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Great White Sharks
Isla de Guadalupe, Mexico (2005 Expedition)

Search Words: Great White Shark Diving Great White Cage Diving Guadalupe Island Isle of Guadalupe Mexico  Great White Adventures Prison Beach Twin Canyon Discovery Bay Farallon Islands California Great White Shark Encounters Carcharodon carcharias

Introduction

In early October of 2005, Eco-Photo Explorers will once again set out on a spectacular five day live-aboard adventure with Lawrence Groth of "Great White Adventures" to photograph Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). Our expedition vessel was called the Searcher, a state of the art 96-foot long range diving boat which will transport us to one of the most amazing locations in the world. Our destination is Isla de Guadalupe, off the coast of Mexico and is located about 200 nautical miles southwest of San Diego.

Guadalupe Diving Schedule & Reservation - All trips require reservations and can be made by contacting us through our online form to check availability. Please contact us to verify your selection before making any airfare or accommodation arrangements. Due to unforeseen circumstances, dates are subject to change without notice. Referrer Name: Eco-Photo Explorers Click here to book your next trip...

Field Notes
Day 1: The Journey Begins

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Coronado Islands:
The Coronado Islands are a group of four islands (North Coronado, Pilón de Azúcar, Central Coronado, & South Coronado) off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.

Battered by the wind and waves, they are largely unfertile and uninhabited except for a small military detachment and a few lighthouse keepers.

South Coronado has the only bay of the islands, called "Puerto Cueva" and has a lighthouse on each end of the island.

Flora:
Dahlias, wild cucumber and Houseleek can be seen in the North & South Islands. Cacti can be found on the North, South & Central Islands.

Fauna: There are few colonies of birds (seagulls, pelicans, petrels, & ducks), 2 types of mammals (rabbits & mice) and 10 species of reptiles and amphibians. It is not uncommon to see large groups of sea lions, seals and sea otters around its coastline.

9:04 am (0904 hours) - We are moments from boarding The Searcher Dive Boat at Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego. This morning, our spirits were high – higher than last night with some of us fighting a severe head cold, some homesickness and general pre-expedition nervousness. Today is bright, sunny and warm. This morning we watched a fishing boat return from an 10-day offshore trip – loaded with Wahoo, Yellow-fin Tuna and Yellowtail Tuna. It was quite a catch and interesting to watch the operation on the dock of unloading fish and quickly sending it off for processing.

8:10 pm (2010 hours) - We are motoring to Isla de Guadalupe. The seas are calm, the air is cool and the sky overcast. As we left San Diego and passed the Coronado Islands we spotted a pod of dolphin – species unidentified. Otherwise, its been a very uneventful day at sea.

Day 2: Guadalupe Insight

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

7:40 am (1940 hours) - We have had a smooth crossing and now, with the sun rising over the Pacific and the island just barely visible on the horizon, excitement is beginning to grow.

As we approached, fog draped over the high slops of the island. We couldn't help to notice that the island was almost barren of trees and vegetation except a few solitary trees. About 95% of the island has been completely eliminated by goats that were imported originally in the early 19th century by mostly Russian whalers and sealers for provisions when they returned to the island. The number of goats declined to a few thousand over the years, but t wasn't until June 2005 when the Mexican government finally had the change to round-up and evacuate most of the remaining goat population. Guadalupe Island is designated a biosphere reserve and has been a nature conservancy area since August 16, 1928, making it one of the oldest reserves in Mexico.

5:58 pm (1758 hours) - Today was our first opportunity to see sharks and we saw none, despite 3 rotations in the cage (20 minutes, 60 minutes and 78 minutes). Although no sharks have appeared today, the mood is still cautiously optimistic for the next two days but everyone is disappointed and everyone is fearful of not seeing sharks. We're anchored in an area called Discovery Bay, only a few hundred yards offshore of Prison Beach, which is on the lee (Northeast end) of Guadalupe Island. This is the protected side of the island where we hope to take full advantage of the gentle ocean conditions.

With no sharks insight, the day became long. Some pasted the time reading, others napped on the sundeck, and a few decided to hang out on the stern watching sea birds and observe the scores of Guadalupe Sea Lions and Elephant seals along the beaches – many youngsters can be seen swimming in the shallows, while others cried out along the breakwater.

