SEPTEMBER 4, 2007
Canadas beautiful. Everywhere you look, there is amazing scenery. I would really like to say that I love it here, but the truth is I hate it! It is too damn cold. I look out the window of my motel, and I am blown away with the view, but then I look at the temperature gauge, and I question my sanity. Canadas, Bay of Fundy is an unlikely location for an EPIC shark dive, but that is what it is, or at least that is what I am hoping it will be. Im out here with Andy Murch, our staff photographer, to get a story, and with the hopes of fulfilling my dream; to film and photograph, the rarely seen porbeagle shark.
The view from the back door of our motel room over looking the Bay of Fundy.
Andy picked me up at the Moncton airport late last night, and we drove to the port town of Alma, New Brunswick, where we met up with Emmerson Simpson, co-owner of Sharks Unlimited, A shark fishing charter, specializing in porbeagle sharks. Porbeagles are part of the Lamnidae family, which is close kin to great whites, and mako sharks. They look just like mako sharks, other than a huge dorsal fin with a white spot near the base. These are big sharks, reaching lengths of 12 feet (3.7 meters), and can weigh upwards of 600 pounds.
Our motel in Alma, New brunswick.
We checked into our motel, prepped our gear, and 3 hours of sleep later, we were headed down to the boat dock, where we found Emmerson, readying the vessel with supplies for our 14 hour voyage. Dr. Turnbull, from the University of New Brunswick is joining us for this adventure. He will be tagging the sharks for a population study. I was pumped, this is an adventure I have been talking about, and planning for a long time. So to be out here, finally leaving was exciting. Everything was prepared; the boat was loaded with provisions, we had high tide, and the crew was ready to head out. The Bay of Fundy has the craziest high and low tides I have ever seen. The tide rolls out for 12 hours, leaving the boats at the dock, grounded. Then it rolls in and rises up, 27 feet. This is everyday, so to leave port, and return to port has to be timed just right.
Our trusty steed for our time in Canada, the Storm Cloud.
We motored out about an hour and a half, turned the engines off and started chumming. This is the hard part for me; waiting for the sharks to show up. I always tense up, and get edgy. I know bringing in the sharks takes a long time, but I always hope for a fast shark. Four hours went by and nothing. Me and Andy prepped our cameras and got suited up, if the sharks do show up, they will not hang around for very long, so we did not want to waste any time. When we hit the sixth hour, our hang bait got slammed. Finally some action! We had bait hanging on a line about 50 yards out. The shark took it and pulled the buoy under. It never broke the surface. We waited, hoping the shark would come in, but nothing, it was gone.
Our crew during our time out in the Bay. Emmerson's boat crew, and members of the Canadian Shark Conservation Society. All waiting.
Around the eighth hour, the rolling swells began to build, and the winds picked up, bringing in angry clouds. We decided to change our plans from diving to tagging. Emmerson dropped hooks into the water to help capture and tag the sharks for Dr. Turnbull. It is something that tore at me deeply, but it is a good cause. It is a population study to find out how many sharks are actually in these waters. If there are enough sharks, then the Canadian Government will grant them funding to begin a sat tagging program. With sat tags, some real research into the secret lives of porbeagles can be done. Currently nothing about these sharks in the Bay is known.
It was around the 12th hour that a huge dorsal fin cracked the surface. It bumped the buoy that held the hooked bait. The shark passed it and kept swimming towards the boat. The vis was really bad, maybe 3 feet. But Andy and I threw on gear as quickly as we could. The shark got to about 20 feet from the boat; it was a good sized shark, at least 7 feet, if not bigger. I was so stoked at what I was seeing. There was no doubt that this was a porbeagle, and here I was looking at it. Adrenaline was racing through me. I was geared up, my camera next to me, already recording, and I was ready to jump in. All of sudden - the shark dropped down and disappeared. Everyone strained to see where the shark went. Time clicked by... nothing, our shark was gone. Disappointed, I turned off my camera, and went back to my spotting post
watching, and waiting.
When 13 hours hit, the boat chugged back to port. Today was not to be our day. We were so close, the shark was right there. So to have it swim away killed me. My dream of swimming and filming a porbeagle did not happen. Tomorrow - tomorrow is our day.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2007 (6AM)
Our day began with freezing cold weather. It was 2 degrees above freezing. As a Texan, this is very wrong. Where I live, people die of frost bite when it hits 70 degrees. I thought it was bad walking out of my motel room, but when the boat left port and hit the open water, the howling winds hit us, making it even colder
I just hate Canada.
