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Shark Diving's Dark Little Secret

Emma the tiger shark gut checking me. Thankfully I safely pulled out my arm in time.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. The hiding. We as people who work with sharks and feed sharks, tend to hide, what I guess could be called, the dark little secret of our industry. Which is feeders getting bit by sharks. We (the feeders), hide those things from the general public and only discuss it amongst ourselves. We laugh about it, we give each other firm scoldings when we screw up really bad, and give each other tight hugs, when we know we dodged a big one.

It is the game, within the game, I guess, and now that my son is in this game, it weighs heavily on my mind. I ask myself all the time, why do we hide? It is not like people won't go shark diving anymore? In fact, I think it would help boost sales, because people are crazy like that, especially shark divers. 

I guess, we tell ourselves, it is more to do with the shark's reputation than anything else. We do not want to hurt it, or add to those foolish shark attack files that get used in the media all the time, and allow those sharkfile people (someone very particular in mind on this one), to get airtime as a shark expert and condemn the animals we love so much. 

Every time I am in the water with sharks, I always feel like they are teaching me something new. So if I got bit, it was because I was a slow learner. Thankfully in a 13 year career I have only been bitten 4 times. This is after thousands of feeding dives with tigers, lemons, and many other species of sharks. I have always looked at my scars as reminders, for being a slow learner. But I also feel grateful and blessed to have lived and worked with these sharks so intimately for so many years, and that I am a half-ass good student. 

I guess, in the end we hide it from the public because we love these animals, we know that when we get bit, it is our fault, and we don't want to hurt them, AND we don't want people to think bad about them either. I mean, people who work with dogs everyday, eventually get bit, and those of us who work with sharks do as well. 

It has always been a game of, "It's not if... it 's when". Working with these animals, it will always continue to be that way. So, the next time one of my buddies gets bit, expect to hear - NOTHING about in the news, because, I guess... it will continue to be... our dark little secret.

Thank you for reading and to my buddies out there, love you guys and stay safe.


Those CUTE Little Freaking Birds!

I have been a little behind on blogs and vlogs this month. Mostly because I have been home and not doing much these two months - which I am loving, BUT, it is the calm before the storm, because once May gets here - it is on, travel season starts… and it’s pretty much non-stop until December. I am looking forward to the craziness of it, but of course, nervous about it as well. Because it is show time. Time to get back into it and show everyone the animals they are all hoping to see.

Of course I love it, I love being able to show people wildlife, and I LOVE seeing wildlife, and new places, and old friends and meeting new ones. Shit! I love everything about this life, and this world. So anyway, back to this blog. An opportunity that arose for us, was getting an invite by my buddy Hector Astorga, to visit Santa Clara Ranch and photograph song birds in one of their morning blinds.

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Hector is a great shooter and when he is not off on one of his adventures, manages the ranch here. And this ranch is amazing. It is a great birding destination, and South Texas wildlife spot as well, they get white-tailed deer, peccary, rabbits, the occasional ground squirrels and one of the coolest of our South Texas animals, the bobcat. We are always hoping for a bobcat to show up, such amazing wildcats.

However, hanging out in the blinds at the watering hole to photograph the song birds that come in to get a drink and cool off is really, really cool. The photo opportunities are endless, and I truly enjoy photographing these quick little beauties. Plus, I got to hang out with my Sophia, which is ALWAYS the very best.

My girl sitting in the blind, wishing a bobcat would walk out of the bushes.

My girl sitting in the blind, wishing a bobcat would walk out of the bushes.

Hanging out with Hector is always amazing, nothing like trading stories with a fellow traveler and all around badass. We arrived really early and started prepping our gear, as he set up the feeding perches. The thing about capturing unique and beautiful birding images at places like these, is not just taking your camera and photographing a bird. It is also about the set up. From making sure the drinking pond was perfect and full, to setting up the perfect perch, that is both pleasing to look at and just the right distance for that perfect shot, without trees and shrubs in the background to distract from the image. You are creating wildlife art, and it is so much fun.

Greenjay, the stars of South Texas.

Greenjay, the stars of South Texas.


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When we arrived it was still dark, and the sky was overcast. We were hoping the sun would burn off those clouds, which thankfully happened.

While we were waiting for better light and more birds to arrive, and that elusive bobcat. We were entertained by Hector calling in roadrunners with perfectly imitated sounds of a female roadrunner. Talk about awesome, the boys completely lost their minds trying to find that flirty female. We ended up with three road runners hanging around all day.

Roadrunners.

Roadrunners.

As the morning wore on, the light got better and better for us, and it was on. We photographed the different song birds that dropped by to steal some food from our perches, as well as drink a few drops from the pool. A few of them dropped in for a quick bath. All of it made for amazing photo opportunities…

Northern cardinals.

