Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wolf in Love - with two Old Ladies....

Photos: Felix Leander

Click to enlarge

Who says old men only look at young chicks?

In South Africa I have lost my heart to two dignified old ladies: Maxi, a greying Dane, and Ella, a most gentle and serene female Tiger shark, some 4 to 4,5 m long.

I am back in Bolivia, and I miss these lovable creatures achingly - and you can take that literally...

I very much hope to be able to be with them again next year. Maxi is 11 years old, and Ella, well, I just don't know how many years she has been roaming the oceans, nobody does.

Maxi could die of old age anytime, whereas Ella runs the risk of being fished and killed by ruthless local fishermen who hate sharks, or she could end her life in the gill nets of the Natal Sharks Board...

When I boarded the plane in Durban I thought about Maxi and Ella, sadly.

As the French say: "
Partir c'est mourir un peu" (= You die a little bit when you leave).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shark Savers

Jamie, Julie, Felix, and Janet

While in New York City last week, I had the opportunity to meet the women behind Shark Savers, a non-profit organization whose mission is simple: “…to save sharks, we will increase awareness, educate, bring organizations together, and empower a grassroots effort to protect and sustain sharks on a global scale."

Janet, Jamie, and Julie started the organization about six months ago and thus far have created a big splash. They are an extremely motivated bunch, energetic, and more importantly, they love sharks. I think they will be successful at growing the organization and spread the message; they have quit their jobs to protect sharks fulltime. Convinced, I have become a monthly donor, and I encourage you to do the same – make a donation, help these girls help sharks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

W to the 3rd power

Photo by: Fred Buyle

William Winram (Waterman) – remember that name.

I met William during my South Africa trip – he was part of the group that included Fred Buyle and Pierre Frolla. William and I first exchanged words in the water amongst tiger sharks - to be honest, I had no idea who he was.

Turns out William (like his business card says) is a true Waterman, and oh yeah, a world-class freediver. He is the first man to swim through The Arch, Blue Hole in Dabab, Egypt without fins. Let me put this into perspective: he swan down 60 meters (almost the length of a football field), across 30 meters, and back up 60 meters – in breast stroke. Read that sentence again!

But aside from the competition, William loves the ocean and everything that is in it – particularly sharks. In the water he is completely in his element and his passion shows. It was great fun to share his enthusiasm in the water and on land. One word to describe William: soul. Good to see that people some people do not let things get to their head. Something else about him – he is funny, can tell jokes better than anyone I have ever met.

I may see William again in the Bahamas in November as he prepares for a world record dive – he promised he would spend a few days and teach me how to improve my skills – said I should be hitting 60 meters, that would be pretty far out – or should I say…far down.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fred Buyle

Photo by: Fred Buyle

I had the pleasure to meet Fred during my trip to South Africa and spend some days with him both in and out of the water. Words that best describe him are soft-spoken, humble, and just plain friendly – I am sure he is extremely focused and dedicated, he is a former freediving world champion – of course still a magnificent diver.

Since 2002 Fred began to take photos underwater: no artificial light or scuba tanks…almost like the Wolf if it were not for the digital camera. Fred’s photos are absolutely stunning, some of the best that I have seen which brings me back to his dedication and focus. I have no doubt that he will become top in his class.

Hopefully I will have the chance to dive with Fred again in the near future. I think I got some good shots of him while he was photographing the beautiful ladies.

To learn more about Fred visit his website and be sure to take a look at his photo gallery – I am sure you will agree with me.


Another unfortunate incident: Wonder if the media will have a field day with this. Thankfully White Sharks are protected in California.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Old Man: Pure

Usually when my dad and I get together sparks fly at one point or another – this time was no different: me giving him dirty looks or him giving me the stink eye when I would not get close enough for the shot of him in-between three large tiger sharks feeding on whale meat. But this trip just reaffirmed something to me: my dad LOVES sharks, and does so with a passion that he himself would not be able to describe aptly.

For a long time I have quietly sat behind and listened to the conversations on various shark groups, seen scientists bicker, film makers becoming famous, Shark organizations refusing to work together and people fighting over credit of campaigns; I have come to wonder whether these people are really passionate about sharks or about the fame and exposure for themselves or the organizations they represent.

I know one thing, my old man does not care whether or not his photos are published, if his face is on a movie poster, or if someone else takes credit for a campaign he initiated; (sure you might argue that you need the fame and exposure to get the message out – but it can be done together)…the only thing he cares about are sharks and spending as much time as possible with them. His feelings for sharks are so deep that he got seriously depressed when he found out that some of the tiger sharks in both Aliwal Shoal and Tiger Beach were killed.

