7/26 Looking for sharks with the North wind.

Smooth Hammerhead.

NOAA’s marine forecast was showing light North winds and calm seas.  On the south shore of Long Island, NY, that means its a great time to do a little exploring out on the ocean.  With my small boat, I need to pick my days so I don’t come home black and blue.  More importantly, on those calm days, the visibility over the surface of the ocean greatly increased.  The background pattern is simpler and its easier for your eye to pick out anomalies.  These breaks in the pattern are often just birds or mylar balloons, (#balloonsblow) , but occasionally they are something exciting:   dolphin, sharks, turtles, whales, sunfish.

This trip I found an 8 to 10 foot Smooth Hammerhead, Sphyrna zygaena, who was pretty chill, allowing me to approach and even a little curious to check out the boat.

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This is often the first you see of a shark – just a little blip of a fin.  You keep your eyes on it; It could dive out of sight without a moment’s notice.

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He seemed relaxed, slowly finning on the surface, so I tried to get a bit up-sun of him, while getting the Fire Island Lighthouse as a backdrop.  The long narrow dorsal fin is the first indication that this was a Hammerhead.   Several people online claimed that this was a Mola mola Ocean Sunfish, but a picture, while sometimes being worth a 1,000 words, is still just a static slice of time.   Although they both have large dorsal fins, their swimming behavior could not be more different.   Sunfish are best described as being “floppy”.   Their dorsal fins flop back an forth, lazily.   Their entire bodies flop over sideways as if they are sick or hurt and unable to swim properly.  Floppy.   They’ve been described like this: “They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well.”  So they flop and eat small floppy things.  Here is one I found a few miles from the shark.  Jay’s friend thinks this is a baby whale.

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The shark was finning pretty much in one direction, so I approached at idle speed towards where he was heading to basically intercept him.  I got really close and took a few pics.

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I was very happily surprised by how close I got, so I tried another approach and grabbed my GoPro.

Here you can see that this is a Smooth Hammerhead, not a Scalloped Hammerhead.   The Scalloped have a slight indentation of the very leading point of their head or cephalofoil.  These sharks are predators, feeding on fish.  In accordance with this, their movement is vastly different than the Sunfish’s flop. I have witnessed them feeding on bunker (menhaden) pods.  They can turn incredibly fast, slicing and dicing through a bunker school.  Here is an older shot of one feeding.  He was turning in a very small radius, very quickly.

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After the GoPro pass, I wanted a few more photographs, but I got too close for my long lens on the next pass.  Just off the bow, he swam through a very still ripple free section of water, and I was able to see him in all his glory, all 8 to 10 feet of him.  The only picture of that particular sight is burned only into my brain.  I tried for one more pass,  changing frantically to a 24-105mm with a circular polarizer to help cut through the water surface glare.  Polarizing filters are highly recommended.  Driving and positioning the boat while changing lenses was a bit much and I lost track of him.  Gone – just like that.

Smooth Hammerheads migrate North to temperate waters and are seen fairly frequently here in summer.  They school up to migrate, but as adults here, they tend to be solitary.  Solitary blips out of the background.  Keep your eyes out!

 

 

Summer n’ Sharks…

NY Summer Arrives.

6/28 Hot with a North wind.

 

Warming waters, plentiful bunker, lots of life, and a gentle northern wind to turn the ocean to glass made for a nice trip.   The dorsal fins of lots of Hammerheads and a few Blue sharks could be seen slicing the clean surface.

  • location – a few miles out of Fire Island Inlet.
  • subjects – Hammerhead and Blue sharks
  • gear – Nikon D810, Tam 150-600mm;  GoPro.  (I really could have used a polarizing filter to cut through the water surface.)

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Cutting through glass…

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Note the elongated, narrow dorsal as opposed to that of the blue shark.

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Sleek Blue
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Entangled Blue Shark

Blue shark, entangled in rope.  This blue was not boat shy, seemed attracted to the electronics in the GoPro.

 

 

 

On another note, please do not release balloons.  They are making a mess of things.  I filled a hatch without going out of my way, picking the ones in my path.

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Hammer Time.

Almost shark week… 🙂

The ocean on the south shore of Long Island really starts lighting up with life this time of year.   Along with tropical fish and startles, we also get some sharks that are better known to more southern waters.   The most common shark I have seen in the last few years is the Hammerhead.  They seem to like the surface.  I’m not sure of the species, but I would guess scalloped hammerhead.  (Hit the comments if you can identify!)  They are definitely feeding on the bunker (first pic).  These sharks are amazing to watch.  They are extremely maneuverable, and slice and dice through the ball up bait.  

Its been found that unusually structured vertebrae are what allow this tight maneuvering.  That crazy head – the Cephalofoil – helps with lift and turning, however its main function is more of a sensory organ.  All sharks have electroreceptors called ampullae of Lorenzini that help detect prey.   By spreading these out over the wider area of the cephalofoil, it acts like a radio antenna, allowing the shark to sweep broader areas for prey.

