Posts Tagged ‘sharks’

4 Endangered Marine Animals (and How Divers Can Help!)

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Marine wildlife populations are declining faster now than they ever have, with some reports suggesting a sobering 50% decline in the past 40 years. As ambassadors of the ocean, scuba divers have a responsibility to be informed and aware about things that threaten the sea. In this post, you’ll learn about a few endangered […]

Spotted: Hammerhead Sharks in Florida Waters

Thursday, October 1st, 2015
Statues of Hammerhead sharks at Blue Heron Bridge

Tanya Burnett

Concrete shark statues weighing 1,500 pounds are a new attraction at Blue Heron Bridge.

Hammerhead sharks can now be found of the coast of Florida — the only downside: They’re not a very lively bunch.
On June 19, at Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach, Florida, three concrete shark statues, weighing 1,500 pounds each, were downed to attract divers and snorkelers alike. Created and paid for by artist Tom McDonald, each statue measures 5 feet in length, and all are easily accessible in 10 feet of water.

Top 100: Diving in French Polynesia

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Honeymooners who arrive at the over- water bungalows of Bora Bora and Moorea are convinced they’ve found Eden. But what most of their blissed-out ilk never realize is they’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to all there is in fantastique French Polynesia. Divers, of course, are more clued in. Collectively known as the islands of Tahiti, this volcanic archipelago of 118 islands and atolls includes five island groups, and covers a swath of the Pacific as large as Western Europe. From bejeweled reefs to ripping passes blitzed by pelagics, it’s a lot to take in. Here’s a head start on where to get wet.

Shark Central

Many dive destinations can claim sharks, but it’s hard to think of one that delivers them in the insane abundance of the Tuamotu atolls, the largest of the five island groups, where walls of sharks are the norm. During drift dives in Rangiroa’s Tiputa Pass and Fakarava’s Tumakohua Pass, hundreds of gray reef sharks congregate on the atoll’s outer wall like puzzle pieces in a toothy jigsaw, and silvertips and whitetips make appearances too. “My dive buddy wasn’t lying when he said, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna out-shark us,’” remembers San Diego diver Mark Guinto, who traveled to FP for what turned out to be the sharkiest dives of his life (gray sharks, lemon sharks, whitetips, silvertips and more). “Almost everyone was there to dive with sharks, and there were several species of them in great number,” says Guinto. Great hammerheads also are spotted fairly regularly at the passes, and tiger sharks make appearances too — making it easy to see why FP also took top honors for Best Big Animals.

Wide-Angle Wonderland

French Polynesia’s dazzlingly clear seascapes are to wide-angle photography what Lembeh is to a macro lens: the dream destination for clicking the shutter on some of the world’s most singular underwater moments, earning FP the No. 2 spot for Best Underwater Photography in the Pacific and Indian Ocean region. Excellent visibility that consistently surpasses the 100-foot mark enhances your photos, with ambient light a particularly saturated shade of blue. From the plunging walls of the Tuamotu passes and the Opunohu canyons of Moorea to Fitii pass in Huahine in the Society Islands (a calmer version of a Tuamotu-style drift), a wide-angle lens is your best friend for capturing walls of sharks, schooling jacks, mantas, dolphins and the like. “There is nowhere on Earth that compares to the stunning atolls of the Tuamotu chain when it comes to reef shark photography,” says Mike Veitch, an underwater photographer based in Bali. “The clear water and amazing abundance of sharks there is unmatched anywhere.”

Migrating Humpbacks

From mid-July to late October, visitors to Rurutu in the Austral archipelago (the southernmost group in French Polynesia) are treated to one of the ocean’s most awe-inspiring experiences — the chance to snorkel alongside humpback whales and their babies, drawn to the shallow, sheltered waters as a stopover on their migration path to Antarctica. Whaling stopped on this lagoonless island in the 1950s, and whale-watching tourism and snorkeling tours have brought a new livelihood for the people living here. The seas can be rough at this time of year, and visibility can be compromised, but when you find yourself finning alongside one of the gentle giants that come here to reproduce, calve and nurse their young, you’ll be left humbled for life.

