shark diving blog
Welcome to our blog! We try to add stories of little side adventures or interesting things happening at the lodge to this page. Guests often ask about behind the scene moments or what lead up to understanding how something was captured. Even though we post on social sites, we thought we'd add a bit more detail on things with a screen grap or GoPro photo that is equally as captivating as the crisp HD photo or video we post on the main site. Hope you enjoy!
Trip Report from Malcolmnobbs.com
Malcolm Nobbs posted a recent trip report on his past salmon shark expedition with us at Ravencroft. He's known worldwide and his website shows his globe trotting efforts in search for new and unique destinations. His website takes you from all corners of the planet and showecases some amazing underwater photography. I'd have to say, Malcolm was a real hoot to have at the lodge and always seemed to be in the middle of what ever fun antics were being had for the evening :)
Check out his recent trip report on his website here - Malcolmnobbs.com/alaska
eagle on approach
Watching Eagles dive bomb a herring never gets old. But hearing one glide over you whilst photographing from the waterline is quite thrilling! Its no easy feat to snap a great photo, but when the stars align...its wildlife imagery bliss. The best time of the year to approach nesting Eagles and sometimes transient one's are in the spring. Winter is just coming to an end and waters start to boil with life, aka food. Eagles are always fascinating for me to watch. I can remember a time when I first moved out to Port Fidalgo and seeing an Eagle "swimming" across the port. I thought to myself that she must be hurt. So I jumped in a skiff and went to save her. But as I approached, she shook her wings off and starting to fly into the air... with a large salmon dragging her down. She was able to let go and headed for the treeline, without her meal. I was relieved that she was ok. A couple of years later I saw this same scenio upfold again. This time I was going to watch from afar and video the whole thing. I was excited to see another eagle do the breast stroke across the water and pull a large salmon up across the beach, sit down on a rock and start to devour its hard fought meal. I quickly uploaded the video to Youtube and thought this will surely go viral. Needless to say, it was the 18th video of an eagle swimming with a salmon. Up until that point I had no idea that this is a common tactic for eagles.
Filming for shark week on Discovery
Here's a little short "behind-the-scene" iphone capture of sharks circling the boat while the film crew gears up to met them in open water. Another great production crew with legendary Chris Fallows as the guest talent on the shoot. Lots of great memories and can't wait to meet up with these guys again in the future.
shark research and conservation
Gina and I made a little contribution to a shark research and conservation book that was recently published. You'll find our part under the "The Economy of Shark Conservation in the Northeast Pacific: The Role of Ecotourism and Citizen Science".
Here is a short description of the book in its entirety -
Northeast Pacific Shark Biology, Research and Conservation, Part B, Volume 78, the latest release in the Advances in Marine Biology series contains updated chapters that focus on a variety of topics, including, but not limited to, an Introduction to Northeast Pacific shark biology, ecology, and conservation, Shark Interactions with Directed and Incidental Fisheries in the Northeast Pacific Ocean: historic and current encounters and challenges for shark conservation, An Introduction to modeling abundance and demographic parameters in shark populations, and Sharks in Captivity: The Role of Husbandry, Breeding, Education and Citizen Science in Shark Conservation.
Specialty areas in this longstanding series include marine science, both applied and basic, a wide range of topical areas from all areas of marine ecology, oceanography, fisheries management and molecular biology, and the full range of geographic areas from polar seas, to tropical coral reefs are included making this an ideal reference and resource for postgraduates and researchers in a variety of fields.
Here's a link if you'd like to buy it - CLICK HERE
glacier snorkeling with a texan
Not every guest will want to take the trip to Columbia Glacier, but for those that do its always a treat to swim with an iceberg. There's always time spent picking the safest one, seeing which one's are very photogenic and staying out of the main ice pack. But there's something magical about seeing such a large piece of ice at eye level that really puts it all into perspective. On this trip I had a cousin from Texas that is a regular surfer in the warm Gulf waters try his hand at swimming in Alaskan waters. Surprisingly he took to it with blinking an eye. Although he didn't seem inclined to stay in the water as long as his drysuit companions, considering he was wearing a 7mm wetsuit.
During the spring time in Port Fidalgo there is an explosion of life that starts with herring balls bubbling up the coastline, which in turn brings in all manner of sea life. Whales will hang out and gorge themselves with daily meals and just hang out and rest on the surface after feasting. Dall's porpoise will also come into the port, usually in pods of 4 or 5 strong. Each pod will normally stake out an area of the port and just work that area for food. Whats always fun is when your travelling along the coast you will come across these pods and they love to ride the wake of a boat. Sometimes you won't even see them make a bee line for the boat while your travelling and all of a sudden there's ocean spray coming across the bow of your boat. Everyone immediately looks forward and starts to see a pod of porpoise play with the boat, dancing back and forth from one side to another. Then we'll start to leave their area and like a squad of fighter jets, they'll all swing in unison and break off from play time.
