Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter Approaches

WD Aleutian Dream at sea in swell

Aleutian Dream ( Courtesy Wayne Davis)

Our work with the Massachusetts White Shark population study is winding down with only a couple of weeks to go to the end of the field season. The air and water temperatures are dropping and with the onset of autumn the weather in New England has added some drama to our trips when we can get out. The work continues to be exciting as we have observed changes in the shark behavior and especially in the size of the sharks that are in the area. Larger sharks, both male and female seem to be patrolling the coast now and once again the grey seal herd is beginning to congregate in southern part of our study area on Monomoy. Even though we have been challenged with tough sea conditions and low temperatures the action observing very large white sharks hunting seals in shallow water has been amazing to watch. The above image taken by Wayne Davis tells a perfect story of the change of the mood of the ocean at this time of year.  Shorter days and lower sun angles make spotting more difficult especially from the boat. But the seascapes are stunning in autumn light.

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Rare glimpse of a Minke Whale as it breaks the surface feeding on sand eels near Monomoy

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Fin Whale spotted feeding (one of four) just east of the North Chatham Inlet


Dunlins in flight off of “Shark Alley” otherwise known as South Beach south of the cut.

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Dr. Greg Skomal in his full winter working “kit” aboard the Aleutian Dream

On October 16 we were introduced to one of the largest white sharks of the 2015 season. A 16 ft female estimated to be 3000 lbs hunting in the area near Shark Cove. The image below was captured by Greg Skomal and then “cleaned up” by John Chisholm to reveal this magnificent female. Pam and I were given the privilege of naming her and Pam chose the name “Monomoy” in honor of our family’s ancestors who have inhabited this land for hundreds of years AND to honor the young people of Chatham and Harwich who selected the white shark as their mascot a few years back. Now they have one for their very own. We were able to place an acoustic tag on this beauty so scientists will be able to follow her return visits in the years to come through our listening “receivers” deployed on the outer Cape.


White Shark “Monomoy” – note the markings on her second gill plate.

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Wayne Davis captured the (below) magnificent image of white shark “Monomoy” near the land which inspired her name.


Courtesy Wayne Davis (oceanaerials.com)

Captain Nick Nickerson (below) works with a film crew off of Monomoy in less than ideal conditions.

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Working with a film crew off of North Chatham inlet. (Photo courtesy Wayne Davis)



Read more.. Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Wild Cape Cod Notebook

The last six weeks of summer have been a blur of intense activity on the Outer Cape Cod area. Emotional highs and lows and the awe of natural history in action have provided opportunities to witness some unique beauty here. Thought I would leave you a few impressions of a Cape Cod summer in the field as I now take a two week break to travel west. Most of our time in the field here as been in support of the white shark population study being directed by Dr. Greg Skomal, pictured here in a rare moment sitting in the skipper’s perch on the research vessel. It is a true pleasure to work with this dedicated and talented scientist helping with his ground breaking study of Atlantic white sharks.

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One highlight was showing a little six year old shark enthusiast her first white shark very up close and personal.

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Another was to witness a white shark chase a seal literally onto the beach in a failed attempt to make a kill in the area of Monomoy we call shark cove. Similar attempts may have led to the two strandings we have witnessed this summer.

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Some may have seen video of a shark we followed and photographed on this day as it made a full breach in an attempt to subdue a young female grey seal.

The video’s back story is here.

This same shark was able to make a successful kill minutes later . Here are a few frames that were taken seconds after the kill.

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There has been much speculation among the biologists studying white sharks here on Cape Cod as to whether these white sharks breach either in pursuit of prey or for other reasons. This behavior is often observed in False Bay, South Africa near Seal Island but until recently experts had not observed this behavior in Cape Cod waters. That changed a couple of weeks ago when on one quiet morning north of Chatham we apparently startled a 13 ft shark in 12 feet of water causing it to breach immediately in front of the vessel …to the shock and delight of all on board. Though the event was not captured  by our cameras the below image I took in South Africa a couple of years ago will give you an excellent idea of what we witnessed. And of course now the rumors of white shark breaching off the outer Cape have been confirmed with an actual sighting!

