned and just then the school of bait began to pulsate as if it were a single living breathing entity. The fish were orchestrated perfectly while the shark was oblivious to the spectacle taking place around it. I knew after the shot that it was a keeper without looking at the LCD.

     Since that day, I have had many successful photographic dives on the Caribsea with numerous images on display in this web site.  These exceptional dives and many others like it have indelibly etched this wreck in the books as my all-time favorite dive site. For me, it's a special place where the positive results of one good day far outweigh the poor ones. Remember, you gotta be in it to win it!

     Please join me for the

7th Annual NC Wreck•Shark Shootout in May 2020

or the

Tec•Shark Expedition in June 2020


    Please view the documentary below, "Wreck Denizens of North Carolina" for more insight and stunning video of this animals behavior. 


Wreck Denizens of North Carolina - The Documentary





[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea diving north carolina north carolina diving olympus dive olympus dive center photo tips sand tiger sharks scuba underwater photography wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/9/magic-moments Wed, 04 Sep 2019 20:55:17 GMT
The Bigger Picture https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/macro-beyond-the-fish Trunk FishTrunk Fish


      I usually prefer the broader story of a wide angle photography but, every so often I find a small fish parked in front of my lens. It is usually not the fish that inspires me but the scene the fish is a part of. The image above depicts not just a trunk fish looking wearily at me but a trunk fish hovering within a rusty old can. The circular pattern of that can frames the fish nicely. Take away the can and you have a mediocre fish portrait. 

    If you desire to achieve a bigger picture with your photography then search patiently for a subject that is part of an exciting backdrop or what we photographers call "negative space". Whether it is geometric shapes, interesting patterns, brilliant colors or a rusty old can makes no difference as long as it appeals to the visual senses. Whether shooting wide or macro, I suggest looking beyond a single element in your frame and discover a wider view of the underwater world. Your images will take on more depth and meaning if you do.

The Photo

    The image highlighted here was taken in Dumaguete, Philippines with Atlantis Resorts; a destination renown for their diverse and abundant macro subjects. After a lengthy search I found this trunk fish within the can and knew right away this would make an interesting photo. Taking the image was not complicated. I made a few test shots to determine exposure and then moved in gingerly being sure to frame the scene properly. I got what I wanted within 5 frames. Very simple. It was passing up sub-standard subjects during the dive and patiently looking for the photo-worthy one that was the hard part.

    In closing, what inspires me may not inspire you. Try different things and find what you enjoy and make it part of your style and portfolio. If simple fish portraits is what excites you then don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you're having fun then nothing else matters.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) atlantis resorts dumaguete dumaguete diving macro photography muck diving philippines diving photo tips scuba trunk fish underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/macro-beyond-the-fish Mon, 26 Aug 2019 10:59:42 GMT
The Bow Shot https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/the-bow-shot The San Francisco Maru

Truk Lagoon


Bow - San Francisco MaruBow - San Francisco Maru



The image that many wreck photographers aim to achieve is the quintessential, "Bow Shot". This is a photo that summarizes best what it is the viewer is looking at in a glance. There can be no doubt, even to the layperson, that the photo before them depicts a shipwreck. This observation will likely invoke welcomed inquiries from the viewer with questions such as, "where is this wreck,  what is the name of it, and how did it end up on the bottom of the ocean?". After all, shipwrecks invoke feelings of mystery, adventure and tragedy. To see what was once a robust sailing vessel helplessly lying on the seafloor triggers the morbid curiosity inherent in most of us. 

     Tips and Techniques for getting the shot:

1- Go wide or go home. The wider the lens the better chance of success. If one is not shooting wide then one must back up more and more to fit the often leviathan wreck into the frame. This only increases unsharp images due to distance from target and the turbidity of the water.

2- What about the Viz? Without ideal visibility bow shots will often be an effort in futility. What's the point of shooting a grand wide angle image if you can only see a small part of the wreck and it's fuzzy to boot? The image of the San Francisco Maru to the right was one I attempted numerous times before achieving optimal results. If I could not frame the photo without seeing the forward mast in the background, I didn't waste my time with the shot. There would be another day with clearer water. (An advantage of living and working in Truk Lagoon.)

3- It's all about the angle. Every wreck has it's own personality or what nautical types call, "lines". The lines of a ship will determine how you want to shoot it. Personally, I opt most often for the direct head-on shot when the wrecks are sitting upright. The viewer sees the ship coming right for them and this has impact (pun intended). With this shot, I was careful to frame the wreck where the foredeck was visible in addition to including a view of the seabed. The bow gun pointing to the port side was a huge bonus. Lastly, I liked the white whip corals on the tip of the bow that added marine highlights to the shot but, was careful to not have them block the view of the gun. 

4- Black & White's Rule. Most of my super wide bow shots convert to black and white from color rather effectively. For one, there is little color to photograph in the scene at this distance so why not go B & W? The image would be mostly a variation of blues without the conversion. B & W also offers a different mood; maybe one of antiquity and suspense.

5- No Fisheyes. Fisheye lenses will, by design, create barrel distortion in the corners of the images. This barrel distortion often will not work for a man made object such as a wreck. Straight lines like the masts or cross beams will appear wonky. However, sometimes the fisheye can result in cool artsy images but require experimenting with composition. In the end, the fisheye for this image just wouldn't work for me. 

Join me in Truk Lagoon on the M/V Odyssey for my Rec•Tec Photo Expedition Oct/Nov 2020

Dive and shoot the Wrecks of Truk.

Get details here.



Camera: Nikon D850

Lens: Nikon 16-35mm 4.0

Strobes: Not Used

ISO: 1000

F-stop: 6.3

Shutter: 1/80

Depth: 160' (200' to the bottom)




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) blue lagoon resort chuuk dive expeditions dive travel diving micronesia odyssey photo tips scuba trug lagoon diving truk odysssey underwater photo tips underwater photography wreck diving wreck travel wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/the-bow-shot Mon, 19 Aug 2019 09:00:00 GMT
Tickled Manta's https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/tickled-manta-rays

     Marine life tends to avoid divers and the clamorous machine on their backs venting bubbles. Not so for the manta ray's of "El Boiler" at the Revilligigedo Archipelago 250 miles from the tip of the Baja Peninsula. These mantas are abundant and love divers! More specifically they enjoy the sensation of the venting bubbles tickling their undersides and will swoop in stop and hover over a diver to enjoy the man made spa. It is quite the spectacle.

     On my journey to what is also known as Socorro, I was accompanied by a family with children of what looked to be 11 years old and up. The image to the top right is of one of the boys. It was exciting to watch this youngster having the thrill of his life interacting with these majestic creatures; the bubbles delighting the hovering manta with a 12' wing span.

     During the course of one of the dives at El Boiler, I had my face pressed up against the camera shooting away. Suddenly it got dark as if the sun dipped behind a cloud. I pulled my face away from the viewfinder only to see a giant manta parked over my head shuddering from my venting bubbles. The manta sat there for what seemed like a minute or so before gently moving on to the next submerged bubble maker. 

     It is never lost on me how special moments like this are. It is rare when a wild animal willingly interacts with human without training or feeding. This is why manta rays have a special place in my log book. There's more to them than meets the eye. 


Join me on the Solmar V to Socorro May 2021.

Full details here!


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) baja el boiler manta ray manta ray diving mexico diving revilligigedo islands socorro solmar v the boiler underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/tickled-manta-rays Sun, 11 Aug 2019 23:37:04 GMT
Photographing Engine Rooms https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/engine-room-dives Engine Room - Kensho MaruEngine Room - Kensho Maru The Kensho Maru

by Mike Gerken

  • Camera: Nikon D800; March 2017
  • Housing: Nauticam
  • F-Stop: 4
  • Shutter: 1/60
  • ISO: 6400

     Photographing wrecks often requires models in the composition to add perspective, show scale, tell a story and help set the tone of the image. However, models are not always at my beckon call and some are inpatient and demanding (add wink here). So sometimes a little improvisation is required. The divers that appear in this photo where shot unbeknownst to them as they penetrated into the heart of the engine room of the Kensho Maru. 

     The engine rooms of many of the wrecks of Truk Lagoon are the highlight part of the dives. The combination of surreal ambient light and the excitement of deep penetration into a WWII shipwreck are the ingredients for a potent cocktail. 

     The engine room of the Kensho Maru is in superb condition since it wasn't damaged extensively prior to sinking. The open skylights and the symmetry in the row of cylinder heads and the criss-crossing cat-walk help push it into the realm of the "best engine room dive" in Truk Lagoon. 

     The only other element required to complete this shot was divers. On this particular day I became privy to a group who expressed strong interest in being guided throughout the Kensho Maru. I simply jumped in ahead of them and positioned myself in desirable location in the engine room and spent about 10 minutes taking test shots and adjusting settings. Then I just waited. 

     Pretty soon I could see the divers enter the upper engine room with there light sabers whipping to and fro. Then the shooting started. For this shot I decided to not use strobes and take advantage of the stunning ambient light and use an ISO setting of 6400. The Nikon D800's ability in low-light allows for shooting at this high ISO without terrible image degradation (and the D850 is even better!). In the time that I was in the engine room I shot more than 200 images. All of them were tossed aside but for this one (I only needed one). The position of the divers and the varying angles of their lights balance the image nicely. I couldn't be happier. To get one diver in the right spot even when pre-planned is hard enough but to have 5 divers all sync up was a coup and this was accomplished without them even knowing it. In fact, all of the divers stated afterwards they didn't even see me lurking in the dark corner of the engine room.

    With a little bit of pre-panning, stealthiness and shooting a large volume of images you too can increase your odds of landing at least one great photo in a dive. Not every encounter underwater will yield an A-list image but when you do nail it, it is a feeling that will cause you to want more. Photography is addictive for this reason.

     Join me in Truk Lagoon on board the Odyssey for the Rec•Tec 2020 Expeditions. There will be comprehensive work shops with tips and techniques. Find out more here.




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk deep diving japanese wrecks micronesia shipwrecks tec diving truk truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography wreck diving wrecks wrecks of truk https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/8/engine-room-dives Mon, 05 Aug 2019 05:01:02 GMT
Schooling Sand Tigers https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/7/schooling-sand-tigers The Story Behind The Shot

Images & Text by Mike Gerken

©All Rights Reserved

Schooling Sand Tigers - July 2015


Planning, patience and persistence are often required to get "The Shot". "Schooling Sand Tigers" of North Carolina was one image I spent years trying to achieve. I started diving the wrecks of North Carolina in the late 90's and worked as a captain there for six seasons with Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City, NC. In that time, myself and others began to notice a pattern of animal behavior year after year on one particular wreck. Every mid-July female sand tigers congregate on the Caribsea located on the east side of Lookout Shoals. Where normally a diver can spot a few dozen sharks scattered around the wreck on the bottom, at this time they concentrate in numbers of 100+ and school in mid-water above the thermocline. Simply put, this is an awe-inspiring sight to see. In any one group of sharks you can count up to 50+ animals and to see several groups at a time. On occasions I could merge with the school and find myself immersed in sharks. Above me, below me and 360 degrees around me; sharks everywhere! 

Schooling Sand Tigers - July 2019

Getting the Shot

To capture an image of a school of sand tigers such as the one above, you must shoot super wide angle and drop back far enough to fit them all in one frame. All to often the visibility does not cooperate to do this and the images are grainy and unsharp. By visiting the site as many times as possible in a 2 week period in mid-July, you might get that clear water window.

Other issues to deal with to see schooling sand tigers are:

•Unless you charter a private dive boat you may not get to go to the Caribsea on back to back days which is may be required to find the desirable conditions. The consensus of divers on board the boat may want to dive elsewhere or not even go to the Caribsea to begin with. Dare I say, not everyone is a fanatic about sharks and photography?

•Weather is always a factor in diving North Carolina. The dive sites, are 20-30 miles from shore in the open ocean and getting there is half the battle. The wind and sea doesn't always cooperate and the boats are stuck at the dock while the sand tigers conjoin. 

•Although we have identified a distinct pattern of finding schooling sand tigers, they don't always cooperate and huddle up for the shot. They often splinter off into smaller groups coming and going from the area. On one occasion, I discovered a group of sharks 50 strong but they were 200' off the wreck. Trying to focus on the shot and not get lost was difficult not to mention dangerous. 

•Having multiple divers in the water at the same time doesn't help the situation. The sharks don't startle easy but they do spread out when a hapless diver swims right through the group. Working around these distractions is a challenge. It is best to dive alone but that is easier said than done.

•The use of strobes can be difficult. Too little power and your aren't illuminating the sharks and the image is monotone. Strobes set too powerful can yield a lot of backscatter, glare and overexposed fish in the foreground. Finding that sweet spot for artificial lighting takes practice. 

Why do the sand tigers school in mid-water in mid-July every year on the Caribsea? It is not fully understood. One theory is the sharks are regulating body temperature by dwelling in the warmer water above the thermocline. Why do they need to regulate body temp? That is also not understood. Why do they concentrate in large numbers? Once again, we don't know. 

In Closing

Locales such as the Galapagos or Cocos Island have their famed schooling hammerheads but North Carolina has schooling sand tigers. Now that you know what is required to see this, all you need now is to make the effort. The photo at the header was shot in July of 2015. The first time I saw schooling sand tigers was around 2001. It was nearly 15 years from the time I had the concept for the photo until I got what I wanted. There were many days of trial, error and bad luck but with the use of the three P's mentioned in the first sentence you too can get'er dun. 

Join me in North Carolina for the Wreck•Shark Shootout May 26-May 31, 2020. Find all the details at this link.





[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) carcharias taurus caribsea graveyard of the atlantic north carolina diving olympus dive olympus dive center outerbanks diving sand tiger sharks sand tigers schooling sand tigers shark photography underwater photography wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2019/7/schooling-sand-tigers Tue, 30 Jul 2019 09:48:11 GMT
North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2016 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2016/6/north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout-2016-mike-gerken 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.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Wreck shootout atlas tanker caribsea diving north carolina north carolina diving north carolina wreck shark shootout 2015 olympus olympus dive olympus dive center outer banks diving papoose sand tiger sharks scuba shark diving shark shootout tech diving u352 underwater photo contest underwater photography underwater video contest uscg spar uss schurz wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2016/6/north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout-2016-mike-gerken Tue, 07 Jun 2016 13:38:41 GMT
North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout 2015 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/6/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

     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.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Wreck shootout atlas tanker caribsea diving north carolina north carolina diving north carolina wreck shark shootout 2015 olympus olympus dive olympus dive center outer banks diving papoose sand tiger sharks scuba shark diving shark shootout tech diving u352 underwater photo contest underwater photography underwater video contest uscg spar uss schurz wreck diving wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/6/north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout-2015 Tue, 02 Jun 2015 16:59:50 GMT
Mystery Wreck of Palau https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/5/palau-wreck-diving Mystery Wreck of Palau

Photos & Text by 

Mike Gerken

©Evolution Underwater Imaging LLC 2015; All Rights Reserved

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. 

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.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Paul Collins Paul Haynes japanese japanese wrecks mystery palau wreck palau palau diving palau wrecks palau" richard barnden rod MacDonald sam tours shipwrecks tech diving tech diving palau technical diving unique dive expeditions world war II wreck diving wreck diving micronesia wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/5/palau-wreck-diving Sat, 16 May 2015 17:16:08 GMT
Dumaguete Muck https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/4/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.

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

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.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) atlantis azure atlantis liveaboard atlantis philippines atlantis resort atlantis resort dumaguete bulldozer shrimp dumaguete dumaguete diving dumaguete muck diving dumaguete scuba flamboyant cuttlefish frog fish harlequin shrimp macro dumaguete mantis shrimp muck diving muck diving philippines ornate ghost pipefish painted frog fish philippines diving trunk fish underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/4/dumaguete-muck Mon, 27 Apr 2015 02:38:15 GMT
Getting Deep in Truk https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/1/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.

     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 Maru stern deck gun. Max depth 200'.

San Francisco Maru

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

Katsuragisan Maru

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

Shotan Maru

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

Hokuyo Maru

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

More images from Truk Lagoon here

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Oite aikoku maru amagisan maru deep diving in truk deep wrecks diving in micronesia diving in truk hokuyo maru japanese destroyer japanese wrecks micronesia oite destroyer san franscisco maru shotan maru technical diving technical diving in truk truk truk lagoon truk odyssey https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2015/1/getting-deep-in-truk Thu, 22 Jan 2015 09:16:34 GMT
Threshers of Malapascua https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/8/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. 

​     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.

    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.

Topside scenery at Malapascua Island.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) banca diving malapascua diving philippines diving with threshers evolution diving malapascua malapascua diving malapascua island malapascua philippines malapascua threshers matt reed monad reef monad shoal philippine diving philippines philippines threshers photo tips scuba malapascua scuba with threshers shark photography shark photography tips shark photos thresher photography thresher shark photography thresher sharks threshers truk odyssey underwater photo tips underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/8/threshers-of-malapascua Fri, 29 Aug 2014 23:30:22 GMT
1st Annual North Carolina Wreck•Shark Shootout https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/6/1st-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.

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.

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 [email protected].

    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




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea carolina center contest dive diving nc shark shootout north carolina diving north carolina wreck diving north carolina wreck shark shootout olympus olympus dive olympus dive center olympus dive center shootout olympus shootout outer banks wreck diving outer banks wrecks papoose photo contest photography contest photography" sand tiger shark sand tiger shark photography, shark shark diving shark photo shark shootout sharks spar u352 underwater photography contest underwater video contest uscg spar wreck diving wreck shark shootout https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/6/1st-annual-north-carolina-wreck-shark-shootout Fri, 06 Jun 2014 09:29:48 GMT
Dive Boat Captains Wish List https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/4/april-10-2014---dive-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.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aggressor fleet boat diving tips boat rules dive boat captains dive boat etiquette dive rules dive tips diving liveaboard diving liveaboards north carolina boat diving north carolina diving north carolina wreck diving odyssey adventures palau siren rules of the dive boat rules of the road siren fleet tips for diving truk odyssey https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2014/4/april-10-2014---dive-captains-wish-list Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:51:57 GMT
The Sand Tiger Shark: Wreck Denizen https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/10/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.

     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.

     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.


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. 



