French Polynesia Trip April 13-29, 2005



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“You’re not doing another one of those friggin’ shark trips, are you?” Thus spoke my docile wife when I informed her I’d decided on short notice to join a group on a liveaboard boat for the second half of April. “Oh no,” I quickly responded. “This is in French Polynesia. You know–majestic islands, beautiful reefs, pretty fish, topless French women–nothing to get excited about.” And this was all true (except for the topless women)–but there were also sharks, and plenty of them. Above is a shot of Moorea, one of the islands we stopped at toward the end of our trip. Most of our time was spent diving in the Tuamotu group, the largest of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia.

 


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This is our boat, which we boarded in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, located on the island of Tahiti. We then proceeded 180 miles northeast to the Tuamotus, which are seventy-six islets and atolls spread out over more than 7,500 square miles. This was not a “usual” dive boat. It’s a 214 foot Russian icebreaker, making a stopover on its way back to Mother Russia after the ecotourism trips they run to Antarctica during the “good weather” summer (our winter) months. The guy who chartered the boat was there with his family from Australia, the expedition/dive coordinators on board were from New Zealand, the dive masters were from French Polynesia, most of the guests were American (with the notable exception of Australian dive gurus Ron & Valerie Taylor–they filmed “Blue Water, White Death” released back in 1971), and the entire crew (about 40 people, who spoke no English) was Russian. The boat was extremely comfortable, the food and service excellent, and the air conditioning kept at a perfect temp (often too hot or too cold on liveaboard boats).

 



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Now we come to the problem. Just about any dive boat I’ve signed up for usually has 6-12 passengers. Obviously, a boat and crew of this size needs more guests to be economically feasible. We had 31 guest divers. On a given dive there would also be 2-3 divemasters and 3-5 crew diving, ferried to the dive site in five inflatables. The usual way to keep from overcrowding any one dive site would be to spread the inflatables around to different locations, switching around during the day. However, the nature of many of our dives made it necessary for ALL of us to be diving at the same site at one time. A big attraction here is doing “pass dives.” A typical atoll is a ring of coral rising some 3,000 feet from the ocean depths and circling a sheltered lagoon some 40-60 feet deep. Passes are gaps in the atolls through which large volumes of water flow into the lagoon on the incoming tide, creating strong currents. Large numbers of sharks are attracted to the passes at this time due to the extensive marine life which is there feeding on the nutrient-rich racing current. There was usually one desirable pass at whatever atoll we were at, and time was limited in order to catch the incoming tide at its peak, thus creating the dive cluster as shown above.

 




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As advertised, there were numerous spots with pretty coral reefs & colorful tropical fish.




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There was also the occasional manta or hawksbill turtle, even a large anchor off Apataki Atoll at a site called, appropriately enough, Anchor Corner.

 




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Here was the big attraction–schools of up to 100 gray reef sharks getting up close and personal during our “pass dives” on the incoming tide. Getting a decent photo of these sharks was challenging, however. First, the passes tended to be narrow, maybe 100 feet, so almost 40 divers were crowded together. Second, we sometimes faced 4-6 knot currents due to the incoming tide, so you needed a spot where you could hunker down or the “drift” portion of your dive into the lagoon would start earlier than you had planned. Third, herding sharks into a pleasing composition for a photo is a lot like herding cats, except the teeth are bigger. Finally, the sharks would come to us swimming against the current, following the scent of the bait the divemasters would bring down with them. Naturally, in addition to the scent of the bait, the bubbles from all the divers were flowing down current due to the strong tide. So you can see that photos without arms, legs, fins or bubbles in them were hard to come by.
 



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We saw other species of sharks as well, although I had no close passes from silvertips, and the young blacktips we saw tend to stay in water about one foot deep, limiting your mobility. I got much better silvertip stuff during my previous visit to French Polynesia at Rangiroa in September, 2001 (yes, that’s where I was during 9/11). You can view them by going to http://www.seaimages.org and clicking on “Photo Examples” then “Sharks” then “Silvertip Sharks”. I recently had Bill Prentiss, my computer consultant, add quite a few shark images to my site and arrange them into 19 species.

