A BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS TRIP REPORT
SALMON SHARKS 2018
IN A NUTSHELL:
Salmon sharks, eagles, swimming deer, otters, voles and a
catch-and-release encounter with a Pacific sleeper shark!
Although we didn't see them everyday, when the salmon sharks
were around we had players that came right up to us. The
biggest challenge was the visibility. After a few days of
rain, the clarity of the surface zone made it difficult for
us to shoot and equally difficult for the sharks to chase
the bait. Fortunately, some sharks came so close that it was
still possible to snap away and one even swum through the
legs of one of our guests. A little closer that he expected!
The sharks have this strange habit of
swimming in lazy circles with their dorsal fins out of the
water. Why exactly they do this is not clear but we suspect
that they come to the surface on sunny days to warm up. That
still doesn't explain the circling which is not the most
efficient way to conserve energy if all they are doing is
resting while they warm their core temperature. Hopefully,
we will learn more about them in future seasons.
The sharks surface and descend on their own
schedule. While we were waiting for them to make an
appearance each day, our host Boone Hodgins - owner of
Ravencroft Lodge - entertained us by attracting eagles.
Watching the resident bald eagles chasing eachother across
the sky or swooping down to grab fish in their talons was a
very entertaining distraction not to mention a great photo
One morning while we were out looking for
salmon sharks, we spotted a deer swimming across the inlet.
This led to some interesting images of its progress until it
climbed exhausted onto the far bank.
Port Fidalgo is roughly 3 miles from side to side. For a
deer with tiny hooves and barely any body fat to swim such a
distance in freezing cold water is an extraordinary feat.
Not surprisingly, by the time it reached the
far bank it was barely able to stand and frothing at the
mouth. We watched it from a safe distance so as not to spook
the poor animal and after perhaps 30 minutes, it finally
found the strength to move off into the undergrowth.
ABUNDANT ALASKAN SEA
Numerous times each day we ran into sea
otters hunting in the shallows or simply laying on the
surface as if the water was not a frigid eight degrees
Celsius! We also saw them lounging on icebergs on our way
over to the lodge from Valdez.
Not exactly an apex predator but I think
everyone got a kick out of watching the brave little voles
hopping around the grounds of the lodge when we returned
from sea for lunch each day.
I only saw one humpback whale in the bay but
on most visits to Shark Alley we ran into small pods of Dals
Porpoises. Even if we had been able to catch up to them, you
are not allowed to jump in with cetaceans in US Federal
waters and to his credit, Boone is a stickler for the rules.
Dals Porpoises are notoriously hard to get good images of
because they barely exit the water when they swim. Or maybe
I'm just making excuses for the crumby images I got :)
DIVING PORT FIDALGO
Each morning we looked for sharks and then
went back to sea in the afternoons to enjoy some local
diving. There was always a chance of a random encounter with
a salmon shark on scuba but our diving excursions were more
about exploring the local reef systems.
We dove rocky walls and sandy slopes, some of which were
bristling with giant white plumose anemones. Every now and
then we would stumble upon a patch of smaller orange
anemones. There is something about the color orange
underwater that sucks me in every time I see it.
Now and then we would see interesting
nudibranchs on the reefs but the shallows were completely
clogged with millions of hooded nudibranchs laying their
eggs. How all of these nudis find their way to the same
shoreline at the same time - and where exactly they all come
from - baffles me. All I know is that they are a sight to
MARINELIFE OF PORT FIDALGO
Port Fidalgo is a bit of a backwater without
strong currents so I would not call the reefs world-class
but there are plenty of photo subjects for those that go
looking. Here are some of the many animals to enjoy:
I have always wanted to see a Pacific sleeper
shark. They are huge deepwater sharks closely related to
the Greenland sharks that are found in the Atlantic.
In the North
Pacific, sleepers often get caught on halibut lines but
they live so deep that they are never encountered by scuba
Boone is keen to see if they can be lured into the shallows
so that divers can swim with them. It is an ambitious
project! Being an expert fisherman, he initially brought one
up on a line to see how aggressive it would be around
divers. I was lucky enough to be in the water when this
experiment took place.
The single shark that he brought up was about 10-12ft in
length and extremely girthy. It paid little attention to me
and made a bee-line for deep water as soon as it was
Sleeper sharks migrate into shallow water to
look for food under the cover of darkness, so I suspect that
is the only time they could be encouraged to frequent a
particular spot where divers can see them. I'm looking
forward to seeing how this project progresses!
ADVENTUROUS COLD WATER
Salmon shark diving is not everyone's cup of
tea. Its cold, often dark and the encounters are sometimes
brief so most divers opt for the tropics. Each to their own
but this years divers never lost their enthusiasm and could
not wait to get out to sea. You guys are awesome!