April 17, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 4

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

A Few Words First
     After I had placed my great white shark encounter, with Olympus Dive Center in July of 2001, in my list of top ten dives, I realized that I had already written about this experience in the Dive Blog Report Dated June 20, 2011. I thought about simply deleting it from the list and writing about something else, but it was without a doubt one of my top ten dive experiences. Here is the story, but with some new information.

 (Please read about more details of this dive in the link above.)

No. 4
Great White Shark Encounter of North Carolina

     Shark diving today is a very popular dive activity around the world. I have talked about this numerous times in previous blogs. Anyone with enough coin and proper dive skills can sign up for near guaranteed shark encounter with almost any of the major species of sharks, including the ever feared and grossly misunderstood Carharodon carcharias or the great white shark. Dive operators in Cape Town, South Africa, Guadalupe, Mexico, South Australia and the Farallon Islands right here in the USA, specialize in unique encounters with great whites. Surf the net enough and you will see hundreds of images of divers huddled in steel cages pointing very expensive camera rigs through the bars at these curious, but ferocious looking predators. Search more and you will most certainly come across stories and images of others who swim freely outside of the cages with them!

     Most often, but not always the case, these encounters are generated by chumming the waters with blood to attract the sharks to the dive site. Otherwise, great whites or sharks in general can be hard to come by.  I personally do not have an issue with this practice since it creates an industry around the protection of sharks rather than their destruction. Seeing a great white shark under these staged circumstances is an awesome experience that I will not take away from anyone who has done it, but when a 15 foot great white shark unexpectedly crosses your path in a part of the ocean where they are rarely seen is, in my opinion, far more exciting.
Front page of the Carteret County News-Times, August 1, 2001.
     On July 21, 2001, when I slid off the swim deck of the Midnight Express in to the ocean 22 miles from the North Carolina coast, I was just looking to do a bit of free diving and spearfishing during our surface interval from the days diving. A 15 foot Great White Shark  casually swimming in front of me was the last thing I anticipated seeing.  At first, I thought it to be a very large sand tiger shark, but that theory was negated after about a half a second when I saw the conical snout, the large black eyes and the equal size of the upper and lower tail fin. There is no mistaking a great white shark when you see one. In those days, I had no interest in underwater photography (crazy I know) and exited the water right away in the name of self-preservation. (This dive is not just in my top ten, but also in my log book as my shortest dive.)

     Great white sharks are not unheard of off the Carolina Coast, but they are in fact very rare and not usually seen this far south. Some of the local fishermen can tell you about a story or two of when someone landed a great white shark in the past, but these stories are rare in the telling.

One of the passengers on board had shark diving
paraphernalia for sale on the web within 24 hours of the
 shark sighting off Cape Lookout, NC.
Enlarge image for closer view.
     The divers on board who were enjoying swapping stories from their first dive asked me why I was back so soon from spear fishing. I told them I saw a great white and of course they didn't believe me until they saw it with there own two eyes a large identifying dorsal fin slicing through the water. As soon as that occurred one could almost here the ominous theme song from the movie, Jaws in the background. Da dum...da dum etc.

    The excitement on board was high, but not as much for the two guys finishing up there safety stop on the hang lines under the boat. (Please read the rest of this tale in the June 20, 2011 Blog.)
     What I did not mention in previous blogs about this encounter was, swimming along side this 15 foot behemoth great white, was a 4 foot new born trying to keep up with it's Mom. (And no, it was not a remora if that is what you are thinking.) Scientists tell me that sharks do not practice any maternal behavior after birth, but this shark was merely swimming along side its mother and that was all. No other behavior was noticed or claimed in that regard. 

    To add more interest to this story, nearly one year prior, another dive boat had spotted a large female great white and a small new born swimming along side it only 5 miles from this very location! Could it be that great whites come to this area with warmer water east of Lookout Shoals, NC to birth before heading back out to cooler northern waters? I would like to think so, but I do not have any scientific data to back this up. It is just an opinion. Do I hear grant money jingling out there for a budding shark researcher? I think so.

     Today, knowing what I know about great whites and the unlikelihood of them attacking me, I would with out question stay in the water to photograph and film such an encounter, if it should occur again. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I turned tail and scurried up that latter a second time. Opportunities to film such rare events do not come often and risks sometimes must be taken in order to get, 'the shot'.

Photo Tip of the Week
Wreck Photography Rule No. Two

     Mike's wreck photography Rule No. One is simply, "do not always follow Mike's rules". I can't, in good faith, leave you with that as the only tip of the week, so I'm starting on Rule No. Two; Shooting subject matter that is quickly and easily identifiable.

     When shooting shipwrecks a shot will be more compelling to the viewer if he or she can determine exactly what it is they are looking at quickly if not instantly. Quite often, wrecks are in such bad condition that one must search hard to find some recognizable structure. Wether you are using the wreck as a backdrop for subject matter ie sharks or as the primary subject following this rule will most certainly improve the likability of your image.
What is this above? In reality it is a very interesting artifact, but that doesn't matter if you can't tell what it is. It is an anti-aircraft gun on the wreck of the Fumitzuki destroyer in Truk Lagoon.

     What is this above? Now we are getting somewhere. As a stand alone subject, this sink and mirror makes for a very interesting photo since there is no doubt as too what you are looking at.

The wreck of the Proteous off the Carolina coast is a great place to shoot sand tiger sharks but for one thing....the wreck is a low lying debris field with little structure. However, this steering quadrant on the stern is geometric and vertically dramatic and added to the overall appearance of this shot. It was very intentional to shoot these sand tigers composed this way.

Next time you are on a wreck, scope out the areas of the site that are the most distinguishable and plan your composition around those spots. Sometimes one needs to be very creative depending on how interesting the wreck is. 

Good luck!

Mike Gerken
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