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Wetpixel: Bahamas Sharks & Dolphins trip report. July 2008

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Wetpixel Expedition – Sharks and Dolphins July 2008

 

OK, so the title turned out to be something of a misnomer - as Jim corrects me – it also included Palm Beach muck diving (Lembeh is now know as poor-man’s Blue Heron Bridge), Gulf Stream night pelagic drift, super macro plankton photography, nocturnal critter hunt on Sugar Wreck, fishing for birds as well as more sharks and dolphins than you could shake a stick at. Or in other words, just another amazing Wetpixel/JASA trip.

 

The aim of this thread is to provide a place for those on the trip to add their thoughts and those of you who weren't to find out what it was like - if you are thinking of coming on a trip like this why not ask the guys who were just on one. I'll start a few more threads in the "Photo Gallery & Showcase" section on specific subjects from the trip. Hopefully you will see some topside images etc here.

 

Here is the gang:

bah_trip.jpg

 

Wetpixelites (those with Websites are linked):

Alex Mustard (leader). Nikon D2X and Nikon D80. Subal housings. Subtronic strobes.

Bess Bright. Nikon D80. Sea & Sea housing. Inon strobes.

Paul Carre. Nikon D300. Ikelite housing. One and a half Ikelite strobes.

Pedro Carrillo. Nikon D200. Seacam housing. Seacam strobes.

Mark Prior. Nikon D200. Sea & Sea housing. Ikelite strobes.

Christophe Rubie. Sony HDR-HC7. Amphibico. Canon 20D (borrowed offa Jim).

Robin Tomes. Canon 350D. Hugyfot housing. Ikelite strobes.

John Wallis. Canon 5D. Subal housing. Inon strobes.

 

Staff:

Jim Abernethy. Canon 2 x 40D (underwater) usually used at the same time. Sea & Sea housings - frankenhousing. Sea & Sea strobes. Topside camera Canon 1D Mk3.

Racquel Edema.

John Skey.

Mike Black.

 

More to follow, from me and others.

 

But I must add a MASSIVE THANK YOU to Jim and everyone at JASA for making this such an amazing trip.

 

Alex

 

To pre-empt the obvious question: to find out more about future Wetpixel Expeditions click here.

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Looks like John Wallis already has his pics up on his site; some really cool dolphin pics with water like glass.

There may be reasons to go on other trips, but for pure fun Jim's trips are hard to beat.

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Look at those conditions!! Awesome shots.

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Looks like John Wallis already has his pics up on his site; some really cool dolphin pics with water like glass.

There may be reasons to go on other trips, but for pure fun Jim's trips are hard to beat.

Oh man, check out image no. 104 on John's site. Fabulous! Come on guys we want to see some more, please.

Where is my suitcase?

Steve

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There's some absolutely STUNNING images on Johns website Can't wait to see more :blink:

Thanks for sharing guys.

 

Nigel Wade

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Yep, looks like you guys had some great conditions, if John's gallery is any indication...and you got some fantastic shots there, John! I look forward to seeing everybody else's shots!!

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Great shots John! He was uploading them as I was writing the post above on Miami airport Wi-Fi!

 

Just got home to BROKEN computer. Its only the on/off switch on my G5, but that is quite a crucial component! Taking it to Mac Store now. Anyway this is gonna slow me down posting more.

 

Intend to post a trip diary in this space in the morning.

 

Alex

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Look at those conditions!!

 

Hi Guys,

I might be about as dumb as a "boxa rocks", but how in hell do you get off the back of the boat with all them bloody sharks in the way... :):blink:

Happy landings...

Bruce...

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if Wallis is browsing this forum, amazing shots mate. #104 (inverted dolphin with reflection)... wow...

 

Can't wait to see the rest of the folks' shots.

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Hi Guys,

I might be about as dumb as a "boxa rocks", but how in hell do you get off the back of the boat with all them bloody sharks in the way... :):blink:

Happy landings...

Bruce...

Very carefully. :)

At Tiger Beach when there's bait in the water, Jim's rules are all about looking around before getting in the water mostly looking for Tigers, getting in the water without splashing, and not spending any time on the surface, dropping to the 15' bottom ASAP.

Edited by loftus

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Trip Diary Part 1

 

As my computer is broken and I am off to Italy tomorrow morning, I am afraid that the trip diary is a little drier than intended. Hopefully some of the gang on board will chip in with some more florid prose and humorous insights. This is also my tale of events - so I hope the rest of the gang will add their view points.