alert diver online article
"Adventures in the Wild". Here's great article about time spent on expedition for salmon sharks. For those that receive DAN's diving magazine you might have already read this. If not check it by clicking HERE.
pbs and steve backshall
I was recently asked if I could help support a live broadcast of PBS in America and BBC One in the UK for a wildlife show. When I was first approached about being LIVE my initial thought was, "this is wildlife and a big ocean, I don't think its going to work". But later on I would be able to convince them that coming to film/edit a segment and inserting it into the show later would be far more benefial and alas it was! Here is a short teaser for their show that aired this last summer in 2017. It was a great time hosting Steve's film crew and Steve himself was an absolute joy to work with!
seed media on location
Before PBS/BBC made it to the States, I was asked if I could help with drone filming while on location. Although I am an avid drone and anything technology geek, I thought it better to call some locals with the big toys that just so happen to be located in Valdez, AK. Seed Media is a great group of guys that run a first class media operation. I asked them to come out and bring the big guns on this shoot. Here's a little behind the scenes of their time at the lodge.
female Moon Jellyfish
I was once told by a visiting alaskan fisheries biologist that deep inside a bloom you'll find a purple female moon jellyfish and that they are rare to see if diving. The reason for the congregation of such a dense amount of jellyfish in one area is mating. That means she's surrounded by thousands of male suitors. I often tell divers to look out for a purple jellyfish and with any luck you'll get to see her but the truth is its like looking for a needle in a haystack. One day while snorkeling with a large bloom I just happen to see her while photographing a lions mane jellyfish. We've had a few other guests catch a glimpse of this gal as well.
Video from Austria diving group
Here's a great video from a guest group travel from Austria. If you have some time, make sure to check out his other video's that he's compiled from around the world. What surprised me the most is how light his camera gear was for such amazing footage captured. He didn't travel with the most expensive gear on the market but with smaller, lighter gear that only shot in 1080. Great work!
juvenile oarfish or something else?
Moon Jellyfish blooms in Alaska have so much happening in and around them. But you have to sit and observe carefully because not all jellyfish are non stinging in these blooms. The large red jellyfish in the photo is a Lions Mane that can leave divers or swimmers with a nasty sting with their tentacles trailing 15-20 behind them. Whats more interested is that some of these large jellyfish have transient travellers hugging their bells for protection and feeding off surrounding life that just happens to float by. But what are these fish that use these jellyfish for a roaming home? When I tried to ID it, the closest thing I could find was a Gelatinous Seasnail. But one of our past trip leaders has mentioned that a friend of his who is a Pacific Fish Export has recently told him that these are juvenile Oarfish! Which would be a fantastic surprise because Oarfish are a rare species that are not commonly photographed. What do you think? If you have any insight please email us and let us know. (image to right from deepseanews.com)
scuba h20 adventures - article
Underwater photographer and ocean advocate Richard Salas wrote an article for Dive News Network, "Alaskan Wilderness - A Photographers Journey". Here's the link - CLICK HERE
guest travel blog from the branscombes
Here's a great trip report from our friends over at Out The Door To Explore - CLICK HERE
voted underwater photo of the year by upy 2017
Here's a fan favorite from a past diving client that won photographer of the year in 2017 with this image taken in front of the lodge while on expedition with us. He had incredible competition from underwater photographers from all over the world, submitting to try and win the greatly coveted UPY award. The Lions Mane Jellyfish seen above is a predator jellyfish and are often found on the outskirts of the main moon jellyfish bloom. The caption for Ron's image was "One in a Million". Very fitting since these dense blooms can stretch from the surface to 100' down and nearly half a mile long. Read his story here.
over/under split photo
I've been looking for a very particular shot for many years that told the story of these sharks in one photo and often wonder what the image would look like. And in my mind it would have to be a split 50/50 photo with a salmon shark below, chasing a bright pink salmon with snow capped jagged mountains above. I haven't achieved that yet and would honestly love to see a client get that photo as well. Most locals don't even know that we have sharks in Alaska and the rest of the world is even more surprised at the fact that a shark could not only survive in these frigid waters, but flourish. The photo above was taken with a GoPro3 and a new dome attachment from Knekt.com that actually works surprisingly well and has a simple trigger. These are great little secondary camera set ups if you don't want to lug around a larger DSLR/housing through the water. Here's the link... click here
Breaching whales in Prince WilLiam Sound
May always brings an explosion of whale activity to the Sound. And you can literally see these explosions in spectacular breaches from Humpbacks cleaning themselves with their dance above water. Its always neat to see this happen but often and up just watching the show and forgetting to snap a photo. This particular occurance happened near Jacks Bay enroute to the lodge. It's amazing how much force they can generate as they slam the water. Diffenently something everyone should witness at least once during their life!