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) Nikon dslr aeolus carcharias taurus caribsea d800 diving dslr video favorite shark grey nurse shark hd dslr video nikon d800 north carolina north carolina diving olympus olympus dive olympus dive center outer banks diving papoose photo tips ragged tooth shark sand tiger sharks scuba shooting video with dslr siren u352 underwater photography underwater video uscg spar uss schurz wreck diving wreck diving north carolina wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/10/the-sand-tiger-shark-wreck-denizen Thu, 24 Oct 2013 20:46:53 GMT
Diving Unique in Palau https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/6/june-7-2013---a-palauan-recharge All content copyrighted. ©Mike Gerken; All Rights Reserved.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


To set up a dive trip with Unique Dive Expeditions of Sam’s Tours, contact [email protected] or email [email protected]. 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

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

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

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

A mass of red snappers prior to spawning. 

Visit here for more photos.



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) anguar bar blue corner bull shark bumphead parrotfish bumphead spawning, collins dive diving diving micronesia drift diving expeditions fish aggregations fish spawnings german channel, humphead parrotfish koror micronesia palau palau diving palau siren paul peleliu red red snapper sam's sand shark city siren fleet snapper spawning tours ulong channel unique unique dive expeditions unique diving unique palau wall diving worldwide dive and sail https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2013/6/june-7-2013---a-palauan-recharge Fri, 07 Jun 2013 17:24:21 GMT
Freediving Palau https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/12/dec-29-2012---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”.




[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) apnea blue blue corner:, blue holes palau corner diving freediving holes micronesia micronesia diving palau palau micronesia palau photography palau scuba palau scuba diving palau siren palau underwater photography palau" sams tours siren underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/12/dec-29-2012---freediving-palau Sat, 29 Dec 2012 04:07:30 GMT
Maiden Voyage in the Palaun Islands https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/11/october-30-2012--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.








[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) crew gerken manta mike palau photography reef scuba siren underwater https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/11/october-30-2012--maiden-voyage-in-the-palaun-islands Mon, 19 Nov 2012 06:37:31 GMT
Micronesia Calling https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/9/september-26-2012---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!




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.            

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) and center dive indonesia olympus palau sail sams siren tours wide word https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/9/september-26-2012---micronesia-calling Tue, 25 Sep 2012 23:48:01 GMT
SUDS Returns https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/suds-returns 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.

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.

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



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aeolus caribsea carolina center charities for vets disabled disabled vets dive diving handicap diving john thompson north olympus sand tiger sharks scuba scuba with disabled vets soldiers soldiers undertaking disabled scuba spar suds undertaking veterans charities walter reed warrior wounded warriors wounded warriors diving wounded. https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/suds-returns Fri, 24 Aug 2012 23:17:29 GMT
Club Aeolus https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-6-2012-club-aeolus

Photo of the Week
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!
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. 



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aeolus barracuda north carolina diving north carolina wreck diving olympus dive center olympus nc papoose sand tiger sharks sand tigers shark dives underwater photography worlds best shark dives wreck denizens wreck diving wreck of the aeolus https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-6-2012-club-aeolus Mon, 06 Aug 2012 10:43:00 GMT
Double Headers https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-1-2012-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!

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


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea north carolina diving olympus dive center papoose sand tiger sharks uss schurz https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/8/august-1-2012-double-headers Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:03:00 GMT
They're Back https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-17-2012-theyre-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!
  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)


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea north carolina diving sand tiger sharks u352 underwater photography uss schurz wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-17-2012-theyre-back Tue, 17 Jul 2012 15:23:00 GMT
July 2, 2012 - Sand Tiger Night Club https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-2-2012-sand-tiger-night-club-3
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.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aeolus olympus dive center papoose sand tiger sharks u352 underwater photography uscg spar wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/7/july-2-2012-sand-tiger-night-club-3 Mon, 02 Jul 2012 15:19:00 GMT
June 22, 2012 - The 'Naeco' https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-22-2012-naeco

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

    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)
     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!
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.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) atlantis iv chris crumley naeco north carolina diving olympus dive center papoose u352 underwater photography wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-22-2012-naeco Fri, 22 Jun 2012 13:23:00 GMT
June 13, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 1 - Where It Began https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-13-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-1-where
A Few Words First

      For those of you who have been following my blog series, Mike's Top 10 Dives, I have finally gotten around to finishing it up in this issue with my no. 1 most memorable dive. Some of you may have been thinking, it must be an exotic dive on one of the wrecks of Truk Lagoon or a deep dive on the SS President Coolidge or a encounter with a ferocious shark in North Carolina. The reality is the dive that takes the no. 1 position for me is muchmore modest than that.
     This dive takes me back to where it all started; my open water check out dive off the beaches of Riverhead, New York in the Long Island Sound. I did not know at the time what diving and the ocean would mean to me in the future. I only knew that I loved diving. At the age of 13 that was all that mattered. Life was simpler back then and I didn't analyze the experience; I just reveled in it. 
     Enjoy this piece and thank you again for following.
Happy Diving!
-Mike Gerken
"Open Water Check Out Dive" - Northville, Long Island, NY
Here I am posing for a shot after completing
my check out dives for my
open water certification. July, 1981.

     My parents, grandparents and their parents before them have been vacationing on the eastern shores of Long Island, known as the North Fork, since the 1920's. Back then, the region was dominated by sprawling farm communities specializing in growing potato's. The owners of these farms had built beach bungalows along the north shore adjacent to their farm land in a hamlet called, Northville. They would use these modest homes for their own personal use in the summer months and as rentals for those who would venture out to the country from New York City to escape the oppressive heat. My great grandparents were such people. Swimming, fishing, boating and sun bathing on the beach were all favorite past times for the entire extended family.

     My grandparents eventually purchased one of the beach houses in Northville and introduced this life style to my father and in turn introduced it to my mother and myself as well as my siblings. My most memorable times growing up were those spent at the Gerken beach house where, like my ancestors before me, I would explore the waters of the Long Island Sound. From sun up till sun down I could be mostly found in the water, afloat on top of the water or at the waters edge engaged in some activity such as fishing, boating, swimming, snorkeling, water skiing and much later on, SCUBA diving.
     At the age of thirteen, my parents decided to enroll me in a scuba course at the 7- Z's dive center in Riverhead, NY. Since I had been an avid free diver and snorkeler since before I could remember, Mom and Dad believed that dive training would be the next logical step for their son, the 'water rat'. I was a very lucky child to have parents that encouraged me to try new things and to keep me stimulated and active. I might not have appreciated this at the time, but as an adult I certainly reflect back on this with gratitude.

Setting up my gear for the big dive off the beach in Northville
with my instructor. July 1981.

     After arriving at the 7-Z's I remember the excitement of seeing the dive equipment hanging on the walls. Mind you, this dive shop was not like the flash operations you see today with the numerous selections of gear displayed on the custom made displays. Nearly everything was black and you had a choice of two masks and two styles of fins. Pink wetsuits were definitely not an option. 

     My folks enrolled me in the course and handed me the text book and set up the schedule. I was to come two nights per week for the next three weeks to do the training.

     I remember having a grand time with the in water training skills in the on site pool. Back then we were required to do skills that have been long banned from training schools. One such skill was a breath hold circuit under water. Wearing only a weight belt, mask and fins we would swim from one scuba unit to another along the bottom of the pool. At each station we would take a breath or two and then swim to the next station to repeat the process. This would go on for a few revolutions until we all mastered it. Another notorious skill was called the 'ditch & don'. Standing at the foot of the pool at the deep end we would toss all of our gear in to the pool in a pile 10 feet beneath us. Wearing nothing but our swim shorts we would jump in, free swim to the bottom and start donning the gear. First the regulator in the mouth, then the weight belt, then the dive tank and backpack, then the mask and fins and then the buoyancy compensation device (BCD). Once all was secure we would do a controlled ascent to the surface. If a dive school was to perform such a drill today their lawyers would flip out. At some point years later, 'ditch and don' was gone for liability reasons I'm sure.
Setting up the equipment as my father
takes a few snapshots.

     Mastering the in water skills had proven to be much easier than the classroom training. Most of the material was easy enough, but the physics and dive tables proved to be trying on me and required a little extra attention. My dive instructors were very nice guys who were patient and knowledgeable. They helped me through it all and got me to pass my written exam. All that was left now was the open water check out dives; the moment of truth.

     For reasons I cannot recall, I was unable to attend the check out dives with my class mates and had to set up a private session with one of my instructors whose name was Carl. Carl drove out to my family beach house and conducted my training dives right in front of my home. As luck would have it, the water was calm for many days creating clear water with visibility at least 15 feet or more (this is pretty good for the LI Sound). 
     We splayed out blankets on the rocks and sand and began to set our gear up. The regulators and pressure gauge in those days did not have an alternate air source, but they did have power inflators for the BC's. A depth gauge was also not required and dive computers were in their infancy if available even at all.
Instructor Carl and I wading into the water to start our training dives.

     Carl and I then proceeded to help each other in to our gear and wade out in to the flat calm water. After a short surface swim Carl, looked at me and flashed the ok sign with his thumb and forefinger. Once I ok'ed him in return he then pointed his thumb down indicating it was time to descend. Once we got down to the bottom about 15 feet down I noticed all the same things I had seen many times before while breath hold diving; crabs, small fish, seaweed and rocks etc. This time though I did not have to he surface for air. I now had more time to explore. 

    Carl then proceeded to run me through the skills required for my certification. Out of air drills, buoyancy and mask clearing skills being but a few of them. He was very thorough and at the end of each training session we would swim off and simply have some fun. We came across a large set of rocks at one point and spotted an enormous black fish or Tautog swimming in and out of the crags. I only stood tall at about 5 foot and change in those days so I can't say for sure how big 'enormous' really was. All I can say is it was exciting. We also saw a few crabs and schools of smaller fish as well.


Exiting the water with Carl after my first SCUBA dive.
Needless to say I was pretty excited. 

     Once the first dive was complete we exited the water where Carl said, "that was a big blackfish wasn't it!" I agreed enthusiastically and by my reaction many would have thought I just saw a great white shark. In those days it did not take much to excite me.  Carl and I then changed out our tanks and repeated the process over again with a new set of skills this time. 

     The second dive was every bit as good as the first but it all came a little easier. My father all the while stood on the beach taking photos and made a point to stay out of the way and let Carl do his job. 

     Once we completed my final dive, Carl simply said, "congratulations you did a great job". I'm not sure what I said in return but I know I probably had a grin that stretched from ear to ear and then some. My Dad at this point intervened in the whole process and offered Carl a cold beer back at the house. To this day the tradition of a diver drinking a cold beer after a dive lives on strong. As an adult today, I can vouch for this. After a cold one or two and some small talk, Carl excused himself, got in his van and drove away. I never saw him again after that, but the memory of the day lives on strong. 


My PADI Junior Open Water certification card.
And yes....I had hair then.


   That week my Mom took me to the grocery store and sat me in the photo booth to get my mug shot taken for my PADI Junior Open Water certification card. A card I carried around religiously in my wallet for years and which I still possess to this day. As a young boy, I cannot stress how exciting it was to participate in scuba diving and become a member of the club. I for sure felt like the coolest kid on the block.

    Ironically, I recall making only one or two dives on scuba after my certification until the age of 24. Factors such as finding a buddy, allocating the time and of course finding the funds all came in to play and kept me away from SCUBA. I did however continue to enjoy the water and went freediving and spearfishing regularly during the summer months.
Instructor Carl after successfully training a
13 year old kid how to scuba dive.

     Eventually, after completing college and experiencing the rat race of New York City for a few years, I decided it was time to return to the ocean and seek the solitude and peace that it once offered me. 7-Z's had long gone out of business and a new operation sprang up in its place. The Hampton Dive Center, owned and operated by Randy Randazzo, went on to become one of Long Island's best dive operators. I signed up for my Open Water course with Randy in my mid twenties and got back on track. Besides returning to diving for the joy of it, I had a bigger plan to set in motion; a new career in diving. It would take seven years before I would venture out on this new path on a full time basis, but that's a story for another time.

-Mike Gerken
While writing this short story I decided to try to track down my instructor who helped me on my way to become the dive pro that I am today. After a brief search on Facebook and an email sent to Carl, he got back to me indicating I found the right guy. I merely wanted to say thanks and to let him know what diving for me had become and what it meant to me. He wrote back indicating he was pleased to have been a part of the process and to thank me for bringing back good memories of his days as a dive instructor. If your reading this Carl, "Thanks again for introducing me to diving".

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) hampton dive center open water dives long island diving mikes top ten https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-13-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-1-where Wed, 13 Jun 2012 13:02:00 GMT
June 12, 2012 - Bottom Time https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-12-2012-bottom-time
Photo of the Week
Barracuda residing on the wreck of the USCGC Spar. (New)


My home away from home, the Midnight
wheelhouse.  Photo by Annette Papa.

     This past week proved to be a good one for diving at Olympus Dive Center on board the Midnight Express. I ran charters Thursday June 7 thru Sunday June 10 with a reprieve for a few days this week. The conditions offshore have been great and bordering on super with flat calm seas over the weekend with visibility edging up to 60 feet at times; depending on where we were diving. A stiff north wind earlier in the week did manage to drop the water temps down a few degrees from 78-74 degrees but it is warming up again quickly.

     Although I did not get to dive for a few days due to obligations on board the boat, I did get in on Thursday and Sunday and finally got to see the wreck of the USCGC Spar in her new resting place since Hurricane Irene jostled her around last August. The Spar is still very much the awesome wreck dive she has always been, although now with a 45 degree list to her port side. Sand tiger sharks, although seen with regularity, have been few in numbers on the Spar. The W.E. Hutton aka Papoose on the other hand has had far more shark encounters so far this year not to mention a plethora of all the usual suspects. That wreck has always and continues to impress divers. As far as I can ascertain, most divers visiting with us have been enjoying themselves immensely including a more international crowd that I have beens seeing on board. This week the Midnight was host to some divers from England, Portugal, Mexico and Germany. Word has been getting out abroad at what we have to offer for diving and this could not please us more.

Editor & Chief of Wreck Diving Magazine,
Joe Porter hemmed in by Olympus Dive Center's
Robert Purifoy and Nema Triplett.

     Also, Joe Porter, the Editor & Chief of the renown Wreck Diving Magazine came up to Olympus for a quick getaway dive on Saturday before returning to his busy schedule at home. Word has it he had some great dives. It was nice to see him out enjoying the perfect weather conditions and we look forward to his return with his lovely wife Heidi in the near future.

     On the photo side of things, the addition of the Nikon D800 to my arsenal has been an exciting one thus far. Due to a very busy schedule I did not have the chance to do as much shooting with it yet. The housing for this camera will not be ready for a few more weeks so I am relegated to snapping some top side shots in the meanwhile. So far what I have seen has blown me away by the quality of the images this camera takes. The dynamic range of the images is impressive compared to my D200 and D300 cameras. No longer do I lose as much detail in the shadows when I expose to the highlights and vice versa. The sharpness and resolution is hard to top at 7360p x 4912p; a whopping 36 Mega Pixels!
A test shot of the Midnight Express
with the full frame Nikon D800
and a 16mm Fisheye lens.

      That is a lot of MP's for the average photographer, but you can never have too many I say, especially with the price tag this camera comes with. The body of the Nikon D800 runs $3,000 but when you consider that only 5-8 years ago a camera with this large a sensor ran as high as $25,000 or more. There is a lot of performance in the D800 for the price. Due to these large files this camera is not recommended for action/sports photography since the frames per second is hampered to a mere 4 per second at full frame. That speed suits my needs for underwater applications. So far I am pleased as punch with this unit, but I have a lot more experimentation to go. I will keep you all posted.

     Lastly, I will have my final Blog Report on my Top Ten Dives within a day or two. Stay tuned.
Happy diving!
-Mike Gerken

Photo Gallery
Some territorial barracudas on the Spar
made for great subject matter.
Taken with Nikon D300; 16mm fisheye lens.
Taken with Nikon D300; 16mm fisheye lens.
'Midnight' mate, Brian Moore making a
grand entry off the pulpit.
Taken with Nikon D800; 12-24DX lens.

Crew hanging out on the bow on a
beautiful flat calm day.
Taken with Nikon D800; 12-24DX lens.
Annette Papa and Anna Yeager of Olympus,
tag teamed a bunch of lionfish this weekend.
Those fish didn't stand a chance.
Taken with Nikon D800; 12-24DX lens.

Flat calm day + great vis makes for some happy divers.
Taken with Nikon D800; 12-24DX lens.



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) joe porter north carolina diving olympus dive center sand tiger sharks underwater photography wreck diving wreck diving magazine https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-12-2012-bottom-time Tue, 12 Jun 2012 08:56:00 GMT
June 4, 2012 - Dive Drought Over https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-4-2012-dive-drought-over
Photo of the Week
A sand tiger shark in the wreck of the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. (New)
©Mike Gerken

      The dive season here in North Carolina with Olympus Dive Center has been underway for well over a month, but until this past week I have personally not been able to get in the water since Dec 2011! This was in part due to bad weather as well as a bad attitude. This past week changed all that. The weather improved as did my attitude and I am now able to deliver new photos and a condition report after making three dives this week.
     The conditions offshore have been stellar. Just take a look at the Photo of the Week up top that was taken only 24 hours ago and you will see what I mean. We did lose one day of diving on Wednesday due to a storm that flew threw here, but I will not dwell on that downer. We did dive on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday off the Midnight Express. Let me give you the run down.
The stern of the WWI gunship, the USS Schurz. (New)

      We had some great divers visit with us this week, all of which I do not have the space to mention in this blog report. Two men of note that I would like to mention are Matt White and Tyler Anderson who are part of the Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba, also known as, SUDS. I wrote a piece on SUDS last year that you can read about at this link. This will give you some background as to the amazing work this organization is involved in.


SUDS diver Tyler Anderson being drilled by

dive instructor, Bubba Flores. (New)

SUDS diver, Matt White emerging from
within the wreck of the W.E. Hutton
aka Papoose. (New)

     Matt and Tyler were here to do some dive training with Olympus instructors Bubba Flores and Danny Facciola and also to simply have some fun diving. I had the privilege to tag along with the four of them on a dive on the W.E. Hutton, aka Papoose and snap a few pics of them engaged in training. I'd have to say that this was inspirational watching these guys dive. They looked like pros down there. 