 

I arrived in the States the day before the trip, flying into Miami on the same flight as two others – John and Robin. We shared a taxi up to Fort Lauderdale to visit Reef Photo & Video and purchase a few essentials. The current Pound to Dollar exchange rate makes stopping off here a must. Ryan was away, but we caught up on gossip with Richard and the rest of the gang, before heading to Shooters for a slice of Americana cuisine to revive our jet lagged bodies, before heading up to the Super 8 in North Palm Beach.

 

DAY 1 – Boarding the Shear Water and bonus dives at BHB

 

We were due to board the Shear Water in the late afternoon for a pm departure, but we still got up early and met up with Paul and Pedro and headed down to JASA to procure some tanks and weights for a dip at Blue Heron Bridge. On our arrival we bumped into Mr Abernethy, himself, and Jim told us to stick our stuff straight on the Shear Water – he’d take us over to dive the bridge from the boat. Much easier than shore diving!

 

With macro lenses attached we were soon in the water for a bonus dive. It is always worth turning up early for JASA trips to take in a dive or two at the bridge. Carol Grant had sent me a detailed email a couple of days earlier giving me pointers on where creatures were – and within minutes I was finding striated frogfish, yellow garden eels, long-arm octopus and seahorses. I enjoyed the fact that first creature I pointed out to Robin on the trip was a sea robin. Little things amuse little minds.

 

But better was yet to come. Our dive coincided with mating time and I was very excited to get shots of mating long-arm octopus and mating seahorses on the same dive. I pointed out both to everyone I could find, so most people got the shots. Jimmy’s hand signals for mating left little to the imagination, but as a marine biologist I was swift to explain after the dive that seahorses and octopuses don’t really do it like that!

 

In the afternoon we met up with the rest of the group, who were on later flights. Bess, Chris and Mark (who had been out on afternoon dives on JASA’s day boat). Mark is always one to squeeze every last diving and photography opportunity out of each day. Quite right too.

 

Before we departed, I discovered that unbelievable I had managed to forget to bring any SD cards, despite having two cameras that take them (Nikon D80, Fuji F50). Luckily Chris still had a hire car and was kind enough to ferry me to Best Buy (what a cool store) to buy one. The trip gave me a chance to hear about Chris’s on screen role in the latest Batman movie!

 

As our morning dive at BHB had been so good, we decided to do it all again in the evening. Filled with pizza’s Jim gave us permission to dive as long as we wanted from sunset to mid-night. I got through most of two tanks of air, which is pretty impressive in less than 5m of water!

 

I even took my Fuji F50 compact in – which produced some excellent results using just the internal flash. Here is a hairy taken with it (uncropped and adjusted):

FL08_am-10246.jpg

 

5 hours in the water and we hadn't even left Palm Beach yet. The trip was off to an amazing start. After the dives we set sail.

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DAY 2 – Customs and Cover Shot

 

Most of us emerged from slumber as we were steaming towards West End on Grand Bahama to clear customs. West End was also our last chance to check email and get phone reception for a while.

 

Then we were free and we set sail for reef sharks. Well once we had been through Jim’s briefing, which is anything but brief as Jim goes through each of the sharks we are likely to dive with, explaining how we can expect them to behave and how we can get the longest, closest and safest encounters with these beautiful creatures.

 

Most of the group had not dived with big sharks before so we thought reefies would be a good warm up. That said I often find the reefies more un-nerving than the bigger sharks because of their speed and pack behaviour.

 

We started off shooting them on the reef, working the classic JASA fisheye shot of wide angle scenes (sponges, corals) with shark on a dive site know as Cover Shot, for obvious reasons. Jimmy and I did a bit of coercing underwater to get people into the right places for the shot. I also encouraged people to try some longer lenses they had brought – wide angle and mid-range zooms to grab some portraits as they got used to watching the sharks’ behaviour and noting the current direction and the bait trail without getting really up close. These lenses are excellent for tight, clean portraits of these elegantly proportioned sharks. I have to say I am a sucker for the little Caribbean Reef Sharks ones – that look so cute.

 

After several dives on the reef, we decided to end the day up diving near the surface shooting the reef sharks against the evening sunlight. Fast shutter speeds help freeze the rays (and the sharks) and lead to some very different and very beautiful images of the perezi.

 

Finally, as the light faded into a sunset we finish off with some topsides, shooting the Caribbean Reef Sharks at the surface, with the sunset behind. Do bring an external flash (land) for these shots as built-in flashes rarely have the welly to keep up with the action.

 

Here is one of my shots from the session:

Bah08_am-10471.jpg

 

A great end to a highly productive day.

