Thursday, 24 June 2010

Basking Sharks

As soon as I landed at Heathrow from Milan on Monday I received an email from Dr Alex Tattersall who had space on a Charles Hood's boat "Logan." on Wednesday for a Basking Shark trip. The sharks, the second largest fish in the sea, are something that I have wanted to see since I was very small. Even though it called for an early start (4:00 a.m.) and a four hour drive before we even got on the rib, I jumped at the chance. We were pretty lucky with the traffic to Penzance, and met Charles at the quay. A quick wait for the tide to come in and we donned out kit and jumped into the 7.5m RIB and made the 20 minute journey to the first bay where the sharks had been spotted the day before. It was not long until the first fin was spotted. The shark however had no intention of hanging around and was determinedly swimming out to sea. For the next couple of hours we scoured the coastline and sea for signs of the triangular fin sticking out of the water but to no avail. We rounded Land's End and into Sennen Cove when we heard a shout from the bow. A basking shark had breached just 100m from the front of the boat, the resulting splash was enormous. within a few minutes we were in the water with the cameras waiting for the first shots, the shark did a quick fly by then disappeared. Sadly no one managed any shots but at least we had seen another one.
The searching continued, there were some pleasant distractions along the way as we spotted a Sunfish and some seals but what we really wanted were some baskers. Finally we found a fin and then another one, and then another. Charles positioned Logan about 100 yards ahead of he sharks and we all slid quietly into the water and waited. Soon enough the sharks appeared out of the green murk and disappeared as quickly as they came and kept circling us for several minutes.
Charles advised us that the trick with the sharks is to keep fairly still on the surface and let them pass you, if you make too much noise or move too quickly they are off. It is a balance of sticking your head out of the water to locate the dorsal fin and then getting your head down back under water and waiting for the shark to appear.
There were a couple of occasions, just when you think the sharks have gone, one suddenly appears from behind or the side, the first time it happens it is a little unnerving but a great experience.
We spent about 2 -3 hours in the water with sharks towards the end of the day, they weren't always cooperative and we were jumping in and out of the RIB to reposition ourselves as the sharks moved along the coast, which in itself is pretty tiring, especially if you have too much weight on your weight belt!!
I was using my 5D in an Aquatica housing with a Canon 15mm f2.8 fish eye lens and an 8.5" dome port. This was great for getting the whole shark in view but i found myself wanting a bit more zoom. I switched half way through the day to the 17-40mm f4 L and had was able to zoom in a bit but the murky water meant that the only way to get really clear shots is the old underwater adage, get close then get closer!
We drove home via McDonalds and eventually walked through my front door at 12:00 so it was a pretty long day, but it was certainly worth it. I am looking forward to repeating the trip next year.

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