Northern cardinals.

Greenjay.

Greenjay.

As the day wore on, we lost hope of the elusive bobcat showing his face, however we were treated to a few rabbits and some peccaries that eventually showed up to say hi. One of the female peccaries had just had babies so we were hoping for a shot at photographing those little guys, but she never felt comfortable enough to bring them close.

arguing peccary.

arguing peccary.

Peccary, aka; javalina.

Peccary, aka; javalina.


We broke for lunch and then called it a day. Out of town family had shown up for the weekend, and my Sophia was itching to get back there to be a little girl, and have some fun with her cousins. So we thanked Hector for a great day, and said goodbye to this amazing place, and are counting down the days till we can return to this ranch for more amazing moments with South Texas wildlife and those cute little freaking birds!

Black-throated sparrow.

Black-throated sparrow.

Long-billed thrashers.

Long-billed thrashers.

Northern Cardinal and Long-billed thrasher.

Pyrrhuloxia, the desert cardinal.

Pyrrhuloxia, the desert cardinal.

Backyard Badasses!

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So I am working on my macro game. Improving my wildlife photography is something I try really hard to do, and having any excuse to go outdoors, between travels, when I am home to photograph wildlife, is definitely a bonus. Well, a few months back, my Sophia asked me for a macro lens. I of course, thinking it was a good idea for her, and of course, secretly for me, decided to pick one up. I picked up a Canon 35mm macro 1:2.8. Which is a really nice lens, but of course, I want to pick up another one, like a 90mm macro for my next lens.

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Anyway, I took my camera out back and decided to find some bugs to shoot. One of the first ones I found was this tiny little spider. I carefully captured him, and took it over to a set up I had on a table with some plants, along with a small table top tripod.

When I snapped those first few images I was at first blown away with the detail the 35mm lens could capture of such a small creature. The spider was the size of a tiny mosquito. But what blew me away even more was the colors of this spider, it was stunningly beautiful. The species is called an orchard spider.

It is mind blowing how amazing the color patterns are on such a tiny animal. It didn’t make sense to me why nature would create such an amazing looking animal.

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Anyway, I enjoyed this photo session a lot. It takes a lot of work trying to capture nice images of these tiny life forms. I still have a lot to learn about macro photography and I am excited to learn more about it. Of course, I am also doing this to learn more about it for underwater photography.

For me, it is all about improving my craft and getting better at photographing wildlife… all types of wildlife, both big and small. The next step for me is to learn how to do macro photography with stacking images in photoshop. That is when you can truly capture the amazing magic of this tiny world. And the way I see it - the more I learn, the more I will be able to help those that travel with us to improve their images on our trips. Until then, here are a few images I captured of these backyard badasses.

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The stand off.

The stand off.

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Images I Shared this week on Social Media

MARCH 10 - 16, 2019
I was going through images this week, I shared on social media. I always try not to repost images I have shared before, so that we are always putting out something new. The thing about social media is, images are lost in time. The speed of news and storytelling is always so fast, especially on Facebook, that most images never get seen. So, I thought I would try something new this weekend and share the images here in a blog.

Well not ALL the images I posted, but just the ones from this week’s stuff. March 10 - 16 to be exact. And just the header images, since I change them out, sometimes daily. Anyway, hopefully you will enjoy this and the short stories that went with capturing the images as well. As always my friends, thank you for reading and viewing my content.


SAIL

SAIL

This capture was from our December trip. I was trying get a different angle of Patches (the great hammerhead). I love this species, their dorsal fins are so impressive. This was the first day we had her on the trip, and it during our morning dive. The thing was, we had crap weather the day before, so there was a lot of debris and sand flying around still. So the images I captured were just coming out horrible. I loved the image, but when I went to process it in photoshop, it was just coming out blah, so I decided to try playing with it in black and white, and it seemed to work. Sometimes, when you think an image is lost, try a little creativity and you never know.

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This was taken on the same day, later in the afternoon when the currents and the dust settled. We were in a very shallow spot, maybe 18 feet deep, and I was coming up at the end of the dive. I was hanging on the down line, after I believe, over an hour long dive and Patches was swimming around. Because of the earlier currents, and the previous days bad weather, the ocean floor was laid out in a beautiful perfect looking pattern. I saw her swimming below and swam out to snap this image of her from above, while she slowly swam by.

Dirty Girl

Dirty Girl

Keeping with the shark theme right now, this is Dirty Girl, one of the larger tigers hanging around tiger beach. The first season, we met her she was a very fiesty girl. Normally the tigers are just fiesty around the feeders, but she was very aggressive around the guests as well. I had to keep a very close eye on her when she would swim in. I later learned, due to the way she was behaving, that she was in season and was maybe lashing out at everyone, believing they were trying to mate with her. And if you ask, how do I know she was in season? There is something tigers do, when they are in season which is super unique, that is hard to explain without video…and she repeatedly did it.