From here, we could also see an array of old structures onshore. Along the water's edge was a small gray colored radio/lighthouse tower that seemed to be the focal point of these structures. On the left and higher up the rocky slope was the remains of an old broken down prison. It's almost unrecognizable, and the only thing still standing are two or three tiny pillars of the main supporting walls. The rest of it is just a heap of loose stones spread out over the dust covered ground. Because these stones were brownish in color they were able to blend into the natural surroundings, making this old ruin hard to spot without a trained eye.

Directly to the right was the remnants of a classic white Mexican style church, still pretty much intact. Below the church was a small shack located on the rock-strewn beach that was occasionally used by local Mexican abalone and lobster fisherman as shelter when the weather turned foul. Since their seasonal fishing camp was located on the northwest side of the island, this shack was the only safe haven on this side of the island. On occasion Mexican researchers may take refuge here while studying and radio tagging the local sharks.

We were told and cannot confirm this story, but it was said that this prison was built to incarcerate a single person who had the misfortune to get caught having an affair with the Presidents wife in the 1860's. This unfortunate local was banished to this isolated island with a lone guard to watch over him. Nobody could tell us why the church was built. Who knows, maybe it was constructed to give the inmate a place to repent. Whether its true or not, its a great story.

So now you know why this place is called Prison Beach...

Towards the end of the day, we spotted a pair of dolphin hunting not too far from the boat. The weather is perfect – sunny, warm (80°F / 26°C) and no wind. We are hoping for better things tomorrow!

9:16 pm (2116 hours) - The first day of the expedition was a bit of a bust, but there were some interesting moments:

  1. Approaching the island of Guadalupe resembled Cocos Island in many ways. It was at this moment when a palpable sense of adventure began growing on all of us.
  2. The excitement was extremely high as we first prepared to enter the cage and faced the prospect of seeing Great White Sharks underwater.
  3. A Yellow-Tail came through the cage after being hooked from above.
  4. Despite the lack of sharks, the island does hold mysteries. It is desolate looking, forbidding even, and is home to a variety of wildlife – Fur Seals, Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, etc. Nighttime is especially beautiful under a canopy of stars and a near full moon. In the evening light, the shape of the island is still discernable. In the still of night, the sounds of the seals echo across the water, their cries amplified in the nighttime air. Under the lights of the boat, huge schools of fish are congregating, attracted to the smaller animals that are seduced by the artificial daylight. A small Fur Seal made an impromptu appearance, hunting this bounty of fish just a few feet off the side of the boat and taking some handouts from the crew as well.

"Tomorrow’s the Day!" is the phrase on everyone’s lips as the day closes and we settle in for a restful night of sleep.

Day 3: Today's the Day

Thursday, October 13, 2005

8:40 am (0840 hours) - The captain decided to move the boat down the shore to a new spot called Twin Canyons. It's called Twin Canyons, because of the two large ravines that cut through the mountainside to the water's edge. While we ate breakfast, the crew carefully stowed the surface-supplied air lines and anything hanging off the stern that could get swept under the boat and get caught in the boats propellers.

Because the two main cages were attached to the stern with a special hinged bracket system, they were able to stay in the water. As the boat slowly got underway, the rushing water pivoted the cages up on their hinges which caused them to lift slightly out of the water. Since this was a delicate operation, the captain had to move very slow so the cages would not get damaged.

This short little hop seemed to take forever!!

From our new anchorage, we can easily see dozens of Elephant Seals on the dark brown, almost black, sandy beach – hopefully this is a good sign that the sharks will be here as well. The water looks clear – in fact, strange bioluminescence could be seen plainly as we prepared to lower our anchor. With the movie "Jaws" playing inside the cabin, we are all hopeful that today will bring our first sharks.Great White

11:58 am (1158 hours) - The first shark sighting was at 11:30 am, a 14-foot Great White who did a brief "fly-by" too far from the cage for a good photograph. Still, this is a great encouragement – there are sharks here. The first impression of this animal is that it is a large, substantial animal. The girth is most impressive and the demeanor is one of unmistakable confidence.

9:07 pm (2107 hours) - Today was an awesome day. We started our dives at "Twin Canyons" and it was here that we spotted our first Great White Shark. The cages in this spot were rocking and rolling badly and the divers were really getting beat up inside – but at the very end, the shark appearance made it all worthwhile.