White Shark SA #3

Another highlight was when our spotter pilot Wayne Davis reported the sighting of the rarest of the great whales on the planet, a young Northern right whale – seen here well out of its normal summer range. There are less than 500 of these animals left in the world.

Wayne’s images of the young whale next to the research vessel are here. Our report was eagerly welcomed by the regions marine mammal scientists who have been busy identifying this animal from markings on the whales head pictured below.

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Right Whale Calf 12

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Working our way north one day searching for white sharks we came upon an ocean sunfish or mola mola. Curious voyagers in all oceans.

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We witnessed a large pod of 8 -10 Fin whales feeding near the top of the Outer Cape near Race Point.

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Finally we managed to take a day to get in some birding in the Monomoy NWR to observe some of the migrating shorebirds that are passing through on their southerly voyage to feed on our rich mud flats.

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Lesser Yellow-legs

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Short-billed dowitcher

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Young Piping Plover

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Hudsonian Godwit and a Sanderling

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Yellow legs feeding

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Rudy Turnstone and Ringed necked Plover

On another August morning I was able to join a friend and his family for an early morning run to find bluefin tuna off of Chatham. No tuna on this day but a glorious sunrise. Both humpback and minke whales were observed feeding on sand eels about 5 miles off shore too!

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On a very sad note recently we were called to work with colleagues and members of the beach public in a nearby town to rescue a stranded adult male white shark that had beached itself in a falling tide. Despite some heroic efforts the shark was not revived and instead it was brought in to Chatham so that scientists could perform a necropsy. Adult white shark specimens are very rarely observed by shark biologists so much can be learned from studying this 14 foot mature male shark estimated to be 1500 – 2000 lbs.

A magnificent predator even in death.





Read more.. Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Close Encounters of the Shark Kind II

Heartfelt thanks to the Nickerson Art Gallery in Chatham, to all those who turned out for our reception last night and to those of you who visited our show during the past Shark Week! Very pleased to say that most of the images are going to great homes around the country spreading some shark love.  For those who could not make it to Chatham, here is the line up of images including two limited edition posters that are being exhibited. The show closes today.

White Shark Aus

Blue Shark #1 Whale Shark #1 White Shark below surface White Shark in Shark Cove Monomoy (5) White Shark in Shark Cove Monomoy White shark SA #1 White Shark SA #3 White Shark SA #4 White Shark SA #5 White Sharks Mex Wild Cape Cod 2013 poster Wild Chatham 2012 poster

Read more.. Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Close Encounters of the Shark Kind: An exhibit of original photographs

With Discovery Channel’s Shark Week fast approaching, the adrenaline in this household is starting to increase with anticipation as it has every year at this time in recent memory. And now imagine our thrill at having the honor to be a (small) part of this year’s lead show for the Shark Week line up , titled Shark Trek featuring our very own Dr. Greg Skomal and his important shark research being conducted right in outer Cape Cod waters.

In honor of the weeks’ coming events we are very pleased to be partnering with our friends at Nickerson Gallery in Chatham to share some of the images we have recorded of white sharks and other shark species in our recent travels. The exhibit is titled Close Encounters of the Shark Kind.  We hope our Cape Cod friends will visit the Nickerson Gallery , 618 Main Street in Chatham to have a look. All of the photography will be available for sale and a limited edition poster of a white shark patrolling Cape Cod waters was created especially to benefit white shark research here on Cape Cod. The show will run from July 5 – 12th concurrent with Shark Week and all friends are invited to an artist’s reception on July 11th 5:00 – 8:00 PM at the Gallery. We will be present to share stories of how these images were recorded in most of the world hotspots where white sharks occur including South Africa, Mexico, Australia as well as in Cape Cod waters. Here is a taste below…..and in case you are wondering…NO seals were injured in the making of this image. -JK

Photographer and conservationist John King in the marsh near his home in Chatham, Massachsuetts

Photographer and conservationist John King in the marsh near his home in Chatham, Massachusetts (Photo by Shareen Davis)

White Shark SA #4

White shark & seal encounter: Seal Island, South Africa

Wild Cape Cod 2013 poster



Read more.. Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring on the Water

On the outer Cape as most Cape Codders know, spring comes later than on the mainland. Sea temperatures are cool from the long winter and warming comes very slowly. Notice the deep blue color on the image below indicating water temps in the 40s F. This “tongue” of cold water has occurred each of the past three years that we have been looking and others have told us they have seen it regularly here in the spring. As you can see the northern tip of it touches the area just south of Chatham, Massachusetts and the Monomoy NWR. As of this date – there are absolutely no data that suggest white sharks have returned to the area. But they are expected very soon. Last year the first white shark was detected by an acoustic receiver off Monomoy on June 14, 2014.