William Winram, world class freediver and waterman, said something to my dad that stuck with me: “You are an inspiration”…Wolf was the first one in the water and last one out…mind you he is 67.

And while I am sure the sparks will continue to fly I am very proud of having the old Wolf as my father. I consider him one of the few people that are truly passionate about sharks and their fate…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Game on too

I am in the middle of reading Joseph Jaffe's book Join the Conversation, and there is a part where Jaffe states that he monitors and reply's to conversations - so just like his test with Obama - I want to see if Joseph is listening. I once posted on his blog and never got a response.

"Game on"

PS - I was just in South Africa diving with Tiger Sharks...

Some good news

In an effort to further protect sharks, the United States has passed a law that will require fishermen to bring their shark catches to shore with fins still attached. Would have been nice if this law was in place for the Chinese vessel that was apprehended in 2002.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Last Dive

Photo by: Steven Benjamin

My vacation has come to a bitter end - to think that I will be in NYC on Wednesday preparing for a presentation.

The seas were fairly moved today and we had a few freedivers feeding the sharks with regurgitated breakfast - not a pretty scene. The tiger shark interaction was great once again. I spent most of the day trying to get close-up shots of my dad kissing the tiger sharks on the forehead (hope there is one or two good photos, had to deal with a lot of underwater shouting and dirty looks from him).

Just wanted to give a shout out to the Blue Wilderness team: Steven, Russell, Marcus, Gail, Pkee, Broderick, and BJ for a wonderful time.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Today as been by far the best day - that says a lot considering the shark interaction we have had. There were no bubble blowers (just freedivers) and the visibility was spectacular. There were anywhere between 6-8 Tigers ranging in all sizes. And then there was ONE tiger lady, she must have been just a little over 4 meters (14ft.) and weighed close to 1 ton.

This shark made all the other tiger sharks look like what they usually make the black fins look like - small and invisible. She was impressive, swam very slow, and definitely was the queen of her domain. On the surface, she would approach us carefully and gently - let us caress her.

It was an awesome experience...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crystal Clear

Fabulous day on Aliwal Shoal - the visibility has been the best we have had since I am here. We had plenty of sharks including six tigers. One of the smaller ones was a bit skiddish and swam faster than the rest - adolescent.

Swimming with the sharks has almost become second nature, it is absolutely beautiful to look into their big brown eyes. Unfortunately my time is coming to an end here, I only have two more days of diving left and then it is back to Miami.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No wave to rough...

Unfortunately we only saw two Tigers today and they were a bit shy. Water was extremely rough, felt like in a washing machine, current was coming from one direction and wind was blowing in another.

We had one SCUBA diver on board, I believe it was his first dive with tiger sharks, spent a good 5-7 dives moving the sharks away from the diver as they would approach from the back. Just a gentle touch on the head does the trick. Leaves my wondering why someone would not turn 360 degrees once in a while to see what is going on behind them. Tunnel vision is an understatement when you have a mask on.

Spent the rest of the time taking pictures of the old man, tomorrow we head into Durban to drop off more film and Friday we are going back to the Indian restaurant with Kristin, it was that good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Old School

So it is confirmed, my video camera is done for, may she rest in peace. So what to I decided to go old school and take one of my dad's Nikonos V's and try some photography (non-digital). We delivered the film today in Durban, should be developed by Friday.

Today we only saw one tiger shark and she did not stay around (water temperature changed by 2 degrees - goes to show how sensitive these animals are), however, there were well over 40 black tip sharks around us. They remind my very much of dogs, where ever you go they go in the hopes of getting a treat - a rotten sardine.

For dinner we went to a lovely Indian restaurant in Durban with Kristin - food and company was great.

Tomorrow I will take on the sharks with the Nikonos again, maybe I will take my dad's torch...

Monday, April 14, 2008

#$@% me!

When someone says that their camera housing floods you think: "too bad" and just move one. When your own camera housing floods and zaps your video camera it is a whole different story. With more than five diving days left and only one hour of video I am more than bummed - helpless and rage comes to mind.

As I jumped into the water this morning I noticed a drop of water on my viewfinder, then I saw a stream of air bubbles coming from the housing...I immediately lifted the camera out of the water and headed back to the boat. Damage had been done, camera does not work anymore.