     After the dive was over, the training continued for Matt as he finished his surface skills towards his Rescue Diver certification. Bubba with the help of Olympus instructor Annette Papa simulated various distressed diver scenarios where Matt seemed to master all the skills and finish his course. It was impressive to watch. (See Photo Gallery below)
     SUDS weren't the only divers in town this week that I wanted to mention. The New York City dive club Sea Gypsies were here for most of the week to dive headed up by Mats Stahlkrantz and Renata Rojas. It is always a pleasure to have my NY kinfolk come down to dive with me at Olympus and this year went very well for them all. Well at least that is what they told me. They managed to dive the mainstay wrecks, the Papoose, U-352, Spar, and the Aeolus and have great dive conditions to boot. The optimal diving was a plus considering a tropical storm had barreled its way through here just last week with 35 knot winds and 10 foot seas.
2012 Sea Gypsies North Carolina
dive group. 

     All of the dives the Gypsies did yielded anywhere from 40 feet of visibility up to 80+ foot with 78 degrees on the bottom. Sand tiger sharks on the Spar are sporadic, but there was a population on the nearby wreck of the Aeolus and plenty to be seen on the Papoose. Many divers even reported seeing NST's (Non-Sand Tigers) on a few of the dives which leads me to think that the dusky sharks may be back this year. I'll keep you posted on that.

    As for myself, I managed to get in some diving this week on the Papoose and on the USS Schurz. The long diveless winter became a distant memory as I looked at my LCD at 120' after snapping some 'keeper' images. The feeling of finally getting back in the water and doing what I love the most was a relief. 
    For those of you contemplating coming diving, well now is the time to do it. The warm blue water is pushing in strong and there is loads of marine life out there to see. I for one am excited and optimistic for this 2012 season. 
A North Carolina lionfish.
    On a different note, I will be posting my final Dive Blog Report on my Top Ten Dives of all time within a few days. My last Blog was on my 2nd all time best dive with Manta Rays right here in North Carolina. My number 1 dive is the last to come and some of you may be surprised to read what it is.
Happy Diving!
-Mike Gerken
Photo Gallery
Carcharias taurus or the sand tiger shark.

I never tire of these amazing sharks.

Matt and Danny inside the Papoose right before
I temporarily blinded them with my strobes.

Tyler Anderson exploring the beautiful
W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. 


More drills for Tyler with Bubba.


Tyler receiving orders from Bubba. 


Matt White taking a tour of the Papoose.


Tyler and Bubba making an ascent.


Matt White looking like a pro.


SUDS secretary and Olympus instructor
& captain, Danny Facciola looking over Matt.


Tyler and Bubba taking a break.


The SUDS gang hangin' out.


Tyler performing surface rescue skills with Bubba and Annette. 


Perfect ring toss by Tyler.


Bubba getting a tow.




I'm diggin' those pink 'Chuck's' Renata!


Annette Papa looks to be having a good time.


A days catch. Yum yum.


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) SUDS lionfish north carolina diving papoose sand tiger sharks sea gypsies wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/6/june-4-2012-dive-drought-over Mon, 04 Jun 2012 08:15:00 GMT
May 16, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 2 "Manta Heaven" https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/5/may-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-2-manta

Photo of the Week
A Manta Ray
(Photo taken in the Maldives 12/2008 ©Mike Gerken.)

A Few Words First
    My Top Ten Dives of all time is nearly finished and pretty soon I will have dive reports from our 2012 dive excursions to the wrecks of North Carolina. The season here is well underway.

     This week, I am recalling an amazing dive experience on the wreck of the Caribsea right here in the good ole USA. The experience was profound enough that will be very tough to dislodge this dive from my No. 2 spot. Before reading understand that I do not condone the touching of marine life whennot necessary. This dive took place ten years ago before my understanding of the potential harm that touching marine organisms can cause. Please scroll down and read more.
     In case you haven't heard I am now offering for sale on my web site a line of Evolution Underwater Imaging t-shirts and hats bearing the company logo. They are made of high quality materials and will add some style to your wardrobe. Divers style that is.
Evolution Underwater Imaging

     On the publishing front, I just received word that Brittians largest dive publication, Diver Magazine has agreed to publish my story, Wreck Denizens of North Carolina. Based on the title I suppose you get an idea on what this story will be about. I will have more details on what issue it is to appear in very soon.

Happy Diving!

"Manta Heaven" - Caribsea, North Carolina

"Unfortunately, this story took place before I became interested in underwater photographery. I do not have any photos or video to share with you of this encounter. 
I hope the story and your imagination are enough to satisfy."

     In 2002, I was the first mate on board the dive vessel, the Midnight Express out of Olympus Dive Center, North Carolina. The very same boat I'm presently captain of. After diving and traveling in many locations around the world in the past 15 years, the dive story I am about to tell is one of many that explains why I keep coming back to North Carolina to live, dive and work.

    The charter on this summer day in 2002 was nothing out of the ordinary. The group we had on board from New Jersey was just thoroughly entertained by their dive on the Atlas tanker. The Atlas is one of those 'go-to' wreck sites when folks want to see sharks up close and personal. After the passengers completed their first dive we decided to head over to another wreck.

   We picked up anchor and went to the wreck of the Caribsea, a WWII casualty ship that was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1942 about five miles from our present location. It was my turn to tie us in to the wreck upon arrival.

    Captain Robert hovered the boat over the wreck and told me to jump. Wearing a full face mask equipped with surface communication, I followed his orders and leapt over the side with anchor in hand. A few minutes later I had us secured to the wreck and reported we had about 30-40 of visibility on the bottom, but a little clearer in mid water. Robert said he would call me back in a few minutes to find out if I had seen any sand tiger sharks. Diving with these sharks was the main reason why we came here.

    I began swimming around the wreck and saw the usual suspects wandering around the bow section. Robert then called me back on the com where I began to tell him about the shark sightings. I said something like, "We have about a dozen or so sharks a slight ways out holy !@#$% a manta ray just swam up behind me. " Wow" replied Robert, "I will tell the others". As he went back to deliver the news and brief everyone on the dive I began swimming about the wreck with this inquisitive manta ray. The ray would swim out of view only to return moments later and swim right up into my face checking me out. Needless to say I was elated at this.

     As I rounded the bow and started swimming towards the boilers of the wreck, mid way down, there were yet two more Manta's that came out of the bluish green water. Robert then calls me back and asks if the Manta was still there where I told him there were now two more. 

     If I wasn't so focused on what was happening before me I may have imagined the melee of divers up on deck struggling to get in the water to get a glimpse of one of the oceans most popular and beloved creatures. I'm sure they were tripping over themselves.

     It soon became apparent that these three mantas weren't going anywhere, for the show was just beginning. All one had to do was hover in the water and watch them perform there graceful ballet act. Each of would do barrel rolls, twists and spins in what seemed like a joyful event. Mantas commonly do rolls and flips with their mouths open in order to scoop up the tiny crustaceans that are a part of their diet, but none of them were feeding. I'd like to think that this act was a playful one and these rays wanted to interact.

     Some would swoop down at me coming within arms reach where I could reach out and gently touch them on the belly just as they would peel off like a dive bomber. Before any of you get upset because I touched the manta please note that this was the year 2002; a time before touching marine life was so greatly frowned upon. Besides the Manta was enjoying the heck out of this cat and mouse game.

     Within a few minutes the divers began showing up on the scene to partake in this gala event. Unfortunately for me, it was time to head up and tend to activities from the surface. I would have to leave the divers in the care of the manta rays.

     After I returned to the boat, I filled Captain Robert in on the events taking place down below while he got his gear set up to go for a dive once everyone had safely returned. After about 45 minutes or so the ecstatic divers returned one by one and clambered up the ladders with grins stretching from ear to ear. Each and everyone of them had a continuous encounter with all three of the manta rays for the duration of the dive.

    It was now Roberts turn to head down for a dive and no one had to convince him to go. Judging by his long absence from the boat I suspected the rays had stuck around and he was having the time of his life down there.

     Eventually he did return, but then suddenly the unthinkable happened. One of the mantas accidentally became entangled in one of the hang lines strung up underneath the boat that divers use as aids in ascent and descent to the wreck. The manta was panicking and wildly thrashing about. In a flash, Robert was back over the side with a knife in hand and swam down to the hapless manta struggling to free itself. Within a few moments and a swipe of the knife, the manta was once again free.

    We all figured the frightened fish would swim off in to the blue away from us humans, but this was not the case. As I jumped in to unhook us from the wreck in order for us to head home, all three of the mantas were still there and dancing about even more joyously than before launching backflips and barrel roles over and over again. 

    I unhooked the Midnight from the wreck and radioed up to Robert that I might be a while down here. He understood. Any other day we would have been in a rush to return home, but not on this one. I was alone on the Caribsea with three beautiful manta rays all around me. The boat and passengers would have to wait. 

    Now, here is where it got interesting. One of the mantas in particular took a special liking to me. This ray would swim in close proximity performing its aquatic dance. After a while I couldn't resist and swam up over it's back and held on gently to the manta with only a few fingers and took a ride. My eye was a mere 12 inches away from the sentient eye of this majestic creature. Not wanting to stress the manta out I would let go after a few seconds and to my dismay it did a flip and a spin and immediately came right back swimming directly at me, stopping less than two feet away from my face before it stared at me and waited.

    I once again gently climbed back on the mantas back and away it went. I assisted the manta and kicked my fins as well so it would not have to pull my full weight. This manta ray was clearly enjoying this interaction. 

     This routine went on for another 30 minutes. Every time I would let go, the manta would return, stop dead in front of me and allow me get back on board and continue the ride. At one point the ray laid down in the sand near motionless while I hovered over it. I gently touched it once or twice while it twitched its massive fins as though it were in a dream state. I swear it seemed as though it were ticklish. While all this was going on the other two manta's could be seen in the backdrop doing there barrel rolls and back flips like back up dancers. The image was surreal.

     Eventually, I took my last ride and hovered in mid-water and watched all three of the mantas continue to flit about the wreck while the one kept circling me as if it wanted to keep playing. After about 30 minutes I felt the need to surface and head for home. As I made my way up the manta ray followed me nearly to the surface before I had to sadly say goodbye. It was time for me to leave it's realm so I could return to mine. I wished this wasn't so.

     Interactions like these in the natural world with untrained, unfed and unconditioned wild life are extremely rare occurrences. For a manta ray to knowingly and purposely allow such close interaction with a human, for what appeared to be an act of pure playfulness, was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my days.

     As years went on I became more educated as to the possible harm that I could have inadvertently caused to this manta ray by touching it. Most fish species have a thin coating of slime that covers and protects there skin from parasites and infection. By touching the ray I could have removed some of this valuable slime thus exposing it to possible harm. 

     Knowing now what I didn't know then; I would not repeat this act again. I would content myself on merely taking pictures of these beautiful creatures regardless of how much the manta begs me to play. I encourage any of you reading this to follow suit and feel privileged just to watch if you should ever have a manta ray encounter.

-Mike Gerken

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) caribsea manta ray mikes top ten north carolina diving olympus dive center wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/5/may-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-2-manta Wed, 16 May 2012 13:59:00 GMT
May 7, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 3 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/5/may-7-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-3
Photo of the Week
A composite image of the Japanese destroyer, the Fumitsuki.
Sunk in 1944 in Truk Lagoon, this WWII era warship is a rare find filled with history.
This image was created by splicing together 33 hi-resolution RAW files.
The finished size at 100 percent is more than 12 feet in length.

A Few Words First
     If you haven't already heard the news, sadly, this is to be my last season with Olympus Dive Center. I have recently been offered and have accepted a job in the Micronesian island nation of Palau starting in September of this year. If you would like to know more about this please see this link to my most recent newsletter. 
     I still have the 2012 dive season left in North Carolina and I am very excited to get things going. In fact, I just finished running my first three charters of the season on the Midnight Express and so far so good. On Friday May 4th we got things off with a bang by venturing offshore to the WE Hutton aka Papoose where we had a modest 30' of visibility with water temps in the low 70's. This is surprisingly warm for early May. We followed up with our second dive on the mainstay wreck site, the U-352 where conditions were about the same.
     Word must be getting out in the world about how good the diving in North Carolina is since we had an international crowd on board the 'Midnight' over the weekend. If I'm not mistaken we had divers from Denmark, Finland, Canada, Chile and even that far out country of New Joisey. I believe there was also a no-show from Peru. I for one think it is fantastic that Olympus is attracting divers from outside our borders. Bring all your friends please and if I guessed your country of origin incorrectly please accept my apologies. 
     On Saturday we dived twice the wreck of the USCG Cutter Spar. This was my first trip out to the Spar since hurricane Irene in August of 2011. The ship has moved several hundred feet and rolled nearly on to her side.  The visibility was a handsome 40 feet or better (depending on who you speak to) with water temps in the mid 70's. There was a fair amount of surface current and some choppy seas to help sharpen the divers skills on board but most all had a great experience on one of North Carolina's favorite wreck sites. There were stingrays, sand tiger sharks and plenty of small fish about.
     Sunday brought strong winds out of the north so we stayed close to the beach and dived the USS Indra and the wreck of the Suloide in 60' of water. With visibility around 15 feet divers were able to salvage this day and go diving rather than sit at the dock. To me, any diving is better than no diving and besides most on board were very pleased with their dives and some managed to spot a large and rare sand bar shark. Way to go! 
     In this weeks Dive Blog Report the countdown of my Top Ten Dives of all time continues. Coming in at No. 3 is the wreck of the Japanese destroyer, Fumitsuki. This WWII warship is a rare find in the world and can be seen mostly intact in the waters of Truk Lagoon. This is not about any one dive experience, but about the wreck site as a whole. She is my favorite dive in Truk Lagoon. Read on and find out why

     (Some weeks ago I already published a story on the Fumitsuki on scubaboard.com, so I thought I would merely repost to my blog report. If you have already read it then you may want to scroll down to the bottom for my Photo Tip of the Week section.)
Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

No. 3: 
The Fumitzuki  of Truk Lagoon (Video)


