Getting Narc’d with the Sharks

The Blue Hole was, without a doubt, my single most memorable scuba dive to date.

Thankfully, one of our fellow divers, Australian Rohan Ashton (facebook / email: rohanashton(at) was shooting photo and video footage during the dive.  I am very grateful for his permission to post some of his footage here, because otherwise, I wouldn’t expect you to believe me!

There were dozens of reef sharks at the Blue Hole.  Dozens.

If I had to honestly guess, I would put the number of sharks we saw between 35 and 50.  At one point I counted 8 massive reef sharks swimming around us at once.  After we ascended from the Blue Hole, waiting during our safety stop at 5m depth, we watched as countless sharks of all sizes swam, some perhaps only 2-3 meters beneath us.  I now understand what they mean when they say that sharks “circle.”  If our divemaster hadn’t stayed calm, I think I would have lost the plot.

If only so that you believe me, here’s a video, hosted on YouTube, of some of the footage Rohan shot that should give you a flavour for our finned friends. [direct link]

I’m also going to post a second video: a continuous minute-long take that Rohan made when we were down in the Blue Hole.  The reason I want to do this is that when me and my fellow divers watched this video together back on Caye Caulker, all of us could empathise with the cocktail of confusion and fascination that Rohan’s video seems to suggest down there at 40m.

This was by far the most “narc’d” (or “narced”) I’ve ever been – the spaced-out sensation a diver typically experiences at depths below around 30m.  I remember thinking tripped-out thoughts like “that stalactite is so big, I couldn’t hug it even if I wanted to”, and then, looking up at the bubbles us divers were making against the glow of the surface, thinking “wow, this is so beautiful, I could just stay down here forever.”

So I’m just going to post Rohan’s video exactly as is, hoping that in future it will bring back the memories of such an amazing dive – sharks, stalactites and all. [direct link]

And now I leave you with a barracuda that links to the rest of the photos.

[Update 8 Nov: I just wanted to make one more comment about diving Belize.  I observed along with my fellow divers that the dive outfits at Caye Caulker and neighbouring San Pedro were by far more lax than any I’ve seen (my experience is from dives in Ireland, Canada, Egypt, Belize, and now Mexico.)  For example, at the Blue Hole, we were 16 divers down with two dive masters, and some of the divers there had only just completed their PADI Open Water Certification, and were therefore at over twice their qualified depth.  And on one of my other dives off Caye Caulker, the dive master couldn’t be bothered to buddy us up, gave us next to no briefing, and more or less tossed us off the boat into the water.  I don’t mention this to name and shame, and I want to be clear that I never felt unsafe or threatened — I just felt the need to be extra vigilant.  I offer this as a caveat to very new divers, who may want to befriend more experienced divers they meet in Belize and exercise caution before doing something loco at the Blue Hole!]

I’m in ur cabana, borrowing ur internets

Belize Cabana

This is my beach-front cabana on Caye Caulker in Belize.  I sent the photo to Flickr using my wireless connection here – because the really cool guy who runs the cabanas at Ignacio’s offers wireless for free.  So don’t believe anyone who tells you Belize doesn’t have the internets.  Or gorgeous beachfront cabanas that go for $12USD/night.

I had two great dives today and swam with the sharks for the first time.  Nurse sharks, but still, sharks.  If all goes to plan, tomorrow I will dive the Blue Hole!

And my apologies to the Lolcats for the title of this post.

Making videos is a different kettle of …

…fish!  (And eagle rays!  And giant moray eels!)

For the second half of my diving in Dahab and Ras Mohammed, I shot video footage instead of photos.  Here’s a 2-minute highlight reel, in YouTube format:

The shots were taken on dives in Egypt, at Dahab and Ras Mohammed (between Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef).  They feature Siofra, Gregory, and a cast of thousands (of fish).

The background music is called In Space by the Norwegian (Tromsøværing) group Røyksopp, whose mellow tracks were played endlessly at the Penguin Restaurantin Dahab.

To create this, I used:

  • SeaLife DC500 underwater camera to film it
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 to cut the video together
  • Expression Media Encoder to preview and export a web-ready format

Adobe’s Premiere Pro was the real hero in this operation; it offers a very intuitive interface for cutting video together.  Expression Media Encoder does one job and it does it well.

I hope you enjoy!

(note: Silverlight Streaming version will be up when I can figure out how to get the video sent to the Silverlight streaming service. grr.)

Redundancy and Routine

Safe Scuba Diving is about redundancy and routine. 

On the redundancy front, not only do you learn backups and workarounds for the unlikely event of an equipment failure, but you also dive with a buddy, making some of your equipment quadrupally redundant.

On the routine front, the gear is assembled “just so.”  A “buddy check” before you dive ensures that your gear has been scrutinized by two sets of eyes.  During a recreational dive, you perform a 3 minute “safety stop” 5 meters below the surface to significantly reduce the chances of decompression sickness.  And after the dive, the gear is also disassembled into a precise and well-thought-out configuration that readies it for the next dive.

Waiting on the line to do 'three at five'... scuba divers 

My photography should perhaps be more like my scuba diving.

In Petra I used a lot of manual settings on the camera, including manual focus and modified ISO.  On Day 1, I forgot that I was on manual focus and rendered dozens of shots out of focus.  On Day 2, after a long-exposure shot at Petra By Night (below), I forgot I was at ISO 500, and many of my subsequent shots were unnecessarily grainy.

Petra by Night at ISO500

I was devastated at the time but now I see it as a hard lesson learned.  I often don’t have time to check every single camera setting before firing off a shot, and so I tend to assume the camera is configured in a certain way.  Neither ISO nor manual/auto focus is immediately obvious in the heads-up display in the D70s, and unlike in scuba, I don’t have a buddy to perform a “buddy check” before each shot. :)

So instead, I wonder if I should arrive at a configuration that I know I’m always going to leave my camera in when I turn it off.  And stick to it.  Or at the very least, arrive at a configuration for each shoot (desert, wedding banquet, pints in pub) and stick to it for the duration.

Does this resonate with any of the other photographers out there?