This was a terrible day at sea. The water was too rough, and the visibility was very poor to try a regular chumming/diving session, so we decided to focus on Dr. Turnbulls tagging project. Dr. Turnbull founded the Canadian Shark Conservation Society. The groups main goal is to protect the sharks that make their home in the Bay of Fundy. Porbeagles, threshers, makos, dog fish, basking sharks and white sharks, are the main species in their studies. So todays mission was to fish up a shark, bring it up on the boat; tag it, measure it, get a dna sample, determine sex, and any unique markings, then release it.
The day started like our last, with a long miserable wait. Time clicked by slowly, the weather was nasty, and we were all freezing, even the Canadians. We sat there, braving the wind and waves, watching water, and waiting, always waiting. It was during the 5th hour when we heard the distinct sound of a fishing line sing out as it was getting pulled under.
The boat went from a quiet sleepy scene, to a mad rush of people running around; the captain pulled out the extra fishing lines in the water. The first mate made sure that James (one of the guys on the boat), was strapped in properly for the fight. Dr. Turnbull got his equipment ready, and Andy and I slapped on dive gear. Even though the shark was hooked, we still wanted to get in and shoot it. However we could see right away that the currents would be a problem, how much of a problem we would not know until we jumped in. 2-3 knots might be ok, as long as we use a shooters line. Without it, we would get sucked out to sea. Anything beyond 3 knots and our masks would get ripped off our faces. The water was still murky, but we were now in the green water, and the vis looked around 4 feet, which was good enough.
The shark put up a fight but it finally started to tire and it swam up to the boat. I looked down, and there it was, a six foot porbeagle shark. I turned my camera on and jumped in, the water hit me like a ton of lead, the 52 degree water shot all over me, and damn it was cold. Again I remembered why I hated Canada. Andy followed in behind me. I quickly turned in all directions to find out where that shark was. The water had maybe 8-10 feet of vis, better than I expected.
I started swimming but the currents were too strong, they caught me and Andy by surprise, and we started drifting away. In the chaos no one had dropped in a shooters line. So we were swimming for our lives till they threw a line out. Andy grabbed it first; meanwhile I was trying to grab Andy. I was swimming hard trying to catch his fin, while holding my bulky camera. All I could think about was that I was running out of time, I needed to get back in and shoot this shark before they pulled it up to tag and release it. Finally I grabbed Andys fin, and I started to pull myself up towards the boat. It was hard, the currents were ripping. I climbed up past Andy, and into shooting position.
Bringing the shark onboard.
The shark swam into view, I pointed my camera at it; the shark was beautiful. It swam right for me, and I prepared myself for whatever. I did not know what to expect. Porbeagles are close kin to makos and great whites, both of those species are aggressive sharks, so I was not sure what the porbeagle would be like. I was assuming it would behave like one of them, and since the shark was hooked I imagined it to be even more aggressive, since it was fighting for its life. The shark inched up to me, its eye moving all around, inspecting me. I was on fire, although the interaction was not exactly how I imagined it would be. I was in the water with a porbeagle, accomplishing my dream of seeing one of these sharks up close. I stopped looking through my view finder to really see the shark, trying to absorb every detail about it. I felt like I was dreaming, or maybe I was going into shock from the cold? I dont know, dont care. All that mattered was, we were filming a porbeagle shark!
Tagging, measuring and getting DNA samples from our shark.
The interaction was very brief, they needed to get the shark on the boat, get their information, and then release it without stressing it out too much. I spent the next few minutes hanging on for dear life, waiting in the water for the shark to get returned. The shark was netted up, using a specially built harness for it. It was put on the boat, tagged, dna sampled, weighed, measured, and then released. Once it hit the water, it took a few quick kicks with its powerful tail, and dropped quickly out of sight. Andy snapped some shots of it before it disappeared, but I missed it totally, which was ok, I had my moment. We climbed back into the boat totally stoked; everyone was smiling, chattering away. I sat down, and started removing gear, listening to the stories. I was tired, freezing cold, and totally pumped up, especially after Andy showed me the pictures in his viewfinder. I just smiled, thinking to myself... Man, I love Canada.
Saying good bye to our shark as it swam away.
A special thank you to Emmerson and the Sharks Unlimited Crew, Dr. Turnbull of the Canadian Sharks Conservation Society and his team. It was an amazing adventure.
Editors note; since that first expedition, the SDM team returned one more time to the Bay of Fundy where we helped successfully tag 2 porbeagles with Sat Tags with the CSCS team, and tagged and measured an additional 12 porbeagles.