Well Gina and I made the big leap to travel to Vegas this year and present the diving world with our uniquely and newly developed diving tours. We weren’t sure how the industry would embrace a coldwater destination. When we started to move in and set up the booth, I remember looking around and saw a sea of warm water destinations. Coupled with the fact, that our booth was at the back of the show and booked it at the last minute. I thought we would get minimal traffic. But I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest we generated. It was a good show, met some wonderful people and look forward to going again next year!
mystery death in two moon
My neighbor that has a small cabin in Two Moon sent me this photo via text message at the end of the season in 2016. He was curious as to why the shark had died. After a series of questions, I concluded that where the shark was located, it had been caught in a tidal zone that left it high and dry during a low tide. Why was it so close to shore? Well the tidal zone was an area where a large population of pink salmon were riding the tides to reach a creek to spawn. It happened close to his cabin and did not see the shark the evening before, but found it the next morning there. There’s a lot to take from this death, even if only one shark. How often do they ride the tides so close to spawning salmon creeks? Do they feed more often in the middle of the night? This creek was in the shade, would they choose this one over one in the sun because of the cover it provided for an ambush?
Before this happened, another shark death got my attention as I travelled back from a day tour to the lodge. I was leading a group of photographer’s home and came across a dead Sleeper Shark. Although it was late in the evening, I didn’t have the inclination to snap a photo. Only studying the carcass at length to determine what it was. In retrospect, I wish I had pulled out even my phone to take a picture. The shark had been dead for some time with flesh freely hanging from it, but still bloated and floating.
The epic shot... and the battery
Travis, a friend of mine come out to try a capture a very specific shot with the sharks. We talked in the off season to discuss details, logistics and approaches to manifest a breach on cue. Although not impossible, I told him that we were once again heading into the unknown and patience would be needed to try and manufacture this 1-2 feet from his camera.
As summer set in, he came out with gear and crew. The first day was clearing the kinks out of the operation and knowing how each person would contribute to the shot. Towards the end of their stay we had all cylinders firing and fell into a groove. That last day the sharks were proving to also find their cue cards and work perfectly coming up one after another at the foot of his paddleboard. But we could not get one to breach directly in front of him. Then… it happened! We all cheered in celebration and that’s when I looked down at him as he didn’t move an inch from his position on the paddleboard. Instantly I knew something was askew. We all asked him at the same moment, “did you get it?”.
All week his gear had performed flawlessly with minor adjustments here and there. But at that moment, when the stars aligned for nature to show us a wonderful sight, an electronic gremlin reared its ugly head and sabotaged the camera.
Trying not to let this disaster detour us, we continued to try and recapture another shot while the action was still hot. He didn’t end up empty handed and did manage to capture a half breach slightly off center of his shot.
I love trying new angles and experiences and really enjoy working with people that think the same. Although he was not satisfied as all photographers usually aren’t. Ultimately, he shook it off, laughed and said, “there’s always next year”.
Blue sharks in southeast alaska
I was cruising around Facebook and found this photo of a Blue Shark caught at a fishing lodge in Pelican, AK in 2016. It was sad to see such a beautiful creature killed for sport. I looked up its status on the world stage for endangered species. In 2009 it was labeled “near threatened”. That was nearly 10 years ago, and I’m sure its population since then has decreased, like all other sharks around the world.
Knowledge is the key here. If this guy was presented with information on how sharks are disappearing from the world’s oceans, I’m sure he would reconsider dragging this shark on board. “Most” hunters understand the importance of saving a species and believe in regulation to conserve populations of any animal. I grew up hunting and learned the importance of this from my father. Although, if you don’t diversify your circle of friends, you’ll never be presented with another opinion on things you may not understand. Ultimately, the person has to make the conscience effort to expand his knowledge and do the research himself. Sometimes that spark happens from a documentary, friend or simply a stranger talking about a different topic.
In my case, we had a series of guests that broadened my mind on things I hadn’t thought about before. I think everyone could benefit from having a different perspective discussed. You don’t have to agree; just be willing to open your mind to the possibility that something might work better. I all too often see the pendulum swing to far one direction with trenches built in for the long run.
worries in a first world nation
So, my wife asked me to create a poster of her brother and his family took to the lodge this summer (Christmas present). In the photo, you see her, her brother and his wife swimming near an iceberg. During his stay at the lodge, they would get into a philosophical discussion on the state of humanity and where our daily worries lie in developed nations and non-developed nations. Although there is an element of satire, there is truth to the statement. It may be hard for people to understand their point of view unless you have travelled beyond our border. But if you have, then you probably can easily understand this.
“Somewhere in the great expanse of the Alaska Wilderness.. a great battle plays out for an unlikely mammal visiting this once deadly landscape, turned tourist destination. Which iceberg should I b*tch slap?”
Things are put into perspective if you’ve ever been abroad. The furthest point that I’ve personal reached is Papua New Guinea for business, not pleasure (although diving there would have been amazing). I witnessed some things that were beyond disturbing. Leaving an incredible appreciation for the country that I live in. I think everyone should travel to distant places if they have the means. They'd have a deeper admiration of where they come from.
sharks and snow top mountains?
