August 6, 2012 - Club Aeolus

Photo of the Week
Taken on the wreck of the W.E. Hutton AKA Papoose. (New)
©Mike Gerken

     The shark lounge at "Club Aeolus" was re-open for business yesterday for the divers on board my boat, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center. Sand tiger sharks have been seen with regularity hanging out inside the wreck of the Aeolus for the better part of the season, but I will say that we saw more sharks at any one time on yesterdays dive.  About a dozen or more bold sand tigers were cruising up and down the port companionway and round and round under the top deck where the ship was broken in two some years ago by a hurricane. These sharks did not frighten easily and made for a great encounter not to mention a very productive photo shoot.

The M/V Olympus's very own first mate, Bud Daniels paying me a
 visit on wreck of the Aeolus. (New)

     Prior to this dive on the Aeolus, my group dived the wreck of the Spar only a few hundred feet away and might have encountered one or two sharks. It would seem that Spar, although still a great dive overall, is no longer the hippest hottest nightspot in town for the sharks. This trend of why they linger around one spot over another is little understood and with no doubt later this year or next the sharks will find another stomping ground to hang out at.

     As a photographer, you could not have asked for a better situation to photograph these sharks. With visibility edging over 50 feet and the water blue in color, the lighting was optimal as was the back drop. Getting close was absolutely no problem since the sand tigers were bumping in to my dome port and swimming directly underneath my arm pit. Making an effort to not touch them proved difficult, but when inadvertent contact did occur the sharks did not startle.

Sand tigers at "Club Aeolus". (New)
The gang from American Divers Supply. 
     Prior to yesterdays dive, the dive group from Northfield, NJ, American Divers Supply, headed up by Geoff Graham, finished out the there five day stretch on board the Midnight on Friday with only one bad weather day spent at the dock on Wednesday. Not a bad record by North Carolina standards, although batting a perfect 100 would have been preferred.

     The last day of diving on Friday brought us back to the Atlas tanker and the Caribsea for one dive a piece. This was the first dive we had on the Atlas this season and with 30' viz on the bottom and twice that on top of the wreck, it made for a very 'sharky' encounter. 

     Unfortunately, I personally was unable to dive this day, but received reports that were very similar to my dive experience several weeks ago on the Caribsea. Sharks by the dozens are still hanging about in the mid water cruising into the current. Many of the divers were thoroughly entertained. As far as I could tell the entire group from American Divers had a blast and I must say it was a pleasure having them on board.

Carcharias taurus. (New)
     For you camera buffs out there, I can report that so far my experience with the new Nikon D800 has been a positive one. I just recently added the Nikkor, 16-35MM 4.0 lens to my gear list and am working out the bugs using this ultra wide angle lens. All of the shark images in this blog were shot with this lens. The zoom feature makes it easier to fill your frame up with shark without placing the dome port within 12 inches of these usually shy critters. A full review of the D800 with Sea & Sea MDX housing will be coming soon.

    As for the rest of this week, the 'Midnight' does not have any trips until Friday and then will be busy through the weekend. With cooperative weather I will have some more images and stories next week.

Happy Diving!


Photo Gallery
Bud Daniels of the M/V Olympus having fun with the sharks.

Many of the sharks had gouges in there faces and upper body areas.
Probably a result of mating and breeding practices.
"Club Aeolus" is hopping. 

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August 1, 2012 - Double Headers

Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus or the "Sand Tiger Shark".
Taken on the wreck of the Caribsea, North Carolina. (New)

(Scroll down for the "Photo Tip of the Week".)

      One of the unwritten laws in North Carolina diving is, "when you find a dive that's great, do it again".  In other words, leaving a wreck site and chasing after better dive conditions for the second dive after you just had an outstanding dive on the first is not playing it smart. These last three days of diving on board the Midnight Express had dive groups who were following this North Carolina law to the tee. 

