Close Encounters of the Shark Kind

One of my lifelong dreams has been reached, and it was fabulous. Swimming with sharks. Now it wasn’t Great Whites, or anything scary, but beautiful blue sharks. These animals are long, lean and graceful in the water with a temperment akin to a puppy. Curious, bright eyed and constantly moving, exploring and checking out each swimmer the experience of being in the water with one was incredible. We had two different blues, one about 9ft and another closer to 6ft, both stunning to encounter. In addition to these sleek swimmers was a rare sighting of a Salmon Shark, one that looks very similar to a young white, though with a larger rounded dorsal fin and differently shaped snout. The Salmon didn’t linger though, these sharks are not a curious as the blues and buggered out pretty quickly when people or the other shark showed up. However, it was still awesome to see them from the boat.

Before the sharks showed up we had a friendly sea lion hang out at the boat, this was great as he provided some great opportunities to test and fine tune the camera settings for the sharks!

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Luckily, after taking some test shots and enjoying the acrobatic antics of the sea lion, we didn’t have to wait long. About an hour and a half after getting out the Capt. let us know that lunch was ready. So of course.. that meant it was time for the sharks to show!! Jeremy the “handler” got in the water first, to help lure in the shark so that it will relax and stick around. This also is for safety so he can gauge the sharks temperament. Once given the OK, it was go time!

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One part of the day for the folks working on the boat was working with the shark. Below Jeremy uses gentle, knowledgeable touch to turn over the shark. This inverted position overloads their senses, putting them in a tonic like state. When done correctly, it looks really cool, and the sharks gets a chill overload.

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The day was incredible as I mentioned above. A day, I’ll always remember, and a trip I will gladly sign up for again!!

Swimming with Sea Dogs.

Last month, yes that’s how far behind on my pictures I am… anyways. Last month we headed out to Santa Barbara Island to hang with some sea lions in the large rookery on the island. I’ve never had good luck photographing these swift swimmers, but this day I was armed with a wide angle lens and two strobes and the results were… well… better than before, but still with lots of room for improvement. We ended up shallow, spending a good deal of time in 6-15′ of water. I was using the 8mm fisheye, a lens that I love, though I quickly found out that with such a wide lens, the sea lions needed to get extremely close, which didn’t always happen. After the day of diving, and upon talking with others on the boat and looking at my pictures, I also realized that I really should have tried some shots with just the ambient light. The 1/160 shutter speed on my E-PL1 isn’t quite fast enough to really freeze the sealions as the zoomed by, and I was shallow enough much of the time that I could have turned off the strobes and bumped up the shutter speed. Ah…well, something for next time.

Hello Harbor Seal.

At the end of the third dive as I was headed back to the boat I saw something dart through the kelp ahead of me. Rounding a corner of one of the rock channels I saw a harbor seal laying in the sand. He looked up, saw me and darted away before I could get a picture. Excited because I haven’t seen a harbor seal under the water while diving as of yet, I continued on to the boat. As I neared the anchor chain, macro lens put away and camera set as wide as possible, just in case, I came across him again! He was slithering along the bottom, nose in the sand looking for something to dig up and eat I expect. Either not hearing me or just ignoring my presence he continued along before darting away again after a few minutes.

Surprisingly, he kept coming back! As one point he swam over and settled into the sand right in front of me, watching me fumble with my camera, hoping to  get it into position and snap a decent shot. He never settled quite long enough for me to take a couple shots, so it was either you got it or you don’t type of situation. I was excited about this shot, though in order to have the background exposed properly I had the shutter speed set too slow to capture the seal crisply. The strobe froze him in place, but the longer shutter speed allowed him to blur after the strobe had fired. Next time, I ought to open up the aperture so that I can stop down the shutter speed in hopes of still having a well exposed background and a nice crisp critter!

One last try, before needing to give up and head back to the boat, but I guess I got too close (seriously was worried as I inched nearer and nearer that he might try to bite my camera or myself, but he just sat there watching me) and my flash was a little over powerful, he even had to squint!

Overall I found it incredible how inquisitive this guy was, and how huge! The seals always seem smaller compared to the sea lions, and they are a little bit, but they are still pretty huge! I got to sit and watch this guy cruise around the kelp and dig in the sand. I watched him chase a fish nearly catching it. It was incredible. Just wish the viz had been a little clearer, and the surge a little less so that there would be less sand and particles floating around in the water!

Dolphin Frenzy.

The second large group of dolphins heads east as we near Catalina Island.

Last Sunday I was aboard the dive boat Mr. C, headed out to Catalina Island to complete weekend two of the Open Water course I was teaching. Finally, unlike the previous couple of weekends, we had perfectly calm seas, though the skies were overcast with rain possible in the afternoon. Not long after exiting the harbor we ran across a rare, and amazing sight. Dolphins. This was not the usual 4-5 cruisers surfing along the surge of water pushed ahead of the bow of the boat. No, ahead of us were hundreds of dolphins that seemed to be making a beeline across the vast seas for some unknown purpose. They were all cruising at a decent speed, popping up out of the water before sliding back in and popping out again. Our boat was traveling just a little faster than they were and we caught up to them, then slowly moved through the crowd. It was incredible to watch the pod of dolphins all moving along as a giant unit. With no camera on hand, I grabbed my iphone to snag a couple of pictures and a short video. This was definitely not something I had ever seen before, and to top it off we ran across another large pod doing the same thing in the opposite direction as we neared Catalina later in the morning. It was fantastic!

Humpback Whales

I totally forgot to mention one of the BEST aspects of the diving last weekend. Rescue Course training was great, finishing with enough time to get in two recreational dives was awesome, but then to put the icing on the cake we ran across a small pod of Humpback Whales swimming along.

This was my first time seeing humpbacks outside television or movies. They were magnificent. We saw a few from far off, then a few minutes later intersected paths with with two more. One of the two was thoroughly enjoying the day and kept breaching, surging out of the water before plunging back down.

As we passed by, they were swimming around each other slapping their pectoral fins on the surface as they spun around in the water. All in all it was an incredible experience. The sheer size and grace of these creatures is just amazing!