 

 


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I’m not much for people photography, but I had to include this one of fellow dive guest Ed Callen. Ed did all the dives, including the high-voltage, high-current pass dives. Ed is 84 years old, and my new hero.

 

That’s it for this trip folks! Best to all,


 
Ken 

 

 
 

Second Annual Bahamas Shark Fest

To: friends, family and other possibly interested persons. From February 13-21, I went back to the Bahamas for my “2nd annual” shark trip with Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures. We missed out on the great hammerheads this year (fortunately, I got some decent hammie photos on last year’s trip, which are on the web site), but we were successful with bull, lemon, Caribbean reef and tiger sharks. I was watching a “West Wing” rerun recently where one of the characters said, “If you go west, be sure and stop at the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the few things in life that doesn’t disappoint when you actually experience it.” This is how I feel about Jim Abernethy’s shark trips-if you want to photograph sharks, they do NOT disappoint! So here are some photos & commentary:


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The Shear Water

This is the boat we take out of West Palm Beach, FL to the Bahamas. It sleeps 12 guests, but we limited the number to 8, to increase photo opportunities without stray fins, strobe arms, etc. in the photos. We still got plenty of that, but it woulda been a lot worse with 10-12 guests. We’re anchored here at a Bahamas Island called Great Isaac, which has an abandoned lighthouse. Personally, we felt it should have been named So-so Isaac, or perhaps even Not-So-Great Isaac, but what do we know? We were fortunate re: the weather-better than any of the three trips this year prior to ours, and better than the one that followed ours and is still going on right now. We were always able to find a decent anchorage to dive with some kind of shark, except the great hammerheads, which kept their distance.


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Waterspout

We saw several waterspouts one am late in our trip-up to three at one time. Fortunately, they stayed some distance away and did not affect our trip. We experienced no rain for the entire seven days of diving.

 

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Shark Bite #’s 1, 2 & 3

What I’m sure some of you were thinking was bound to happen actually did occur on this trip-I became the victim of a shark bite. The crew was doing some “shark wrangling” which consists of throwing a fish on a line into the water at the stern (back) of the boat, and then pulling it back quickly as the shark follows it in. If the shark stays around for about 15 minutes of this, we know we have a “player” and then it’s time to get in the water—wouldn’t you agree? While the wrangling is going on, it’s a good time to try for above-water photographs of the shark with its mouth open (see Shark Bite #1). What I didn’t know was that the line was secured by being tied off onto a Scuba tank, like the tank in Shark Bite #2. I was standing on the bench in the back of the boat, as modeled by Capt. Jake, a member of our crew. (see Shark Bite #3), except I was leaning forward a lot more, attempting to take photos of a large tiger shark that was going for the bait. The shark hit the line, first jerking it out of the hands of the crewperson holding it, then jerking the Scuba tank out of its hold and upward, snapping the bungee cord holding the tank in place, and pulling the tank completely into the water. Oh, and the tank snapped out and up BETWEEN MY LEGS, so that one edge of the tank bottom smashed into my shin, opening about a one-inch gash. Fortunately, kindly Dr. Howard Pelovitz (an ER Doc) was one of my fellow guests, and with his quick treatment all was soon well. Once ice & elevation of the leg had reduced the swelling, Howard put the medical equivalent of Super Glue (honest!) on the wound and covered it with a piece of plastic tape to make it watertight. I was diving the next day (this happened on Day Two of the trip) and never really suffered any ‘discomfort’ (actually, that’s called PAIN to us non-medical types). Everything has continued to heal nicely, but I’ll have a scar, which I can truthfully say is due to a shark bite. As Dr. Pelovitz kept repeating over and over (remembering the path the tank took vis-à-vis my body) “This coulda been soooo much worse!”