     On Sunday, July 29 we dived the wreck of the USS Schurz and found at least 40 feet of visibility on the bottom with at double that 15 feet off the bottom tot he surface. The hazy layer of water on the bottom was not soupy enough to declare the dive a poor one so we stuck around for a double on this fascinating WWI wreck. In fact, the divers from Scuba Diving Magazines, "Diver to Diver" (D2D), who chartered the 'Midnight' over the weekend, thought the dive was stunning and I had to concur with them after I got back from my photo shoot on the wreck. 
The D2Der's at Olympus Dive Center.
Photo courtesy of Jim Stradling. 
     The Schurz was completely inundated with bait fish that were seeking shelter from marauding packs of little tunny's and amberjacks. Visibility on the wreck dropped to a mere few feet each time the predators would swoop down to try there luck at the hapless bait swirling around the wreckage. It was quite a sight to see.

     Monday brought another double header, but this time on the wreck of the Caribsea with American Diving Supply chartering the Midnight for the entire week; the Caribsea was the scene of a recent mind blowing dive just a few weeks ago where over a hundred sand tiger sharks were found lurking about on the wreck. (If you don't believe me click this link to watch the video from July 17.)

     With visibility in the 30 foot range with slightly clearer water higher in the water column, the divers managed to find themselves surrounded by still plenty of sand tiger sharks not to mention a mass of bait fish dodging for survival from more predators circling around the perimeter of the wreck. Every now and again you could watch a ball of bait instantly gather tightly around a cruising sand tiger shark while a jack would pass near bye. Sometimes the mass of bait would be so thick that the shark would disappear within them. 

A Sand Tiger Shark surrounded by baitfish. (New)
     I managed to get in the water for a photo shoot with me new Nikon D800 and try my luck at some shark poses. I have had a concept for a shot where a shark would be emerging from one of these perfectly shaped bait balls and have not had much luck achieving what I wanted; that is until today. 

     After snapping more than 130 images I managed to nail two shots that I am proud to show you on this blog report. Sometimes that is how photography underwater work; one will spend a lot of time and effort on a dive to return at the end of the day with a single 'keeper' photo and feel like the day was a success.

     The Caribsea was not the last double header we had this week so far. Yesterday, the same group from American Diving Supply wanted to check out the wreck of the Papoose some 32 miles from Beaufort Inlet. We experienced heavy rains and threatening storm systems the entire ride out to the wreck site but eventually made it there safe and sound.

Midnight Express mate, Mike Phillips .
     After my mate, Mike Philipps tied us off to the wreck he radioed up on the com that the viz was about 60-70 feet or better. "It is about as pretty as it has been all season" he stated through the head set. Once again all on board had a stunning dive with Caribbean blue water with temps in the high 70's nearly to the bottom. 

     The American Divers all made the jump in partly sunny skies that turned the water in to a deep hue of blue beneath. The warm clear water made it easy to see large segments of this ship that was turned in to a wreck at the hands of a German U-boat in WWII. There were a handful of sharks present as well as a school of beautiful african pompano and the usual multitudes of over sized amberjacks and barracuda. 

Proof of the blue water on the wreck of the Papoose.
The photo shoot wasn't a complete bust I suppose.
     I jumped in for a dive on the surface interval while all the divers sat atop huddled under the canopy in the pouring rain. Although I had a beautiful dive down there the photo shoot did not pan out so well. I suppose Mercury wasn't aligned just right with Pluto and Saturn thus throwing the universe out of kilter for me. I just couldn't get the shot I wanted. This too is a fact of life with underwater photography; sometimes you come home empty handed. 

     Three days of double headers came to an end today on Wednesday when a strong weather system offshore has kept us at the dock for the day. We are scheduled to run the rest of the week in to the weekend and when I have some new news I will be back with an updated Dive Blog Report.

Happy Diving!


Sand tiger sharks in the greenish blue hued water of the Caribsea. (New)
from the wreck of the Caribsea July 17, 2012.

Photo Tip of the Week
RAW Files

     To shoot RAW or not to shoot RAW, that is the question. When I get asked that, as I do on a regular basis, I always answer, "if you want to get the most out of your photography then shoot RAW and learn to process your images". RAW files, otherwise known as the digital negative, are uncompressed files of your photos that require a certain amount of post processing with softwares such as Photoshop and Lightroom. The RAW image may lack contrast, color saturation and sharpness to name but a few. It is up to the processor to add the elements back in to the image and recreate the scene with which they saw. 