The most notable thing about the shark is its girth. These are formidable animals that cruise slowly, appearing suddenly out of the edge of visibility. They seem to know that they are unchallenged in this domain.

After this brief sighting, we decided to move the boat back to our original location – Prison Beach – for the afternoon. As we headed back, the afternoon sun was hanging low over the mountain ridge which caused the daylight to take on a warm golden glow. This warm golden glow and sharp angle of light created an unusual effect as we approached Prison Beach.

We saw something glowing on top of a large rocky pinnacle near the radio/lighthouse tower. It was hard to see with the naked eye from our distance, but it was small and it was glowing white. We run to get a pair of binoculars to get a closer look and to our surprise, it was a cross!!

Its funny, we didn't see it when we were there the other day. As we got closer, the white glowing effect began to fade and disappeared as we pasted it. The reason we didn't see it the other day was because the orientation of the cross was perpendicular to the island. From our present and previous anchorage, this orientation made it appear as a little gray line sticking up from the rocks and would go unnoticed. Again, nobody could tell us who placed this cross on top of these rocks or its significance.

The crew dropped anchor and soon we were ready to go sharking...

We took several more rotations in the cage, and we started deploying the submersible cage. Again, just as we were ready to end our diving, another 14-foot shark appeared, first on the port side and then on the starboard side, it was an amazing sight.

After exiting the cage for the final time today, many began showering, cleaning up and preparing for dinner, when a most memorable event occurred. With thunderous sound, a shark was seen on the surface a few hundred yards away on the post side of the boat - a quick and sizable splash on the surface, a flash of a tail and then silence. A few birds hovering overhead obviously excited, and a slick of calm water that resembled a circular footprint that in seen on the surface after a whale has sounded was the only evidence of any activity. It was a "Hit" - A Great White had attacked and struck an Elephant Seal. This was extremely notable – the tour operator "Great White Adventures" had never witnessed this in the 4 years of operation here. The captain immediately pulled the anchor and skillfully moved the boat closer so everyone could observe this astounding and rare spectacle.

Elephant Seal Killed by Great White Great White on surface (feeding on seal) Great White on surface (feeding on seal) Great White on surface (feeding on seal) Elephant Seal Killed by Great White
Elephant Seal Killed Eating Seal Kill Elephant Seal Killed Eating Seal Kill Elephant Seal Killed

First, we came across the floating, and mutilated body of the 200-300 pound seal, bleeding on the surface. Only the upper portion of the body was visible, the lower section was gone!! From the bow your could see a substantial bite of flesh and body matter ripped from its stomach area. Next, we spotted the 14-foot, 3000-lb Great White. From the surface, they look like small submarines as they glide by.

The crew noticed a distinctive long dark scar running down its left posterior flank. Later in the season, they were able to identify this shark again, and determined its sex as a male.

After leaving the seal mortally wounded and bleeding to death, the shark returned shortly after and in a few frenzied attacks, devoured the entire carcass in about 20 to 30 minutes before disappearing. What an tremendous experience – the true majesty and malevolence of this frighteningly perfect animal.

After dinner, another playful sea lion made an appearance off the stern. In the water, scores of fish were congregating under the glow of the ship’s lights – and the seal was hunting these fish. Back and forth, with amazing agility and speed, the seal would dart about, consuming fish after fish. Eventually, we fed its some of the live bait we are keeping in the ship’s holding tanks.

Under a perfect sky with brilliant sunshine, temperatures close to 90°F / 32°C degrees and with a still wind, it was a perfect day of diving on Guadalupe Island.

Day 4: Another Great Encounter

Friday, October 14, 2005

7:35 pm (1935 hours) - This was another awesome day. While still anchored at Prison Beach, we spotted our first shark of the day at around 10:45 am.  This was a 12-footer, a male, and an aggressive animal. With little or no apparent investigation, he struck at the bait in a violent burst – and then continued to hang around the boat giving the cage divers plenty of terrific views and photo opportunities.

Around noon, a second, larger shark appeared (14 feet). Chris was in the submersible cage, about 20ft down when this huge animal appeared and (hopefully) got several great photographic opportunities as the shark flew by on several occasions.