The bow of the Fumitsuki as seen in 2007.
            The initial time I set eyes on the wreck of the Fumitsuki, I knew she was remarkable. Sitting erect in 120 feet of seawater on the sandy bed of Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, this World War II Japanese destroyer was a physical archive of history standing before me. Canons with boxes of shells nearby, anti-aircraft guns, torpedo launchers, depth charges and personal effects from within the wreck, are only a few of the interesting items to be seen. 
         Rarely will you find anywhere in the world a Japanese war ship that is as fully intact and loaded with artifacts such as the Fumitsuki.  In 2003, I dived the wreck during my first week of employment on board the liveaboard dive vessel, the Truk Aggressor II; I immediately  knew this wreck was going to be my personal favorite. For the next six years working in Truk, I would log nearly two hundred dives on the Fumitsuki and discover a new and interesting facet about her each and every time.
            The Fumitsuki was one of twelve Mutsuki class destroyers built in 1926 during an era when the Japanese were evolving in to a world military power. With an overall length of 320 feet, a top speed of 33 knots and armed with six 24” torpedo tubes (3 fore and 3 aft), this class of destroyer was a formidable weapon. In addition, the Fumitsukiwas armed with 4 - 4.7” 50 caliper canons, 10-25mm anti-aircraft guns, minesweeping equipment and depth charge capabilities. Whereas Japanese battleships were given names of mountains or provinces, destroyers were named after meteorological events such as the Fuyutsuki, (Winter Moon), the Tachikaze (Earth Severing Wind) or the Fumitsuki(Month of the Rice Flower) whose literal translation is the month of July.
            In 1941, the aging Mutsuki class destroyers were pulled from front line duties. The Fumitsukiwas re-equipped with additional depth charges while two of her canons and one torpedo launcher were removed in her conversion to an escort destroyer and troop transport.  The destroyer fleet, totaling no more than 130 ships at any point in the war, had the distinction of being the workhorses of the Japanese Imperial Navy and were incremental in winning numerous historic naval campaigns in the early stages of WWII. The Fumitsuki and the many other escort destroyers, with their high-speed capabilities, played a valuable role in delivering supplies and troops quickly and efficiently to the numerous island nations spread out over a vast area that was the Pacific theatre of battle. She would be damaged in the course of her service three times in 1943, but would return each time to full duty. In January of 1944, the Fumitzuki and one other destroyer, reported being attacked by more than 80 US aircraft; shooting down 10 of them. This victory would be short lived.
            Soon thereafter, the Fumitsuki would be transferred to the Japanese naval stronghold of Truk Lagoon to receive repairs from damage sustained in an attack at Rabaul, New Guinea, a location then under heavy allied assault. It was here, at Truk, in the repair anchorage, that the Fumitsuki would encounter the onslaught of US air power on the morning of February 17, 1944.
            Truk Lagoon was Japan’s largest outlying military facility during the war. It’s 140 miles of barrier reef with deep anchorages within made it ideal as a naval and air facility. As WWII progressed, Japan found themselves in a full retreat and by early 1944, Truk Lagoon became the next likely target for US forces advancing rapidly across the Pacific. The Japanese commanders then deemed Truk unsafe for their naval warships and evacuated the fleet from the lagoon.
A US Dauntless Dive Bomber over Truk Lagoon.
            On February 17, 1944, a carrier based aerial assault, codenamed Operation Hailstone, was carried out by a force of more than 400 carrier based US planes on Truk. For the next 48 hours more then three-dozen merchant ships (also known as Maru’s) would be sent to the bottom of the lagoon and 280 planes destroyed in the air and on the ground. The Fumitsuki would also perish in the attack, but not before putting up a fight. This valiant struggle to survive is far more compelling story than those of the merchant ships who were mostly unable to defend themselves and were sunk while at anchor.
The Fumitsuki in the repair anchorage. 
            The worst thing that can befall a wartime captain is to have his vessel caught at anchor during an air raid. Unable to maneuver, the captain and ship would be a sitting duck at the mercy of the attackers. Commander Nagakura of the Fumitsuki would find himself in this quandary on that early morning of the attacks. Unable to make way, due to repairs being facilitated, the Fumitsuki defended itself to the best of its ability by opening fire upon the assaulting planes with anti-aircraft guns.
            Later in the morning, with the use of only one engine, the Fumitsuki managed to get underway. While under relentless machine gun fire from US planes, the Captain attempted to maneuver his ship in a zigzag pattern into the safety of open water. She managed to avoid direct hits of up to four aerial bombs, but one near miss struck close to her port stern and inflicted enough damage to cause the ship to take on water in the engine room and loose headway.
The Fumitsuki under attack by US planes.
     Salvage attempts were made on the Fumitsuki,but with no success. After struggling for the next 20 hours, she was reported sunk at sun up the next day. The crew fought bravely in the defense of their ship with seven men making the ultimate sacrifice. Unlike most of their merchant mariner comrades that were defenseless, the Fumitsuki crew had the distinguished honor of pushing the limits of their skills and crippled ship and fought until the end.
            It is this piece of history along with my creative imagination that propelled the Fumitsuki into the status of my ‘favorite wreck dive’ in Truk Lagoon. As I swim down the length of the wreck, I see the chaotic scene of planes strafing the deck of the ship while the crew scramble for cover. Aerial bombs are exploding all around with near misses sending plumes of water in to the air before raining down upon ship. I can visualize the crew darting to and fro upon the deck tending to wounded sailors, manning the guns and fighting with tenacity for their very survival. I peer in to the remains of the wheelhouse and envision the captain firing off commands in rapid-fire succession to his officers while trying to maintain his composure.
The Fumitsuki under attack.
            Midway down the wreck, the anti-aircraft gun deck is a beehive of activity with twin 25mm guns blazing away in a deafening rattle while the smoke clears away under the strong breeze gusting over the deck. The scene that is unfolding before me is not thrilling or glorious, but miserable and horrid -- the way war always is.
            When I penetrate in to the tight confines of the living quarters under the foredeck, I see the tiny fold down racks where the sailors slept. I think to myself, “what was it like trying to sleep so far forward in a destroyer in rough seas?” The pitching and yawing of the vessel would toss you around violently unless strapped in to your bunk. I spoke to an American Navy veteran some years ago who served on a destroyer after WWII. He said when crews from other branches of the navy returned to port they went out on the town to celebrate while destroyer crews went to sleep. Life on board at sea was just too exhausting to think about doing anything else when first back on land.
A sailors rack in the bow.
            Within the wreck there are numerous historical artifacts to be found. The state of Chuuk, as Truk Lagoon is known today, has declared the wrecks a national treasure making it illegal to remove anything from them. Since they cannot be taken, honest divers, conveniently display artifacts they have discovered at strategic points around the wrecks for others to enjoy. Although many artifacts have been stolen over the years, the wrecks still hold many treasures within.
         During my many explorations of the Fumitsuki, I have found medical kits fully stocked with bottles and supplies, instruction manuals still legible, lamps with intact bulbs that once illuminated the living spaces, numerous types of bottles, shoes, ammunition, electric fans and even human remains. It is a sobering reminder for me as to what took place here when I come across the bones of another. I think that this individual may have died more from the reckless leadership of generals and politicians and less from a bullet or bomb from a US plane.
A desk and intact light bulb.
        Diving the Fumitsuki is not exclusively about bombs, bullets and mayhem. When I snap out of my imaginary state I find myself surrounded by the reality of what this wreck has become today. She is blanketed with an array of marine life such as sea fans, soft corals, black corals and magnificent sea anemones. Many fish species such as the noble napoleon wrasse, the peculiar looking guitar shark and schools of marauding emperor fish are seen with regularity.
A Clark's Anemone Fish.
     This wreck, for me, is full of these contrasting images. One minute I’m contemplating the brutality of war while the next, I’m absorbed in a fanciful moment with a beautiful pink anemone fish darting in and out of the lush tentacles of its host. It is surreal down there with limitless entertainment mixed in with moments of reflection. The Fumitsuki is indeed an interesting shipwreck, but the stories of this wreck and others like her are not always apparent. With a little research and a keen imagination anyone can find the fascinating history lurking within their remains.
A video excerpt from the documentary film,
The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon - DVD
Order Your Copy Today!
Several years ago, time had taken its toll on the Fumitsuki. The bow section of the wreck was reported to have collapsed opening up the forward section. Much of what is described here and the photos posted are inaccurate to how the ship appears today. The author has yet to see the wreck in this altered state.
Archival images:
All archival images and film courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Referenced Works:
The WWII Wrecks of the Truk Lagoon; authored by Dan Bailey; copyrighted 2000.
Japanese Destroyer Captain; authored by Captain Tameichi Hara; copyrighted 1961.
[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) fumitsuki north carolina diving olympus dive center operation hailstone palau photo tip top ten dives truk lagoon underwater photography underwater video https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/5/may-7-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-3 Mon, 07 May 2012 09:18:00 GMT
April 17, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 4 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/4/april-16-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-4 A Few Words First
     After I had placed my great white shark encounter, with Olympus Dive Center in July of 2001, in my list of top ten dives, I realized that I had already written about this experience in the Dive Blog Report Dated June 20, 2011. I thought about simply deleting it from the list and writing about something else, but it was without a doubt one of my top ten dive experiences. Here is the story, but with some new information.
No. 4
Great White Shark Encounter of North Carolina

     Shark diving today is a very popular dive activity around the world. I have talked about this numerous times in previous blogs. Anyone with enough coin and proper dive skills can sign up for near guaranteed shark encounter with almost any of the major species of sharks, including the ever feared and grossly misunderstood Carharodon carcharias or the great white shark. Dive operators in Cape Town, South Africa, Guadalupe, Mexico, South Australia and the Farallon Islands right here in the USA, specialize in unique encounters with great whites. Surf the net enough and you will see hundreds of images of divers huddled in steel cages pointing very expensive camera rigs through the bars at these curious, but ferocious looking predators. Search more and you will most certainly come across stories and images of others who swim freely outside of the cages with them!
     Most often, but not always the case, these encounters are generated by chumming the waters with blood to attract the sharks to the dive site. Otherwise, great whites or sharks in general can be hard to come by.  I personally do not have an issue with this practice since it creates an industry around the protection of sharks rather than their destruction. Seeing a great white shark under these staged circumstances is an awesome experience that I will not take away from anyone who has done it, but when a 15 foot great white shark unexpectedly crosses your path in a part of the ocean where they are rarely seen is, in my opinion, far more exciting.
Front page of the Carteret County News-Times, August 1, 2001.
     On July 21, 2001, when I slid off the swim deck of the Midnight Express in to the ocean 22 miles from the North Carolina coast, I was just looking to do a bit of free diving and spearfishing during our surface interval from the days diving. A 15 foot Great White Shark  casually swimming in front of me was the last thing I anticipated seeing.  At first, I thought it to be a very large sand tiger shark, but that theory was negated after about a half a second when I saw the conical snout, the large black eyes and the equal size of the upper and lower tail fin. There is no mistaking a great white shark when you see one. In those days, I had no interest in underwater photography (crazy I know) and exited the water right away in the name of self-preservation. (This dive is not just in my top ten, but also in my log book as my shortest dive.)
     Great white sharks are not unheard of off the Carolina Coast, but they are in fact very rare and not usually seen this far south. Some of the local fishermen can tell you about a story or two of when someone landed a great white shark in the past, but these stories are rare in the telling.
One of the passengers on board had shark diving
paraphernalia for sale on the web within 24 hours of the
 shark sighting off Cape Lookout, NC.
Enlarge image for closer view.
     The divers on board who were enjoying swapping stories from their first dive asked me why I was back so soon from spear fishing. I told them I saw a great white and of course they didn't believe me until they saw it with there own two eyes a large identifying dorsal fin slicing through the water. As soon as that occurred one could almost here the ominous theme song from the movie, Jaws in the background. Da dum...da dum etc.
    The excitement on board was high, but not as much for the two guys finishing up there safety stop on the hang lines under the boat. (Please read the rest of this tale in the June 20, 2011 Blog.)
     What I did not mention in previous blogs about this encounter was, swimming along side this 15 foot behemoth great white, was a 4 foot new born trying to keep up with it's Mom. (And no, it was not a remora if that is what you are thinking.) Scientists tell me that sharks do not practice any maternal behavior after birth, but this shark was merely swimming along side its mother and that was all. No other behavior was noticed or claimed in that regard. 
    To add more interest to this story, nearly one year prior, another dive boat had spotted a large female great white and a small new born swimming along side it only 5 miles from this very location! Could it be that great whites come to this area with warmer water east of Lookout Shoals, NC to birth before heading back out to cooler northern waters? I would like to think so, but I do not have any scientific data to back this up. It is just an opinion. Do I hear grant money jingling out there for a budding shark researcher? I think so.
     Today, knowing what I know about great whites and the unlikelihood of them attacking me, I would with out question stay in the water to photograph and film such an encounter, if it should occur again. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I turned tail and scurried up that latter a second time. Opportunities to film such rare events do not come often and risks sometimes must be taken in order to get, 'the shot'.
Photo Tip of the Week
Wreck Photography Rule No. Two
     Mike's wreck photography Rule No. One is simply, "do not always follow Mike's rules". I can't, in good faith, leave you with that as the only tip of the week, so I'm starting on Rule No. Two; Shooting subject matter that is quickly and easily identifiable.
     When shooting shipwrecks a shot will be more compelling to the viewer if he or she can determine exactly what it is they are looking at quickly if not instantly. Quite often, wrecks are in such bad condition that one must search hard to find some recognizable structure. Wether you are using the wreck as a backdrop for subject matter ie sharks or as the primary subject following this rule will most certainly improve the likability of your image.
What is this above? In reality it is a very interesting artifact, but that doesn't matter if you can't tell what it is. It is an anti-aircraft gun on the wreck of the Fumitzuki destroyer in Truk Lagoon.
     What is this above? Now we are getting somewhere. As a stand alone subject, this sink and mirror makes for a very interesting photo since there is no doubt as too what you are looking at.
The wreck of the Proteous off the Carolina coast is a great place to shoot sand tiger sharks but for one thing....the wreck is a low lying debris field with little structure. However, this steering quadrant on the stern is geometric and vertically dramatic and added to the overall appearance of this shot. It was very intentional to shoot these sand tigers composed this way.
Next time you are on a wreck, scope out the areas of the site that are the most distinguishable and plan your composition around those spots. Sometimes one needs to be very creative depending on how interesting the wreck is. 
Good luck!
Mike Gerken


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) great white shark north carolina diving olympus dive center photo tip top ten underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/4/april-16-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-4 Tue, 17 Apr 2012 10:30:00 GMT
April 4, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 5 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/4/april-4-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-5
No. 5
"Pinnacles" - Ponta D' Ouro Mozambique, Africa
     A few short years after I abandoned the grind of my office job in New York City, I was in the need for some adventure. I just finished up working as a mate on a dive vessel in Hatteras, North Carolina in 1999 and was in the market for a new job as well. Scanning the internet one day I came across this dive job posting: 
"Dive resort manager wanted for remote African dive camp in Mozambique."
     "Perfect", I thought to myself. "Where is Mozambique?" "What is a dive camp?" What better place to run off to than a country I had little idea where it was. I did know it was in Africa, but I didn't know where. After doing some more research, I discovered that Mozambique was located on the south east coast bordering South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania with coast line twice as long as California on the Indian Ocean. I wanted to experience life outside the United States and living and working in Mozambique might be just what I was looking for. 
Ponta D' Orou or Point of Gold, Mozambique, Africa. 2000©
     I spoke to the dive operation manager of the dive company, Blu International, over the phone, who was based out of Johannesburg, South Africa. We both decided the job would be perfect for me. He indicated I would be sleeping in a tent and getting paid 2000 South African Rand per month to manage the dive camp on the very southern tip of Mozambique in the small town of Ponta D'Ouro; a popular dive vacation destination for South Africans. That didn't sound so bad. Even though 2000R was equivalent to a mere 333USD, we worked out the details and it was a deal. This job wasn't about the money, but the adventure.
Poles and reeds were the primary materials used in
most of the structures in Ponta. 
     After an arduous flight and cross country drive for ten hours (a story that needs to be told another time), I arrived in the small town of Ponta D' Ouro. To call it a town could be considered an over statement. Most of the buildings were gutted, falling down and riddled with bullet holes left over from a harrowing civil war that only ended a few years prior. (This too, is a story for another time).
     Most of the newer structures were made with reeds and framed out by tree poles. There were a handful of proper private homes in the area, but they were mostly owned by foreigners from SA and Portugal, the European country that colonized Mozambique prior to 1975 before it reached independence. 
My home for six months...a leaky tent.
    After getting settled in to my humble abode (a leaky tent), I wandered down to the beach to get a glimpse of the Indian Ocean for the first time and to see how the diving was conducted. As I walked down the beach, all I could see for miles was vacant waterfront property over looking the blue sub-tropical waters.  Ponta D, Ouro, when translated from Portuguese to English means, 'point of gold'. It was 'golden' indeed. 
      It was towards the point, where the town got it's name from, that I discovered where the dive operators set up and launched the dive boats. From a distance, I could see a semi-rigid inflatable rib weaving through the surf and heading in to the beach at full speed. I wondered when the skipper was going to slow down, but it became quickly apparent that he had no intention. With dive passengers holding on to straps and seated on the pontoons, the skipper drove the rib 20 feet right up on to the dry beach at full speed. The twin 150 HP outboard engines roared as the free spinning props popped up out of the water. I had never seen anything like. 
20 foot inflatable rib driving full speed up on to the sandy beach
of Ponta D' Orou. 
     For the next 6 months Ponta D, Ouro was to be my home. I managed the dive operation and coordinated all my customers needs from accommodation to diving. It was a challenging job due to the remote nature of the camps. Everything had to be shipped in from near by South Africa; fuel, food and of course the tourists.
The dive camp in Ponta D 'Orou in 2000.
    I experienced some amazing diving over the next 6 months on the reefs of the Indian Ocean. However, the dive that stands out to be the most memorable was called, "Pinnacles".  About 4 miles off the beach was a couple of sea mounts that shot up from the sea bed that attracted a myriad of marine life. Schools of giant trevally and big eye jacks were common site as were zambezi and hammerhead sharks.
    (Unfortunately, my trip to Mozambique was before I became a keen underwater photographer, so I have no underwater video or photos to share with you.)
     The dive to Pinnacles that was the most memorable for me was done with a group of divers visiting from England. They had travelled a long way and were eager for top notch diving.  Sad to say their trip so far was riddled with problems. The tents that they were using leaked terribly and it seemed to rain nearly every night they were there.
The broken down vehicle left to me to help run the
dive operation. It never did run. 
     In an effort to make their stay more enjoyable, I promised I would take them to Pinnacles every day, since it was renown for being the best dive site, but it happens to be the furthest one from the beach and trips out there are sporadic at best due to the cost of fuel required to get there. At this stage, preventing a dozen angry Brits from assaulting me was more important than a few dollars of petrol.
     The boat we used was about 21 feet in length with a rack running down the center line of the boat to hold tanks and BC's. Launching from the beach in Ponta D' Ouro is a team event requiring everyone to participate. 4 x 4's would tow the boat down to the water line where muscle power would finish the job. Paying divers would line up along the side and help push the boat down the beach and in to the surf. The skipper would say, "one, two, three", and on three everyone would push. Once the boat was in the water all of us would hold on to stabilize it. On a calm day this was easily done, but when 3-4 foot waves rolled in holding on to that boat was a challenge even with 12 divers.
     The captain would enter the boat from the transom and head to the helm that was mounted almost up on the bow. He would lower the engine, start them up and then tell everyone to get in. Sometimes he would have to engage the props while divers were still hanging on with feet dragging in the water in order to prevent the boat from getting thrown back on to the beach again. This was a 'hairy' experience when it happened and not just for the poor person being dragged around.
An enormous GT or giant trevally, much like those seen at Pinnacles
on display by locals and the man who caught it who is in the bottom front.
    When the skipper gave the ok, everyone would pull themselves in to the rib over the pontoons. Some with weaker upper body strength would have to be pulled in by their britches. Once all on board the skipper throttled up and headed out to seas weaving in and out of the breakers. On many occasions these boats were known to flip over when captains would poorly judge when a swell was about to crest. Fortunately, I did not see this while in Mozambique, but I had heard many stories. 
    The trip across the open ocean was most often a bouncy one. These high speed boats were driven hard by there skippers sometimes with little consideration for passenger comfort, but then again this was Africa. Toughing it out with little complaint was a way of life there.
    Once at the dive sight, the skipper would triangulate positions on land to determine if he was on the right spot or not. The use of electronics was not the norm here and frowned upon by the veterans who prided themselves on being able to drop divers without there use. When everyone was kitted up and ready to go we all did a backward roll entry in to the warm Mozambique water and headed straight for the bottom 110 feet down.
    This dive was pretty simple. Start deep, drift through the water and look for marine life. After the first few minutes while cruising along the bottom we all spotted what looked like a very large zambezi shark, otherwise known as bull shark. This 8-10 footer swam around us a bit and then swam off. At first I didn't think much about it, but it bugged me as to the species of this shark. It didn't figure. It wasn't until after the dive later on that we all concluded it was a small great white shark that casually swam past us. Very cool.
     After a few minutes we left the bottom and began our very slow ascent to the surface  and spent the rest of our dive drifting with the current.  It didn't take long before someone was waving there hands and pointing out in to the blue water. There they were. A school of about 20 hammerhead sharks about 30-40 feet out from us. They would swim around in small circles together for a few moments and then disappear only to emerge again a few moments later. It was an awesome sight. 
    While this was going on some of the largest giant trevally I have ever seen would cruise up to us for a close inspection. Then off in the distance I could see yet another shark species on the fringe of our vision. As it drew closer in I could see that it was a zambezi. This shark would keep his distance and travel along with us for the duration of the dive.
    The show kept getting better. After only another minute a dozen beautiful devil rays in formation appeared below us. Devil rays are much like their relatives, the manta ray, but much smaller in size and are known to swim together in large groups. There we were drifting along in the wide open Indian Ocean with a dozen hammerhead sharks ahead of us, a zambezi lurking around behind us and these stunning devil rays cruising beneath us. It was breathtaking.
     This dive continued on for another 30 minutes until most of us started to run out of air. No one wanted it to end and popped there heads up only when the last breath had been drawn. One by one the divers scurried over the pontoons and back on to the boat. Just before it was my turn to hop in, I took one last look out in to the blue and saw, for a brief moment, a 6 foot marlin swim by. I just shook my head and knew this dive was going down in my log book as one of my all time greatest. Twelve years and several thousand dives later, my Mozambican drift dive is still in my top ten.

