Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Beauty Of The Oceanic Whitetip Shark
The Day Before Halloween Part I

The weather has been not so great lately as if the season seems changing from the fall to the winter. Yes, folks, Hawaii has sort of four seasons. Today was... well, beautiful as usual. One sunny day with almost no wind and less vog (volcanic gas). Water was choppy due to small swells but I know the day like this makes great pictures.

My buddy and I went out late from Honokohau Harbor at about 10:00 am as we had photo requests to fulfill this morning, but we had a good heads-up report from Doug Perrine the master marine wildlife photographer.

He was out yesterday and said that mahi mahi (common dolphinfish or dorado), Coryphaena hippurus, and ono (wahoo or Pacific kingfish), Acanthocybium solandri, were hanging at a FAD (Fish Aggregation Device), and tuna fishing was also pretty hot, in addition, he had good oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, encounter. Sounds great, doesn't it?

As we made a beeline for a FAD from Honokohau Harbor, we found a logging pod of short-finned pilot whales, Globicephala macrorhynchus, almost exactly where we found a pod of pygmy killer whales, Feresa attenuata, two weeks ago (see this post: Pygmy Killer Whale Families).

Immediately after I slipped into the deep water, I was greeted by an oceanic whitetip shark charging toward me from the depth to investigate me. Many people would get into panic when they see a large shark coming right at them, but I've been through similar situation many times now over the years. and I learned exactly what I had to do in this situation as a photographer.

oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, threatened spcecies, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Typically I would have only a shot or two at most. As I expected, the shark came very close, bumped the dome port slightly, and then circled me once and disappeared into the deep. I was able to grab a coupe of decent shot of the shark.

As I hurried back to my boat to get another underwater strobe, I found a much larger 9 foot shark following right behind me. Ok, I admit I hate this situation. Simply freak me out. Smart ones always show up right behind.

Sharks are typically attracted by the gargling and splashing sound that I create by kicking my fins. I also learned that they liked all kinds of squeaking sound that my camera housing and strobe arms created.

In order to produce some decent shark pictures, I need the shark to be within a foot or two. The most difficult task is to keep the shark interested in me.

So I intentionally made more sounds by kicking horrendously pretending a panicking swimmer, and by moving strobe arms to recreate bone-crashing sounds. The big oceanic whitetip shark came right by! (I highly recommend not to do that if you are afraid of sharks. Do exactly the opposite and sharks will go away ;-)

oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, threatened spcecies, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

The oceanic whitetip sharks are known to attack humans. explains, " This is an active, almost fearless shark also charged in human attacks. Probably responsible for many open-ocean attacks after air or sea disasters." I totally agree.

Sometimes, they are so persistent that they stick around forever until they get what they want. One time I had about 6 oceanic whitetip sharks circled my puny single engine 17-foot CC boat for all day long. I had good shooting, but when the boat engine didn't start for a while, my buddy and I got very much scared. It eventually started and saved us from becoming shark attack victims of sea disasters.

When they get too excited by competing to each other, they'll start biting every metal object that they could find such as the camera housings, strobe arms, engine parts and propellers.

I usually get out of the water when there are more sharks than I can handle by myself. Typically two are fine but more than that... As the sharks usually sneak up behind to attack, I don't think I can watch my back from three or more sharks unless I have some one with me in the water to protect my back with a spear gun or a stick .

Anyway the big shark decided to stick around with us instead of getting going with the pilot whales. Unfortunately the shark had only one pilot fish, Naucrates ductor, but the shark was one of the most beautiful individual shark I have ever seen.

This shark didn't have many scars as typically found in many larger sharks, and the form was stunningly balanced with white-tipped large round dorsal fin, extra long pectoral fins and caudal fins which are characteristic of this offshore shark species and after which this shark species was named as longimanus = long hand in Latin.

As the water surface was glass-calm, the scene of this beautiful shark and its reflection was absolutely splendid and fantastic. Although the visibility wasn't so good, the shark was so so cooperative and I was able to capture some of the most memorable scenes with my camera.

This awesome day continues to: Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Play - The Day Before Halloween Part II.

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