Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sharkin' part one

These were not, to paraphrase a famous quote, the sharks I'm looking for.....

They are nonetheless awesomely cool and this is the first time I've managed to get something recognisable of them notwithstanding my having seen hundreds. Take a look at the video and then I'll explain all.

Yup Hammerheads. Specifically these are scalloped hammerheads, Sphryna lewinii, or at least we must assume them to be such as the as yet unnamed "cryptic hammerhead" is only known from the Atlantic coast of the US as of now.

This video was taken on the mighty Elphinstone reef, in Egypt where I was looking for something else. The great thing about Elphinstone is its position and topography lend it to producing an array of pelagic sharks including from time to time a couple which can be seen in very few other places (it is for example alongside Egypt's Brothers Isles and Malapascua Island in the Philippines one of the few places you can even dare to dream of seeing a thresher shark whilst diving - two divers off our boat jammed a very distant one - but I wasn't looking for threshers either). It is also deep (the deepest I have ever dived is at Elphinstone (47 metres and this video was taken at a depth of about 45 metres or 148 feet or 24 and a half fathoms) and dangerous.

Elphinstone is shaped like a cruise liner or battleship lying vertically on a bottom of maybe 80 - 90 metres which slopes out to much deeper depths. The result is a sheer reef wall which extends to within a few inches of the water's surface. At either end of this long thin reef are plateaus, to the south a plateau extending out from 20 metres down to 35 metres. To the north 3 plateaus; 24 metres then 40 metres then 60 metres. Between these is the famous Elphinstone crack which techdivers (and sadly the crazy-brave on air) like to pass through to demonstrate something I'm not quite sure what. I prefer to sit higher and look for pelagic giants. The way you dive Elphinstone depends heavily on the current and the time of year, two factors which combined to result in me being in mid water over the 60 metre plateau working against a little bit of current when these two hammers banked in for a look. They are actually in the frame for most of the video but they just disappear on screen. The video does give you a good feel for what the hammerhead encounters were like on this trip to Elphinstone; deep, dark, hard work and then very, very fleeting. With that brief sighting our bottom time was over and it was time to ascend into the light and the reef wall and move north to south. In the south, something else entirely was waiting.

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