Surface temp June 13 2015

Recently we have traveled offshore to see what kind of marine life has returned to the area. We were pleased to find the return of Gulf of Maine humpback whales along with quite a few fin whales feeding on large schools of sand lances about 10 to 15 miles out. Further friends have reported schools of basking sharks also in the area although we have not seen them this year yet.

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Humpbacks off Truro

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Offshore (3)


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Lots of seabirds as well Here is  nice look at a Sooty shearwater.

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And a bit of a surprise – literally hundreds of North Atlantic Grey seals foraging completely unconcerned about any mammal eating predators that might be in the area. We observed the seals in large groups “porpoising” along in the late afternoon clearly headed out presumably to feed. We even saw a small school of dolphins on the surface but they were a bit shy and we did not got an image of them.

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We were very fortunate to catch a ride with our friend Wayne Davis to fly the outer Cape several days ago. Absolutely a thrill to observe our region from the air.

Pleasant Bay inside North Chatham Inlet


Chatham North Inlet

North Chatham Inlet

North Chatham Inlet

North Chatham Inlet (looking east)


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Nauset Inlet

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South Beach Cut (northerly “channel”)

Common Flat June 14

Common Flat (looking over Minimoy) eastward

Common Flat (looking West over Minimoy)

Common Flat (looking West over Minimoy)

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South Beach Cut

Main Chatham Harbor entrance - June 14

Chatham Harbor Main entrance

Shark Alley June 14

Monomoy Lighthouse  June 14

Handkerchief Shoal Rips

Handkerchief Shoal Rips






Read more.. Friday, June 19th, 2015

Dream Team Adventure

Winter is coming to Cape Cod and the time has come to haul boats for storage until the spring. This is always a little bit sad for us. Many years ago Pam and I dreamed about spending time on a boat chasing wildlife in a wild place that was not in the middle of the Bering Sea. When at last this dream became a reality for us here on Cape Cod …we decided to call our small expedition craft Aleutian DreamIt continues to be a joy for us and this year was special as we pushed this vessel into some new challenges to support the white shark research project.

A word about the totem symbol on the bow.  This spirit symbol has been with us for more than thirty years throughout our many adventures. It is a Pacific Northwest Coast Indian (Tlingit) spirit totem called Sisioohl or as the kwakwaka’wakw refereed to it, Sisiutl.  The literal translation is “Magic Salmon”. The spirit represents some “heavy magic” and is not to be trifled with. Central to the themes of warrior, power, strength and invulnerability, the Sisioohl was a dangerous creature, capable of bringing harm or death to anyone coming upon it. In the myths it guarded the house of the sky people. For those with warrior power the Sisioohl became a great help – a drop of Sisioohl blood could cause a warrior’s skin to be impenetrable.  The spirit would come to the warrior on command and its body could act as a self prepared canoe to make the warrior invincible in war. The skin of the Sisioohl made into a belt  allowed the warrior who was wearing it to perform superhuman feats. The Sisioohl eyes could be used as sling stones and were so powerful they could even kill Whales!!

Alternatively, the glare of this three headed serpent could cause a man to die, his joints turned backward, and it could cause an enemy who looked upon it to turn to stone. Fortunately, over the years we have partnered successfully with this spirit to do some amazing things and happily we are still alive and mostly in one piece…though a few times we pushed our luck a bit. We are sure the Sisioohl was with us as we dodged breakers as we tracked white sharks on the outer Cape this year. Through our efforts in 2014, the Massachusetts Shark Research Program has increased the size of their Atlantic white shark database of identified individuals from 39 (gathered between 2009 – 2013) to an incredible 100+ with more than 61 white sharks id’d and cataloged this season by researchers Greg Skomal & John Chisholm.  And along the way we were also able to apply tracking tags to 18 of these fish to aid in the understanding of white shark annual migration patterns in the Atlantic. The work was funded through the all volunteer efforts of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Thanks to many generous donors an incredible amount of new information about white sharks in Cape Cod waters has been collected and the learning will continue to help inform responsible public policy in our region with good science.

