March 31, 2009 We kicked off our bull shark project yesterday. Me and photographer/artist Heather Ryan began by heading out to South Padre Island, Texas to talk to the local fishermen, and the shrimp boat captains to see when and where they normally see sharks. We went ahead and asked about the sharks they see, instead of trying to be too specific. The fishermen were a wealth of knowledge when it came to telling us where to find sharks and where to find bulls, as well as the peak season for finding sharks in the Gulf. After they found out we were with SDM, they invited us to join them this summer to see what it is all about. I would like to go and see what kind of sharks they are pulling up, maybe get a chance to tag them, and get some measurements on them. They normally keep what they catch, but I am hoping after reading a few issues of the mags that I left them, they might change their minds about catching and killing sharks. Always hoping!
After we left them we went to the harbor, to where the shrimp boats are kept. I jumped off to talk to them about their boats and what kind of sharks they see when out at sea. They said "It all depends on where they go." Out in Texas waters, they say they are infested with blacktips. Out near Louisiana, they always have a lot of scalloped hammerheads, as well as makos, and sometimes oceanics, and sometimes bulls! I was listening to these guys and I was just drooling, and getting so fired up about going shrimp boat diving again. But then I remembered why I was there, and focused on the project at hand.
The one thing we did notice, was there were a lot of 'for sale' signs on many of the shrimp boat warehouses. The shrimping industry is collapsing here in Texas, and after talking to the shrimpers and listening to their stories of how far out they have to travel to find shrimp, I can see why. A good trip will keep the boats out for maybe 35 days, but if they are having trouble finding shrimp they might stay out an extra 10 days to make the trip pay out. 45 days at sea is a long time to be away from your family, and wait for profits.
We also went down to the sea turtle conservatory, to see who and what the current programs are here on the island. These people are in charge of the conservation of sea turtles here on Padre, watching out for turtles that come on the beach to lay eggs, watching out for stranded or injured turtles and so on. They had this dead turtle on display which looked like it was killed by a tiger shark. This is how a tiger normally attacks and stalks its prey. From behind, biting off a fin to keep it from escaping. That was pretty cool to see. The turtle people would not be happy with my excitement, but shark people can understand!
So over all it was a good day on the beach, driving around asking questions, and getting invites from the fishermen and the bay shrimpers to watch them work. Not that I want to see sharks getting killed, that would hurt too much, but as ironic as it sounds, fishermen are vital in the efforts to help save the species. So we will see how the rest of the summer goes. Stay tuned for more info on our project...
Photographer/Artist Heather Ryan draws out our new logo for our Gulf of Mexico bull shark project Note the map behind her showing the gulf.
March 24, 2009 So the next adventure has begun... Well 2 adventures. One of your fellow readers, and my good friend, photographer and artist, Heather Ryan is down here in my home town of Texas, visiting with me for a few days. She is helping me to kick start the Gulf of Mexico shark conservation project that I have been planning for quite a few years now. So far todays research has helped us discover that bull sharks migrate through these waters during the months of May-July. They are here year round, but their numbers, and the very large sharks are at their thickest during that time frame. Which is interesting because they are thick in other areas during the winter months. Like in Playa Carmen, MX they are thick from November up to March, then they disappear. Where do those shark go? No one knows, so it is going to be interesting to begin some research into these groups of sharks. Anyway that is one of our projects we are going to dive into, and work at finding answers to these questions. Of course the bulls in Playa are easy to find, the bulls in the Gulf are not going to be that easy to locate, I have no starting point yet. So it is going to be a fantastic adventure as we seek out our starting point. And since we have a couple of months before they arrive we have some time to do our homework and start asking the serious questions...
Todays' work lead us to adventure number 2...the makos are here! Right now. The makos have migrated to this area, following game fish and are thick in the gulf, so it is time to hunt down a boat, wait for the small craft advisory warning to come down so we can get out there and chum them up. Paul reminded me that the scalloped hammerheads are out here during this time of year also, so we have a shot at finding two very cool sharks to go diving with. My hope is while Heather is here we can find a window to get out there for the day and get some serious chumming in. I'll keep you posted.
March 16, 2009 Well the Today show aired with our segment in it. It was good, they put together a high adrenaline TV shark diving story. But to me the story was not complete...
The reporter Jeff Rossen wanted to do a story about extreme shark diving, and he wanted to get a first hand perspective of the sport. So I have to tip my hat to him, he got certified and came out to Tiger Beach to dive with tiger sharks and lemons, and Jeff was scared to death. But despite his fear, he was determined to dive with sharks and complete his assignment. His final report was a story about Shark Divers, and this crazy sport of ours. He left Tiger Beach with an impression that we were thrill seekers, - with a lust for an adrenaline rush, and maybe a death wish. I do admit, that there are a few Shark Divers that do look for some adrenaline filled excitement on a big animal shark dive, you can't help but feel that sometimes. Especially bait ball divers! But adrenaline is NOT what the heart beat of shark diving is about.