So much could be said about the country of Mozambique and its people, but their story is one that requires respect and in-depth attention to tell. The country was emerging from a harrowing civil war when I arrived in 1999. What I saw was both inspiring and heart breaking. The people of Mozambique have come a long way, but with a long road still ahead.
[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) diving mozambique olympus dive center photo instruction photo tips sharks top ten https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/4/april-4-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-5 Wed, 04 Apr 2012 14:53:00 GMT
Mar 22, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 6 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/3/march-22-2012-mikes-top-10-no-6
Photo of the Week
Divers enjoying a manta ray show.
Maldives 2008©
Just a Few Words First
      My top Top 10 Dives of all time countdown continues in this weeks blog. At number 6, I have chosen a specific dive from one of my trips to the Micronesian island nation of Palau in 2003. The dive was German Channel. Famed photographer, Doug Sloss has helped out this week and contributed some of his wonderful images to the blog. Thanks Doug! Scroll down and find out why this dive stands out.
     Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey is days away and I have a busy weekend ahead of me with presentations and a workshop. Visit my the events section on my Facebook page, Evolution Underwater Imaging (by Mike Gerken) for a complete schedule.
     Olympus Dive Center has been reporting unbelievable dive conditions already this year. Last week they had 62 degree water temps and 50 foot of visibility on the inshore wrecks in 60 feet of water. That is impressive indeed. Pretty soon, the vessel I captain out of Olympus, the Midnight Express will be running and I will have first hand accounts of the conditions and excitement from North Carolina. Stay tuned!
     Shooting black and white images is the Photo Tip of the Week. Scroll down to the bottom and learn when you should shoot in black and white and the effects you will obtain by doing so. 
Happy diving!
-Mike Gerken
No. 6
German Channel - Palau
     I would be remiss if I did not select at least one dive, out of many, from my excursions to Palau. The one dive that stands out above the rest was my dive on German Channel.
Green sea turtle of Palau.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     In 2003, I had been vacationing from Truk Lagoon on board the liveaboard dive vessel, Palau Aggressor that was, at the time, captained by my close friend, Ryan Tennant. Unfortunately, this dive trip was before I began shooting underwater photography so I do not have any of my own photos to share. However, my friend Doug Sloss, who was also working on the boat alongside his future wife, Lorenza Sloss was kind enough to donate some of his amazing images for this blog issue. Thanks a million Doug!
     I should point out first, my dive on German Channel wasn't actually on SCUBA. At the time, I was an avid free-diver or breath hold diver and I decided that I would opt for my long fins, mask and snorkel over a cumbersome dive tank. Since the max depth was only around 60-80 feet, making short trips to the bottom on a single breath of air was possible. Lucky for me though, some of the best action on this dive was near the surface anyway.
     Many who enjoy the sport of free-diving will tell you that the feeling of being underwater without the use of modern technology is liberating and peaceful. It is also beneficial to getting closer to marine life that otherwise would be skittish around scuba divers and their noisy open circuit regulators.
     German Channel was a man made channel and is the only one in Palau that funnels incoming and outgoing tides from the inner lagoon. It is probable that this flushing action of the lagoon and the stiff currents that are prevalent here is the cause for the plethora of marine life such as manta rays, sharks, turtles and numerous tropical fish species.
Captain Ryan Tennant at the helm of the Palau Aggressor.
Palau 2003.
     Before our group was to set out from the mother ship on board the skiff, we were thoroughly briefed on the dive by Captain Ryan. He indicated that our main objective was to see manta rays at the feeding station inside the channel and under no circumstances were we to touch the manta's.
     My plan was to simply snorkel on the surface while watching the divers below and to make as many short breath hold dives to the bottom as I could. I have little recollection of where we were during this dive, since I was merely content on following the group. During the first half of the dive we were inundated with large schools of scad, jacks, grunts, groupers, a sea turtle or two and a handful of sharks circling about the perimeter inspecting the action.  
Ringling Brothers© can't hold a candle to the show
these manta rays put on a German Channel.
Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     It was very late in the afternoon and by this time of the day the water within German Channel becomes thick with plankton and algae. It was this nutrient rich water that brought so many fish in to such a small area. We watched the fish open and close their mouths filtering the tiny morsels through their gills continuously.  It was quite a spectacle.
     After maybe 20 or 30 minutes I could see Ryan point excitedly ahead of him deep below me as I lay on the surface resting. I strained my eyes to make out what he was pointing to. Off in the distance I could make out a large black and white winged shape creature dodging in and out of the hazy water. Manta Rays! It had to be. 
     I closed my eyes for a few seconds, took a few long deep breaths and dipped below the water. With long steady fin kicks I began my descent down to get a closer look. As I made it past the forty foot mark I could now clearly make out a manta ray about 30 feet away from me.  Getting excited while breath hold diving is a major no-no. Any adrenaline released in to the body merely uses up the precious supply of oxygen within your lungs. I had to keep my cool while observing these stunning, graceful and beautiful creatures.

Several species of sharks are common site at German
Channel including these Black Tips. Palau, Micronesia.
     After maybe 90 seconds it was time to head back up to the surface for another breath of air. With long dolphin kicks it took only a moment or two before my head broke the surface. Once again, trying not to become excited, I rested and took long deep slow breaths. After three cycles of breathing I took one last deep breath and slid back down to where the manta was. As I got closer, I could now make out three mantas performing barrel rolls with their mouths agape feeding on the tiny crustaceans. 
     I have seen Manta Rays before, but it makes no difference. Every time you see them, it is a thrill like few other encounters in the ocean. After a another minute, I had to head back to the surface once again through the numerous streams of bubbles venting from the excited divers below. 
    Once back to the surface, I now had a birds eye view of all the action going on below me and to add more icing to this already sugary desert, more manta's arrived for their afternoon feed and were now closer to the surface where the lion share of the plankton were accumulated.  I lay there on the surface, relaxing and enjoying the show happening all around me.  It was like having front row seats right behind first base at Yankee stadium. 

     Pretty soon the manta rays were coming within only a few feet of me performing front rolls, back flips, barrel rolls and many other moves that would make any ballerina envious. It was an awe inspiring event to witness.  The other divers seeing what was going on above them slowly made their way to the shallows to partake in the manta show.

What's not to love about manta rays.
Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
     It was about this point where one of the manta rays swam on a direct course right for me! While holding my breath at about 15 feet, all I could do was hope this enormous fish would veer off. The manta swam up, stopped and stared right at me only two feet away! A moment later, he turned off and bumped right in to me. I then looked at Ryan and shrugged my shoulders in a show of protest. "It was not my fault", said my facial expression and body language. "I did not break the rule. The Manta touched me!", I protested like a spoiled child.  I'm not sure if this argument would have held up in court, but I only received a single sneer from the captain and that was all. Nothing more came of it. 
     After a few more minutes the 5 or 6 manta rays that had performed their ballet act, now disappeared off in to the fading light in the bluish green water. The divers began to ascend to the surface and await the skiff to pick them up. I floated there feeling very satisfied and watched the setting sun.  The rays reflected an intense menagerie of red and orange light off the surface. This surreal sunset was a most fitting way to end what was, for myself, a top diving experience. I didn't know how the other divers felt, but I think I had a pretty good idea based on the beamy smiles emanating from below their masks.

Doug's wife, Lorenza Sloss is an accomplished photographer, dive instructor,
mother, business woman and the best underwater model I have ever seen.
Photo taken at Jelly Fish Lake, Palau, Micronesia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Sloss©)
About Doug & Lorenza Sloss
Step by step post processing tips
for Lightroom 3. Also available for
Adobe Photoshop.
     Underwater photographers Doug and Lorenza Sloss have taught hundreds of people how to dive and shoot photography. Their passion for teaching translated into the creation of a successful series of DVD tutorials that help underwater and topside shooters of all levels to effectively and professionally post-process their images.
     Doug’s photography and writing has appeared in Sport Diver, Scuba Diving, Scuba Diver Australasia, Islands, Asia Diver and many other magazines and books worldwide. He is also a Field Editor and regular columnist for Asia’s Scuba Diver Australasia magazine.     In his spare time, Doug teaches seminars and photo workshops, both above and below the waterline.

     If you want to perfect your digital editing skills for your underwater shots, look no further, their DVDs are what you need. And if you want to venture into HDR photography, stay tuned for their next DVD release!

In many regions of the world, manta rays are being hunted at alarming numbers and in many cases for the use of there gill rakers only! It is falsely claimed that they are useful as herbal remedies in asian medicine, but there is no basis for this. Click here to learn more about this abuse of ocean resources and to learn how you can help stop it.

The fishing of manta rays is unsustainable. Help stop the slaughter!
(Photo courtesy of Shark Savers Manta Ray of Hope Project.)
[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) doug sloss lorenza sloss manta ray micronesia north carolina olympus dive center palau palau aggressor photo tips sharks truk lagoon https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/3/march-22-2012-mikes-top-10-no-6 Thu, 22 Mar 2012 12:00:00 GMT
Feb 25, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 7 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/2/feb-25-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-7
Photo of the Week
A three man Japanese battle tank on the foredeck of the
San Francisco Maru.

Chuuk, Micronesia. Copyright 2007.
Just a Few Words First
     Coming in at my No. 7 Top Dive of all time is the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia.  This wreck is a very important segment to my documentary film, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon. I will be presenting on this, my second documentary, at Beneath the Sea dive expo in Secaucus, NJ on March 24. I will be expounding on the history of the region and how the video was made as well as showing a few highlight clips. I hope to see you all there.
     Also, for you photo buffs, don't forget to sign up for the Wreck Photography Workshop that I'm conducting at BTS as well. You need not be an expert to attend and you will obtain some great tips on nailing quality underwater images.
     Speaking of Truk....if any of you desire to dive there, Olympus Dive Center is conducting a trip in 2013. Call up the shop for more info and to book your trip today. There is no better group to dive with then these bunch of wreck junkies. This trip fills up quick so get your dollars down.
     A Photo Tip of the Week is included here. Scroll down to learn how to use Negative Space in creating a compelling image. If you like these tips, remember, you can sign up for a photo course as well. 

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken
No. 7
The Wreck of the San Francisco Maru
The San Francisco Maru prior to the war.  Date unknown.
     If you asked ten people who have ever dived Truk Lagoon, "What was your favorite dive there?", I would say at least 8 out of 10 of them would tell you that the San Francisco Maru was it. That is, of course, only if the 'San Fran' was part of their itinerary. Due to the average deep depth of about 160', only those with the skills and the nerve will make the plunge to see this epic piece of World War II history. 
     As with my last Blog Report on Shark Pass in Truk Lagoon, I am again making the stipulation that this No. 7 top lifetime dive is actually not a single dive, but a composite of many dives made on this shipwreck. During my 5 years living and working in Truk Lagoon (known today as Chuuk), I had many great experiences exploring, guiding, filming and photographing the San Francisco Maru.
     (Before I continue, those of you who are new to my Blog Report, please read "The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon" posting from December 6, 2011 to learn more about Truk Lagoon and why I was there.)
The San Francisco Maru at anchor and ablaze
on February 17, 1944.
     The San Francisco Maru was sunk on the morning of February 17th, 1944 during the US air raid codenamed, 'Operation Hailstone'. At the time, the 'San Fran' was at anchor, fully laden with a large quantity of munitions, supplies and weapons. So much so, that it is a wonder the entire ship did not explode when a torpedo, dropped from a US Plane, ripped through the hull on the starboard side. The ship went down to the bottom shortly thereafter in a fiery mess and sits upright today in 200' of water.
     Some of you may be wondering at this point, why is a Japanese merchant ship named after a US city. It's simple; during peace time the Japanese traded extensively with the United States and the San Francisco Maru's maiden voyage or its chief port of call was to San Francisco.
Beach head mins stacked to the ceiling of cargo hold
No. 1 on the San Francisco Maru.
      The 'San Fran' has become the wreck divers dream come true dive site. The amount of artifacts, weapons and munitions on board is staggering. So much so that the 'San Fran' has earned the nickname, "The Million Dollar Wreck", due to the supposed million dollars worth of cargo on board at the time of her sinking. The cargo holds contain hundreds of semi-spherical beach head mines; where a single one could take out an armored tank. Mixed in with the potpourri of military madness a diver can find whopping 2000lb aerial bombs, hundreds of crates of assorted anti-aircraft ammunition, stacks of depth charges, torpedos, artillery shells and anything else you can think of that could create havoc for the US military forces.
The bow gun on the San Francisco Maru.
      More photogenically, the 'San Fran' has a bow gun propped up on the foredeck while there are three Japanese battle tanks sitting on the deck just forward of the remains of the superstructure. (See the top of this blog for photo). These tanks were designed to operate with a three person crew and are tiny in comparison to any other tank designs from WWII. These artifacts are without a doubt the main highlight of the 'San Fran' and obtaining a photo is on every photographers hit list and can be found at a modest 160' deep.
Depth charges in the cargo hold.
     One of my favorite moments diving the San Francisco Maru was when Woman Diver Hall of famer, Evelyn Dudas brought her dive group of Diving Duds to Truk on board the Truk Odyssey in 2008. Part of the her entourage was her daughter Suzie Dudas and entrepreneur boyfriend, Rodney Nairne of their company, Submerged Scooters, located in Juniper, Florida.  The diver propulsion vehicles that Rodney and Suzie designed and produce are radical dive 'toys' to say the least. These underwater rocket ships can pull a fully geared diver at speeds of up to 250' per minute. I'm not sure what that is in miles per hour, but you do the math. Simply...it is pretty fast.
Crates of ammunition.
     While the Duds were diving the 'San Fran', I brought my video camera down to gather shots that would be used for my documentary film, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon.  Suzie and Rodney were diving with a pair of their scooters and I wanted to get some shots of them sprinting around the wreck. This task was easier said than done. Unfortunately for me, I was using the archaic method of finning to propel me around the wreck and the task of trying to keep up with these two and hold the camera steady was a daunting one at that. I must say for a few moments, I was able to keep a respectable pace with them while filming and cruising down the length of the wreck, but it was futile in the end. They left me in there wake.  All I could do was catch up just long enough to shoot a few seconds of footage before they raced off down to the other end of the wreck. Needless to say, I burned through my air supply at 160-170' rather rapidly. Watching these two buzz up and down on the 'San Fran' was enough for me to put a Submerged Scooter at the top of my wish list of dive gear.
     In the end I did manage to procure enough footage to accompany the documentary. In some ways this was one of the highlight segments of the film due to the popularity of this wreck. You can check the video out below and see for yourself:
The skylights leading into the deep recesses of the
engine room in San Francisco Maru.
     Diving the San Francisco Maru requires some deep diver training and is not really for the beginner diver unless you descend for a few minutes with an experienced dive guide to have a quick look around and then head up. Current is rarely if ever and issue, visibility is usually 50-80 feet plus and the water temperature is always in the low eighties. These conditions tend to make a deep dive, such as this, considerably easier, but common sense and caution should always prevail.
     If you ever find yourself in Truk Lagoon, be sure to check out this breathtaking example of what a real wreck dive is like. I promise you, the 'Million Dollar Wreck' will not disappear.
[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) chuuk mikes top ten photo tips san francisco maru tech diving truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography underwater video wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/2/feb-25-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-7 Sat, 25 Feb 2012 13:27:00 GMT
Feb 14, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten : No. 8 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/2/feb-14-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-8

Photo of the Week
A common gray reef shark or Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, from 'Shark Pass', Truk Lagoon, FSM. Taken with an Olympus 5050 (5MP) point & shoot camera with a wide angle wetmate lens. © Copyright 2006

Just a Few Words First
     After returning from a fantastic week of skiing in the beautiful mountains of Montana, I have had to motivate myself to remove my head out of the mountain clouds and back in to the world of underwater photography.  Living sea side in high humidity and moderate climate is the polar opposite of living at 8,000 feet of altitude in the snowy cold dry air of the mountains, but enjoyable all the same. The scenery from both is stunning and skiing lifestyle for me is as appealing as diving. One day I hope to be able to share equal time in both regions doing the things I love to do most in life.  Diversity, after all, is "the spice of life". Meanwhile, I wait with anticipation, here in Beaufort, NC for the dive season to begin for me in April. Yes, I will be returning as captain of the 'Midnight Express' with Olympus Dive Center  for the 2012 season.  I look forward to seeing you all here for some world class wreck diving.
     In this weeks Blog I continue on with my Top Ten Dives of all time with Truk Lagoon's Shark Pass taking the No. 8 spot. Shark Pass is located on the outer reef and is visited only on special occasions to see up and close the gray reefs, black tips and silver tip sharks that dwell there.
Photo Tip of the Week
     Information is a powerful commodity. In this weeks Photo Tip of the Week, find out one way to obtain information that will most certainly improve your photography. It's not rocket science, but I am amazed at how few utilize this resource. Please scroll to the bottom to learn more.  
Old but important news:
     If you haven't already, please sign up for my Dive & Photo Newsletter here. I should have a new edition out this week. Within the newsletter you will find stories and current events in diving and marine conservation and updates on what is happening in my part of the dive world.  Here is a copy of the last edition.
     Just a reminder to all of you who are planning on attending the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey this March, I will be presenting and conducting a photo workshop titled, Wreck Photography Techniques: Wide Angle to Macro.  I will also be conducting presentations on my documentary film, "The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon" and one on "Wreck Diving with Sand Tiger Sharks of NC". Click here for more details or check out the newsletter above.
Happy Diving and Skiing!
Mike's Top Ten Dives
No. 8
Shark Pass - Outer Reef, Truk Lagoon
A gray reef shark commonly seen at
Shark Pass in Truk Lagoon.
©Copyright 2007
     Truk Lagoon is considered by many to be the wreck diving capital of the world. Some of you might be asking yourselves right now, "So why did Mike choose a reef dive with sharks in Truk Lagoon as one of his top ten dives of all time?" The answer is easy, "I love sharks" and this dive was way too much fun. Besides, if you stick around and keep reading future blogs you will see several Truk wreck dives that scored higher than this one.

     First off, this No. 8 top dive in actuality is not just a single dive experience, but the sum of all my dive experiences from this dive site. Nearly every one of the dives done there was as exciting as the others. So how do I pick just one? I don't. It's my list so I get to make the rules.