THE TEAM: Our vessel core crew for the past four + months supporting the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Greg Skomal. Good shipmates all  – with Pam King, Cynthia Wigren, Ben Wigren, Jeff Kneebone and Greg Skomal. Pictured below and critical to the work were John Chisholm and our spotter pilot Wayne Davis.  We feel  privileged to have been part of the 2014 field effort and to have worked with such a dedicated & talented team.

Cflat blog

John Chisholm (1)

John Chisholm


Wayne Davis next to his baby “…92 Xray”

White shark off Chatham (3)


Read more.. Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Chasing the Last Dragons

White Shark Chex off N Chatham Inlet

A large male tagged earlier in the season is called Chex (nicknamed Darth Vader by the DMF Team). He is riddled with battle scars indicating that he is likely the dominant male white shark in the Chatham/Orleans habitat this summer season. The tag is visible in this image behind the dorsal fin.

Read a recent article in National Geographic Traveler about cage diving with white sharks in the Neptune Islands in South Australia. Local eco-tour operator Andrew Fox describes the experience his guests enjoy as “Chasing the Earth’s Last Dragons”. The phrase resonated with my own feelings of awe for these ocean voyagers.

Experienced naturalists and field biologists are a joy to be with. They can truly ignite a moment in the field with insight into animal behavior by orienting field companions to the possibilities while calibrating expectations with “what to look for…and what to avoid.. A passion for the wild world just pours from these companions on hikes or longer expeditions into the wild and it can be the difference between an average experience and a special one. We have learned that there is absolutely no substitute for an experienced guide who is familiar with the area your are exploring.. And most if not all of these guides will tell you…that the odds of witnessing a truly magical experiences improve significantly the more time you spend in the field. Seem obvious? Easier said than done. A lesson learned often the hard way. Time in the Field. “You can’t see them if you are not out there among them”… and conditions are not always ideal when the magic happens. Invariably, the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike usually misses the one sighting that they had placed the most value on in planning their trip.

Time in the Field! Persistence paid off for us recently. After more than four seasons of scouring the outer Cape on our boat from Nantucket to Truro with binoculars, using various strategies to solicit the presence of a white shark and observe their hunting prowess we were finally rewarded with a magnificent white shark predation on a small grey seal in real time near the North Chatham Inlet here on Cape Cod. A  true lesson in natural history and a reminder of the majesty of this predator in our midst.

Predation #1

Predation #2

Predation #4

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A truly amazing spectacle that took less than 1 minute to complete. When the shark appeared finished we deplyed our decoy seal (made from pieces of synthetic carpet). A well placed toss and a splash solicted a return visit from the shark. NOTE: the shark is a male about 13 feet long tagged previously…nicknamed “Salty”.

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Salty sniffed this decoy and instantly realized that he had been duped. With a magnificent thrash of his tail he whacked the imposter hard and swam away.

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Outer Cape with WD

Shot acquired while flying with spotter pilot Wayne Davis on one of our days off the water. Note: This is a favorite surfers break off of Wellfleet

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This haul out of grey seals off of Pilgrim Heights is presently the largest gathering of seals on the Outer Cape this summer.

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Dr. Greg Skomal tags his 10th white shark off of Monomoy this week, a 14 footer nick named “Surf Hunter”.

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Working off NAuset Beach

Here is what they see from the beach on most days we are out.

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A Surfer trying his luck close to the beach

Read more.. Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Monomoy NWR

Hard to believe that the dog days of August have come and gone here on Cape Cod and we are welcoming that wonderful time of year known around here as “Septober – Sixty-one Days of Heaven”. As many of you who follow this blog are aware our summer has been dominated by the support we are providing to the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal and John Chisholm of the Department of Marine Fisheries here. That said we did manage a visit into the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge recently to check up on the south – bound shorebirds that frequent our outer beaches at this time of year. Our target area was the southern end of the South Island of Monomoy, an area known to locals as “Powder Hole” a favorite spot especially for birders in New England during the fall.