Asides from that, the diving was great, over 6 tiger sharks at one time, it became a bit daunting as they love to sneak up behind you, need to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

On a side note, yesterday Kristin Palitza joined us on the dive. Kristin is a journalist that has lived in South Africa over 6 years. She wrote a great article about my dad that has been published in various publications including Vanity Fair in Italy. Tomorrow we will go to Durban to have dinner with her.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Wolf on Air

The old Wolf was interviewed by Maurice Boland on REM.FM - Spain's largest English language radio network. Listen to the interview here.

New friends...

...and they are not just the Tiger and black tip sharks. As of yesterday I had the pleasure to meet and dive with a diverse and interesting group of people including professional freedivers William Winram (more on him later - amazing story to tell), Fred Buyle (excellent photographer and freediving world record holder), and Pierre Frolla (also holds several freediving world records, loves to tell jokes at the dinner table and loves to be on film). Then there is James Newell (former Special Forces turned watchmaker - owns Riedenschild in Germany - more on this later as well).

As far as the diving goes, it has been outstanding and the interaction with the tiger sharks above standard (definitely not sub-standard). On the second day I felt much more comfortable, though I have to admit that I still had the butterflies right before jumping into the water. So far I have over one hour of footage - obviously needs a lot of editing, but there are definitely some good shots among the material.

Tomorrow we will obviously go out again and meet up with our friends (both humans and sharks).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fear (less)

Over a time period of about three months I was completely undecided about coming to South Africa to dive with the tigers. On one hand (and being completely honest) I was afraid. On the other hand I did not want to miss the opportunity of a lifetime to interact with these sharks.

Last night I was up until 3AM thinking about what to expect today, talking to my dad trying to clear my mind of all "negative" thoughts (don't mean to sound dramatic).

With only about three hours of sleep, I made my way to the launch site. Getting out to the site is half the fun - boat needs to clear breakers crashing into the beach - I guess it was the closest thing I ever felt to being a Navy SEAL. Upon arrival my dad and Steve (Blue Wilderness Team) went in first, I followed only to be disappointed by the visibility. First two sharks to show up were black fins. My eyes were scanning the whole time for the big ones - nothing.

So we moved to another location and from topside we saw the first tiger on the bait. Again, Steve and Wolf went in first followed by Russel and then me. At first I was cautious, holding on to my dad and observing the majestic animals - truly amazing. As I watched the others interact with the sharks, it became apparent that I had worried for nothing, but I was still apprehensive to interact. Then, without choice, I had to - one large shark (14ft) approached me head on, I slowly moved her out of the way by pushing down her head.

About 2 mins later I was riding my first tiger shark
(Steve took a picture which I will upload soon) - it is impossible to explain the feeling. While some say it is a rush, I say it is being in a state of nirvana - complete harmony with the ocean. While I would never claim that sharks are harmless (as any wild animal - have you ever had a turtle snap at you?), I would describe them as curious, intelligent, aware, relaxed, and confident.

Tomorrow we go out again - cannot wait.

On a sad note, there are rumors that numerous tiger sharks have been killed in Tiger Beach, The Bahamas. Apparently one fly fisherman (would love to know his name) killed a 15ft tiger just for fun. You would think the media, people, government authorities would be outraged - recall the reaction people had when a diver was bitten a few months ago in the Bahamas...

Monday, April 07, 2008

On my way

Tomorrow I leave and begin my journey to South Africa (Aliwal Shoal) - I call it a journey because I will be traveling about 2 days. To follow my flight experience, check out High on Jet Fuel.

Lot of things going through my mind at the moment: mostly stress, I am in the midst of packing. Asides from the usual gear, I am acting as FEDEX for my old man - delivering books, DVDs, masks among other things. Had to get a new suitcase just for his stuff.

As far as the actual diving, nothing but excitement! Finally get to see what all the ruckus is about - they are just Tiger Sharks after all...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sharkwater DVD Launch Celebration

Sharkwater is probably one of the best shark documentaries I have seen. In 2006 I saw the movie twice (Ft. Lauderdale and Key West) - also had a chance to have dinner with Rob.

On April 11, 2008 - Shark Savers are having a party which will be hosted by Rob and Captain Paul Watson:

When: Friday, April 11th, 7-11pm
Where: Pink Elephant, 527 W 27th Street, New York City

There is a $20 cover charge if you buy the tickets in advance, and $25 at door. I am not sure where or how this money will be spent - I assume it is a 100% donation going to the cause - that would be the only right thing to do.

My only question is: Why is Rob featured so prominently on the movie poster - promoting sharks or himself? I do not think I have ever seen a documentary director on a movie poster before.