     While working in Truk Lagoon from 2003 until 2008 on board the Truk Aggressor II as a second captain, we took divers to a small reef within the lagoon known for an abundant shark population, named Shark Shoal Maru. Most were eager to take a break from wrecks and get their taste of what reef diving was like in Truk. This was a great dive site, but not as dramatic as the one we did from my next liveaboard job in Truk. Years later, working as captain of the M/V Odyssey, we took divers to an isolated part of the outer reef for their shark experience. This place was nicknamed, Shark Pass. In order to get to it I would have to take a 133' vessel through a narrow and shallow pass through the barrier reef in to the Pacific Ocean and anchor up close to the reef atop a sheer wall that plunged several thousand feet down. When the wind was blowing in the correct direction our stern would hang over the wall 60 feet below, but if it were blowing the wrong direction the stern was precariously close to the reef in only a few feet of water. Needless to say, this dive was strictly weather dependent.

The smaller black tip sharks were regular participants
in the melee, but rarely won any of the spoils.

©Copyright 2006.
     Before I go any further with this story, it is important to point out that the sharks were fed at this dive site. For any of you readers out there who may have an issue with feeding sharks, hear this first. The sharks were visited on the average of only three days per month and fed a small quantity of fish carcasses or whole fish only. Never at any time did I witness harm to another shark during the feeding. In fact, touching the sharks was strongly discouraged. It is my opinion, that with the decimation of shark populations worldwide due to overfishing and shark finning, local people from low income communities, such as those from Truk Lagoon, must be given an economic incentive to want to protect sharks in their own waters. Show them that a shark alive is worth 100 times that of a shark dead and they will most often protect those sharks with their own lives. This holds true for any other part of the ecosystem as well.  Shark dives such as the one's I used to conduct at Shark Pass were a perfect example. Divers paid good money into the local economy to dive with these sharks and at the same time many divers were educated that sharks are not the demonic creatures the media plays them too be. It is a win win for all involved. The locals have an income, divers have their entertainment and excitement and the sharks get to live and continue to act as important link in the marine ecosystem.  In a perfect world, sharks could be left alone and observed from a distance underwater, but the fact remains that shark feeding is a very large lucrative industry and has proven to help protect shark populations.  With that said let me move on with the dive.

A shark tamer readying for the show.
©Copyright 2006
     Once the Odyssey was tied up to the reef on to a permanent mooring, divers were briefed on the procedures for the dive. All would enter the water about the same time, proceed to the spot on the reef where the feed took place and find a spot to sit on the rocky ledge in a semi-circle with the drop off in the front of them all the while with gray reef, black tip and silver tip sharks circled in close proximity.  In the middle of the 'arena' was a metal cable with one end floated to the surface on a buoy and the opposite end with a clip that passed through a pulley that was fastened to the bottom. Once all were ready, the dive leader would signal to the crew above on the surface that they were ready. The crew would then clip off a frozen skipjack tuna to the top end of the cable while the dive leader below would clip off a lift bag to the opposite end. Once the lift bag was inflated the bag would shoot up and the frozen fish would propel downwards in to the middle of the viewing area. All could now watch the feed from a safe distance.

    What proceeded each and every time the fish entered the water was a perfect demonstration of apex predators at work. Immediately, a shark would latch on to the tuna and start shaking violently back and forth while it's rows of razor sharp teeth sawed through the frozen carcass. Once a piece had broken off another shark would come in swiftly to pick up where his predecessor left off. This often happened in rapid fire sequence with not all of the sharks getting a piece of dinner.  In the mean while, hundreds of smaller fish swarmed about the feed area picking out the small scraps from the water column. Nothing went to waste. Frequently, majestic silver tip sharks would show up to the frenzy. At sometimes ten feet in length these sharks dwarfed even the largest of the gray reef sharks. For reasons I do not understand, these larger sharks tended to circle around the perimeter of the excitement using more caution before approaching the bait. Most often they were not successful at landing a meal, but every once in a while they would succeed putting to shame the bitty gray reef sharks.  Watch the video link below for a prime example of what I am saying.

One of my earliest photos from 2006 at the
Truk Aggressor II dive site,
Shark Shoal Maru. 

     Not only was the shark feed exciting to behold, but it was very interesting and educational as well. After conducting dozens of feeds such as these I never once saw one shark attack or bite another shark, even at the most frenzied of moments. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a shark attack or eat another healthy species of fish during the feed. Large red snappers, trigger fish and numerous other fish species present, always went unmolested by the sharks. It goes to show you that they are not the indiscriminate hunters that many perceive them to be, but will hunt injured, weak or in these cases, dead fish. They are not only hunters, but the scavengers of the oceans. 

    After repeating the process a second time within 15 minutes the feed would be over and all were left to explore the outer reef and the wall beneath them. I usually returned to the boat to unload my video camera from the housing to capture the excitement of the divers as they returned from the dive. Rarely did a diver return to the boat and not display signs of an adrenaline rush. Wreck diving has it's own form of excitement, but it is most definitely on a different level than being in the middle of three dozen ravenous sharks going ape on a dead fish. These wreck diving aficionados had just found out that Truk Lagoon is certainly much more than just a wreck diving destination.

After leaving Truk Lagoon in 2008, I am not aware if any of the dive operators are offering shark diving on a regular basis. I would recommend contacting the operator directly to inquire first before visiting.



[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) diving north carolina diving olympus dive top ten dives truk aggressor truk lagoon truk odyssey underwater photography underwater video wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/2/feb-14-2012-mikes-top-ten-no-8 Tue, 14 Feb 2012 15:05:00 GMT
Jan 29, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 9 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/1/jan-29-2012-mikes-top-ten-part-ii
Photo of the Week
Title: The Garden Window - The wreck of the Shinkoku Maru is known for her remarkable
corals. This view out the starboard windows in the pilot house is but one example.
Truk Lagoon©2008
Just a Few Words First
     This weeks Dive Blog Report is a continuation of my personal top ten dives in my life (so far). In part I, you heard about my  experience on the USS Perry in Palau.  Read here if you missed it.  In this issue I will tell you about a dive I made to the stern of the "SS President Coolidge" in Vanuatu to retrieve 20 seconds of footage for my first documentary aptly named, The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge. Read the blog to find out more.
     Also within this blog, I have included a Photo Tip of the Week  on diving with a non-photographer and the complications that can arise. Find out how not to loose your spouse or loved one as a buddy.
     If you haven't already, please sign up for my Dive & Photo Newsletter here. I should have a new edition out this week. Within the newsletter you will find stories and current events in diving and marine conservation and updates on what is happening in my part of the dive world.  Here is a copy of the last edition.
     Just a reminder to all of you who are planning on attending the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey this March, I will be presenting and conducting a photo workshop on wreck photography.  I will also be conducting presentations on my documentary film, "The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon" and one on "Wreck Diving with Sand Tiger Sharks of NC". Click here for more details or check out the newsletter above.

     Yesterday Jan 28, Olympus Dive Center managed to pull off a dive trip on board the M/V Olympus, to the U-352 and the Spar. Reliable word has it the visibility was around 20 or so feet. Not bad for the end of January. Why did I not dive with the Olympus some of you might ask? I have no excuse. Guilty as charged for not wanting to dive in winter water. Shame on me.
Happy Diving,
-Mike Gerken
Mike's Top Ten Dives
No. 9
SS President Coolidge Stern
The stern of the SS President Coolidge.
(Photo courtesy of Richard Harris©www.divedoc.net)
     At 650' in length, SS President Coolidge was at one time know as the largest accessible shipwreck in the world. That was until Bikini Atoll opened up and divers started getting a glimpse of the WWII era aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga. Regardless of what wreck is the largest, the Coolidge is immense in more ways than one. I had the privilege of getting acquainted with this historical wreck in 2006, while taking an extended leave of absence from my job in Truk Lagoon (see previous blog).
     My dear friend, Jennifer Spry, at the time was the manager of the dive operation, Aquamarine in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Santo, as the island is known for short, was home to the location of a large US military facility in the south pacific during WWII known as Luganville. Jennifer had been telling me about this incredible wreck, the 'Coolidge' for some time and I figured I had to see her for my own two eyes.
     The Coolidge was a luxury passenger liner that was built in the early 30's and cruised exotic locations all over the world. When WWII started the 'Coolidge' was converted to a troop transport ship to ferry men and supplies from the US to the Pacific theater of battle. On October 26, 1942, the 'Coolidge' struck a friendly US mine while entering the channel leading in to Luganville. The captain grounded the ship and more than 5,000 crew and army personnel safely evacuated the doomed ship before she sunk 90 minutes later.  Miraculously, there was a loss of only two lives in the sinking. Today, the Coolidge is one of the most famous wreck dives in the Pacific Ocean if not the world.
The SS President Coolidge in her heyday.
     When I arrived in Vanuatu in May of 2006, my goal was to shoot some video of the wreck, take a few still images and drink a few local beers for the next four months. What happened instead was, I became enthralled with the scope of the history and physical size of the wreck not to mention, the incredible array of WWII artifacts that are readily seen on the site. With a little coaxing and help from Jennifer, I set out to produce the documentary, The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge.  My beer drinking days on a lounge chair were now numbered.
The SS President Coolidge moments after striking
 a mine and running aground.
     Each day I was to visit a new segment of this behemoth wreck and capture the highlights and add them to the film. The wreck when she sank rolled on her side and slid off the reef only a few hundred feet from shore with the bow sitting in about 90' of water and the stern in a precarious 225'. Collecting shots from the forward section of the ship was fairly simple since depths were less than 150'. I scratched off the forward cargo holds, laden with machinery, from the shot list first, while footage of the dining room and super structure followed next with the engine room and galley to come later.

     As the months rolled by, I collected hours of video, but had yet to make it to the stern in about 210'-220' of water where the Coolidge name is still legible on the fantail. At those depths, carrying a 30lb underwater video system while carrying enough gas to make the dive required a little coordination and planning with the assistance from the dive shop staff. 
The stern of the 'Coolidge'.
     One of the owners, Barry Holland, volunteered to make a dive with a few of his staff the day before the shoot to scrub the letters on the stern clean off debris so they would appear legible and bold for the shot. This was no small task since they would have to use trimix in order to stave off narcosis and to shorten their decompression time. (To learn more about trimix click here.) The Helium gas used to make trimix is very expensive on the mainland and even pricier after it has been toted out to a remote Pacific island nation. I was grateful and  indebted to Barry and his team for doing this and helping make this film the best it could be. 
     Later that day, Barry returned from the dive with a big grin on his face which indicated the mission was successful and that they had a good time in the making.  The following day it would be my turn to head down to the stern to get the footage needed to wrap this project up.  We would be carrying twin tanks with trimix, a single bottle of 32% nitrox for getting to and from the stern, plus a tank of pure Oxygen for accelerated deco at 15ft.  In addition, I would be humping my trusty Sony VX-2000 video camera housed in a Sea & Sea housing. By the way, this water proof housing was rated to only 200 feet which is another reason why I waited until the last dive before taking the camera to the stern at 220'. If it should flood at least it would happen at the end of the shoot.
"The Lady and Her Unicorn", the jewel of the 'Coolidge'.
     I explained to Barry that I was going to be very focused on shooting video and I would need him to watch my back extra close, since my attention would be distracted from the skills required to safely accomplish this deep dive.  Holding a camera steady, composing a shot and making sure everything is working is complicated enough, but when you add the strict dive times and depth limitations to the tasks  it can only make matters worse, especially when you are contending with an already fogged mind from narcosis. Barry was to be the lead and I would follow him to the letter without question.
     Early the next morning, Barry and I, along with some of his crew, headed down to the beach and began kitting up for the dive. "Gas on", check; "reg test", check; "camera working", check, as we went down the list one item at a time. Once all was set we began to wade in to the water with all our gear on and my camera in hand. We would have to swim several hundred feet on the surface carrying full gear. If you have never had to swim on the surface without the use of SCUBA while wearing 200 lbs of gear, I highly recommend it. By time we made it to the buoy we just floated on our backs for a few minutes until we caught our breath. Being over exerted before you even start your dive is not a good thing. After a short rest it was time to go.
The engine control room.
     After a simultaneous flick of our thumbs to the down position, we began our long decent to the stern. We headed down the line until we had a visual of the wreck and then headed straight for the stern. With camera rolling and fins fluttering pretty soon the starboard side prop shaft came in to sight. The props was removed some years ago during a salvage operation, but the scene was impressive all the same. I then took a few wide angle shots before proceeding to the fantail to get the 20 seconds of footage that was an absolute must to complete this film. With my depth gauge reading 220' my head was spinning just a tad especially since we were having to fight a moderate current and my breathing rate was up.
     I instructed Barry to pose in front of the letters, but not to look in to the camera. I needed a model in the shot for scale and to add a human element. After taking a few pan shots with a few different takes, it was time to start our ascent. We looped around the fantail deck where a 5" cannon took the place of deck chairs that once held pampered guests looking out over the vast expanse of the ocean behind them. I kept the video camera running and made sure I stayed close to Barry. At this point he controlled the entire dive. I barely looked at my dive computer and just kept filming.
The telegraph repeater with the last command,
"Finished With Engines".
     With the Coolidge lying on a steep angle, the ascent, rather than straight up, took place while diving the length of the wreck from the inside. The further we swam up the wreck the shallower it got. It is easy to get side tracked and stay down too long with an ascent such as this. Barry being the pro that he was kept us on our planned route stopping only briefly to look at artifacts deep within the wreck. At one point he pointed to me and indicated to stop holding 2 fingers up. At first I wondered why is he stopping since we were still deep inside the wreck. After looking at my depth gauge I realized why. We were at 110' and it was time for our first deco stop! This was the first time I ever made a 110' deco stop while still inside a wreck.

     After a few minutes we then proceeded up the wreck towards the shallow end of the bow. The closer we got to the surface the clearer my head became and I had more time to reflect on the awesome dive we just experienced. I was very confident that the footage I shot of the stern was acceptable, but I wouldn't know for sure until I got it on to my computer.
Diving the 'Coolidge' isn't all rusty metal.

     Once Barry and I made it to the tip of the bow, we were still at approximately 80' and finally had to leave the wreck and start our swim up the steep bank of the Segond Channel towards the beach. What is nice about performing deco dives on the Coolidge is you get to do your stops on the reef on the way up rather than gripping an anchor line and whipping in the current. There are plenty of marine creatures and corals to preoccupy your time as you watch the minutes tick off your mandatory stops.

     Finally we make it to the final stop at 15' where we switch to O2 and relax doing fin pivots in the sand and watch marine life do their thing. The excitement of the dive was still fresh. Not only did I get the final clip to my film I also received a grand tour through the deep end of the wreck. I'd say one of the highlights besides the stern was the sniper rifle that Barry pointed out to me inside the wreck with a scope still attached. Since it is illegal to remove artifacts from the wreck items such as these are common sight. For a history buff such as myself, that is a thrill.
The immense spare anchor.
     After what seemed like an eternity, we finished our last minute of deco and with a flick of our thumbs pointed up we ascended to the surface. With masks now removed, I could smile fully and Barry looked at me with a grin and said, "How's that?" Fantastic may have been my reply or another superlative of the same meaning.  I couldn't thank him enough and wished I had a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the moment, but I didn't think to pack one.
    After tossing our gear in to the van we raced back to the shop to share the details of the dive with all the staff and Jennifer. Pretty soon after that I was back in my room downloading the footage I had taken. I quickly realized that the effort put forth to obtain 20 seconds of footage was well worth it. This dive would become the final scene in the film and was a perfect way to end it.  Some of you may note the divers swimming past the rudder with only a single tank on there back. Those divers had dived the Coolidge extensively and proved they had the skills to do a bounce dive to 180'.  Some have asked me why were they allowed to do this. I cannot answer that except they were very competent divers and Aquamarine's safety record had been nearly spotless. They ran a safe operation. (Aquamarine has since then has been sold and I have not returned since 2006, therefore I  cannot comment on performance since this time.)
A rare color image of the SS President Coolidge.
    After I left Santo a few weeks later I returned to the states to do some research on the ship by collecting archival film and stills from museums and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I spent the next several months completing my first documentary that was produced on a shoestring budget. The result was a historical presentation on the SS President Coolidge like none done before. There is little hope of this version ever making it to broadcast since most everything you see today is shot in high definition (HD) while this footage is in the standard format (SD). Regardless, the documentary has gone on to become a cult classic with 'Coolidge' aficionados from Australia and New Zealand where in that region the wreck is considered the sport divers "Mount Everest". The 'Coolidge', although known somewhat throughout US dive circles, has yet to attract a wider audience from the States. I'm hoping one day this will change and tourism in Vanuatu will start attracting visitors far and wide. This wreck should not be missed if you have the opportunity. She is a show stopper and deserves a place in my top ten.
The final scene from the documentary film,
"The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge".
The DVD,
The Wreck of the SS President Coolidge
[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) aquamarine diving espiritu santo luganville north carolina olympus dive richard harris ss president coolidge underwater photography underwater video vanuatu wreck diving https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/1/jan-29-2012-mikes-top-ten-part-ii Sun, 29 Jan 2012 15:59:00 GMT
Jan 14, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 10 https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/1/jan-2012-mikes-top-ten-part-i
Photo of the Week
Sand Tiger Sharks on the USCG Cutter Spar, Olympus Dive Center, North Carolina 2009.
Visit www.evolutionunderwater.com to view more images.
Just a Few Words First
     Mid January is upon us and I continue to look out my window here in Beaufort, NC, awaiting winter to arrive. But, what I see is bright warm sun beaming through the louvers and not the signs of winter. Born and raised in the more northern latitude of Long Island, NY, I'm accustomed to cold, rainy and snowy days this time of year. This beautiful weather however, distracts me from my work and makes me eager to go diving. It has been more than a month since I have last dived and I hope this streak won't last.
     Since I have nothing fresh to report in my diving activities, I will substitute stories of my all time greatest dives. I have been very fortunate in my lifetime to have experienced some amazing moments under the water and would like to share them with anyone who will listen. 

     Also within this blog, I have included a Photo Tip of the Week since a certain reader, who I won't mention, complained that I skipped it in the last read. 