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I am pretty sure I have shared this top image of a mom and calf in the past, however, I think I had shared in on one of my pages, and not all three. Yes I have three FB social media pages, one personal, one for our company, SDM adventures, and one for my photography, Eli Martinez. If you are not following those pages, it is a must… for awesome content, news, stories and a devastatingly handsome photographer! AND NO… I am not biased at all when I say that last bit. lol. Anyway, back to reality and my story…

Visiting Tonga and seeing first hand the relationship between mothers and calves is something you will never forget… you can feel the love in the water. The babies are babies, playing around, dancing, and sometimes breaching. The mothers are normally resting below. The babies need more air then the mothers, so they come up quite often, play for a couple of minutes then return down to her, touching her, getting reassuring nudges from her, and when they rise up together, they are constantly touching and bonding all the way up. It is so damn beautiful.

Another shot I posted this week, here is a good angle to see the touching bond between the mother and calf as she comes up for a breath of air. I snapped this image then had to swim like mad, because they were rising up and I was in their direct path. Well her direct path.

Another shot I posted this week, here is a good angle to see the touching bond between the mother and calf as she comes up for a breath of air. I snapped this image then had to swim like mad, because they were rising up and I was in their direct path. Well her direct path.

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This was a shot from our April 2018 visit to Machu Picchu in Peru. Still one of the coolest places I have ever visited. The magic of this place is indescribable. I wish I had done more homework when we planned the original trip, because there are nearby rainforests that I could of visited for shots at birds, monkeys and bears. Next time… we are planning a return trip to the area, possibly even organizing a trip for it. Between the rainforests and Machu Picchu, it is an epic trip.

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One of my most favorite days in the water. We encountered a pod of spotted dolphins off Bimini. This was during a trip we run for them. We had to cancel this season’s trip, there was not a lot of interest in it. Not sure why? It’s an awesome trip. Anyway, we had a pod of very friendly dolphin’s hanging around for over an hour with us. Super social, some were mating, which I captured with stills. I was on fire about that. This group of dolphins swam up to me and went through me. Of course, I WISH, they would of done that with the sun on my back, instead of in front of me, because it yellowed out this image badly. So if they had done this with the sun on my back I would of had amazingly beautiful blue water, with these dolphins, instead I had this greenish looking tint in the background.

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I tried to get as low as possible when I photographed this giant river otter in the Pantanal, Brazil. It is difficult when you are in a moving boat, trying to photograph a fast moving subject. But with a high shutter speed and ridiculous amounts of sunlight (It was freaking hot and VERY sunny when we encountered these guys), I managed to capture a few images. This was captured while these guys were hunting.

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Macro photography is new to me, but I fell instantly in love with it, when I decided to practice in my backyard, on this tiny guy. This orchard spider is no bigger than a mosquito, but I was blown away with how much color it had. LIKE WHY? Why is an animal so tiny and so colorful, it just didn’t make sense to me. So since this first session, I have gone on a crazed spider kick and will be posting a blog this week on some of my macro images I captured of this tiny predatory animals. The next level for me will be stacking images. I still have a lot to learn about it, but can’t wait to get into it. I know this is different for me, but as I travel on this photography journey of mine, learning how to shoot anything and everything when it comes to wildlife is a must, if I am ever going to be able to help someone improve their photography, especially when they are with us on our travels. I want our guests to have the best experience possible.

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I saved the craziest for last. I went through my crocodile images and found one I hadn’t shared yet from our 2018 expedition. Crocodiles are such amazing photo subjects and are a must for all big animal photographers. They are big and scary looking, mostly slow moving, and will hang around for hours, giving you plenty of opportunities to capture some unique images or behaviors. I absolutely LOVE photographing them. You can do no wrong with these guys.

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So there you go… a few of my images from this weeks posts. Hopefully you like what you see and will comment, share it, or at least give it a thumbs up. Thanks for visiting our website.

Hugs and I will hopefully see you out in the world.
- Eli

Black Bear Photo Gallery

We just added a new photo gallery to our Trip Report page. This was from our exploratory trip to the Outer Banks to photograph black bears. The population of bears here is the largest in the world. Normally black bears average from 300 to 600 lbs. The bears here can weigh anywhere from 600 to 1,200 lbs. The reason for this is, the bears here are not forced to hibernate like their West coast cousins, they can forage all year for food. Which allows them to get massive.

We went there in May when we had a break, and checked out what was going on. We were for sure not disappointed. What an amazing experience for the SDM crew. Click HERE to check out the gallery.

