Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tiger Beach Shark Expeditions 2011 - CEO Trip Report

As the CEO of Shark Diver I have been fortunate enough over the past decade to meet some amazing divers, work with some great dive crews, and experience sharks in ways that few people are fortunate enough to.

This spring I spent a month in the company of sharks at Tiger Beach with the M/V Kate. We shot a couple of film projects, entertained a host of excited divers from all over the planet, and basically had a stellar shark season.



Here's a trip report I wrote in April. I celebrated 43 in the company of a very large, very curious female Tiger on Rob's Reef, a spectacular encounter.



2011 Tiger Beach Expeditions



It’s sunset on day one of our latest adventures to Tiger Beach. With us on the M/V Kate and Blueiguanacharters.com are two groups of three divers each. Matt, Kathryn, and Magnus on one side and Diana and her two amazing sons on the other.



Speaking with these guys on the phone for the past few months I knew we had some fun people on board. Diana and her small tribe were boomeranging in from Tahiti and a private yacht trip for the past 14 days to join us in Freeport.



Day one is when everyone gets to know each other, the dive site, and the sharks. Today was one of those gold standard days. When I woke up this morning I saw two of the other shark boats already on site, looking down with a cup of Scotty's "hard brew coffee" I watched not one but three Tigers (Galeocerdo cuvier) milling about in crystal clear waters, this was going to be a great day, starting with our favorite sharks.



Our first couple of dives introduced us to a wonderful Tiger shark I have taken to calling Popeye, on account she has a messed up jaw and looks like the old school cartoon Popeye now, probably from a tangle with a fisherman.



Popeye was a really gentle animal, as were the next characters on site, Tip fin, another female with a missing piece from her tail, and Smashmouth a much larger female who looks like she ate a grenade. That’s some wound she has. We all tried really hard to get closer to Smashmouth to see what caused that wound but her shyness kept her coyly away from our cameras. Really sad to see an animal like that in such a state, like a prom queen with an ugly inkvine scar on her face, her inner beauty still shines though and tomorrow our cameras will be on her first and foremost. Our last dive introduced all of us to Shredder Two, a female with a messed up dorsal fin and an attitude.



While all the other Tigers were shy and gentle Shredder Two showed up like a backyard bully on lunch money Tuesday, shoving aside Lemon sharks and announcing her arrival with sheer size and bulk, this was a fat and happy 13 foot predator and as I watched her for over an hour I could not help thinking how lucky I was to be here diving with her.



For a first day of diving I would have to say the Bahamas delivered again. Tomorrow more of the same, hopefully the water clarity gets a shade better, it was fine today but not prime - and we like prime.



Day Two



Jacked up on Tiger Beach this morning. We have had waves for the past two days but this morning things are messy on The Beach. Capt Scotty tells us there’s a tight storm moving our way so we get one dive and then we run for the calm of Sandy Key to wait out the storm. Our dive is classic, gin clear waters on the morning tide and covered in gigantic Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris), and they are getting bigger here I don’t care what anyone says. Capt Rob was bait guy and we had some fun with the benthic cages and about 20 snapping Lemons. Just regular shots of sharks are cool but anything with the mouth open and a chance to look at the dentition of a shark always is a crowd pleaser. With the morning dive over it’s time for the run and two hours later we are tucked into the Key just as we get hammered with two successive waves of high energy storm systems. We’ll stay put for tonight drinking Kalik beer and watching Master and Commander because tomorrow it’s back to the sharks and calm conditions for the rest of the week.



That's diving on the bank for you, sometimes you have to let nature do it's thing.



By the way a note on Kalik Beer, best stuff on the planet bar none, and no better post shark celebration beer, just before we popped the tops on the first round I dropped all our chum buckets over the side…just in case…in the Bahamas you never know and tomorrow is always a better day.



Day Three



As promised back to The Beach and the animals do not disappoint. By 10.00am we have 20 plus Lemon sharks and a few Tigers milling around. We float one of our surface cages for some serious predatory shark imagry. What’s nice about seeing sharks be “sharky” from the safety of a cage is the appreciation you get of predatory power up close. You cannot get that from outside the cage in a strongly baited situation with any real degree of safety and our divers are thrilled.



We also have a secret bait that our sharks consider “ambrosia”, yes sharks are connoisseurs.



After lunch we get wet again this time on the bottom and are treated with the arrival of not one but six Tigers. Back are Shredder Two with her messed up dorsal fin and tipped tail fin, a new shark we called tail rope, it looks like someone tail roped this girl compressing her flesh at the base of the tail, Popeye is back, and Baby a tiny 3-4 foot female is new to us and very curious as well. The other animals are indistinct fortunately having no major markings. The day finished big sharks and more sharks. We had a completely full and happy day of shark diving, clear conditions, and great light.