     These RAW files are only suitable for photographers who plan on processing their files after shooting them. If you are not one of these people then be content on shooting JPEG files and having images that will be less than what they can be.  JPEG's are compressed files with a loss of data each time your save the file. They are not suitable for fine art photography but more for snapshots and posting images on the web or sending via email since they are smaller files. 

     Also, processing digital images is not cheating when done correctly. I have written about this in previous blogs and won't dwell on the ethics of Photoshop in this post. Let me remind you though that Ansel Adams, the world famous landscape film photographer of yore, did his finest work in the darkroom.

     So in short, shoot RAW and sign up for a Lightroom or Photoshop course and learn to make the most of your images. Your photography will love you for it.

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July 17, 2012 - They're Back

Photo of the Week
A gathering of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea off the
Outer Banks of North Carolina. (New) Taken with a Nikon D800.

©Mike Gerken

     Due to work obligations to the boat I skipper, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, I was unable to dive this past weekend and was subjected to the torment of diver after diver coming up the ladders with reports of awesome conditions and dozens of sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea.

     Feeling rather dejected, but not defeated I woke up early on Monday to go diving on board the Olympus on my day off. As luck would have it, my brand new Sea & Sea MDX D800 housing arrived in the mail the day before and I was to be armed with my new DSLR with a whopping 36.3 Mega Pixels and 1080p HD video. In addition, Capt Robert Purifoy of the Olympus indicated they were diving the Caribsea again that day. With a promising weather forecast and Venus aligning with Mars all was right in the universe and the potential for a great photo/video shoot was now possible.

Carcharias taurus. (New)
     The morning of the dive I was scrambling to set up my new housing and get her ready for the dive. After hooking up the strobes and switching out the dome ports I was ready except for one thing. I needed to insure this pricey rig before leaving the house. So there I was at 0530 online with Diver Alert Networks equipment insurance plan signing my gear up for coverage. With that very important detail taken care of it was time to get going.

     We arrived at the Caribsea a few hours later and got all of the divers in the water and on there way to a great shark encounter. My plan was to wait until all had returned before heading down myself. Capt. Robert would be going in as well armed with his video camera. 

Captain Robert Purifoy of the M/V Olympus
perched atop the bow stem, filming the hordes
of sand tiger sharks. (New)
     Word had it that the grouping of sharks were down towards the bow hovering in about 50-60 feet of water with 40-50 feet or more of visibility. The water temp on the bottom at 90 feet was about 71F with 25-35 feet of visibility. With this information I made my way down toward the bow of the wreck fiddling with my new camera and checking for leaks while I kicked.

    As I approached the bow I didn't see many sharks at first until I looked straight up and there they were, over 50 sharks parked end to end, side by side as far as I could see. I immediately swam for the tip of the bow, turned the video camera on and starting shooting. Pretty soon, Capt Robert showed up with his camera rolling and proceeded to sit atop the piece of metal that is left of the bow stem. Both of us spent the next 35 minutes shooting this awesome gathering of sharks. There was no shortage of subject matter. 

     Every time I have witnessed this event I have noticed the sharks are more docile then usual and getting in close to them without startling them is much easier. Every once in a while a shark would bump in to another shark causing both sharks to bolt away creating a loud shotgun blast sound with the whipping of their tails.

A mere handful of sand tigers that were present
on the Caribsea wreck. (New)
     Switching back and forth from stills to video and back to video again, I found the versatility of the D800 superb. My only problem was getting use to the new location of the buttons, knobs and switches on this unit. I struggled at times missing a few good opportunities but for each missed one I had two others fill its place. Over all, it was a super dive and photo shoot. Both Robert and I surfaced after that dive with a very satisfied look on our faces as did all of the divers on board that day. I can't wait to get back there.

My cousin Melissa Miehling on the stunning wreck
 of the USS Schurz. (New) Taken with a Nikon D300.
     Earlier in the week my cousin Melissa Miehling visited me from Virginia to do a bit of diving and enjoy the topside attractions of the Morehead City area. We managed to get out diving to the wreck of the U352 and the Spar as well as the USS Schurz. With good visibility and a strong presence of marine life we had a great time diving together. You can enjoy a few of the photos I took of her in the photo gallery at the bottom. The next time I see her may very well be in Palau when she comes to visit once I move their to be captain of the Palau Siren starting in October of 2012. More to come on these events in the future.

