In South Africa we were supposed to see tiger sharks but they eluded us. In Mozambique we were supposed to see tiger sharks but once again we didn’t see any. Finding a specific shark species around the world is hardly guaranteed as these are wild animals that swim the oceans. However, we were told that if you want to see tiger sharks then you need to go to the world famous “Tiger Beach” to have the highest probability of seeing them. So here we are and finally we have seen tiger sharks!
Tiger sharks are big sharks. They are generally between 10-14 feet in length and weigh between 850- 1400 pounds. We encountered 8 different tiger sharks and two were in the 14 foot range. Being a few feet from them makes you realize just how big they are and how insignificant you are. Truly amazing creatures and a privilege to share the ocean with them!
Tiger sharks are intelligent and it is important to maintain eye contact with them. As long as they knew that you were watching them they would keep back about 10 feet or more. But take your eyes off them and they will get close and personal with you. They had this habit of trying to sneak up from behind so we needed to constantly be looking over our shoulders for them. A few times we had to bump them off with our cameras as they got a little too friendly. Perhaps not for most people, but it is very cool and surreal to be face to face with a 1400 pound tiger shark! You can’t help wonder what they are thinking as they swim by and stare you down.
Strange to be photographing lions and leopards in the Serengeti National Park in Africa one week and then photographing sharks in the Bahamas about a week later! We departed from West Palm Beach, Florida and headed to the famous “Tiger Beach” off of Grand Bahamas Island in hopes of finding tiger sharks. The Dolphin Dream, a 83 foot ocean expedition liveaboard, was our home for a week and we were well looked after by Captain Scott, Gerard, Shane & Heidi. We sailed through the night, cleared customs in the Bahamas in the morning and headed to a spot to do a few checkout dives in the afternoon to make sure our gear was working fine. It wasn’t long before we were taking photos of lemon sharks which commonly inhabit this area. Day 1 was all about lemon sharks.
Sharks are opportunistic feeders and lemon sharks are no exception. They are slowly swimming about searching for food but once it appears they quickly shift gears and the action can get lively. These sharks discovered food in the sand and the competition to get there first is fierce. Notice a second shark below the first one in the second photograph.
Lemon sharks are easy to identify as the first and second dorsal fin (the fins on top of their backs) are almost the same size whereas most other sharks the back dorsal fin is much smaller. These sharks can reach 11 feet in length but are commonly found in the 7 to 10 foot range which are the size that we photographed. Their eyes are a bit smaller than other sharks and they often swim with their mouths partially open.
One of the new photographic techniques we are trying to master is what is called an over-under where you place your camera 1/2 in the water and 1/2 out. This captures the shark in the water and at the same time shows the sky. We tried these as the sun was going down at the end of the day. It gives a very unique and different perspective of these lemon sharks. Not bad photos for our first attempt at “lemon-snaps”! Thanks to Terry Steeley of In The Blue Photography for all his advice about this technique.
From our perspective, Banded Houndsharks are the main attraction of the reef we spent 3 days diving on. Of course there is always other life on a reef. Three rays we were able to photograph were the Red Stingray, the Thornback Ray and the Japanese Butterfly Ray. The Banded Houndshark and the Red Stingray hang out together competing for the same food source. These two look like they are best buds!
Japanese Butterfly Ray
A couple of unusual fish that we came across were the Guitar Fish and the Asian Sheepheads Wrasse. Of course there are always the Moray Eels.
Asian Sheepshead Wrasse
If it wasn’t for the sharks we would have spent more time photographing the reef. The underwater strobes bring out some of the bright colours of the marine life.
Chiba Peninsula in Japan is home to numerous varieties of shark. Banded Houndsharks, seen in the video of our last post, are the most numerous in the location where we are diving. We have seen hundreds on most of our dives. Big Fish Expeditions has organized this trip and the local dive company we are diving with is Ito Diving Service Bommie (known as Bommies) and is owned by Kan Shiota. Kan has been indispensable assisting us on every dive. Here Kan is giving the dive briefing along with Kenji Ichimura. Kenji has been part of our group from the beginning and has acted as chauffeur, dive guide, and most important, our interpreter. Meals and menus would have been a challenge without him so thanks Kenji!
The dive boat behind us (photo below) is just a short 5-minute ride to the dive site. The gear gets packed up after the dive and is ready to go back to the shop. Amazing what you can store in these tiny pickup trucks!
Of course, the highlight of the trip is the Banded Houndsharks. There are literally hundreds of these beautiful sharks at this site. Although typically shy, they will come near you, if you stay in one place. Tricia, as you can see is making some new friends.
However, their generally shy and cautious nature can change in a moment when food is around. There can be a hundred in a feeding frenzy all jostling for position. It is a bit surreal to swim through them when this is going on but they are only interested in the food, not divers.
In amongst the Banded Houndsharks are curious & often pushy Red Stingrays who we felt a number of times brushing against our heads. It is interesting to see the vibrant yellow markings on the underside of their body. As Larry swims off to locate some more sharks I captured this picture.
Our trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico to swim with whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) was all we hoped it would be. The visibility here is better than some other locations as whale sharks come to Isla Mujeres to feed on Bonito (tuna) eggs which are clear, unlike other areas in the world where they feed on plankton.
Although we were focussed on whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) it is not uncommon to find manta rays in the same areas. On our 3rd & 4th day we had fewer encounters with the whale sharks but found areas where there were also manta and mobula rays. We had some great encounters with these rays!
One of the photography techniques we would like to perfect is Over-Under such as this one. Over-Under photos are tricky as you need to take into account the lighting and focus of both below and above the water line.
Whale Shark Facts:
they are called the Gentle Giants for a good reason as they can grow to over 40′ in length & weigh up to 21.5 tons (47,000 lb)
they are filter feeders and feed mostly on plankton, copepods, krill, fish eggs as well as small crabs & fish
their life expectancy is 70 to 100 years
they reach sexual maturity at 30 years and give birth to live young
they prefer to stay near the surface but can dive down to 5000′
they have no natural predators and humans are their only threat to survival
their mouths can grow to over 4.5′ wide
they filter an average of 1,500 gallons of water every hour
This was our 1st trip to Alaska and it was gorgeous! We booked with Big Fish Expeditions which planned out our complete itinerary once we arrived in Valdez. Our adventure started with a 2 1/2 hour boat ride from Valdez to Port Fidalgo Inlet in Prince William Sound.
Our home base was Raven Croft Lodge which is a fishing lodge only accessible by boat. The lodge’s isolation only adds to its allure and Boone, the owner, made sure we had an amazing time.
Our primary purpose of this trip was to have the chance to see Salmon Sharks but there were lots of other great photo ops such as:
Orcas – on our last evening we went across the bay to find salmon and came across a pod of Orcas. We were closer than it looks from the photos as we both had our cameras in the underwater housings with wide angle lenses.
Jelly Blooms – we came across numerous jelly blooms which was definitely a unique experience. Some of the blooms extended from the surface down to more than 100′!
Beautiful Scenery in the bay of Port Fidalgo –
Last, but certainly not least, we had a few brief encounters with some salmon sharks. Thanks to Boone & Emily, we found them! Salmon sharks are endangered and extremely rare to find. We count ourselves fortunate to be in a very small number of people worldwide who have had the chance to photograph them.
This is a trip we would be happy to repeat in the future.