Monomoy looking north with Shark Cove visible in its entirety

South Monomoy looking north. Powder Hole is the area of ponds in the center.Shark Cove is visible in upper right

Powder Hole (19)

Powserhole (10)

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Grey seals congregate around this estuary running out the Powder Hole.

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A rare sighting of a Marbled Godwit passing through on its way south

Powder Hole (1)

Dunlin in non breeding plumage

Powserhole (7)

Bank swallow feeding over saltwater pan

Powserhole (3)

Powder Hole (17)

Powder Hole (14)

Possible Raccoon tracks

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Monomoy Lighthouse now restored by USFWS but not in service for navigation.

And for those of you who are following the white shark research activity when the weather permits us to get a plane in the air and work close to shore the action is strong. We see on average 5 – 7 different white sharks on every trip. Here is a special image taken by Wayne David our spotter pilot. Notice a grey seal on the surf line and a white shark in the lower left part of the frame. This shark was eventually photographed, cataloged and tagged on this day enabling researchers to follow its movement habits into the future for up to five years.

A recent article describing the work of Greg Skomal and our team is here. http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/NEWS/408270304/0/SEARCH

Shark at the surface

A very rare look at a white shark at the surface

AD on South Beach

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Davis

Below is the fourth in a series of Field Reports of the White Shark research going on this summer in Cape Cod waters. We are proud to be supporting this work funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.


Read more.. Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Summer

The summer is now more than half over and the various activities in the wild world here on Cape Cod have been both numerous and exciting to witness. As readers of this blog are aware, we have been supporting the White Shark Population Study field work under the direction of Dr. Greg Skomal through our involvement with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy since the study initiated in June. This has us out on the waters of the outer Cape two to three times a week on the Aleutian Dream with a dedicated team of researchers and volunteers. The work is hugely rewarding .

We have managed a few days off the water to check-in on the beginnings of the fall shorebird migration which has migrants continuing to pass through the outer Cape barrier beaches to refuel on their southerly journey. Other species are finally fledging their young and preparing to leave in the coming weeks. We  are posting a few images gathered over the past week including another wonderful visit to Sandy Neck in Barnstable.

And don’t miss the latest Field Report video with an update on the  White Shark Research below.

Super Moon

Supermoon rise over North Beach Island, Chatham


Mola mola

A curious mola mola spotted near the North Chatham inlet

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Semipalimated sandpipers momentarily scared up by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Sandy Neck, Barnstable


Peregrine Falcon

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Newly fledged Piping Plover

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An incredible gathering of more than 500 Tree Swallows near the great salt marsh on Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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This osprey was returning to a nest with a newly fledged youngster waiting for a chat with Mom (or dad)

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On patrol at the white shark cafe off South Beach, Chatham

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Photo courtesy of Wayne Davis

Read more.. Monday, August 18th, 2014

Wild Times with White Sharks

Like a moth to a flame……it is exactly a year since Shark Week 2013 kicked off and since we are off the water today took some time to reflect on the adventures with these magnificent creatures during the past year. Here are some of the highlights….

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Seal Island, South Africa

White Shark Seal Island (5)

Seal Island, South Africa

White Shark off South Beach

Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod


Off Chatham Inlet, Cape Cod

Guadeloupe Best

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Sharks Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark Seal Island

Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

Blog GWS

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (11)

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

Guadeloupe Island Close ups

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark off South Beach (1)

Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

PK BDay wish

Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

White Shark Seal Island (2)

Seal Island, South Africa

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (18)

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

White Shark for blog (4)

Predation event on a seal , Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod



White Shark Seal Island (3)

Out of the cage, Seal Island, South Africa

Blue Shark with Joe & Brian

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Picture of the Year 2013 made the cover of TIME Magazine – Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Shark off Rhode Island

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

Black tips Galapagos

Free diving with Black tip sharks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador


Photo courtesy Wayne Davis : Working a white shark off Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts










Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014