Day Four



We’re cruising this morning and off to Sugar Wreck, an amazing shallow dive site. Even the most hard core sharkies need a break and Sugar Wreck delivers. The water clarity is better than gin and the profusion of sea life astounds everyone gets their dive on here and our photographers all switch to macro for the next several hours. After lunch we’re off to Mount Olympus an amazing deep dive site and home to some seriously big Tigers. We had not even got wet when the first titan showed up trailing a 40lb Cobia, the crew started salivating, that was one tasty fish, but it was also the good trolling buddy of a 14 foot female Tiger so we left it alone.



Our Titan stayed with us the whole dive, and Mount O is one of the finest reef dives in the area we saw lots of Reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi), grouper, snappers, a profusion of life and a great series of dives.



Day Five



We decided to bail on the dolphin grounds today, our divers are sharky and you gotta hand it to them. By now we're small little family. Magnus is the funniest guys I have met, his buddy Matt from the U.K keeps him and Kathryn from getting into the brother/sister mode, she gets picked on mercilessly, but she's a trooper and has become a first rate shark diver on this trip as well.



Diana and her sons Josh and Sam are nothing but accomplished. Josh and Sam arrive with some of the best underwater photography gear going in a never ending series huge pelican cases. When you meet folks like this you know you have serious shooters on hand. Watching these two guys work underwater was a joy. Some photographers enter into the environment of the animals and never quite settle. Both Josh and Sam "work with" the animals in a way I find absolutely enthralling, there's a moment I watch one of them literally "dance with a Lionfish," the animal is caught on video in full spine extension, amazing light, and in 360. It's the kind of imagery that you expect from a top tier shooter, and this is as good as it gets.

I also didn't mention that both these guys are under 20.



We’re back to Tiger Beach, more sharks, Tigers, Lemons and even a small little Nurse shark who wandered in looking for a free snack. I love Nurse sharks, they are complete throw backs to earlier shark forms when matched with the grace and power of a Tiger but fun none the less.



Tip fin is here, Smashmouth, Popeye and even Baby all make an appearance and we play with animals until sunset. I watch these animals in awe, every single time I encounter them, it's an honor to be in the company of these magnificent predators.



Day Six



The decision was made last night to jet off to Rob's Reef, we need some background to shoot sharks and want some variety today. It is also my birthday. 42 years old. When I look back on the past decade it astounds me. So much has changed in the industry, so many new faces, old faces, industry advancements, the meeting of conservation and industry. That for me is something that I have watched unfold with happiness. Back in 2002 when I started talking about working with researchers, and supporting conservation for most part no one in the industry was interested. Today, it's part of the culture, and as I dove off the side for another encounter with sharks I was thinking about the future of the industry when I was interrupted.



Every once in a while I get a sixth sense in the water. Usually I turn around and there's a something truly interesting right behind me. In Socorro a few years back it was a huge Humpback Whale and calf who snuck up on me. In Honduras it was what looked like mating reef sharks, at Guadalupe it's been all manner of white shark behavior including a full water breach that only I was fortunate to see early in the morning, right at eye level.



Today on my 43rd birthday it was one of the largest Tigers I have ever seen, she had cruised into the area once she had sensed the Reef sharks getting active. We have started spearing invasive Lionfish on the reefs in an attempt to slow down the invasion, it has gotten so bad in the Bahamas that finding 20-30 of these critters is not uncommon. The Reef sharks have developed a taste for them, freshly speared, and that brought in this big momma Tiger who I know found myself face to face with.



Spending private time with your own personal Tiger sharks is about as much fun as you can have and this huge female was graceful, gentle, and very curious in a laid back way. We spent about ten minutes together with her cruising around me looking with huge black eyes while the rest of the our divers were down on the bottom of the reef.



Once in a while we get our own special encounters with sharks that just realign and reaffirm what we are doing out here. After a decade in this game some wonder if it ever gets old for me. The answer to that is no, there's always another reef just around the corner, always another shark, and always another challenge. It's been an amazing journey.



The rest of that week was more of the same we had great weather and huge numbers of sharks, and when we got back to port it was a scramble to get our next crew on board. This year we hosted two film crews with tough assignments. You'll see it on television soon enough, for this project I brought in the usual A-list team of divers and safety guys and needless to say, once again, we delivered the impossible.



Thanks to Diana, Josh and Sam, and Kathryn, Matt and Magnus for the great company, the good times and the bottle of Birthday Tequila (Diana, you know your beverage).



Special thanks to Capt Rob, Captain Scotty and the entire crew of the M/V Kate including Pasha. We return to the Kate year after year because she's one of the best Bahamas shark boats going right now and she has it where it counts.



There's no dive operations that she cannot handle and no film and television project that cannot be done - it's been a great ongoing partnership.



Cheers,
Patric Douglas CEO
www.sharkdiver.com
www.sharkdivers.com
www.sharkdivers.blogspot.com
www.guadalupefund.org
415.235.9410

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