While we wait for this south wind to calm, here are some older pics from last year, this week.  

 

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I suspect  little photoshop on that last one, but look at that water.  Thats real!   Hit the comments for any questions or um..  comments!    Enjoy!

Bottlenose Dolphin, South Shore, Long Island.

FINS to the left! Pics at the end!

The Fourth of July brought with it, not only fireworks and celebration, but also a very flat, mellow ocean.   The north wind and a lack of swell made for smooth lake-like conditions.   

I love these conditions for running the boat out there because the surface is relatively smooth in shape and texture.  No whitecaps to distract the eye.  It essentially becomes a backdrop from which your eyes can pick out anomalies – small disturbances emerging out of the overall pattern.

All too often, these visual stand-outs turn out to be helium balloons.  (Please, folks, think about curbing the balloon use, or at least don’t let them go fly away.  They land on the ocean, and I can fill garbage bag picking them up.  They kill.)  

The next common thing you will see are seagulls.   Kind of boring, but worth a second glance.  I have found sea turtles that I initially thought were birds.

Now if you keep your eyes scanning, there is a good chance that you will see some wonderful things –  dolphin, shark, turtle, an occasional humpback or fin whale.  Keep looking for the anomaly in the pattern.  Your eyes will learn to see what you are looking for._DSC5364-2

On the Fourth, I spotted a few pods of migratory, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus.    They were actively corralling and feeding on atlantic menhaden, also known as bunker.  (See video of a bunker school below.)  Many babies were in the mix. There seemed to be two separate pods of 15 to 30 individuals.  I was between 1/2 mile and 2 miles off, between Robert Moses and Kismet.  

 

I often see dolphin very close to shore.  On these calm days, consider bring binoculars to the beach with you.  You might get a nice surprise!

Photo tips:  You really need a telephoto lens with some reach.  You cannot get too close to these guys.  Its not safe, legal, or effective.  If you get too close, they dive deep and split.   I try to maneuver to within no more than 50 yards, and then stay parallel to the direction they are heading and get a bit ahead of them. Turn off engine, and let them swim towards you, on a line that still maintains your distance.

I’m shooting with a relatively cheap Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens.   At 600mm, I really want some wide depth of field, so I keep my F-stop at 8 or higher.  Shutter speed needs to be fast – subject is moving at a distance, so I try not to go below 1/1000th of a second.  For me, this works well in aperture priority mode.  If I can’t keep the shutter speed up at F8,  I raise the ISO just enough to get that fast shutter.   I use back button focus, because its faster for me, and you need to be fast for when a dolphin pops up.  It also allows me to pre-focus on where I think they will be, and then just snap the shutter. 

I can’t really say enough about keeping your eyes on the water, and observing the surface.   On the way in, at a slow cruising speed, I saw a small disturbance that I though might be a turtle.   Turns out it was the dorsal fin of a triggerfish.  I stopped and he swam under the cover of the shadow of the boat!

 

Enjoy, and keep those eyes open!  Here are a few shots from the Fourth of July, as well as a few from previous trips!

 

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Continue reading “Bottlenose Dolphin, South Shore, Long Island.”

Seal Cruise Groupon

Nice discount available from American Princess Cruises out of Riis Point.

From Groupon:

“Choose Between Two Options
  • $16 for a seal- and bird-watching adventure cruise for one ($30 value)
  • $30 for two Groupons, each good for a weekend seal- and bird-watching adventure cruise for one ($60 value)
“Cruises run on Saturdays from March 18th to April 29th, as well as a Friday cruise on April 14th. Boarding is at 11:15 a.m., with the tour leaving at 12 p.m. and returning at approximately 2 p.m.
The large vessel has a full bar, including hot chocolate, tea, coffee, spiked coffee, and other beverages, and is also equipped with a snack bar and galley. Passengers spend 2 hours gazing out of sizable viewing windows in a large, heated cabin with cushioned seating, enjoying scenic skyline views and spotting Harbor and Grey seals, with the occasional Harp and Hooded seal sighting, as well as a variety of birds. On warmer days, guests can take in sights from the ship’s canopy-covered upper deck. There is a naturalist on board guiding the tour, that gives a presentation on marine life, seals, birds, and the surrounding area on the way. There is also a slide show which is displayed on big screen tv’s, showing pictures, posters and exhibits. The naturalist is available throughout the trip for any questions.”

Hit the link:  Groupon link.

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Seal FYI

Long Island. Our harbor and grey seals will probably not be sticking around too long in some parts. If you love seals, but don’t have time to head out east, head down to Robert Moses, or the Oak Beach area. You will need to go at low tide, and you will need binoculars, telescope, or a huge lens. The haul out is towards the middle of Great South Bay, so they are far out there, but they are there. This picture, and this info should help you find them. Remember, they are federally protected marine mammals. If you alter their behavior, you are too close. Please keep that in mind if you are in a boat.  Enjoy.

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