Happy Diving!


  Photo Gallery

Schooling sand tiger sharks on the wreck of the Caribsea, NC. (New)

Melissa telling fish stories underwater. 

A sand tiger on the wreck of the Spar. (New)

When I said to get closer all I got was an "ok this is far enough" look from my cousin.
Lots of bait fish and a happy diver. (New)

July 10, 2012 - Blow Days

Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus on the wreck of the Aeolus.
©Mike Gerken

(Scroll Down for Photo Tip of the Week)
     I've said this before and I'll say it again, when you come to North Carolina to go diving, have a back up plan for the 'blow days'. "What is a 'blow day' some of you might be asking? A 'blow day' is when the wind blows hard enough to build seas to heights that make it unsafe to take divers offshore to dive. When diving in the open Atlantic Ocean you are at the mercy of Mother Nature more so then other destinations. 

    The Morehead City area is a beautiful region that has so much more to offer than just diving. "Blasphemy!", some of the hard core divers might utter at hearing such words. You will have to pardon my forwardness, but to not be open to engaging in activities other than diving when there is no diving to be had, you are being foolish. Try to cheer up, get out there and have some fun. I promise you there is plenty to do here.

Olga Torrey swallowed by a Megladon at the
Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. ©Larry Cohen.
     If you ask divers and photographers, Larry Cohen and Olga Torrey how their Olympus Dive Center dive vacation went this past week, they'll tell you it was great, even though they only managed to dive two of the seven days they were here. Despite this set back, these two covered some ground enjoying the topside attractions here on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina.

     Larry and Olga are members of the New York City Dive Club, the Sea Gypsies. The Sea Gypsies are one of the most active dive clubs in the United States. When you attend one of their meetings you will hear dive reports from members returning from far off locales around the world such as Iceland, Raj Ampat, Antartica, Truk Lagoon and even iceberg diving to name just a few (yes, that's right, iceberg diving). Let me tell you, these folks get around. 

     Each day Larry & Olga would approach me early in the morning on the dock after we gave everyone the bad news that the diving has been cancelled for the day, and ask me (what many dejected land locked divers ask), "What is there to do in the area besides diving?". When I hear this question I am always happy to help out because I live in the Morehead City area and I love it here and not just because of the diving. There is always something fun and exciting to do that can take you outdoors.

Wild horse of Shackleford Banks. ©Olga Torrey.
    After giving Olga & Larry some advice I let them to their own devices to make the best of the day and they did just that! Judging by the frequent photos that came in from them via email to my desk at home, I'd say they had a blast. 

    First they took a small ferry ride out of the neighboring town of Beaufort (voted the "Coolest Town in America" in 2011) over to the uninhabited Shackleford Banks State Park to comb the ocean beaches and search for wild horses to photograph. The lineage of these horses is said to date back to the 16th century when European ships wrecked on the beaches hence stranding the horses. These horses, although wild, are rather tame and make for great photo subjects when you can find them. Larry & Olga had no problem locating a herd and snapped some nice shots with the ocean beaming in the background. 

Olga Torrey taking aim. ©Larry Cohen
     As the 'blow days' continued day after day, Larry & Olga needed to get more & more creative. After a obligatory visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to see the penguin exhibit and then to Fort Macon State Park to see museum exhibit there, they were in the need of some new ideas. 

     When I asked them if they liked to shoot guns, I think I saw a gleam in their twitching eyes. I told them about the Sure Shot gun range only 20 miles or so from the waterfront where they could rent guns and buy ammo and shoot clay pigeons with a 12 gauge or blow a few holes in some paper targets. With that said, later that day, more images were delivered in to my inbox showing Olga taking aim with a 9mm. "Mission accomplished",  I thought to myself and wished I had taken time out from behind my desk to join them.

Olga paddle boarding on the
intracoastal waterway. ©Larry Cohen
    But wait, there is more. Between photo shoots on the beach and blasting away at the range these two found time for paddle board lessons with Carolina Kite & Surfing in Emerald Isle. With miles and miles of ocean beaches and intracoastal waterways to ply, this sport is extremely popular in this neck of the woods. With a mere lesson or two it can be extremely easy to learn and be on your way paddling and enjoying the outdoors. 

