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 www.evolutionunderwater.com

(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 www.liquidimagesuw.com.  
•Larry does chat and email at B&H Photo in New York City. He can be contacted at uw@bhphoto.com.

     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!


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July 2, 2012 - Sand Tiger Night Club

Photo of the Week
Carcharias taurus within the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
     The wreck of the Aeolus, which lies 28 miles south of Morehead City, NC was the sight of a very exciting photo shoot for myself this past Saturday where numerous sand tiger sharks, maybe a dozen strong, had gathered within the wreck. Every once in a while you will find a shark or two loitering about inside the wrecks here in North Carolina, but to see this many is a rare occurrence. From the stand point of a photographer, this makes for some great subject matter.

     With my favorite 10.5mm Nikon fisheye lens and D300 camera I carefully made myself at home inside the stern section of the wreck and snapped away until my fingers bled. OK, maybe that's a stretch; my fingers didn't actually bleed, but the opportunities for great photos were everywhere and my flash was firing rapidly. The eerie light emanating from outside of the deteriorating wreck made for a superb backdrop for the sharks lurking about within their dark night club. I was a kid in a candy store with one 'keeper' photo after another filling my camera's memory card.

     Several sharks even swam up and down the companionway on the port side of the wreck which is lined with stunning brilliant purple colored sea fans. There's nothing like adding a little color to a scene to spice it up your image. Human models couldn't have posed for a better shot than these sharks and I don't have to pay them.

     After about thirty minutes of pure bliss with my 'fave' sharks, it was time to head up to my divers waiting up top. This past weekend a group from Seahorse Scuba in Midlothian, Virginia chartered the boat I skipper for Olympus Dive Center. They too had a look at the Aeolus and her sand tiger shark squatters.

     The past few years the Aeolus has had sporadic sand tiger sightings on her remains while the neighboring wreck of the USCGS Spar was the hot spot for shark sightings. Although the Spar still has sand tigers on it this season, the Aeolus seems to attract more this dive season. Not much is known why or where sand tigers roam in their range of habitat but studies are being done in Delaware State University by Dr. Dewayne Fox and by The Guy Harvey Research Institute. By attaching transmitters much is being learned of the sharks migratory patterns. When I find out more about the results I'll be passing this information on to you.

     The Aeolus wasn't the only wreck visited by the divers from Seahorse Scuba. They also got a taste of the USCG Cutter Spar and were introduced for the first time to the wreck of the legendary U-352. A visit to the North Carolina coast to dive would not be complete until one scratched a few lines into their dive log about this wreck experience. Visibility has been around 30-40 feet depending on where you dive. These conditions certainly aren't the best North Carolina has to offer, but not the worst either.

     Presently, the Midnight Express has been grounded due to bad weather on this day, but we are scheduled to run again on Tuesday and Wednesday with the gang from New Joisey's, Ocean Explorers headed up by Jim Masters and Donna Gunn. I'll have more about their dives very soon. Rumor has it we are heading to the Caribsea to see some sharkies. So what else is new?

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

Photo Gallery

Crazy Outer Banks weather can be scary and awe inspiring at the same time. This storm dumped more than an inch in a few hours and caused damage up and down the eastern coast of the US.
Shot taken on July 1, 2012 at the Olympus Dive Center dock.
Sand tiger shark on the wreck of the Aeolus. (New)
Sand tiger with brilliant purple sea fans. (New)
Sand tiger 'strolling' down the port companionway
of the Aeolus. (New) 
Sand tiger hanging out in 'Club' Aeolus. (New)

Annette Papa shooting with her new D7000 on the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose.

A black and white sand tiger shark. A very rare species.

Annette Papa posing with her new 'baby'.

Annette Papa hanging out in the deep dark and dangerous.

•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.

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