 

Ah, and here is a particularly unflattering one of me, trying to sneak by with my camera spares box - that still carries Kodachrome logos.

Bah08_am-15004-2.jpg

"What's film?" cried the wags. For once I had a witty and accurate come back. "Its an imaging technology somewhere between cave painting and digital".

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DAY 3 – Tiger Beach for Lemons

 

With Caribbean Reef Sharks in the bag it was time to head to the sheltered, shallow waters of Tiger Beach for Lemons and hopefully some Tigers. We started off at a deeper site known at The Chain and soon had plenty of lemons drawn in to the scent. Calm conditions and great viz meant we could shoot to our heart’s content. As Jim puts it, “before a tiger turns up get all the lemon shots you could ever want, because once the tiger is around I want you concentrating entirely on her”.

 

So lemons it was. Actually the chain is home to loads of lionfish, the celebrated invaders from the Indo-Pacific via the aquarium trade. I enjoyed shooting them too, although I was hoping for a tiger to show up so I could make the “Lion and Tiger” image. Again, little things…

 

Sadly no tigers showed on that first day, but since only Robin and I had seen lemons before (this was Robin’s 4th Shear Water trip) everyone was very happy. Tiger have been less frequent at the ‘ Beach since a trophy hunting fisherman hauled one out and killed it at the start of the year. Since then the most super of Tiger Beach’s supermodel tigers (the ones that hang around and move calmly between the divers) Emma has been missing. She has never been missing from Tiger Beach for so long before even when she has twice left to give birth. The caught tiger had unborn pups inside her. Everyone has feared the worst.

 

On a lighter note, much fun was had at staff member Mike for photographing sharks with such as tiny camera. After snapping this photo I resorted to a mis-quote from Jaws. “Mike, you’re gonna need a bigger camera”.

 

Bah08_am-12379.jpg

 

And, while were are talking about cameras. Here is Jim ready for another dive. Anyone who has dived with him will know his approach to underwater photography For those that don’t you must see the next issue of Wetpixel Quarterly out later in the year. There is a lovely quote in there from Eric that hits the nail squarely on the head. I won’t ruin the surprise. Anyway I call this photo, "You can shoot twice as many shots with two cameras".

 

Bah08_am-14999.jpg

 

To make a more serious point with this photo, there is some excellent macro at the Chain on Tiger Beach. Oh and I had a lemon shark bite through my synch cord in a snip.

 

I think that this was also the first day that Pedro got his ingenious remote release out. Very cleverly he has wired it through some of the spare wires on his non-TTL S6 bulkhead on his Seacam housing. I hope he'll elaborate.

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DAY 4 The Return Of The Tiger

 

Day 4 started like any other. Mark getting up early wanting to get in and get shooting ASAP. Little did we know what, or rather who was waiting for us at the back of the boat. The first clue came when John (Skey, not Wallis) said there was a big tiger behind the boat and she has a white mark in front of her tail. We dared not dream…

 

But then we took the plunge and our wishes became a reality. Emma was back. It was really her. Jimmy’s eyes danced with joy behind his face mask. For most of the group it was there first tiger shark dive and Emma is a big girl. They wore their eyes on the outside of their masks.

 

The viz was crystal, the surface calm and the sun was out. It was a magical couple of hours. Emma demolished four crates and as the viz faded by lunch she departed. Everyone had shots, everyone had smiles. But the biggest smile of all, if you don’t count Emma’s toothy grin, was Jim’s. He proclaimed it his best dive of the year, seeing Emma again after spending the last six months thinking she was gone.

 

I have started a gallery thread for anyone who has photographed Emma down the years to contribute to:

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=25776

 

For the afternoon we steamed across to the Sugar Wreck and were treated to reef sharks, lemons and a pair of nurse sharks dancing in afternoon light amongst the wreckage and the schooling fish. These dives were a great chance to shoot fish schools, fish portraits and I even played around with double exposure sharks and the so called ‘British technique’ of front curtain long exposure sharks.

 

Most of the gang (I sat that one out) went in for an excellent night dive on the wreck and were rewarded with crustaceans, orange-ball coralimorphs and reef squid. What a day.

 

Here is Jim giving Emma a friendly stroke. Even at low res you can see he looks rather happy with the world.

 

Bah08_am-11246.jpg

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DAY 5 – More Emma, Tiger Wall and nocturnal Tiger Beach

 

Another glorious day and flat calm seas. July really is a fantastic month for conditions in the Bahamas. The water is up at 28˚C (83/84F?). The day starts with another tiger roaming around the stern of the boat as we tuck into our breakfast. Although she doesn’t stay long, by the time we venture out to dive she’s gone. But as luck would have it a large familiar shadow is in her place. Yes, Emma is back.