You thing that immediately strikes everyone is when they see sharks in the same frame as snowcapped mountains. There just isn’t any other shark out there when you can capture a dorsal fin and mountainous white landscape. But this image gives the viewer instant knowledge as to the temperature that these sharks inhabit. Heck even humans could only stand to be in these waters for a few minutes before losing consciences. Salmon Sharks can often be found circling at the surface. But these sharks relish in the top water column at the surface. What are they doing you might ask? Sleeping or perhaps resting before going on the hunt. It is my belief that sharks swimming at the surface are taking advantage of the warm water difference from the surface to the colder temps that start only 12” below. The water is very deceiving at the surface. You can stick your hand in and think, wow, this isn’t half bad. But stick your whole body in and its quickly a different story.
Even seeing shark’s dorsal fins break the surface is not something normally seen be sharks, with just a handful of species doing this. The most famous being the White (Great White) shark. It’s amazing just how much is going on with that dorsal sticking up in the air, cleaving the water. I’ve seen temps change or wind direction change and watch fins drop down just out of sight all in succession.
These sharks also seem to cluster at times while on the surface. There was a time before starting this dive venture that I fished for a few sharks. During that time, I learned that for every shark you saw on the surface, there were 3-4 below. And when I mean below, I mean 400-500 below. Although that was before the shark culling that happened here in the state. I don’t necessarily think that is the case now.
Another interesting characteristic is salmon shark breaching. Again, before the shark culling that happened between 2007-2010 we use to see sharks breach on a daily occurrence. Sadly, with numbers greatly declined, we don’t see that any more. I attribute that simply to a larger population of sharks and competition for a food source. Now with a smaller population, these sharks catch food as they please during the salmon migration. I will say, when they did breach it was something epic for sure.
Beachcombing with brown bear cubs
When evening while visiting with my folks at their cabin, we looked down the beach and saw to curious little heads poking out from behind a rock. As we looked on, we keep waiting for their mother to come out of the tree line and join them as they sniffed sea weed and mossy rocks. After 30 mins and continuing to head in our direction, I wondered if they were alone. Surely not. They were far to young to have left their mothers side. After an hour, I was absolutely sure they were abandoned. Maybe the mother was killed in an accident or more likely by a boar. Yet, the cubs looked rather healthy, so what ever happened couldn’t have been but a few days earlier.
Assurdnance and courage over took reason for a better photo. So, I climbed down behind a rock on the beach and waited to see if the cubs would continue down the beach in the same direction. Sure, enough they did. Only when they came around the rock I was perched at, something caught their interest. It was me! They slowly approached with my family looking on from the cabin deck. I thought to myself, surely they will stop at some point and realize what I am. No.. that was not the case. With only feet separating us, I started to move to give indication that I was not a rock. That’s when I took the second photo.
They stopped and headed back down the beach. During the following 2 days, they stayed close to the lodge. On the third day they had left the area, most likely finding a stream full of fish. I often wonder if they survived the winter on their own and grew from cute, cuddly fur balls.. to 1000# beasts.
When Jeremy Wade came to town
This was a very fun production for me and show cased the salmon sharks in a better light then some other counterpart productions on say Shark Week. When I was first contacted on starting a conversation about Jeremy Wade coming to Alaska, I was super excited because I love the show. Its more than a fishing show with interesting destinations and filled with insightful mysteries on fish I’ve never heard of.
I must say that it was not an easy task to help develop a storyline with the producer. The initial concept depicted the sharks in a negative light and as a killer. Which was simply not true. But this was a fishing show and not a sightseeing trip for them. So, over several months of back and forth emails I was able to convince them that simply interacting and swimming with them would prove to be equally as entertaining. The sharks had never been filmed with an actor in the water, placing themselves directly into their underwater helm. I also placed an idea that the true dangerous fish in Alaska was not a shark but a large flatfish predator that was the basis of the sport fishing industry, Hippoglossus stenolepis or Pacific Halibut. These fish do hurt people and have broken arms/legs and would find stories relatively easily of how strong and damaging they could be. This gave the sharks a break from the relentless killers they are often depicted as and follow a more factual production.
The entire shoot was really fun with a great and friendly film crew. The star, Jeremy Wade, was just as you see on tv. Kind and thoughtful and a true talent to watch behind the scenes. There was a moment during the week that I was able to take him and a couple others fishing after dinner, just for fun with no camera’s. A 90# halibut was caught and brought on board. Pictures were taken and hand fives handed out. But Jeremy would gently take the hook out, check it over and slide it back in the frigid waters. He would also reminisce of past productions to fascinating countries.
Towards the end, when the crew had filmed a multitude of sharks, relaxation set in. They had come for sharks and they had achieved to capture more than enough video to make the show. Now it was time for fun! On the last day, the crew decided to test out the theory of just how cold Alaskan waters on. I must say that it was unusually warm that summer and the surface temperature was not normal, around 65 degree’s. Well once they jumped in with only their underwear, they were pleasantly surprised at just how warm it was. Coming from England, they didn’t see much of a difference. But the truth is that it can be extremely dangerous if not wearing the correct gear and having to spend more than 3 minutes floating around.
