Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tiger Shark diving: Bahamas (Tiger Beach) vs. South Africa (Aliwal Shoal)

Which place is 'better'? Now, this is a tough question I have been asked after I returned from South Africa three weeks ago. Both spots are great, probably the only ones in the world where you are (almost) guaranteed to see tiger sharks on every dive.

Let me be brief: Tiger Beach in the Bahamas is what you'd expect from first class tropical diving in pristine waters; the viz is superb, and the sandy bottom as background makes for "clean" pics and videos. The diving is easy, and as you can get there only on a live-aboard (Jim Abernethy of Scuba Adventures and Scottie Smith of the Dolphin Dream Team are the guys who take you there - Jim being a confirmed Sharkman, whereas Scottie is more of a Dolphin fan as the name of his company implies), you have unlimited dives while anchored at Tiger Beach.

Aliwal Shoal, in contrast, is for the hard core shark divers: Darker waters, usually less viz than in the Bahamas, at times rough launches from the beach as the skippers have to get you past the surf - BUT: If what you are looking for is close and intense interaction with tiger sharks, I'd recommend that you go all the way to Umkomaas, about 25 miles south of Durban, and book at least 7-10 dives with the operator I consider the best there: Blue Wilderness.

Mark Addison of the Blue Wilderness team pioneered the tiger shark diving in South Africa and is the guy people like David Doubilet and Doug Perrine go with if they want to photograph the tigers or dive the by now famous Sardine Run. Doug shot his award winning pic of the copper shark coming out of a cloud of sardines there. So I thought that if Doubilet and Perrine pick Blue Wilderness, then this shark operator should be good enough for me....... :-)

My next plans? In December 2007 I will be back at Tiger Beach, and in March 2008 you'll find me and Felix in South Africa where we have some friends waiting for us: Roger Horrocks, the Blue Wilderness team, and "my" girls, of which one I will take out for a dance to renew our special friendship...

Photo of the week

Big tiger shark and little Roger Horrocks...As Roger said: "That is one big mother!!!"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shark infested waters....

"I can smell the damn sardine - but where the hell is it??" Black Tip Galore
If you are a hard core shark diver, then you'll find nothing more exciting than being right in the middle of a pack of 40-50 Black Tip sharks (carcharhinus limbatus) feeding on bait. The Tiger shark dive trips in Aliwal Shoal (South Africa) have the added bonus of getting you tons of these friendly, totally non-aggressive sharks, sized between 5 and almost 7 ft.

Marcus of the incredible Blue Wilderness Team LOVES to throw smelly sardines onto the snorkeling divers to make completely sure that the Black Tips get VERY close and personal. The sharks don't care about you, they just care about getting the sardines, and might touch, even hit you with their tails in the process. So, when you are among them during lunchtime, never mind their teeth - just be sure to watch out for their tails... :-)

When I first saw the Black Tips I thought: Gosh, how boring are these sharks compared to the majestic tigers... After a short while, though, I began to really like the Limbatus, and was looking forward to seeing them again along with the tigers. Now, being back home, I miss these cool, playful sharks just as much as I miss the big striped ones....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nice Shot

Just a nice shot of Roger Horrocks and a tiger shark lady taken by Wolf - wave adds a great element.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I came across this article about a Hong Kong hospital that has banned shark fin soup. They now join both HK Disneyland and the University of HK, both have dropped shark fin soup. Seems like these days any initiative is good news, no matter how small. We are still waiting on to stop the facilitation of shark fin trading on their platform.


Another fabulous shot by Roger Horrocks - the Wolf and tiger shark synchronized.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Roger Horrocks - remember this name.....

When I first saw Roger's underwater photographs a few months ago, I immediately knew that this young self-taught South African photographer has all the makings of becoming one of the world's best. I would even go as far as saying that with some more hard work he could be one day the Sebastiao Salgado of underwater photography. (Sorry, David Doubilet, I still consider you the grand-seigneur in the trade, but we oldies have to eventually yield to the pushing youths... :-)

Salgado, undoubtedly the standard-setting photojournalist of our times, also started out as an amateur. Sebastiao Salgado and Roger Horrocks have in common that they were both corporate men before they switched to photography full-time. Roger was a promising advertising executive and finance expert before he decided that a life in offices was not for him.

As a freediver and spearfisherman Roger already had a taste of the big adventure, and the fact that he is competitive - Roger belonged to the elite of South Africa's spearos - made his decision to dedicate his life to underwater photography simple. I say 'simple' knowing that to do what many others dream of, namely becoming 'professional' adventurers, is not at all an easy thing to tackle. It takes guts, sacrifice, and much determination to embark on a new career, starting from zero, and knowing that there are a lot of folks out there who are already accomplished.

Roger just had his first photographic exhibition in Cape Town, and from what I could gather, the event has been a smashing success. It did not surprise me at all - just have a look at the photographs that he has selected for the exhibition. They are all the more stunning when one considers that Roger took up photography as recently as two years ago. The guy is really a "Naturtalent", as we say in German.