Pelagic Paradise

Coastal and open-ocean pelagic species abound in French Polynesia, and therein lies the excitement of diving here — you never know when a great hammerhead, manta ray or tiger shark will go cruising past you. On the pearl-farming coral atoll of Manihi, mantas can sometimes be seen carousel-feeding in about 30 feet of water at the dive site called the Circus. Jacques Cousteau’s explorations in Tikehau in the Tuamotus found a higher concentration of species there than anywhere else in French Polynesia (he called the atoll the richest on Earth). Tikehau remains a pelagic gold mine for shoaling barracuda, manta rays and the usual shark denizens. And on Rangiroa, a veritable underwater Serengeti awaits.

“The concentration of colors and species was a sensory overload,” remembers Katharyne Daughtridge Gabriel, a diver who lives near London. “We saw gray sharks, whitetip sharks, barracudas, manta rays. And on the exit, I remember thinking, ‘I just foated through Jacques Cousteau’s dreams.’”

Ripping Drift Dives

Drift dives are a bit of a misnomer for the experience that awaits when you find yourself aviating through the famed atoll passes of Rangiroa, Fakarava and Tikehau in the Tuamotus. Sites like Tiputa and Avatoru passes in Rangiroa and Fakarava’s famed south pass, Tumakohua, are considered advanced dives due to the strong tidal currents pushing you into the lagoon that range between 3 and 8 knots. (Plan some refresher-level drift dives on Huahine in the Society Islands if you’re out of practice.) “It felt like I was flying next to a mountain-side,” remembers Guinto, a pilot who teaches military parachuting, of a dive at Tiputa Pass. “As a sky diver, I’ve had similar sensations.” Indeed, if any diving experience approaches the sensation of aerial acrobatics underwater, it’s the roaring passes of the Tuamotus — one reason FP was lauded as Best Advanced Diving in its region.

Pearl Farms

One of the pleasures of French Polynesia is shopping for Tahiti’s famed black pearls — which come in many sizes, shapes and colors, from black to shades of green, blue, bronze, aubergine and even pink — at a local pearl farm. At destinations such as Rangiroa and Tikehau, you can borrow a bike from your dive resort and pedal along sandy lanes fringed with palms to inspect the goods, or take a tour at farms such as Gauguin’s Pearl in Rangi or Fakarava’s Pearls of Havaiki.

The Land of Gauguin

The goal is to spend as much time as possible underwater, but some of the planet’s most jaw-dropping tropical landscapes — old volcanoes glinting with rainbows and emerald slopes lapped by perfectly peeling waves — make any time spent topside a treat too. From the mist-carpeted mountains of the Marquesas, where the French artist Paul Gauguin spent his final years, to Moorea’s lush Route d’Ananas (Pine- apple Route), best explored by scooter, and the iconic extinct volcanic peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu on Bora Bora, you’ll need extra memory cards. Add to all that lushness the barren beauty of the atolls — sandy rings lapped by turquoise water and dotted with tiny motus (islets) that materialize as you descend toward the Tuamotus — and it’s visual overload in the very best sense, making it clear why readers named French Polynesia Best Overall Destination. “Everything feels exaggerated in its beauty,” remembers Janet Malin of time spent snorkeling with sharks and rays in Moorea’s lagoons. “The electric green of the land, fuchsia flowers, water this crazy royal blue, even the locals’ tattoos.”

French Style Crepes

Shutterstock

EAT

For dining on the (relatively) cheap, alongside locals in Papeete, look for food trucks called roulottes. Skirted with picnic tables, they serve things like grilled mahimahi and French-style crepes and steaks. Can’t decide which? Look for the most crowded.