     If you haven't already, please sign up for my Dive & Photo Newsletter here. I should have a new edition out in a few days. Within the newsletter you will find stories and current events in diving and marine conservation and updates on what is happening in my part of the dive world. Here is a copy of the premier edition.

     Just a reminder to all of you who are planning on attending the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey this March, I will be presenting and conducting a photo workshop on wreck photography. Click here for more details.

     Hat's off to all you divers out there who have managed to get wet in the last month for I envy you at this time. I'll hope to be joining you soon. Enjoy!
-Mike Gerken
Mike's Top Ten Dives

    For the last few months, I have been scratching out on a pad next to my desk a list of my top ten dives and have found the endeavor to be much harder than I originally thought, especially, since I stopped keeping a log book a long time ago. At first, I had a list of about 20 dives, but after much debate and 'X' marks all over the page, I managed to narrow it down to ten. Then the dilemma of placing them in order from 10 to 1 started. By the time I was done the scratch pad was barely legible, but I got it done. The task of creating this list was an enjoyable one since it required rummaging through my memory banks of nearly 3-4000 enjoyable dives, bringing back so many great memories.
    The dives in this list span back 30 years; as long as I have been diving. "What will the marine ecosystem be like in the future?", I often ask myself.  With hard work and dedication to stewardship of our oceans and waterways, we can improve and continue to yield not only great diving, but sustain life for us as we know it. The task before us is a daunting one, but if you are like me you will rise to the occasion and thrive on a challenge. At the present age of 44, I get excited when I think of what the next 30 years of diving will bring. There is no pessimism here.
No. 10
The Wreck of the USS Perry
The USS Perry in 1942.
(Courtesy of NavSource.org)
     While living and working in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia from 2003-until 2008 on board the Truk Aggressor II and later the M/V Odyssey, I had the pleasure of vacationing in the neighboring island nation of Palau, also in Micronesia. While there, I began to hear stories about a fairly new discovery off of the southern most island of Anguar; the USS Perry. The 'Perry' was a WWII destroyer that had the distinction of being present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942, a day that has lived in infamy. She was reported to have shot down between one and four aircraft and an unconfirmed sinking of a submarine on that day. The USS Perry was sunk on September 14, 1944 on the east side of Anguar Island when she struck a Japanese mine during the US invasion of Peleliu, which is one of the Palaun Islands.

     The wreck was discovered in 260' of water on April 29, 2000 by a surviving crewman of the 'Perry' and a dive team from Fish n Fins dive center in Palau (read link for a more detailed history).  Due to it's extreme debts and isolated location, it didn't get dived very often. The fact that the currents in the area are notoriously strong where she sank only add to the lack of divers getting to the wreck.

Map of the Palaun Islands.
(Courtesy of Major Frank O. Hough)
     At that time, one of the dive operators in Palau who were set up to take divers to the 'Perry' was Sam's Tours in the town of Koror.  I approached two of the staff who dealt with the 'Perry' dives, Kevin Davidson and Matt (whose last name is eluding me) and explained I worked on the Truk Aggressor II and was looking to dive the 'Perry'. They indicated to me that they didn't go out there too often, but were due for a visit. My timing was perfect.

     As luck would have it, within 48 hours, I found myself on board one of Sam's boats with Matt, Kevin and one other diver (who I did not know), speeding through the Rock Islands on my way to the east side of Anguar. Running at a speed of 25 knots, it still took about 90 minutes to reach the resting place of the 'Perry'.

     As we rounded the north side of Anguar and headed south Matt and Kevin were anxiously waiting to see if the buoy that marked her position was still afloat. The strong currents that prevail often pull it under. After a minute or two, both yelled out with excitement that they could see the mooring buoy. We pulled up to the float and it was as simple as tying off to a mooring line that connected us to a wreck that laid 260' beneath us. No painful process of trying to hook the wreck would be required and with a light current, diving would be manageable.

     For the next twenty minutes we meticulously donned our gear, being sure to check and re-check everything. There can be no room for error on this deep dive. We each had twin 80 cft tanks with trimix, one steel tank (I think it was a 100 cft) with nitrox for ascending to and from the wreck and one tank of the same size with pure Oxygen for decompression. The water temp was approximately 82 degrees top to bottom, so I wore a 3mm 1 piece suit.

Artist rendering of the USS Perry.
(Courtesy of ©Fish-n-Fins.)
    Kevin, myself and the third diver, would dive today while Matt would stay topside to watch the boat. We rolled over the side and for the next three minutes the three of us descended down the line, hand over hand waiting to get a glimpse of this WWII relic. At about 180', as my eyes began to adjust to the lower light levels, I could finally make out the wreck 80 feet beneath me. The visibility was approximately 70 feet horizontally but the vertical was considerably better. At around 240' I let go of the anchor line and began swimming across the current, down the length of the USS Perry, starting on the stern section. The Perry, today lies heavy on her port side and is split in two with the break at around 1/3 the way back from the bow. This forward section is on a near 45 degree angle from the rest of the ship.
I'm holding on in the current
while Kevin snaps a few photos.
(Courtesy of ©Kevin Davidson)

The USS Perry with fully loaded depth charge racks; see below.
(Courtesy of navsource.org)
     With a bottom time of only 15 minutes, seeing the entire length of 315' of the 'Perry' would be pushing it.  We decided we would explore in more detail the aft section only. The first thing that caught my eye on the 'Perry' was a fully loaded depth charge rack on the stern and the large starboard propeller projecting out from under the ship. Kevin Davidson, an accomplished underwater photographer, asked me to pose by the prop for a photo op. I happily obliged by holding on to the blade so the current wouldn't pull me away.

Here I am swimming over the rack of
depth charges on the USS Perry.
(Photo courtesy of ©Kevin Davidson.)
    Soon after, we began to swim down the wreck exploring some of the cracks and crevices. The one thing that I was surprised to see was how poor of condition the wreck was in. At a depth of 260' wrecks have little surge to contend with and tend to stay intact much longer than those that sit in shallower water. I expected to see a ship that was more sound. The 'Perry' looked as though it was melting in one direction from the starboard side
to the port side, which is the direction of the prominent current. For 60 years, this strong current slowly and surely wore the ship down. I had never seen a wreck that received so much wear and tear primarily from current.

     About 10 minutes in to the dive, I looked at Kevin and indicated it was time and to head back to the anchor line to begin our ascent. We both looked at each other and shrugged after looking around for the third diver in our team. He was gone and without telling us. There was no time to do a search for him further up the wreck. We would have a look around on our way back.  After a few more minutes we still did not see him and with more than 45 minutes of decompression time accumulated it was time to head up.  We could only hope that we would see find him ahead of us on the anchor line.

     For the next 20 minutes we made our way slowly and surely up the line stopping at 130' for 1 minute and then every ten feet thereafter for our obligatory deco stops.  Finally, after looking up from 90 feet or so I could make out the third diver in our team silhouetted in the sun at 15 feet. That was a relief I thought. Diving to these depths in open ocean is nothing to take lightly.

    After a total of around 50 minutes (if my memory serves me right) I could finally break the surface and enjoy the heat from the tropical sun once again. Once all  were back in the boat the first thing the three of us did was give a tongue lashing to the guy who disappeared on Kevin and I.  Once we saw how much air he had in his twin set of doubles we kind of figured it out what went wrong without him having to say a word. His tanks were bone dry. He breathed his bottom gas down to zero at some point and had to head up immediately since switching to nitrox or Oxygen would have been fatal at deep depths. The lesson I learned here was, never do a technical dive with someone you do not know. Someone poorly trained or poorly prepared becomes nothing but a liability for you and the team. The only way to know if they are capable is to have dived with them under less extreme conditions or through a thorough interview process.

    Regardless of the mishap, diving the remains of a survivor of Pearl Harbor, at a depth of 260' in open ocean, was for sure one of my top ten dives of all time. On a scale of 1-10 for adrenaline pumping it scores a 9.5.

To learn the complete history of the USS Perry visit here and here.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) anguar diving fish and fins kevin davidson north carolina olympus dive palau peleiu photo instruction sams tours underwater photography uss perry wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2012/1/jan-2012-mikes-top-ten-part-i Sat, 14 Jan 2012 18:49:00 GMT
Jan 3, 2012 - The Ultimate Shark Challenge https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/jan-3-2012-ultimate-shark-challenge
Photo of the Week.
Sand Tiger Sharks on the buoy deck of the USCG Cutter Spar.
A Few Words First

      I have experienced some pretty exciting New Years Eve's in the past such as, four back to back trips in to Times Square, NY and a millennium party in the bush of Mozambique. This year, I got to experience my first New Years Eve in Southern Style.  A good friend of Annette and I invited us to her small farm house outside of Beaufort, NC. It was here were we met some great down to earth people and celebrated till the wee hours of the morning. The food was all potluck and included some traditional items such as fried collard greens, black eyed peas and grilled local oysters which we was washed down with plenty of good beer and wine. Pretty soon the  fireworks were pulled out and then the evening really got going.  At first I stood back so not to accidentally get singed or blown up with low flying ordinace, but then I lapsed in to a state of regression therapy and jumped right in shooting rockets off like a teenager. As this was going on a couple of guys decided to take the farm tractor out for a spin driving in circles around the massive fire pit that was keeping us all warm through the night. After nearly running a few lawn chairs over the tractor drivers came to their senses and shut it down.  After a few more hours of eating oysters, drinking a few beers and shooting off more fireworks, midnight arrived but with little fan fare. Someone looked at their watch and said it was midnight, we all said Happy New Year and then I went back to being intrigued with the pyrotechnics and shot off more rockets. By the end of the night, after probably becoming fed up, one of the dogs evolved into a more intelligent species than us humans and decided to disappear for the rest of the night. We looked with flashlights for an hour or so but we all knew this dog did not want to be found. At sunup, the owner awoke to have another look for her beloved pet and no sooner than she opened the door, their he was traipsing through the field and back in to the house were all us humans sat, mulling over a great evening and readying ourselves for 2012. 

     I for one am extremely optimistic about this coming year. Let's just call it a hunch, but I suspect the dismal economy that has plagued us for more than three years will improve, unemployment rates will decrease and housing prices stabilize. When this happens people will be able to return to doing what they love to do in their spare time. To be more specific they will have more time and money to GO DIVING! I for one am weary of digging through my couch cushions looking for spare change to apply towards my photography habit and look forward to a prosperous year of diving in the lap of luxury with some new camera gear. Before any of you dismiss what I'm saying with your negative energy just remember that positive thinking is a powerful entity, so join me in my desire for a grand year of diving and it will come to fruition. 

All the best to you in 2012!

The Ultimate Shark Challenge
        Not too long ago I heard some guys talking on the boat I captain, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, about a shark tournament, where all the sharks were released alive after caught and measured. This has not been the standard in most shark fishing contests since the sharks were brought back to the dock for weighing, photos and bragging rights, so I decided to do a little research on the net and find out what this was about. Sure enough, I discovered a new style of tournament where no sharks are landed or killed. I'm not a supporter of fishing tournaments that land fish for the sake of prize money, but I do understand there economic significance. This new style of tournament could change the industry.
     Catch and release sport fishing tournaments, both fresh and salt water, have been around for more than three decades. The rules of these tournaments are varied from one to the next but the general policy is just like it sounds. You catch a fish, keep it alive, weigh and measure it and then release it, hopefully, while it is still alive. The angler with the biggest and/or most fish caught has the chance winning a cash prize and prestige that goes along with it. The purses for such tournaments can run in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. These catch and release practices were established by the sport fishing industry as an attempt to conserve fish stocks for a more sustainable long term industry that is vital to our economy. How vital? It is estimated, by the American Sportfishing Association, that as of 2011, there is $125 billion worth in economic output and more than one million American jobs in the recreational sport fishing industry alone.  That's bigger than IBM.  These tournaments, that are an integral part of the industry, are here to stay wether you like them or not.
         There are catch and release tournaments for dozens of different fish species from fresh water bass to the pelagic ocean going marlin and of course sharks. It is not possible to keep large bill fish alive for the weighing process, so only a select few are actually landed in the hopes of a prize while most are released. There is not much of a commercial fishing market for billfish in the US so the landed fish that are brought to shore for the weigh-in are either donated to marine science research or tossed out in to the trash. The killing of even a few fish, is of course not ideal, but it is a vast improvement from past practices where every fish was landed, returned to shore and tossed in to a dumpster regardless if it would yield a prize. (This article doesn't discuss the negative effects of by-catch in the commerical fishing industry but it's shortcomings are recognized.)
        Shark tournaments have also been widely popular in sport fishing in the US as in the rest of the world, but have not been given the same respect as bill fish or other fresh water species of game fish.  Sharks have been seen as enemy number one in the oceans and are caught and landed with impunity even if the angler intends to consume it or not. It is not uncommon at marinas to see a sport fisherman proudly posing next to a shark with its rows of razor sharp teeth highlighted. Once the photo is taken and the jaw removed for posterity the sharks that are not edible are tossed out with the trash. For that matter many of the edible ones are also tossed out as well. These tournaments are not about catching sustenance but are all about ego and cash prizes that show contempt for sharks and teach nothing about how vital they are to the overall marine ecosystem. After all, an ocean without sharks will inevitably harm humans by disrupting the natural order in the food chain and diminish food stocks that are already suffering today.
     With the growing worldwide movement in marine and shark conservation, wasteful sport fishing practices such as these are drawing a lot of negative criticism from environmentalists, scientists and the general public alike. There is hope though for saving sharks and the billion dollar industry they are a part of with a new type of tournament. Famed angler, artists and conservationist, Guy Harvey, founder of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has introduced a novel catch and release shark tournament, the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge, founded  in 2009. Prizes are rewarded to the angler(s) who score points based on the length and variety of shark species caught, but not the weight. No shark is permitted to leave the water at any time and all must be released alive. In addition, many of the sharks are tagged with the hope of yielding valuable scientific data. (Read more about the tournament rules here.) So far, this tournament has been well received by environmentalists, anglers and scientists alike for combining the goals of sport, science and conservation. I encourage you to read more about Guy Harvey, his work and this tournament in particular at the links provided. The job of maintaining and protecting our environment is a complex one that will need continued innovation and cooperation to be successful in the future. Guy Harvey's ground breaking shark tournament is just one step of many in the right direction towards these goals.
         If you have insight or an opinion you would like to contribute on  tournament fishing and shark conservation, I encourage you to leave a comment or contact me to share this information. Thank you.

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) guy harvey guy harvey ultimate shark challenge north carolina diving olympus penguin plunge sand tiger sharks scuba shark tournament underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/jan-3-2012-ultimate-shark-challenge Sat, 31 Dec 2011 14:11:00 GMT
Dec 23, 2012 - Diving Therapy https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/dec-23-2012-diving-therapy
Photo of the Week
Sand Tiger Shark atop the superstructure of the USCG Cutter Spar.

A Few Words First
     SCUBA Diving, as a form of therapy, has been a frequent theme in my Dive Blog Reports in the past and even as recently as the previous issue from Dec 15, 2011.  For years I have benefitted from diving's healing properties when it has help me cope with adverse times in my life. With the war in Iraq now officially ended and the men and women returning from over seas, I wanted to take a moment to touch on this theme again in this issue.  It could be of relevance to some.
       Also, win a free fine art print from my portfolio by simply signing up for Mike's Dive & Photo Newsletter (sign up here).  This newsletter will give you up to date dive industry and marine conservation news plus updates on my presentations and workshops. I will be drawing a name January 15th. The winner can pick out a print of their choice from my web site: www.evolutionunderwater.com. The first issue newsletter will be out shortly after the New Year.
     For you photo buffs out there scroll down within this blog and check out the Photo Tip of the Week and pick up the latest dive news from North Carolina and Olympus Dive Center.
     In my next Blog Report I'll be reporting on recent developments in shark fishing tournaments in the US and how these new practices are affecting the sport fishing industry, conservationist movements and scientific research alike.
     Thank's again to everyone who takes the time to view my Dive Blog. I have had a lot of fun writing this and sharing my work with you. 2012 is going to be an even better year. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!
Diving Therapy
     Most people who participate in the sport of SCUBA diving will emphatically tell you that  being submerged in the alien, but beautiful underwater world, is both peaceful and euphoric as well as, calming and uplifting. For many, during tough times in their life, it is of all things, an emotionally healing experience. Everyone has their own inspirations for diving. Wether  you are simply having a bad week at work and need an escape, or a veteran seeking a way to over come the physical and emotional scars of war, SCUBA diving has proven to be a highly effective form of therapy for all.
     If there is anyone who is more aware of these healing properties, it would be the men and women from Soldiers Undertaking Disabled SCUBA or SUDS (Please read previous Blog Report on SUDS for more information: July 12, 2011 - SUDS & Subs). Many of these men & women, some who have suffered debilitating amputations and injuries, have discovered the  liberating feeling of weightlessness that diving offers and how it speeds up the healing process by promoting mobility. The success of this form of physical therapy can be easily measured with performance data while the emotional healing may be more difficult to determine, but is as important as any part of the healing process.
    Recently, I had a very insightful discussion on this topic with a Marine Officer and avid SCUBA diver about what diving has done for him since his return from duty. After serving three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) , he solemnly said to me, "SCUBA diving has been the most effective therapy I've found in over two years of medical treatment". "It helped save me". After speaking to him in more detail, I became deeply moved by his passion for diving and the solitude that it offers him. After a while, I began to try to relate his feeling for diving to mine.  After pondering this thought for a few moments, I concluded that I don't think I have ever felt this intense about diving, but I've also never had to deal with the traumatic effects of war.  Do I take for granted what the ocean and diving is? In some ways, maybe. This can be acquainted to a person whose home has a beautiful view of the mountains and has lived in this house their entire life. The first thing a new visitor entering this home will notice is the striking view, while the home owner may simply shrug it off as common. After all, the view has always been there. Can they feel as passionate as the person who just saw it for the first time? I have looked out my window often in the past, but after the conversation with this Marine Officer, I will be looking out it much more.
     Wether you are a wounded warrior or someone who simply is having a bad day, SCUBA diving  can be a effective form of therapy. It can offer tranquility and the opportunity to forget. The fact that we are merely visitors in the watery world and cannot stay long, is an added incentive to return again and again. If you are a diver and reading this you can already relate to what I'm saying. If you're not, and are looking for a needed diversion from life, then I can strongly recommend becoming a diver. If SCUBA diving is beyond your means there  is more than one way to feel the healing effects of being immersed in water. Visit your local beach, lake or watering hole and try snorkeling or just take a splash and swim around.  If all else eludes you then simply fill up your bath tub up and allow the water to soak in and sooth your skin. It can help cure whatever ails you and put a smile on your face where there was none before.