 

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Bull Shark #1 & #2

These bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) photographs were hard to get, as the bulls were not living up to their aggressive reputation. We had bait baskets on the sand floor and it was around dusk (shark dining time), but they were wary about approaching the divers. I kept adjusting my f stops (from f8 eventually to f2.8) until we ran out of light.

 


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Lemon Shark #1 & #2 &
‘Bad News’

It’s odd, but in the shallow, sandy areas where we went for tiger sharks last year, we saw no lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris). When we were doing dives on reefs at 50′ or 60′, we could usually see them down below on the sand at 90′ or so. This year, we had lemon sharks on every shallow-water sand dive, up to eight at one time. Lemon shark #1 is a nice behavior photograph, as it shows 13 remoras accompanying the shark-and that’s just on its left side! Of course, when the tiger sharks showed up, you had multiple sharks to deal with-in “Bad News Comes In Threes” there are two lemon sharks on the left and a tiger shark on the right. It takes some getting used to…

 


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Caribbean Reef Shark #1,
2 & 3

These caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) photographs
were taken at a reef Jim Abernethy calls the Mother Lode, for the profusion
of reef sharks (and others) you can find there. I got a lot of photos of
these sharks last year, but two things were different this time:
(1) the reefs now had a layer of sand on them, due to the hurricanes last
fall, and the sand was easy to stir up and made photography more
challenging; and (2) I happened to go in when it was just Jim and me, and
his dutiful shaking of the bait baskets they had put down on the reef drew
the sharks in much CLOSER than last year. I mean, in-your-face close.
Caribbean reef sharks are not considered dangerous, but the scent Jim kept
stirring up got them excited and aggressive. I had my strobes bumped by
sharks three times on this one dive. Reef shark #1 is my favorite shot of
the trip-one of the few advantages we poor outmoded film shooters still have
over the digital guys is that when they shoot underwater digital photos with
the sun in the picture, the sun comes out looking strange. I’m sure
technology will correct this in time, but for now…

 


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Tiger Shark #’s 1-5

We had some very nice tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) photo opportunities, particularly with a 13 foot female Jim calls Emma
(see my prior post). We all dressed full in black (hoods, gloves, etc.) because white parts on a diver resemble bait. Unfortunately, I forgot to take off my bright yellow snorkel, which Emma seemed particularly attracted to, and thus to me. At one point, we did two consecutive 360-degree circles together (less than a yard apart), with me turning desperately to keep my housing between us. We later named this “Dances With Emma.” You’ll note in Tiger Shark #3 that my dive buddy Phil Colla is holding the “shark stick” we were required to carry on the tiger shark dives. We really felt an additional degree of security holding this thing, while trying to take pictures. Not only was it flimsy, but the white color (hello?-see dressing precautions against the color white above) did indeed attract the sharks to it-they seemed to enjoy using it as a toothpick (see Tiger Shark #4).

 


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Jim And Friend

No doubt many of you feel that I’m nuts to be doing trips like this, but I look stone sane compared to our Fearless Leader, Jim Abernethy. Here he is petting one of the tiger sharks, as it busily tries to devour the bait basket. Maybe Jim never had a dog when he was growing up… I was peering through the viewfinder to take this photograph when the shark whacked my housing with its tail fin (another shark first for me).

That’s it, folks! As always, feedback is appreciated (how did the images look? blog suggestions? questions?). For security reasons, the ability to comment back on this blog has been turned off (it helps spammers to find you). However, you can reply to the e-mail I sent you that had this URL in it, or just send me an e-mail: khoward@seaimages.org

Best to all,
Ken
http://www.seaimages.org

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Playing with Emma . . . 13 foot tiger shark

Here are few photographs by Phil Colla (http://www.oceanlight.com) of me entertaining our Tiger Shark friend Emma… When I have some time I will post the complete collection of shark photos to my Stock List pages

Emma's a bit camera shy

Here sharky, here sharky...

Here sharky, here sharky...

Keywords:
Tiger Shark
Galeocerdo Cuvier
underwater photos
marine photography
 

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