    By the end of their vacation, Larry & Olga accomplished more than most, including getting offshore for a few dives to see the sand tiger sharks that we are so famous for here. I tip my hat to both of them for making the most of the heavy winds and days stuck at the dock and enjoying all there is to do here at my home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

A sand tiger shark of North Carolina.
©Larry Cohen
    Some of the many other activities in the Morehead area include, surfing, kite boarding, sport fishing, body boarding, shopping, hiking, biking, horse back riding and checking out the restaurant and night life in the area. When you see me on the dock after the bad news bomb has been dropped that there is no diving today, keep a smile on your face and ask me what is there to do. I promise you I will point you in the right direction and offer you some great advice on how to salvage your dive vacation.

Happy Diving or paddle boarding or surfing or swimming or whatever!

-Mike Gerken

Photo Gallery

Larry having a laugh at the Aquarium. ©Olga Torrey
Yet another picturesque view of the Atlantic. ©Olga Torrey
Soaking up fun and sun in at the beach. ©Larry Cohen 
A new species of shark discovered in the surf zone of Atlantic Beach.
©Olga Torrey
Beautiful sunset at the beach. ©Olga Torrey
•Thank you to Olga Torrey and Larry Cohen for contributing your images to this Blog Report. 
•To see more of their work please visit  
•Larry does chat and email at B&H Photo in New York City. He can be contacted at

     The weather is improving (see below) for diving later this week and in to the weekend. I have not been out since last Tuesday so once I get back offshore I will start posting condition reports again on Facebook and in this blog. Keep your fingers crossed for a reprieve from Mother Nature.

Long term NOAA forecast for July 12th to the 14th. It's promising.

Photo Tip of the Week
Camera Preparation

     Underwater photography requires a lot of preparation from researching the dive sight for promising subject matter to mental readiness for the dive ahead and of course, camera preparation. I cannot tell you how many times I have descended down to a dive site only to attempt to pull the trigger on my shutter and find that one of two dozen things did not function properly or at all. Some example system failures I have had to deal with were:

1 - Strobes failing to fire.
2 - Camera out of alignment in house causing none of the controls to work.
3 - Camera or strobe batteries dead.
4 - Incorrect lens for the dome port in use.
5 - Lens set to manual focus with no focus ring.
6 - Dirt or grease on inside of dome port, camera lens or worse yet the camera sensor.

and the worst one of all...

7 - A leak in the housing.

     All of these issues are easily avoidable when proper camera preparation is undertaken. If you are an individual who is unorganized by your nature, I implore you to change this trait when you are undertaking your photography. Are time underwater is extremely valuable to us in so many ways and cannot be wasted fussing over a camera malfunction or contacting your insurance company because you just washed down your $3,000 digital SLR with salt water. 

     Design a routine or check list that works for you and apply this routine every single time you take your camera in the water. This routine will save you many moments of frustration and help you yield quality images you can be proud of.

Here are some items you should include on your check list:

1 - Make sure all camera & strobe batteries have a fresh charge. Dead batteries are the number one cause of a lost photo op underwater. Once you are down there switching in fresh ones is not so easy.

2 - Properly clean, grease and check for damage to all primary o-rings on the house and dome ports. A few pennies worth of grease and a five dollar o-ring are all that separate you from fun and disaster.

3 - Install camera in to housing in a clean well lit area and be careful not to get lint or hair on the o-rings or any of the contacts such as the hot shoe for strobe fire.

4 - Close housing up and test fire camera several times to check that the strobes are firing. Also check all camera functions and that they are operable including camera auto focus and menu features.

5 - Make sure you have the lens mounted that is fit for the type of dive you want to do. Forgetting to take your 105mm macro lens off for a whale shark dive might piss you off just a tad.

6 - Lastly, make sure your head is in the game before jumping. Remember, haste makes waste. Forgetting one minor detail could be hazardous to your photography and your cameras health. Make sure you set time aside before every dive trip and every descent to tend to the needs of your camera.

Good Luck!


•Visit Mike's web site
to review his complete portfolio of
photographic works and documentary films.

•Purchase prints, videos and apparel in his Online Store.

•Sign up for Mike's Online Photo Courses.

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