 

Many of us switch lenses. If we were on wide rectilinear yesterday we go for fisheye today, and vice versa. A range of wide lenses does help to broaden your portfolio from these trips. Once again Emma is calm and cooperative. Another smaller tiger joins the action too. This one has a could of large hooks wedged in the corner of its mouth, one trailing about 8 feet of mono-filament. Its another reminder of the fragile line that these magnificent creatures tread between swimming free in the ocean and being slung up by their tails in port.

 

Emma monopolises the bait. Quickly putting herself outside another 3 crates of bait. Everyone bangs off more images of her and by about lunch time she is off. The visibility is dropping away too. So we decide to head over to Tiger Wall for afternoon dives.

 

Tiger Wall is the only dive of the week that receives a mixed reception. Vis is murky here now and several of the group restrict themselves to one dive. Pedro and John love the place. The murk adds an evocative quality of light to their images and for about 30 minutes the resident reef sharks just line up to be photographed. They both come back with some stunners and the shots are a little different too. I strap on a macro lens and see a tiger. Damn it!

 

I then decided to pop back in for a short hang on the safety line a shoot some silhouettes of the sharks in the afternoon sunlight. Quite a few others head back to the mini-wall for more classic images. I’m happy playing with silhouettes – such common images with film – are quite rarely done well on digital. I get the odd keeper, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering the Jury at Antibes with these!

 

Back up at the surface I decide its time to have a go at some polecaming and my bicycle brake cable is excellent. I ‘m really pleased with my shots. Pedro joins in with his much more professional looking system and we shoot some reef sharks at the surface at sunset. It’s a lot of fun.

 

After dinner we motor back to Tiger Beach for a night dive. Claiming flat feet or something similar I duck this one. Its been a long day – I reassure myself. The real men head in. Mark, Robin, Chris, John and I think Pedro join Jim. They have a great time. I take stick for the rest of the week.

 

Nervous smiles from Robin, Mark and Chris before the night dive at Tiger Beach. Sadly I had to stay on board to capture these shots! :huh:

Bah08_am-12682.jpg

 

I'll try and write the rest on my flight tomorrow. If there is room to type on Easyjet!

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John's 94 of the smiling shark is great.

I just completed my first liveaboard and first shark dive. My girlfriend is desperate to see the bigger sharks but not so desperate to spend time on boat again.

 

How was the M/V Shearwater in terms of its steadiness in the water....?

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Hi David,

 

See the day 7 images above! We didn't really put it to the test this time.

 

Alex

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Hey Alex, how'd the broom with brakes work out? :huh:

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Looks like you had great conditions. Great news to see Emma has returned . I think we will have to get ourselves out there next year.

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amazing !!!!!!

me and my girlfriend really want to join one of these trips one day :D

 

"After dinner we motor back to Tiger Beach for a night dive"

even if you are a real man....isnt this alot of risk?? :huh:

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The trip was absolutely fantastic.

 

IF everyone did a trip like this there would be no danger of sharks becoming extinct.

 

I would like to publically thank Jim and the rest of crew (Racquel, John and Mike) for making the trip so special. Jim's enthusiasm and energy is infectious and never flags.

 

The night dive at tiger beach was great fun but no tigers this time - the lemon sharks are like a bunch of labradors milling round whereas someone on the trip famously referred to diving with the tigers as "being like a rottweiler sniffing your balls".

 

The weather conditions were mostly completely flat calm all week - the journey over to Bahamas was a bit choppier. The Shearwater isn't great in weather as its quite small.

 

A testament to the trip is that everyone on board said that they wanted to go back and do another Shearwater trip.

 

Mark

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"being like a rottweiler sniffing your balls".

Mark

:huh:

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For two years I have been without a television. Last week I turned it back on because my girlfriend had foot surgery and I did not want her stuck home without the tube. So I watched shark week stuff on the discovery channel. What a freaking stupid program. They are constantly saying how dangerous the lemon sharks are and showing how "aggressive" the reef sharks are. Gosh, reef sharks are responsible for more attacks on humans than any other species! My goodness, lets through a 500 pound chumsicle in the water and see if they are as "aggressive" in the morning as they are at night. SHOCKER... if you are a chumsicle, there is no safe time to be in the water with reef sharks.

 

Forget it if you are in the water with a white shark.