The part of the story that Jeff failed to report on and that he failed to truly understand, is that shark diving is more than just an adrenaline thing for us...sharks are life! And we do not have a death wish...we have a life wish! So because this was just an assignement for him, he never quite understood that part of the sport. How we crave and even need to drop into the water and see these beautful animals swimming around. For me and my friends that were invited on this tv shoot, sharks are everything. But he could not see that, and because after the shoot was over, he was done with this sport, he probably never will.
We all tried to share that part of the story with him, I tried to make him understand, but he could not see it, so that part of the story was not reported on. My hope is now that he has seen sharks, now that he has tasted this world, blue water dreams filled with sharks will be on his mind. And that one day, while reporting on some routine story... his mind will wander and he will want to come back and finish this story and truly find out what shark diving is all about... until then I can only hope!
March 15, 2009 Well it finally happened. On Friday, UPS delivered our boxes of DVD's for our first feature film, Summer of the Sharks! The has been such a long road for me and a journey that I will never forget. In 2003 I tried to make a film, but I was all wet behind the ears and I did not know what I was doing, or what I wanted to do, or how to do it. Back then, I just wanted to make a shark film. So I hired a guy to do it for me, he was a nice guy, but when he showed me the film that he edited, I decided to drop the project, and I stuck to just making magazines. It was not a bad job, but the guy edited it like a typical diving film, complete with classical music, and I was sickened by it, and decided to run away from making films for the time being.
Of course making films was something I have always wanted to get into. I am a story teller, and telling better stories has always been important to me, so in October of 2005 I got the bug to try it again, so I started penciling ideas about what I wanted to shoot, and I started playing around with story ideas. This time things were different because I was not wet behind the ears, but I still did not know what I was doing, or what I wanted to do, or how to do it. I decided that not really knowing what I wanted to do was exactly how I wanted to shoot it, so that is exactly what we did. I wrote out a plan for shooting my first film, and the most important thing was that we captured the experience. And since we had the luxury of being organic, the story morphed and changed, and evolved into so many different things through the last couple of years, till finally it evolved into our film Summer of the Sharks.
The movie stars me and a couple of my really good friends, Andy Murch, and Rafa Flores, and our director Rusty Armstrong filmed the experience. Over 200 hours are on file for this movie, so it took a while to carve a story out of what we had. The project was so much fun to create, and it is a film that I am very proud of. So to open that first box filled with Summer of the Sharks DVDs was truly an amazing feeling for me.
With the first copies of Summer of the sharks dvd.
For those of you that are not sure about it yet here is a review form a film critic who writes for Filmthreat.com, Film Threat is an independant filmmakers website. click here to read it.
New Teaser clip... Here is a clip taken from Summer of the Sharks, during our visit to Holbox Island, MX... Hope you enjoy it!
March 11, 2009 A slight change in the airing dates of the show has been posted. Its seems our segment for NBC "Today Show" shoot with Jeff Rossen, has been changed. The show will be airing on Monday, March 16th, between 7-7:30AM. I do not know why the changes took place but its cool, hey maybe they want to run it all Week??? I think we need an entire week of tiger shark diving for TV viewers anyway.
March 10, 2009 I am back from Tiger Beach after the NBC "Today Show" shoot with Jeff Rossen. Which will be airing on Friday, March 13th, between 7-7:30AM. So if you get a chance watch it. The show went extremely well, the sharks all performed like rock stars. They were very well behaved, and came in and showed the TV world just how beautiful they really are. I had a blast, and it was hard, stressful work - but so rewarding. I can't give too many details about the show, but I will write all about it after this Friday.
Playing with the lemons. They really are great sharks and so much fun to dive with.
I can honestly say this, I have changed after this dive. My shark diving career has hit another level entirely. That part is hard to explain, but it happened and it was wierd... when I was down in the sand interacting with the sharks, totally consumed by the moment, things slowed down, and I could see things and feel things that I normally overlook. I know you all are probably thinking, "ok Yoda, settle down." but its true.
I learned a lot about shark behavior on this trip, especially with the lemons. What happens when you interact with sharks this way, is it requires you to pay attention to every single detail, because mistakes are out of the question. You can't afford to make any, so I would watch each lemon closely, and I began to see things with these sharks that I never noticed before. Feeding hiarchy, and the difference in the behaviors between the males and the females. There is definately a couple of lemons in charge down there on both the male and female side, and it was cool to watch how it all plays out. I really can't wait to get back out there again to study this behavior a little deeper.
Amy looking for a little bit of love with one of the lemon girls.
So anyway, the trip was amazing. 7 tiger sharks showed up on day one, and we had two tigers on day two, with one solid player. The NBC guys got their story, and me and my friends all got a couple of EPIC days of shark diving that I do not think we will ever forget.