Teeth structure and biologist scot anderson
During the filming of an episode for River Monsters, a biologist by the name of Scot Anderson was brought on as a researcher for the shark part of the show. He has been an independent wildlife researcher since 1987 and has worked for Alaska for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducting shark tagging of salmon sharks over a three-year period in Prince William Sound. Scot was a plethora of information for us and brought the jaws of a salmon shark as a prop for the show. He was kind of enough to leave them to us for our clients to better understand their teeth structure. When you look at the teeth, it is quite obvious that these teeth are made for grasping fish and not tearing large flesh. The teeth are very similar to their cousin, the Mako shark, only smaller.
This shark was easy to spot due to his obvious head wound. I first spotted him hanging out on the outskirts of the "feeding zone". She wasn't a curious shark and I'm sure you can contribute that to the scar she suffered from a boats prop. It seems that the wound was fairly recent and fresh. I know sharks are quite resilient, but I'm afraid that the gash was too deep for her to survive. We've been able to catalogue returning sharks to the area, so maybe I'll stay optimistic that she'll show back up one year.
dems gold in 'em hills
For history buffs, Port Fidalgo's past includes; Eskimos from the misty reaches of prehistory seeking better hunting grounds, Russian adventurers trapping for sea otter pelts, Fox Farmers, Fur Traders, English and Spanish Sailing Ship Explorers looking for a Northwest passage, Gold prospectors, Geologists, Glaciologists and Loggers.
Captain James Cook first discovered Prince William Sound in the year 1778. His ships were the research vessels, "Discovery" and "Resolution", dispatched by King George III to seek the Northwest Passage above the American continent so the British might engage in fruitful trade with the far east. Captain Cook would spend time in Port Fidalgo repairing the "Resolution" and trading with the nearby village of Tatitlek before leaving the Sound.
In 1786, a English fur trader named John Meares commanding the vessel "Nootka", took refuge during a violent storm in one of Port Fidalgo's bays, Snug Corner Cove. The promise of more pelts and the lateness of the season encouraged Meares to winter in the Sound. He considered the protection provided by Snug Corner to be insufficient and moved the "Nootka" further into Port Fidalgo to Sunny Cove. Meares found the cove anything but sunny during the winter and complained about the low sun disappearing behind the high peaks to the south. Here, frozen into the fresh water ice, he and his men spent a hellish winter. The Natives, although friendly, were able to provide them with very little food and had the disconcerting habit of carrying off every piece of iron they could find, even prying loose nails from the ship's deck with their teeth. During the winter, scurvy ravaged the crew. Meares and some of his crew protected themselves from this dreaded disease by chewing the unfamiliar tasting conifer needles which are rich in vitamin C. By spring, the Natives were able to provide them with food, but not before twenty-three of the stubborn seamen who had refused to chew conifer needles had perished from scurvy.
In 1790 the Spanish explore named Captain Fidalgo would sail to
Prince William Sound, cruising the east coast. He would
later give the names to the Sounds two major towns, Puerto de
Valdez and Puerto de Cordova. Fidalgo returned home telling
of his adventures and one strange story of visiting what is now
known as Columbia Glacier and "the floating snow banks" or
In 1791, Captain George Vancouver, who served under Cook during his second and third voyages, was commissioned by England to find a Northwestern passage around the American continent. He would spend three summers exploring the inside waters of British Columbia and Alaska. During his visit to Prince William Sound, he named Port Fidalgo after Captain Fidalgo in honor of the great Spanish explorer.
1785-1867 would be a period of Russian dominance as fur traders settled several trading posts throughout the Sound. They would also establish Russian Orthodox churches, like the beautiful blue domed church that still stands today at the native village of Tatitlek. Located between Port Fidalgo and Port Valdez. The United States would purchase Alaska from Russia in 1867 and officially recognize Alaska as a state in 1959.
Between 1898 and 1915, three copper mines operated in Landlocked Bay on Port Fidalgo. Although it is unlikely that the combined output of these three mines totaled over 10,000 tons, the ore was of fairly high grade yielding 7-8% copper. The more productive mines were those on the south shore. The Fidalgo Mining Company Mine, just south of Whalen Bay, produced 360,376 pounds of copper and 20 ounces of silver. The Dicky Copper Company claim above Irish Cove produced 29,346 pounds of copper.
The Schlosser Mine (where Ravencroft Lodge is now built) was the area's largest producer with 4,160,820 pounds of copper, 1,384 ounces of silver and unspecified amount of gold. The main ore body was discovered high up on a mountain side, so the ore had to be taken out using a cable tram system to the beach. The ore was then stored in a beach-side warehouse and shipped periodically to Portland Oregon for smelting. The Schlosser Mine would also play host to The National Geographic Society Expedition in 1910, stopping for an extended time to resupply their ship the "Admiral Watson". Their extensive study of the area's coastal glaciers would contribute greatly to glaciology in the future. **Picture of the Schlosser mine and the "Admiral Watson" docked, are at the top.
