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A day in the blue with Celtic Deep

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There are some truly breathtaking wildlife experiences to be had on our planet and some would be surprised what you can experience right here in the UK. For years I’ve dreamed of swimming with a true open ocean wanderer in the UK, the Blue Shark.

Blue Sharks are a true open ocean specialist, agile and adaptable, they specialize mainly on eating fish such as Herring, Sardine and Mackerel, but they do make vertical migrations to the depths to feed on Squid in deeper waters. It has been shown that these incredible Sharks spend a large amount of time in deep water riding currents and thermoclines but will still return to the surface waters to prevent body cooling. Unfortunately, the Blue Shark is the most heavily fished Shark species in the world, which has unfortunately led to this species being put on the IUCN List of Threatened Species and is currently listed as Near Threatened.

Back in 2017 I was lucky enough to do a dive with Blue Sharks when I was out in South Africa with Shark Explorers, who are based in Simons Town, False Bay. It was actually on this dive where I decided I really wanted to be a wildlife photographer/cameraman. Ever since this dive I have been itching to get back in the water with these truly incredible animals, but not only did I want to be back in the water with them, but I also wanted to introduce my Fiancée Charlotte to them as well. Well in September of 2021 I managed to do just that.

Now unfortunately, our trip which was originally booked for mid-August had been cancelled due to bad weather, which is what tends to happen when diving in the UK. Obviously going out in a large swell is no fun for anyone so we eagerly waited for our trip to come up a few weeks later.

Myself, my partner Charlotte, and a friend from work Dom, set off from Ellesmere Port at around 1:00am to be in Pembrokeshire in time for ropes up at 8:00am; we had to be at the dock for 7:30am to put all our equipment on the boat before departing for the deep. We arrived an hour early, so we had a quick rest in the car and got into our wetsuits ready for the trip and placed all our camera and snorkelling equipment beside the dock ready for the boat’s arrival. Here we were met by others on the trip with the likes of Francesca Page and David Millard who are both artists and Underwater Photographers as well as Kaushiik Subramaniam and Robin Fischer, both of whom are Underwater Photographers and filmmakers. This is also where we of course met the Celtic Deep crew: Richard, who is the one of the founders of Celtic Deep and also the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, Liam, an underwater Photographer and Filmmaker and Celtic Deep Deckhand, and Emma, a Marine Biologist doing research on Sharks and other marine life in the deep.

At 8:00am we departed for the deep, passing Skomer and Skokholm Island on our way out. Before the trip we were told that they had been recently seeing a large amount of dolphin and bait balling activity, and nature really didn’t disappoint with huge numbers of Common Dolphins and the calves bow riding the boat. Emma who is doing some research and conservation work on board took this opportunity to count the dolphins and their calves for local research. The dolphins seemed to come from every direction with seeming endless numbers of them. We got to witness several bait balls on the way out with Dolphins herding fish against the surface from below along with Gannets diving from above and the odd Skua flying in to investigate the commotion.

After around 2 hours of steaming out we finally reached the area known as the Celtic Deep. This is an area between the UK and Ireland and is an area in the seafloor that reaches a depth of around 100 Metres. It’s an area that attracts a whole range of open ocean predators from Dolphins, Tuna, Blue Sharks, occasional Mako Sharks and even Whales.

Once we had reached the Deep, Richard started chumming for the Sharks using a mixture of Herring and other fish which he mixed with sSalt water and threw the fluid overboard. They also placed a metal cage with Herring inside around 3 Metres below the surface and attached to the rope were pieces of tin foil and other reflective material in what Richard referred to as a Shark Mobile. This was used to keep the Sharks interested and keep them around the boat. Liam, an Underwater Photographer and part of the Celtic Deep’s Crew, jumped in to watch the deep water and surrounding area for approaching Sharks to let everyone know to start getting ready if one approached the boat.

As Richard chummed for Sharks, Emma started setting up her research; she had a machine on board that was taking water samples from around the boat and sending it into a container where she was taking a number of samples for environmental DNA sampling. Essentially this method is used to take a large sample of water from any given area and analyse the sample for traces of DNA that are left in the water column by any animals that have been in that area recently. This is used to gain a potential idea of what has been around recently and potentially in what number. It was amazing to see such work taking place on board the boat and with all members of the crew helping however they could.

Whilst we were waiting for the Sharks, Charlotte and I were sat facing each other chatting, but we were constantly looking over each other’s shoulders just in case one of us saw something behind the other we could let each other and the rest of the boat know. Mid conversation I, by sheer luck, happened to look at a spot of Water where right at that moment a Minke Whale appeared and took a breath. Minkes are known to be shy, so it didn’t hang around long before diving again to re-surface some 100metres away seconds later. Now due to promises being given of animals to be seen through my time diving I always go on trips like these with the notion that we won’t see anything and then that way if we do see something its always so much better, and we were not disappointed.

After 90 minutes or so of waiting, a fishing rod that had been deployed with a herring on a line to a depth of around 30 metres started screaming. David turned and said: “That’s a Shark” which Richard confirmed, seconds later Liam’s head came up and he shouted “Shark! Shark! We have a Shark.” It was then I saw the tell-tale electric blue colour of a Blue Shark. Myself, Charlotte, and Dom had been in our wetsuits since 7am so were told to get ready as we were going in first.