Le Cocos restaurant in French Polynesia

wedotahiti.com

DRINK

One of the best wine lists in French Polynesia — heavily French, of course — awaits at the new Moorea outpost of Le Coco’s, opened in March 2015 in Haapiti (lecocostahiti.com). Try the three-course sampler option to get a wider range of tastes.

Bungalow in Ninamu Resort

Courtesy Ninamu Resort

SLEEP

Mingle with big-wave surfers and kite surfers who also enjoy diving at Ninamu Resort (motuninamu.com) on Tikehau. The property has six bungalows and is completely of the grid, producing its own solar power and filtering its drinking water.

NEED TO KNOW

When To Go You can dive year-round in French Polynesia, but it’s rainier during the Southern Hemisphere summer, from November to March.

Travel Tip If you’re coming from the East Coast, consider staying a night in Los Angeles on your way to Tahiti. That way, you will arrive refreshed and ready to dive.

Dive Conditions Visibility in French Polynesia can reach up to 150 feet, and the water temperature averages 80 degrees.

The Legacy of Jaws and America’s Fascination with Sharks

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

The movie Jaws led many viewers to stay away from beaches when it was released in 1975, and has been widely criticized for promoting negative stereotypes about sharks and their behavior. Peter Benchley eventually regretted writing the book, and in 1995 said: “The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original. … If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage, through ignorance, stupidity and greed, to wipe them out altogether.”

Conservationists hate that the film has made it difficult to convince the public that sharks need protection from humans, not the other way around. But Jaws launched the summer-blockbuster genre, and Roy Scheider’s line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” is 35th on a list of top 100 movie quotes, and composer John Williams’ musical theme is instantly recognizable (dun-dunh, dun-dunh).

Hooked on Sharks for better or for worse, the media’s love affair with sharks has kept us entertained for decades.

Looking for more Sharks in pop-culture? Check out Top 5 Worst Shark Movies of All Time.

Becoming the Shark Lady: The Legacy of Eugenie Clark

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015
The Shark Lady Eugenie Clark with Sharks

David Doubilet/National Geographic Creative

THE SHARK LADY

When pioneer marine biologist Dr. Eugenie Clark died this past February, she had compiled a nearly 75-year legacy of scientific research.

Credit the New York Aquarium with Dr. Eugenie Clark’s lifelong devotion to fish. At age 9, she had an overwhelming desire to be in their world, and that pas- sion inspired her to become an ichthyologist, writer and explorer.
She wrote three books, 80 scientific treatises, and more than 70 articles and papers; she had four species of fish named for her. In 2014, after Clark was named Beneath the Sea’s Legend of the Sea, contributor Brooke Morton interviewed “The Shark Lady” for our sister magazine, Sport Diver. The following is an excerpt from that interview.

Favorite shark encounter?

I was out of the water, looking into the shark pen at Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (now known as the Mote Marine Laboratory) in Sarasota, Florida. I realized that our lemon sharks had learned to push the right underwater target to release food. We had trained sharks for the first time.

You sustained a shark bite while in a car. What happened?

I was driving to a lecture for schoolchildren. On the front seat next to me was a tiger shark jaw. Running late, I stopped abruptly for a red light and stuck my arm out to prevent the jaw from cutting the dashboard. Instead, the teeth sliced my arm. The students were most interested in the bite-mark circle.

Most surprising discovery?

I found that one fish, the belted sandfish, could change sex from female to male — and vice versa — in as little as 10 seconds.

How has the gender gap changed for female scientists?

Tremendously! When I started, I was one of few females in the field — and the only one studying sharks. Now there are lots of female students of elasmobranchs. The shift can be seen in professional organizations, such as the American Elasmobranch Society, which started out with one female, and now has more than 50 percent female membership.

Greatest accomplishment?

My four children, the many friends I’ve made in the diving world, and to have a small part in inspiring an interest in sharks and marine life in children.