During the 1970's a logging operation was based in Two Moon Bay, that encompassed various parts of Port Fidalgo. The timbering operation continued and was completed around the end of the 1980’s. Years later, the Hodgin family bought the property where the lodge now resides and started construction of Ravencroft in 2002.
the shark called dozer
Ok, you might grimace at the quality of this photo, but it’s a GoPro screen grab. This shark hung around for the 2014 summer season and was HUGE. Although you can’t see his claspers, this was a large adult male. I estimated him to be around a solid 10’, maybe more. He had an attitude to go along with his size as well and ended up calling him Dozer. It’s amazing how each shark his its own personality. I remember the first time I jumped in the water with a shark and looked at her at eye level. There’s a lot going on behind that massive black eye regarding intelligence. I often refer to them with a Jurassic Park reference. If Great Whites was a T-Rex’s… then Salmon Sharks would be the Raptors. We never has returned since that year and hope that he still roams that big ocean and didin't succumb to a net or hook.
winter Game camera's
I set out several game camera's throughout the lodge to see what comes around. I caught this coyote stalking around the lodge after a late snow fall in April. I guess he felt comfortable enough coming down off the mountain to see if I had left any scrapes out for him. I've seen big brown bears come down late spring and trigger a camera and I've also caught people peering around when I left for a supply run. Around this time in April, its always a guess on starting projects when the snow might fall. Some years the first of the month has burned enough snow that we can start a building project. But I've also been caught out in a full blown blizzard at the end of the month as well.
There’s moments in people’s lives that change their destiny forever. This is photo represents one for me. But before I dive into this story, let me share another moment that leads into this one.
What set me on this course of wild bush life can be narrowed down to two life events. One.. well, that was when I was born and my father named me Daniel Boone of course :) The second event really sealed the deal. As a boy, I grew up in several different states. This was due to my father's nomadic oil and gas business, with Texas as one of these states. During a summer trip to the beach with my family, I had my first encounter with a large animal, at close range. I had been swimming in the surf in 4-5 feet of water on top of an inter-tube, when a wave overturned me. I opened my eyes underwater just in time to see a large Sand Tiger shark cruise by, just a few feet in front of my face. Although not the most fierce-some of sharks, they are still unmistakable easy to identify with a large mouth full of teeth and curious silhouette. I remember the moment quite vividly! (Luckily these sharks rarely attack humans and I think there’s only been 2 fatalities ever recorded.) As a kid, I had faced a denizen of the deep and lived to tell about it (atleast that was my story at 13). At that very moment my curiosity with this underwater world that I didn’t fully understand, was blown wide open. What other animals were out there in murky waters that I didn’t know about or could see? How could something this big have been right next to me without knowing about it? That moment turned into a strong fascination all things "Wild". Fast-forward ahead a couple dozen years and you'll now find me walking alongside monstrous brown bear footprints and swimming in the cold waters of Alaska with sharks.
Now for the above photo. In 2011, I was contacted by a producer for Discovery Channel looking to make up a follow up show for Shark Week. They had made 2 previous attempts at filming salmon sharks but had struck out. Well I had been filming surface sharks for some time and posting them on Youtube. They saw these online and preceded to book time at the lodge. I deal was struck and guiding the crew to the best spots to film. Close to the end of their time here, with a plethora of subjects filmed, some of the crew found themselves with spare time. One such person was a man named Mark Rackley, who has filmed some amazing animal moments for all the big networks. If you’ve watched intense animal moments on tv, it was most likely filmed by this guy. Not only is he an accomplished camera man, fearless and bold, he carries all the qualities that would make a person at the top of their game. He’s also willing to take the time to enrich someone’s life by personalizing an experience. Before this moment, I had never been in the Alaskan water, but always had the inclination to try. He grabs Gina and I and says, “you know, we’ve got two extra wetsuits, you wanna get in?” How could I pass this up when offered a first-hand experience from I consider a living legend. We dawn on the suits, walk down to the dock, jump in and the rest in history!
I hadn’t known what I was missing. There was this other world just under the water, giving me an entirely new perspective on life in Alaska. I had basically been missing 50% of the wildlife here. Towards the end of the swim, Mark turns to us and says, “hey lets got a photo”. And in the moment I thought to myself, this is the direction I want to take the lodge.
Trust me, it hasn’t been easy transitioning the lodge. People come to Alaska to fish, hunt, take photo’s and loads of other things, but diving is an incredibly incredibly small percentage of tourism. I’ve been lucky to befriend some local dive shops in the state, who've helped get this off the ground. And continue to build on each years experiences. But this image will always be when this idea burst into existence.
dead sharks vs alive
There's two sides to every coin. No matter what issue or subject that’s out there, there will always be another opinion on the matter. When I started the lodge with my father, there were differences on the direction it should be taken. The lodge's initial concept was based around Alaska's fishing and hunting crowd, but I wasn’t 100% passionate about it and more in creating a photography destination. Ultimately, I deferred to his background at its inception.
