Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Biggest Shark i have ever seen!

What was going to be just a regular dry Tuesday afternoon of office work and powerboat design dramatically changed when I received a text from Greg the helicopter pilot. Greg always gives us interesting sightings via text or phone call and keeps us up to date with turtle nests, whale spottings and other fun stuff he spots on Caribbean Helicopter tours. Yesterday it was "Whale shark 12 miles SW Cades...tuna too". I had planned on going to see my mom after lunch and then to meet up with Stevie and Gareth for some golf at the end of the day, but I knew it was still calm and the idea of getting some good shots of this thing sparked my interest. Xtreme was sitting on its boat lift with no work to do, so I called Roddy my main adventure partner. He is also on Greg's "interesting things" texting list had also received the info. Roddy is one of Antigua's main photographers and video guys and runs as well as his photo biz. His main photo and video passion is stuff in the water and like me, he wants to show people the other side of Antigua. "LETS GO", he urged. If you read the blog from a few days ago, then you know we had just been on wild goose chase looking for Suzie the turtle over in Barbuda. By the way, she has now swum around Barbuda according to the tracking software. I wasn't sure that powering off half way to Montserrat was a smart idea. That kind of run isn't cheap and we could end up only seeing blue water and a few flying fish. Greg texted me again saying he'd seen it on two Montserrat trips and that he figured the tuna were a meter long. Ok that was it. I texted a few people who I thought could possibly come with us on short notice. Of course I forgot many people who I should have texted, but within 40 minutes six of us were accelerating out of Jolly Harbour on a course 13 miles to our south-west.
It was choppier than I thought it was but the skies were sunny and clear. When we were a mile away from the GPS point that Greg had sent me I spotted some Frigate birds off to the East and made the decision to go to them instead of the position Greg had given me. As all fishermen know, frigate birds feeding in the Atlantic mean that large fish are chasing small fish out of the water. Frigates can't get wet and will swoop down and pick fish right out of the air as the larger fish chase them. These amazing birds will follow big predator fish for hours sometimes waiting for them to find a school of flying fish or other small prey. As soon as the feeding starts you see the frigates dive down to just above the surface. As we approached the birds they were swooping down which told us there was action below. When we saw the big splashes from the tuna we slowed down and Roddy got geared up to go over the side with his camera gear. Keep in mind that we are half way between Montserrat and Antigua where the water is 780 meters (2,559 feet) deep, you are part of an active food chain when you enter the water. When you enter the water in a feeding frenzy.... you are taking some chances that 99.9999999999999999999999999 % of the Antigua and Barbuda population wouldn't dream of even in their worst nightmares. They are not Roddy Grimes-Graeme though. He's done this kind of thing from my boat many times and some of the best shark footage we have seen has been when we were fishing for tuna once with him. We had hooked a shark and Roddy just jumped over with his video camera and filmed it swimming up to get released and then it slowly swimming away into the abyss.
Just as we got into the frenzied area we spotted the shark. Wow, this thing was big and looked to be about thirty feet long with the typically wide head and very tapered body.

Someone said it had the shape of a massive tadpole. It didn't take a second for Roddy to jump in. The photo above shows one of the Frigate birds and directly below is Roddy in the bottom left side of the image. The land way in the distance is Antigua. "Holy sh%$, you have to see this", he yelled back.
The way this particular feeding frenzy was working was that at the very bottom of the visible food chain was a huge school of krill and I could see the reddish pink colour from time to time in the middle of the chaos. Feeding on the krill was the guy we all came to see. The Whale Shark is one of nature's most amazing species and the biggest fish in the ocean. Like the even bigger whales that migrate through our waters, these big animals don't eat fish at all and only feed on these tiny plankton like creatures.

Yesterday it wasn't just a 30 foot shark that was feeding on the krill, there were also huge schools of two inch long fish which would stay deep when we got close according to Roddy. Feeding on them were the wild schools of black fin tuna that were averaging about five to ten pounds. Also feeding on the small fish and on some of the black fin tuna were the much bigger yellowfin tuna which probably were up to two hundred pounds. Also feeding on both sizes of tuna were the other larger predators like blue marlin and pelagic sharks. Roddy didn't see any bill fish but did see one carnivore which he thinks was a Dusky Shark.
It swam right up to him looking at him with his left eye and then his right and he slowly waved his tail from side to side coming as close as only a few feet before slowly turning back down into the blue. When Roddy, said to come over to him I knew he had seen a "real" shark, because Roddy never needs the boat to be close. Shortly after that all went quiet.

We searched for another 45 minutes for the exciting food chain but couldn't spot a thing. Just after we gave up and started powering back to Antigua, my sister pointed behind us at the huge plume of an ash cloud erupting from Montserrat's volcano. The eruption was pretty big and as I looked back at it I saw a frigate diving out of the sky from way up. With that I made a sharp turn to go back for a second look. This time I jumped over when we luckily found the whale shark. It's two huge remora fish stuck to it's sides added to the amazing wonder that I saw below me. Unlike Roddy, I wasn't going far from the boat. In fact, Mykl said not to as there wasn't anyone else to drive the boat. lol I know why she didn't want me going far and she didn't have to worry. Roddy took some more photo and video before we finally made the trip back home. Roddy had missed some similar adventures in recent years and was so happy to have done this. It was the second time I had seen this kind of thing, but well worth the trip. We can only hope that Greg doesn't lose our numbers!

This very quickly done video was provided by Roddy of to show some of the action. Thanks Roddy for keeping the memory alive!


Anna said...

Great blog Eli! Thanks again for letting me be a part of the fun! :D

Clay said...

Longtime reader of your blog, yet first time leaving a comment. Great story Eli. Keep them coming.

365 said...

thanks for coming anna.
glad everyong enjoyed the write up.

Unknown said...

Lets get this straight.....

U get a call saying theres a 25-30 whale shark off the coast of Antigua and U leave your office to go look for it. LOLOLOL.

Then, if thats not crazy enough Roddy jumps in the water to take pictures and a video. LOLOLOL.

Do you guys need help cleaning boats, tour guides, someone 2 get you coffee or anything cause I wanna roll with you insane guys. Call me at 772 0081.

Im dead serious. I'm sick and tired of the corporate world.

Juerg said...

Thank you Eli for this great write up. Fantastic