 

They do their "pubic service" duty by putting in the commercials which provide a "reminder" that sharks have more to fear from us than we do of them, but they don't show any footage of the sharks that present them in this kind light. Instead, when the tiger bumps the camera, the cameraman "survived by defending himself". Sensationalist garbage. In sharkdiver magazine they write about photographers who have "too many" head shots of the tiger shark, and how to vary your portfolio by taking pictures of tails after the shark bumps your housing and turns around. Funny, they never mention that using your camera as a shield is a way to "survive" the encounter. Here I was left thinking that the shark was just curious and liked to bump things.

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DAY 6 – Goodbye Tiger Beach. Hello dolphins and more dolphins

 

We decided to try for once last Emma encounter at Tiger Beach, but today for breakfast we were only joined by lemons. But we decided to stay for an hour or two anyway. I used this as a chance to shoot my alternative cameras, using both the Fuji F50 with Inon 165 fisheye and Nikon D80 on the lemon sharks. I soon learned that the underwater mode of my Fuji F50 is pretty useless. Even in only 4m of water at tiger beach the shots were all blue. Luckily being only 4m deep I zipped up to the boat, stuck a filter on and got some great shots. I think the only downside of the F50 at Tiger Beach is that it is so small! I’d rather have something bigger between me and a tiger.

 

It was glassy calm and great conditions for shooting the lemons up at the surface. Pedro got some very nice flying shark images. A few of us also did shots were you could see people on the boat above the sharks.

 

We took and early lunch and soon we were motoring up to White Sand Ridge in search of dolphins. We were targeting two species the more common and playful Atlantic spotted dolphins and the larger bottlenose dolphins. As soon as we reached the incredible turquoise waters of the ridge we had a mother and calf on the bow. The mother was very spotty, but the youngster hardly had a marking. A few of the group tried to swim with them, but these dolphins weren’t in the mood to play. So we motored on.

 

Soon we found a group of bottlenoses. We spent about 20 minutes shooting them from above the water – jumping, riding the bow and as wide angle shots of them swimming in the glassy ocean. The conditions really were perfect. Then we got in.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that Jim had a secret weapon on this trip – Sea-Bob. This was a super powerful scooter that was capable of twelve knots and the dolphins loved it. Dolphins are naturally very curious about people. But their interest rarely lasts long because we just can’t swim fast enough to be interesting. Not so with the bob, that thing shifts. It is actually painful to use on full power, and if you don’t want to end up with arms like Mr Tickle (non-Brits may have to google that reference) it is best to set the scooter to less than half power. Although Jimmy likes to crank it up a bit, as he said “I’m not really a 40% kind of guy”. I think this refers to more than just the scooter.

 

The seabob, driven by Racquel (infinitely more photogenic than Jim), and the normal scooter made us pretty much irresistible to the bottlenoses and we enjoyed over two and a half hours in the water with them. In glassy calm conditions. Wow.

 

Here is Racquel, herding dolphins passed waiting photographers.

Bah08_am-13294.jpg

 

Then it was back on board and off in search of spotteds. We found a group of 3 pairs quite quickly, but with light beginning to ebb away they seemed keen to get to their destination. We jumped in a few times with them but only really got passes. Paul got a great shot of one with John and Pedro got a nice pose of a pair, but otherwise it was pretty frustrating photographically.

 

Instead we decided to shoot them topside. They seemed very keen to hitch a lift on the bow wave. It seemed like they were on the bow forever. We worked every angle we could think of. And in the end we all headed in for dinner leaving the dolphins riding happily on the bow.

 

By this stage we were all shattered. What a day. I had already shot over 1000 images. Tiger Beach and then encounters with spotted and bottlenose dolphins. The latter lasting for more than two hours is draining. We were all ready for bed, then Jim suggested heading out into open water for a night dolphin encounter.

 

The most amazing day of the trip. I shot about 1400 images on this day. Goodness knows how many Jim shot. Here is Jim shot out...

Bah08_am-13666.jpg

 

 

At night, drifting in the Gulf Stream with the lights turned on, the boat attracts flying fish and pelagic squid. These easy pickings then attract the dolphins. It is best to preset the focus. I find the white step on the back of Shear Water ideal. Then lock it on manual and zap as the dolphins speed past. Boy, can they shift when they are hunting. It is hard to keep up with them while panning. Chris got some stunning video of the dolphins in the dark. First you would hear the clicks, then the dolphin would burst into the frame. Wow.

 

It was another magical experience and I finally hauled myself out of the water just before midnight. I calculated I shot just under 1400 images since I had got up that morning. What a day.

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