When thing that hadn’t occurred to me at the start is how abundant the sharks were in relation to the lodge. And being plentiful, there was a time period that sport fishing for them was the hot ticket item in the state of Alaska. Coming from a family of fisherman, it wasn’t a stretch for me to also offer this to my clients. I watched charter boats from west to southeast go from salmon and halibut charter to shark only fishing, with the fishing density occurring in my area. There were many sharks caught and slung up for a photo. I even jumped on the bandwagon harvesting a handful of sharks. But when I realized that clients were quick to pose with a dead shark with no interest to keep meat I quickly discarded the idea of continuing for the lodge. I watched as the slaughter of sharks continued over the next couple of years until it all dried up. Charters stopped offering this trip because they simply could not find any. Even though I didn’t have the interest I have now with swimming with sharks, my wife and I tried to raise the alarm, only falling on deaf ears. Luckily the population is on a comeback, but nowhere near the numbers before the shark culling. There are many reasons for the dramatic drop in their population, including commercial and bycatch, but I was able to witness the sport fishing first hand. I still get calls for shark fishing, but try to reason with them if given the chance. Although I like to fish (although never again for sharks), I always try to educate folks on the need for keeping a healthy population of every animal. Overfishing is my main concern because of the overall negative image that scares the general public. Sport fisherman will say that you can catch and release them, but I've seen mortality rates first hand. Although its possible for them to survive, studies in warmer climites have shown that a shark carring a steel leader or hook often dies. Commercial fisherman will see them as a pest that eats or damages valuable salmon and wrecks gear, sometimes killing them.
It reminds me of something I read on an email from a client. “You can’t save everything cute, eat everything that tastes good, and kill everything you're afraid of and expect a working ecosystem to come out of it." - Flip Nicklin
Here is an excerpt from a citizen science journal I helped author...
"Ravencroft lodge, situated close to Port
Fidalgo is run by Boone and Gina Hodgin. They offer
eco-tourism trips that include encounters with the Salmon sharks.
In addition, they run a citizen science project that focuses on
abundance and identification of these sharks when they are in the
area. Gina Hodgin is a biologist and since the lodge is
right in one of the prime areas where the sharks traditionally
congregate, she has worked on various projects. Over the
years, she has compiled a photo library of the individual sharks
that migrate to the area. Next to her photographs the lodge
also relies on their clients to allow usage of their images in
order to establish a more complete data base of the salmon shark
in Port Fidalgo. With these images, it can be determined
which individuals are in the area and whether the same sharks make
the migration to this part of Alaska year after year. One of
the larger canyon walls lies within sight of the lodge thus
allowing a unique opportunity to study and learn from numerous
interactions at close range.
On an annual basis 6 trips with an average of 6 divers who come specifically for sharks are ran. Each diver spends an average of 7 days trying to see sharks. The conflict between eco-tourism, citizen science and fishing and the economic impact.
Salmon sharks have been at the heart of a conflict between consumptive fisheries and eco-tourism coupled with citizen science. In the years between 2001 and 2011 a variety of recreational fishing charters offered shark specific fishing trips. These fishing charters operated out of Valdez, Wittier, Seward, Homer and Cordova and were in direct conflict with the shark eco-tourism in the area. Although they claim that most of the sharks were tagged and released, most pictures on their websites show landed and killed sharks.
During the year 2008, a singular image was published on the Fish Alaska Magazine's website that showcased a kayak fisherman with a dead salmon shark draped across his kayak. This single image was the catalyst to the large-scale shark harvesting that followed. Ravencroft lodge, along with numerous other lodges and charters were inundated with phone calls from potential fishing clients who wanted to catch a shark. It was big business for fishing related companies. Charters and lodges from Valdez, Cordova, Seward, Whittier, Homer, parts of SE Alaska and British Columbia were quickly changing from Salmon and Halibut fishing to strictly shark fishing. Over the course of two years, charters could catch 6 sharks a day over a 3-month fishing season with most sharks caught in the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. Fishing Charter boats from these ports switched from historical salmon and halibut recreational fishing, to only salmon shark fishing charters during these years.
Despite being in the eco-tourism market, Ravencroft lodge joined this recreational fishery “Bonanza”, allowing clients to catch and harvest sharks. During that time catching a salmon shark was extremely easy but when clients refused to take the shark meat with them back home, Ravencroft lodge opted out of continuing to offer this fishing experience and had only harvested a handful of sharks.
As this intense fishery continued and reports came in of charters operators continually bringing in their limit of 6 sharks per day, every day, Ravencroft Lodge decided to raise the alarm given the large number of sharks taken in a short amount of time. They started to communicate with the state of Alaska fish and wildlife division to let them know that they were in a unique position to watch the harvest and its impact on the exact spot the sharks migrated to. However, they had no response that indicated that it was seen as an alarming reduction in the population and any action was to be taken.
