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shark diving with blacktip shark copyright a woodburn

After a trouble free run down to Umkomaas, SHARK DIVING capital in KZN South Africa from Johannesburg, we arrived at the Aguhlas Guesthouse to gentle rain and the underwater photographers chatting about scuba diving and underwater cameras. They had already been primed by the Wednesday underwater photography and tiger shark diving lecture on how to manage their housings and what to expect when attempting to not only dive without a cage amongst tiger sharks, but get good photos at the same time. We dropped off to sleep after the drive and before I knew it the alarm was going and the Aghulas Guesthouse breakfast was disappearing down my throat at pace. Good thing too since it was to fuel me for a day on the ocean at Aliwal Shoal where we would be looking for Tiger sharks to dive with and photograph and diving the Aliwal Shoal.

shark in sunlight underwater photo copyright a woodburn

Launching from Rocky bay was easy with a small shore break but travelling the 7km into the swell was a bit bumpy with a boat full of equipment and divers hanging on to the RIB pontoons. While watching Blacktip sharks taking our fish like candy from a baby one of the intrepid divers spotted a large splash closer to shore so we managed to home in on a mother humpback whale escorting her baby whale calf. The humpback whale calf was happily playing around its mother slapping its pectoral fin and spy hopping. This lead the mother humpback whale to join in except her fluke was over 10ft high as it uncertainly tottered above the surface before crashing down into the water with spray and an almighty crash.

 blacktip shark and underwater photo diver copyright a woodburn  shark dive underwater photographer copyright a woodburn

Upon our return to the shark action there had been shouts of tiger shark but I wasn’t sold. We kitted up and grabbing underwater photography gear, all backward rolled to photograph some shark action. Disappointment struck the visibility was only about 6m and a creepy blue green, dark and full of particles. For an hour we periodically had at most 3 Blacktip sharks coming in to have a look but really not hanging about and they definitely hadn’t read the photo guide for sharks. I worked hard at trying to capture the murky nature of a shark dive and shooting up to use light and silhouette methods. Others kept vigil but to be honest there wasn’t a tiger anywhere. Just as I decided to ascend about 30 large Black tips arrived with plenty of energy to spare, zooming right past my ears and in front of the dome ports. Simon was loving life with strobes firing at will. These sharks have increased in size over the past few seasons and are now a handful to dive with, moving fast and changing direction regularly. Taking respectable photos in these trying conditions was a test. Surfacing provided an interesting opportunity with snorkelers interacting with sharks in the top 4 m of water and the Blacktip sharks being mighty curious and literally being dead keen to taste my housing and dome port.

underwater photo of sharks at ocean surface south africa copyright a woodburn   sharks underwater photo copyright A woodburn

While waiting for fresh tanks I was surprised by a few sharks actually leaping right out the water doing corkscrews spinning before splashing back into the sea. This would have been brilliant to photograph but completely impossible to predict. We then transferred boats and while some of the greener underwater photographers returned to shore the rest of headed to the Aliwal Shoal to div Cathedral. This awesome scuba diving site held 19 ragged tooth sharks gently cruising around and we managed to sneak in with a few heading for open water and then turning to reenter the cathedral. Unfortunately it was dark and dreary with absolutely no sunlight on the yellow sands and loads of suspended particles in the water. The photo opportunities with the raggie sharks were limited in the poor conditions but even so provided some underwater photo practice.  Some of us ran out of battery power for our strobes and before we knew it deco time was upon us. The trip back to Umkomaas from Aliwal Shoal was uneventful and we all enjoyed a few cold beers to clean the salt from our mouths.

 raggie sharks underwater in cathedral aliwal shoal copyright a woodburn  shark diving underwater photography in cathedral aliwal shoal copyright A woodburn

Unfortunately the diving and underwater photography on Sunday was cancelled due to massive waves and high winds after rain lashed the coast on Saturday evening. We reviewed underwater photography during breakfast and headed home. A good weekend of shooting in trying conditions but as training went perfect to push your skills and test your photographic thinking.


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