Enjoy the view. Always!
(The summit of Blackcomb Mt., Whistler/Blackcomb, BC.)

[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) SUDS north carolina diving olympus dive scuba truk lagoon underwater photography wrecks https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/dec-23-2012-diving-therapy Fri, 16 Dec 2011 10:37:00 GMT
Dec 15, 2011 - 2011 "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/dec-15-2011-thank-you-2

Photo of the Week
While doing some end of the year cleaning
out of my hard drives, I stumbled across
this image I shot in 2009 on the wreck of the
Spar in NC. It was in a folder labeled, 'TRASH'. Yikes! (New

Mike Gerken

Since I have no new dive stories to relay to you this week, I would like to share some of my poetry with you instead. It's a dive version of the "12 Days of Christmas". Relax, I'm just joking. I like having you as readers and would hate to loose you. Besides, I don't write poetry. I just have a few words to share with you this week on what was, what is and what will be for 2012. Oh yes, I also have a Photo Tip of the Week. Please read on.
Thank You
     I wanted to take this moment while the season for festiveness and sentiment is high, to thank my family, friends, readers, fellow divers, lovers of the ocean and my beautiful girlfriend Annette for your support and enthusiasm for my work. The ocean has always been a place of escape for me. A place to forget about the life above and live in the moment in the world below. For me, photography and video has become a means of transporting this feeling back to the surface to share with others.  I don't think I would be a photographer if there were no one to entertain my images and stories with.  It is because of you, the viewer and reader, that I continue to engage in this path and for this I thank you most sincerely. I hope I can continue to entertain and inform you for years to come.
A Note on Our Marine Environment

       Since I started this Dive Blog Report in May of this year, I have made a conscience effort to minimize social, political or environmental commentary with the goal of simply entertaining you, the reader.  Although I have no intentions of preaching to you about world politics I do however feel it is my duty to inform you of maritime environmental issues in future Blog Reports. To be silent about an issue so vital to myself and the world, would be irresponsible.
     As years pass by, I continue to see with my own eyes and read of other accounts, the degradation of our natural environment and, more specific to me, the marine world. One not go far to find such stories, for they are all around us in the media and out your own front door. 


A photo can speak a thousand words.
The ocean has been a source for my personal entertainment since I was a boy and more recently in life as a dive boat captain and photographer, a source of income where my livelihood depends on it. I have reached a point some years ago where I feel that this continued taking from the ocean without giving back is no longer acceptable. I have always been an advocate for the protection of 'our' marine resources, but now I am doing something about it by getting more active in environmental organizations and their causes and speaking out at my presentations. Solutions to what ails our marine world are never simple and require sacrifice and sometimes compromise. The long term result of protecting our resources is always beneficial to everyone, especially future generations. Rarely, as individuals, can anything substantial become accomplished, but as a larger body there can be no stopping a movement. Everyone can make a difference if you want to;  you just need to get involved.
2011, the Year.
The Good
2011- The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly.
     Life for me, at times, emulates the epic Clint Eastwood western film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 2011 was such a year for me. The 'good' was, I managed to experience with my divers on board the Midnight Express some fantastic wreck diving offshore of the Outer Banks of NC with Olympus Dive Center. It is obvious, when viewing my work, that my love of wreck diving is only surpassed by my love for sharks and there was no shortage of them this year on the wrecks of North Carolina.  The Papoose, the Atlas, the Carib Sea and most surprisingly, late in the season, the USS Schurz were all 'magnets' that attracted numerous sand tigers, dusky's, sand bar sharks and even a hammerhead or two. I shot video this year for the first time since 2008 and I was very pleased with the shark action captured on film. (see link below) 2011 was a productive year for me photographically as well. I was fortunate to obtain some great keeper shots while focusing mostly on sand tiger sharks. (click link for stills) These creatures continue to capture my attention and never cease to interest me. View the video shorts for the year and let the the images speak for themselves. 
The Bad
My Father in his prime.

     On a bad note for me and my family, my father, Fred Gerken, passed away in early October. My father, as well as my mother, were the ones who made it all possible for me to experience the ocean from an young age. It was these early years of boating, swimming, snorkeling and diving off the shores of Long Island, NY that left an indelible mark on me until this day. My fathers health later in life prevented him from participating in many activities including travel. To compensate, he lived vicariously through myself and experienced my life as if he was there. My photo and video works were incremental in achieving this. There wasn't a photo I took or a video that I shot that he had not viewed or even critiqued at times. He was my biggest fan, as I was his, and a supporter of everything I did. He will be sorely missed.

The Ugly

Thousands of shark fins being dried on a roof top in Taiwan.
The scale of shark finning is enormous.


On the ugly side, the world seems to be hell bent on killing every last shark in the ocean for the sake of a bowl of shark fin soup. Shark fin soup is a delicacy mostly served in eastern asian countries that can fetch up to $100 or more per bowl. Sharks are caught to the tune of 65 million per year to meet the demand for this market. Most of the time the fin is sliced off while the rest of the shark is tossed back in to the ocean sometimes alive. Can it get any uglier than this? These apex predators, that are so vital to the health of our oceans fish stocks, are being wiped out at an alarming rate. This is not so much an issue of cruelty but stupidity. By destroying the upper parts of the food chain we will harm everything beneath it thus harming humans. There are many violations of our oceans being perpetrated in the world but for me none so heinous as shark finning. If you would like to know more about this and to get involved to protect sharks, please contact me at the links below. I stumbled across a Blog on shark finning and all things shark related at RTSea Blog. Check it out.

This has to stop!
Hurricane Irene 2011.
     Lastly, I'm not sure what category to place Hurricane Irene in? The bad, the ugly or even good? Irene slammed in to the Carolina Coast in late August with wind speeds sustained at around 70 miles per hour. The damage we received here in NC was minimal compared to many up north but the conditions off shore for diving were severe. Due to the 25 foot seas and the subsequent surge, the visibility was reduced to less than five feet for many weeks after the storm subsided. The subsequent hurricanes and storm systems only added to the muck. We at, Olympus Dive Center, cancelled many charters due to this and the conditions did not return to normal until after the peak season had subsided. A hurricanes immediate benefits are hard to see due to such problems. Is there any good at all that comes from them? Mother Nature isn't always so clear but, she has an agenda all the same. For example, here is a quote from a researcher at Duke University: 
"Barrier islands need hurricanes for their survival, especially at times of rising sea levels such as now. It's during hurricanes that islands get higher and wider," he said. "From a purely natural standpoint hurricanes are a blessing for islands, even though they're a curse for people who live there." Click here to read more.
     Lastly, lets not forget that adversity can be a strengthener that will, hopefully, teach people to be better prepared for catastrophes. Well at least in theory that sounds good. With that said, I'll let you decide what category to place Hurricane Irene in.
2012, the Future
Another photo rescued from the trash.
The Spar NC 2009.
     With the year nearly behind us, I for one, am excited at the prospect for 2012.  There will be new challenges to overcome, awe inspiring events to witness and, let me not forget to mention, epic diving to be had. I will continue to write this Dive Blog Report delivering dive industry news, stories, condition reports, photo tips and previews of my latest works.  This blog has been a work in progress; expanding and evolving since it started. I will continue to improve upon it with the best material I can muster.
    In addition, I will be adding a dive and photo newsletter to my itinerary of social media networking tools. The newsletter will highlight what the Dive Blog Report will contain and reach out to those who have yet to discover this sight. The first newsletter should come out early in the year. If you would like to sign up for it click on the link towards the bottom of the page.
    I have lots more to tell you in regards to upcoming presentations, photo workshops and dive magazine stories to be published in 2012, but you will have to stay tuned for the next Dive Blog Report scheduled for after the New Year. I'm not sure if I will be doing much diving this winter so I'm relegated to telling you stories from the past such as "Mike's Top 10 Dives" of all time.  From Truk Lagoon to Vanuatu to Palau and North Carolina check out my stories of the best dives I have ever done. Lastly, I would like to say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone out there reading this. I'll see you in 2012!
Happy Diving,
Mike Gerken


[email protected] (Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging) hurricane irene marine conservation sand tiger sharks shark finning underwater photography https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/dec-15-2011-thank-you-2 Tue, 13 Dec 2011 21:53:00 GMT
Dec 6, 2011 - The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon https://www.evolutionunderwater.com/blog/2011/12/dec-6-2011-wrecks-of-truk-lagoon
The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon
The making of a Documentary

(See Video link at bottom)
     Sometime in 1993, when I was barely a certified diver, I clearly remember standing in Penn Station, NYC waiting for my commuter train to head home from my office job to Brooklyn and reading a story in a dive magazine on Truk Lagoon. 'Truk' is known today as the State of Chuuk within the Federated States of Micronesia. The story went on to say how 'Truk' is an island atoll located in the Pacific Ocean about 400 miles north of the equator in the heart of Micronesia and that there is a barrier reef that stretches nearly 140 miles around the islands within. 

A rare aerial map of Truk Atoll.
(Date unknown).
Due to it's strategic location and ideal anchorage it was developed into a major Japanese naval and military base in the 1930's. In 1944, with the war was going poorly for the Japanese, the US forces conducted an aerial assault on 'Truk', codenamed "Operation Hailstone", sinking nearly fifty ships, most of which were at anchor. The article went on to discuss how these wrecks, ever since the 1970's, had become a 'Mecca' for wreck diving enthusiasts from all over the world. With warm clear water, lush marine life and steep history the wrecks were irresistible to enthusiastic divers willing to travel to the extremes of the Pacific to see them.

     One of the photos displayed in the magazine article showed a dive master briefing a group of divers using a marker board and a schematic of one of the many wreck sites in the Lagoon. This person worked on a 'Liveaboard' dive vessel, which is a boat that is usually around 100-130' feet long that has luxury accommodations for around 12-20 divers for what are usually week long excursions. 

10 years after seeing a photo of a dive guide briefing
his divers in Truk I would find myself the
one giving the briefings.
     Divers could pay good money and live in the lap of luxury eating top notch food while having access to world class diving, some of which that is not readily available to land based resorts. This style of diving, for some, is the only way to dive and I could see why based on the story I was reading. Other photos highlighted in the article showed the interesting artifacts, such as Japanese Zero's, mounds of bullets and even human skeletal remains. I thought to myself, while paging the magazine with awe, "I want to work in Truk Lagoon and be a captain of a luxury liveaboard dive boat". It was that simple. Reaching that pinnacle at that early stage of my dive career was a dream job for sure, but certainly not unattainable if I put my mind to it.

The Truk Aggressor II in 2004. The TA II relocated
to North Sulawesi in 2005 and was eventually sold
to Atlantis Resorts in the Philippines.
She is now the Atlantic Azores.
     Flash forward ten years later after leaving the city life behind and working in numerous dive jobs in a myriad of tasks from instructor to dive mate and retail sales. Some of the locations I worked in were New York City, Africa and North Carolina, to name just a few. I received a phone call from a friend of mine who was working on a liveaboard boat in Kona Hawaii, the Kona Aggressor(She was another one of the many dive vessels managed by the Aggressor Fleet, a franchise of dive boats operating all over the world.) He told me that they were interested in hiring me to work on one of their other vessels, the Truk Aggressor II. "Holy Cow", I thought to myself, I was getting a shot at living and working in my dream destination. For the last ten years I have been diving shipwrecks from New York to North Carolina and beyond.  Wrecks had become my fascination and it mostly started with the discovery of that magazine article.

A view of Tol Island as seen from Weno.
Another day in paradise.
     After waiting several months for my work visa to go through I found myself on a plane trekking 7,500 miles in 36 hours to Chuuk, Micronesia to start my job. After arriving and settling in, it was a matter of acclimating to my new environment and getting use to living in a 4'x6' foot room on board the TAII. The first days for me are rather vague to me today but, I do remember clearly my first dive when I blown away by the sheer magnitude of soft corals and other marine growth. The Shinkoku Maru was breathtaking to behold, not to mention extremely interesting from a historical approach. Deck guns covered with coral growth, medicine bottles littered within the super structure, an intact massive engine room with a maze of corridors to explore... It was all very thrilling and overwhelming in a good way. 

The Hokuyo Maru receiving at the blast on the
stern during Operation Hailstone.
She sank moments later in 160'. 
     The Shinkoku, like most of the wrecks in 'Truk', was a merchant ship and not a military naval vessel. With the exception of a few destroyers and gun boats, most of the naval ships had departed the Lagoon in a retreat westwards from the encroaching allied forces. The merchant ships, also known as Maru's, were left to fend for themselves while they offloaded supplies to the island.  The Japanese ships were sunk one after the other like sitting ducks in the attack with little loss of US Planes and men. The Shinkoku was only the first of more than a dozen wreck sites that we would cover this week and I was already awestruck. We dived the Fujikawa Maru, the Hoki Maru, the Kensho Maru and my personal favorite the Japanese destroyer, the Fumitzuki. Each dive became more interesting than the last and I became hooked!
A composite image of the Japanese Destroyer, Fumitzuki. 
    As my time in Truk rolled on for me, I began to immerse myself in the history by reading books and publications and soaking up the knowledge like a sponge. It was during this time I discovered underwater photography and videography when I was told that I was the new 'photo pro' on board the TAII. I barely knew how to shoot on dry land never mind underwater. They gave me a box of expired 36MM film for free and said, "go to town". I grabbed a Nikonos V film camera with a strobe and away I went. It was baptism by fire. 
Pilot house window adorned with coral growth
on the Shinkoku Maru.
One can learn to do anything efficiently when you do it day in and day out and not to mention when your livelihood depends on it. In no time at all, I was taking quality images for the guests and no sooner after that I was upgrading to the digital era and shooting video as well. Looking back on it, the discovery of underwater photo and video opened up new windows for me in the world of SCUBA diving. The ocean and everything in it never looked the same to me again. I'm not sure if I would have stayed on the path of a dive pro if it weren't for this profound realization.

The 135' luxury liveaboard in Truk Lagoon, the Odyssey.

     In July 2008, after living and working in Truk for five out of the last six years, (I took a leave of absence for one year in 2006) I decided to depart Truk Lagoon at the top of my game. A year earlier, I had finally obtained a captains job in on another liveaboard, the Truk Odyssey, which was a 135' luxury boat that is the top dive operator in Truk Lagoon today. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to captain her and fulfill a fourteen year long goal. I departed Chuuk with more than one hundred hours of underwater footage of the wrecks collected over the last four years as well as a vast collection of archival still images and rare film footage of the attacks on Truk in 1944 and 1945. With this material and a strong knowledge of the history of the region I set out to produce my second documentary film titled, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon(My first film was titled The Wreck of the SS President CoolidgeMore on this project another time.)

Engine room of the Fujikawa Maru.
   When it came time to produce the documentary I became continually sidetracked by my other responsibilities in life. After all, I was a one man production team. The task at hand to fulfill the vision I had for this film was overwhelming. With absolutely no budget to work with, no promise of the film making it to broadcast and hours of underwater video footage to sift through, I continued to struggle to put this film together for the next three years. I had to do all the research, write the script, edit the footage and even record my own narration, since David Attenborough was not available at that time. The hardest part I guess was sinking my teeth in to the project, but like a domino effect, once I did, it was all down hill. For nearly three months, in the winter of 2010, I worked exhaustively for 12-16 hour days on the video. This documentary was a labor of love and not something I thought would reap great financial rewards, but I had a mission to get this thing done and in a timely fashion so I could go back to more lucrative endeavors. Little by little the documentary finally started to take shape.

The Amagisan Maru being struck by a torpedo on
her starboard side.  Note the wake heading
towards the ship.
     Finally, in early January of 2011, I had the finished draft ready for viewing in DVD format. The feature film was a whopping two hours long highlighting 17 wreck sites and focusing on much of the history of Truk Lagoon from pre-WWII until the repatriation of the islands by Americans after the War ended. With the discovery of rare archival film footage at the National Archives, I was able to bring new light of the history of Truk on to screen. In addition, I included a bonus material disk containing an interview with legendary Chuukese dive guide, Kimeo Aisek who was a witness to the attacks in 1944 and 1945. (Please visit the video link below to view excerpts from the film.)

     Once the project was completed, I soon discovered that the hardest task was yet to come, which was the promotion and marketing of the film. How does a dive boat captain and photographer with no business experience undertake such a task? Since I did not have broadcast stations beating down my door, I would use social networking sites such as Facebook, You Tube and Twitter as well as, conducting presentations to dive clubs, dive shows and dive shops around the country. Recently, the State of Chuuk adopted this film as there main promotional video and utilize it to attract tourism to their wreck diving haven. Copies of the DVD are also sold on board my old ship, the Odyssey. What better way to get the word out on this film than through the divers who travelled around the globe and shelled out big dollars to dive on these wrecks? Over time, I can only hope that this video, produced on a shoestring budget with heaps of passion, will become the definitive documentary on the wrecks of Truk Lagoon. 

Mike Gerken
Video Link Here!
Click above and see excerpts from the video
and to purchase the DVD.

Truk Lagoon Photo Gallery

A segment of a Magnificent Sea
Anemone. Anemone's are prolific and
stunning on the wrecks of Truk.


A segment of a common
Sea Fan.

A Mitsubishi A5M (Claude) on the right and a A6M on the left (Zeke or Zero)

Trucks in the cargo hold of the Hoki Maru.

Soft Corals covering the mast head of the
Sankisan Maru

Clarks' Anemone Fish and host.

Japanese Battle Tank on the foredeck of the San Francisco Maru.

A diver exploring the engine room of the
Fujikawa Maru.

The 'Mighty' Titan Tug
Olympus "Dive Hards",  Dec 4,  2011.
     Just when I thought there would be no more dive charters in 2011 on board the vessel I skipper, the Midnight Express out of Olympus Dive Center, I receive a call from dive shop manager, Nema Triplet last Saturday saying, "Mike we got a problem. We need to run a charter on the 'Midnight' tomorrowCan you do it?". "Absolutely", I said without hesitation. I had been pretty busy at my desk these past few months, but I was already starting to get antsy and needed to ge