In addition to the recreational shark fishing, the commercial fishing industry was also adding to the dramatic drop in population. There has been no shark directed commercial fishery since 1997, except for dogfish in Alaska since 1997. However, Salmon sharks are caught accidentally. This impact was seen less often since they did not return to port with their catch. Amy Carrol, a writer and publication specialist with the division of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game summed up the attitude with the following quote, “Salmon Sharks are often brought up in commercial salmon fisheries as by-catch and are considered a nuisance and thus discarded”. (Alaska Fish and Wildlife News 2007). It is hard to assess the exact impact of this by catch but the commercial interest is high in the area for the huge volume of salmon runs that migrate to the area. Commercial fisherman will often refer to these sharks as a pest that destroys nets and gear if accidentally caught. Commercial fishing does not allow them to kill these sharks, but never the less, dead sharks are found regularly floating in areas where commercial fishing has occurred.
The combined impact of the recreational
fishery, the commercial by-catch and the speed with which the drop
in the shark population happened created rapid and drastic
changes. In places where previously hundreds of sharks were
seen, few returned.
By 2009, the height of the recreational shark fishery was over and charter operators and lodges changed back to salmon and halibut fishing. Clients were becoming increasingly upset spending large amounts of dollar on trips to a remote part of Prince William Sound in search of sharks, only to find them gone.
For Ravencroft lodge the drop in the number of sharks had a big impact on their revenue stream and in the years 2009 and 2010 they did not see the sharks return. In 2011 they saw only a handful of sharks. But each year after that, a few more sharks would return, slowly increasing the number of sightings. In 2016, more than 30 sharks were seen and it restarted a photographic catalog of known sharks returning to the area. However, this a still a very low number compared to hundreds of sharks that use to inhabit this area.
Per IUCN, Salmon Sharks are labeled as
LEAST CONCERNED, stating “The Salmon Shark occurs in the eastern
and western North Pacific and its population appears to be stable
and at relatively high levels of abundance. Currently there
is no directed fishery in the Northeast Pacific, apart from a
small sport fishery for the species in Alaska. Bycatch in
the Northeast and Eastern Central Pacific appears to be at low
levels and is not increasing at this point-in-time”
A research paper by L.B. Hulbert, stated that he found an abundant population of salmon sharks from 1998-2001 (Hulbert et al 2005). Nearly all research conducted on salmon sharks was taken before 2000-2007, during the peak of a healthy shark population. Scientists and biologists will use these studies as a baseline when talking about this shark species. But current population rates are heavily skewed with old data and must be updated with not only with new scientific research and recreational fishing data, but also commercial fishing data regarding the number of sharks that they discard.
Conclusion: Coupled with the
recreation fishing interest that still exists and the high dollar
value connected to it, and the commercial fishing seine boats that
frequent the area, these sharks are still in recovery mode.
But it is a fragile recovery that could be jeopardized easily if
one or two charter boats, over a few days, decided to take the old
practice of fishing for these sharks. With that another
negative impact of shark eco-tourism could happen.
Ravencroft lodge, being the only commercial operator that promotes
non-consumptive shark tourism for the Salmon sharks approached the
city of Valdez to help make the case for the value of a live
returning shark versus the one-time dollar value of harvested
shark. However, they quickly found out that they merely
generated a renewed interest in catching and stringing up a shark
for a photo opportunity.
It is likely that the scale and value of recreational fishing for these sharks could outperform the current eco-tourism value and with that the fate of this shark continue to hang in the balance. On one hand the low number of sharks will most likely prevent any large scale recreational fishing. However, should the population rebound to the numbers pre-2001, a risk exists that history may repeat itself.
It is encouraging that the global dive industry is increasingly interested in this shark species and thus underlines the case for non-consumptive shark eco-tourism. However, to it desirable that additional and updated research should be allocated to determine the population's health and long term sustainable use."
Weasels in the bush
Ermine weasels are in my opinion some of the coolest little creatures that hang out around the lodge. They are often seen in a flash, running across a tree limb or scrambling through some under brush. Most times, your first thought is that a squirrel was just in the area. But over the years, a small family of these weasels have made the lodge buildings home. Their main food source seems to be mice or Voles. Equally as fast, these rodents live underground, keeping warm and dry. But weasels can easily access their underground terrain with their slender bodies. Making the voles easy to find a catch. Lately, we've been seeing a parent weasel teaching his offspring the art of seek and hunt. Some days, we can be sitting on a deck and see this mini safari unfold right in front us. Guests are quiet surprised at how brazen these little guys are as well. When this photo was taken, this weasel had just ran across the lodge deck to present his kill to my and group of guests watching the hummingbirds. He stopped 4 or 5 feet from us, stood on his hind legs and said, "I am king around here, look at me!" Then continued down the deck. I had already been snapping photo's of the hummingbirds, so I leaned over the deck and snapped one of him as he carried his trophy home.