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Tonga Humpback Whale Gallery 2018

I have been so behind on putting together photo albums from our expeditions. 2018 was a blur of back to back trips. I finally cut together a photo album from our Tonga expedition from this past August. What an amazing place Tonga is. The humpback whale action is so amazing, we had hours of encounters with moms and calves everyday. Anyway, I truly hope you enjoy the photo album. It was a lot of fun capturing these images. Hope you enjoy.

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Norway Adventure Photo Gallery

So I finally got around to editing the majority of the images from our Norway trip and cut together an album I am happy with. I do admit, I really miss the crazy cold conditions we had while visiting Norway. I miss the crunching of the snow, the beautiful white powder everywhere, I miss photographing wildlife while the snow fell, and especially the tension that was building every time we all walked together with our group in the snow. Someone was always looking over their shoulder, for fear that a snowball fight might ensue. Lol, but I do miss the fun we had with our amazing group out there. Anyway, here is the album I cut together from the trip, I hope you enjoy.

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Tiger Beach Photo Gallery's

January has always meant Tigers and Great Hammerheads to us. For the past 7 , or 8? Maybe 9 years (don’t remember exactly when we started, it’s been a while.), we have run our annual trip to Tiger Beach for tiger sharks, and over the past 5 seasons great hammerheads. It has been an amazing time of year for us, with both highs and lows, because you never know what you are going to get when it comes to the weather. Some seasons we get perfect conditions, other seasons we get crap weather with challenging swells. The one thing that we have been fortunate to do is dive with big tigers and great hammerheads on ALL our January trips. Not that we haven’t on our October and December trips, because thankfully we have. But January is during the Bahamas winter season and you just never know what you are going to get. We kicked off 2019 with two back to back trips and here are a few images from our time spent here. I do hope you enjoy. Thanks again to our friends who joined us on these trips, you guys are amazing and we couldn’t do this without you. BIG HUG my friends.

Trip one. January 19 - 26, 2019.

Trip Two January 27 - February 3, 2019

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My BEST and WORST Day at Tiger Beach!

Totally Gutted!
January 29, 2019, - So I dropped down for a feed on our second dive of the day and we had Patches the great hammerhead and a hand full of lemons buzzing around. No tigers. There was one lemon who was buzzing me pretty close that caught my attention. Her skin had a few wart looking spots on her and a crack on the left side of her gills. I started calling her Cracks. Just the name that came to mind. 

Anyway, Cracks approached close on her passes, and so I started giving her a nose rub. She really enjoyed it and came back for more. Before I knew it, Cracks came in for the rub and once I started, she would stop swimming and drop her tail onto the sand... Like, completely stop swimming. Of course Patches, would come in and push her off, but I really enjoyed this interaction with Cracks. So, every time she would swim up to me, I would rub her, and each time, she would drop. 

During one interaction, when she dropped, I just sort of stretched her out and allowed her to drop all the way down to lay down in front of me. This was the first time a swimming lemon shark, swam up to me, where I would rub her nose and she went completely still and drop down into the sand for me. It was one of the most amazing moments of my career. I was on fire. In all the years of working with lemon sharks, this had never happened before. It was a new behavior and I couldn’t be happier that I got to be a part of this magic.  A few people were around me with cameras and I couldnt wait to go up and check out what they captured. This moment, and this interaction, is the stuff I dream about when I think of sharks. 

THEN, reality hit my ass…  NO ONE had captured it on video, my heart sank. A few stills here and there and my buddy / safety diver Houston, got a short piece of it on video, but not the entire interactions, I was gutted. They all thought this was normal and didn’t think much of it. I saw everyone filming, so I assumed it was being filmed, but nope! Something, I need to make sure doesn’t happen next time. I will beg someone to capture it. Of course, if there is a next time?

Easily the COOLEST lemon shark interaction I have EVER had in my entire career diving at Tiger Beach, and sadly I don’t have the entire video to share with the world. I have it in my heart and mind, but showing people what is possible with these amazing animals is lost this time. Hopefully, I will get another opportunity with Cracks, but it is so rare that we do not have tiger sharks on our dives, I do not think that opportunity will happen again. The moment is with me forever, but I really would of loved to share that moment with you all.

Thank you for reading…

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Shark Feeding... Passing the Torch!

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I cut together a vlog this past week with some thoughts I had about watching my son David, feeding sharks for Phantom Divers off Playa del Carmen, Mexico. He has fed sharks with me before. But he was me on my trips and you know… dad’s kid, so even though its awesome, its still not as awesome as earning your spot. To get to feed for the shop, he worked his ass off, because the boys they have feeding are freaking awesome as well. Except Ramon, him not so much! Lol, luv you brother.

There really are no words for how proud I am of my boy for his hard work and dedication to becoming one of the shops core feeders. So during his visit to Texas, earlier this January, while working on his Mexican Visa, I had a chance to share some thoughts. Hope you guys enjoy.