These two sharks remained active and in the neighborhood for several hours. Underwater, these sharks appear enormous. The length is incredible, but the massive girth is what is most striking. Often, they cruise effortlessly by the boat and the cages, sometimes descending into the deep, and beyond the limit of visibility, only to return a short while later from a different location. However, the true power is really evident when they strike at the bait. Here, they accelerate quickly and, with their mouth agape, crunch into the bait and twist violently, tearing off huge pieces of meat.

The action slowed around 2:00 pm. Chris and I made one last dive in the cage at around 3:00 pm. After spending close to an hour underwater with no action, we gave each other the "1 minute" signal before surfacing. Just then, almost as a parting gift, a massive, 16-foot shark suddenly appeared and we enjoyed one last 15 minute encounter.

At 4:00 pm, we raised the anchor for the last time and carefully stowed the cages to began our 22 hour journey home. We first stopped for a quick, close up view of the resident elephant seal population on the shore nearby the radio/light tower and the abandoned prison (Prison Beach). Juvenile males could be seen sparring on shore, practicing for the real battles they will have in the future as adults fighting over mates and territory. At this time, we also got a great view of the fisherman/research shacks on shore, which are used as shelter by research scientists and fisherman on occasion. On this particular expedition, we were fortunate to observe the scientists, in their small dinghy, tagging some of the sharks with transmitters to track their movements.

The tranquility of the lee side of the island was instantly forgotten as we emerged into the open water of the Pacific. In a matter of minutes, the water conditions went from calm to wickedly brutal – and many of the passengers began to struggle with motion sickness.  

Day 5: The Journey's Over

Saturday, October 15, 2005

1:35 pm (1335 hours) - We are approaching San Diego, after having passed the Coronado Islands. The crossing has been tiresome, rough and somewhat very difficult. As we inch closer and closer into calmer water, and with dry land nearby, everyone is slowly regaining their strength. Our memories of the last few days are already crystallizing. The expedition to Isla de Guadalupe has been a resounding success. We were fortunate to witness Great White Sharks underwater, on the surface and engage in behavior that has never been observed here before.

They are formidable, awe-inspiring animals...

However, despite the fact that they are the true apex predator, they are under significant pressures from fishing and other environmental threats. They are a truly beautiful, perfect predator. It would be a terrible shame, with unknown consequences to the oceans, if we allowed them to vanish forever. As we approach the comfort of dry land, our excitement of having seen these wild creatures in their domain is tempered by true concern over their future.

We can only hope that through expeditions like this one, the benefits of saving these creatures can be made more evident and that the desire to kill them can be eliminated.

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Related Information

2005 Guadalupe White Shark Season Synopsis (pdf)
Courtesy: Great White Adventures

U/W Photography Equipment - Photographers are welcome and the crew will make every effort to accommodate your needs as well as provide fresh water for your cameras. Remember to charge your batteries.

Keep you camera as streamlined as possible. This will make it easier to operate while inside the cage. All cameras are welcome, Nikonos, Sea & Sea, Sea Life, as well as Housed and video cameras. Since these sharks are large and come close to the cage, a 15mm, 20mm or 35mm lens is suggested. Many find a 20mm optimal. We recommend you leave your strobes at home or at least leave them in your cabin for the first few dives. These sharks are found in usually clear and bright water and many photographers find strobes are unnecessary.

The leeward side of Guadalupe Island is usually has clear sunny skies. During midday your first choice would be a fine-grained film (ASA 64-100). Before 9:00 am, after 3:00 pm or if the boat is anchored in a position where the island blocks the sun, you may wish to bump up your film speed a notch or two (ASA 200-400).

What to Bring

  • Dive Equipment Required
    Mask, Wet suit (7mm optimum), Hood, Boots, Gloves, Weight belt (if not standard size), Spares
  • Do Not Bring
    Fins, BCs, Tanks, Regulators, Weights, Spear guns
  • Important Items/Clothing to Bring
    Sunscreen, Towel, Warm jacket, Sunglasses, Hat

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Multimedia Program

Inside the Cage: Shark Cage Diving in North America
Join Eco-Photo Explorers as they venture inside the cage right here in North America to dive with Blue Sharks in California, Rhode Island and New York. This program will conclude with heart-stopping action from Mexico’s Isla de Guadalupe, home to some of the largest Great White Sharks in the world.

Please email all questions or comments with this site to Technical Support.

- http://www.ecophotoexplorers.com/contacts.asp?subject=Technical Support#form

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Last Modified: November 27, 2006

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