Roger takes all his images while freediving. That allows him to approach the "big stuff", such as Tiger Sharks, in a way scuba-divers can't, even if they use re-breathers. When you freedive, which is the most natural way for a mammal to dive, you are not an intruder - you belong naturally, and this sensation is one of the essential ingredients that enables you to capture the underwater world as Roger does.

As an old freediving photographer, I was privileged to dive with Roger and see him 'at work' - when he goes down, smoothly as if he was himself a creature of the sea, you watch him sporting the long fins and just marvel at the elegance of his flowing movements.

Congrats, Roger!! - I am looking forward to diving, and sharing our passion for the sharks, with you again next year. Felix will be with us - we will make an incredible team of 'Ocean Men'....

See Roger's work

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fiona and the Wolf dive the Tigers in Aliwal Shoal

Fiona Ayerst, one of South Africa's foremost photographers (not just underwater), honored me with a one-day visit to Umkomaas. We had known each other from exchanging e-mails, and planned to dive together during my recent three-week stay in South Africa.

The Aliwal Shoal tigers were not unknown to Fiona, she had been here before a few times, and while the primary reason to come down from Jo'burg was to meet me, to revisit the friendly striped sharks definitely made her short trip worthwhile.

Fiona brought all her equipment with her. I was quite impressed seeing all the photographic stuff she had to carry along, and I said to myself that I would never switch to digital photography, even though I do toy once in a while with the idea of going digital...

As I had done with other guest divers of Blue Wilderness, I talked Fiona into freediving with the tigers, which she did - for a while, only to get back to the boat and have good ol' Markus help her put on the tank. Fiona is a very sporty girl; all she needs is some expert guidance in freediving. Once adequately trained, she will capture the "big" stuff on one breath of air as effortlessly as other freediving photographers.

Fiona thoroughly enjoyed the added bonus to the tiger shark dive - being surrounded by some 40-50 black tip sharks, some close to 2 meters. These sharks are as friendly as the tigers, just a bit (well, actually a LOT) more hectic. Other than that, they are as harmless as a bunch of nice doggies.

As photographers always do, Fiona and I photographed each other. When you see the photographs I took of her (the black and white ones) you will certainly agree with me that she looks much cooler as a freediver than with a tank on her back. What do YOU say, Fiona? :-)

See ya next year in Mozambique with your 'Zambies' (= bull sharks).....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

We have seen Roger's photos...

...but we have not seen him. Here are some photographs of Roger in his element. While I have not meet him personally, my father speaks very highly of him, not just as a photographer and free diver, but as a person. I will let the Wolf give more details. For more pictures go to our Flickr page.

Roger Horrocks Exhibition

Roger Horrocks is having his first photo exhibition in Cape Town, South Africa on May 15th at 6PM. For details go to Roger's blog. If you are in the area, GO, his photography is far out, and from the way the photos will be presented (printed on Duratran), the effect will be all the more impacting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thomas is putting a Tiger in his tank...

Thomas Peschak and Michael Scholl wrote a fantastic book about South Africa's Great White Shark (that's also the title of the book which was first published in 2006). Not only is it fun reading but scientifically rock solid as well (both Thomas and Michael are marine biologists).

And you should see Thomas' photography - absolutely stunning!!! In fact, I believe Thomas is setting new standards as are other young South African photographers (e.g. Roger Horrocks, Fiona Ayerst). After having seen the book about Great Whites - the Blue Wilderness team gave it to me as a farewell present last week - I urged Thomas to publish a book dealing with Tigers Sharks exclusively.

He didn't say 'yes' or 'no', but looking at the the pics I took of him photographing a beautiful tiger girl near Aliwal Shoal, you will agree with me that he appears to be dead serious about that new Tiger Shark book. So much so that he seems to want to find out in the most personal way possible how forgiving tiger sharks can be.

Getting as close as 20-30 cm to the big tiger girl to shoot a nice portrait ain't enough for Thomas - his scholarly interest in the behavior of tiger sharks goes as far as letting the charming tiger lady nudge him in his tummy with her mouth half open.... Now, THAT I call professional enthusiasm!

Tiger Sharks have a very bad reputation, and yet they are the most gentle sharks I have ever been close to. It is thus very important to dispell the myth of the sneaky man-eater, and give the tigers the dignity they deserve. That is the reason I asked Thomas to publish a book about the magnificent Tiger Sharks of South Africa, the Bahamas, and the rest of the world. So, Thomas: You will just have to do it again!!..... :-)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Roger photos

Roger Horrocks sent some more pics over to my dad. I am definitely going next year...

Monday, May 07, 2007

A little to the left...

The photograph was taken by Sijmon de Waal, a free-diving photographer and member of the incredible Blue Wilderness Tiger Team. The guy on the left who is photographing me (also free-diving, what else??...) is Thomas Peschak, a scientist by training, at the same time a passionate adventurer, and a very talented author - though South African to the bone, Thomas is a citizen of the world...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Adopt A Shark

Someone left a comment on my video on YouTube recommending a site: interesting feature is that you can track the sharks that have been adopted and tagged. Which reminds me, not sure if anyone has seen the donation badge on the right (scroll down a bit) on this blog...some donations would be appreciated :).