We finished gearing up and jumped in. The water visibility was at most around 5 metres so we couldn’t immediately see the Shark but then out of nowhere the unmistakable silhouette of a shark came into view. Its deep blue electric coloration glowed brightly, its curiosity was equaled by its cautious nature and we were told not to duck dive down to the sharks and to stay on the surface at first to allow the animals to gain confidence in us. Therefore we went in small groups at first to make sure we didn’t scare the animal away, but once everyone had been in, we would then be able to all get in the water. The Shark made continuous passes getting closer to us and checking us and the camera out with its large endearing eyes. At one point I looked over to Charlotte to make sure she was OK when she told me that the Shark was on the bait cage. I put my head down to have the shark literally 2 inches in front of me; it came in close to have a look and went over to Charlotte, with her literally having to arch her body to get out of its way. After around 15 minutes Richard called us back to the boat as the second group were ready to get in, we swam back to the boat with smiles, hugs and high fives to go round.

We then watched as the second group swam with the Shark for few minutes before it decided to leave. At first we were a little confused as to what caused it to leave before noticing a hub of activity in the distance. It was a pod of Common Dolphins heading in our direction. Richard told the group: “Dolphins, behind you! Heads Down!” The group lowered their heads and were met by a pod of dolphins swimming all around them. Francesca said when she got out that she had never seen a dolphin underwater and you could see how happy she and the rest of the group were through their excitable expressions and happy tears.

Unfortunately, due to the Shark leaving we did have to wait around for 30 minutes before getting back in but it so worth the wait with not one but two Sharks showing up. There was a large female around 2.5 metres in length and a smaller 1.5-2 metre male. It was noticed almost immediately by both Liam and Emma that the large female had a hook lodged in her mouth and was also trailing fishing line behind her. Emma stated that the hook was barbless which is what should be used for recreational Shark fishing because if the Shark escapes, then the hook will fall out, but unfortunately the line that was attached was creating drag thus keeping the hook firmly in place. The large female may have had a large hook in her mouth, but this didn’t influence her curiosity as she just couldn’t get enough of us, she did pass after pass bumping into cameras as she went.

After what felt like mere minutes was actually around 40 we were asked to get back on board as the sun was beginning to hang low and we needed to head back to port, but before we did Emma grabbed a knife and went after the large female shark in the hopes of freeing her from the line that was attached to the hook. Robin followed to get some footage for his Masters film that he was making. 10 seconds later Emma surfaced full Rocky style with her hand up cheering with the line hanging from her hand. Emma had succeeded in freeing the shark. She stated that with the line now free it will allow the barbless hook to fall out in its own time which was a huge relief to hear.

The journey back took around 2 hours with the sun setting over the Smalls Lighthouse, the most westerly lighthouse in the UK. Me, Charlotte, and Dom were all aware that when we got back to shore that we would still have around 5 hours of travelling before we got home. Once back on shore we said our goodbyes and made our way to the car. The drive was clear, with me and Charlotte doing half a journey each. We returned home at 1:00am a near full 24 hours after leaving to head down but the exhaustion was worth every minute spent with the incredible animals and crew alike.

In summary the day out with Celtic Deep was incredible, a day where UK Marine life was a true spectacle. We experienced something that up until recently not many people knew about in this part of the UK, a place where Ocean wandering predators gather to take advantage of rich feeding grounds. The wildlife, facilities and service were 10/10, with crew that were accommodating and professional from start to finish. This is somewhere that I am keen to return to and look forward to another day out in the Blue with Celtic Deep.

For more information about Celtic Deep visit their website by clicking here.

Donovan is a Divemaster who currently works as a Shark Diver at Blue Planet Aquarium based in Ellesmere Port. Donovan’s passion lies with Elasmobranch’s (Sharks & Rays) and this passion has led him to work in South Africa with White Sharks for a short period. He also believes that education through exposure is the best way to re-educate people about Sharks. Follow Donovan at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

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The Rescue – available on Disney+ tomorrow (Watch Trailer)

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If you missed the recent cinema debut of The Rescue film, you can watch it on streaming channel Disney+ from tomorrow December 3rd.

From Academy Award®-winning filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo), The Rescue is the edge-of-your-seat account of the rescue of 12 Thai school boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave system in 2018.

The Rescue chronicles the dramatic rescue of the boys and their coach, trapped deep inside a flooded cave. Academy Award®-winning directors and producers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin reveal the perilous world of cave diving, the bravery of the rescuers, and the dedication of an entire community that made great sacrifices to save these young boys. An outing to explore a nearby system of caves after soccer practice transformed into a two-week saga of survival and a story that would capture the world’s attention. With exclusive access and never-before-seen footage from the rescue, the film tells the story of the imagination, determination and unprecedented teamwork displayed during this heroic edge-of-your-seat mission with life-or-death stakes.

Check back for our review of The Rescue soon!

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Guardian investigation finds endangered sharks for sale in Taiwan

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A field investigation into Taiwan’s shark fin industry was conducted by Shark Guardian between December 2020 and March 2021. The investigation obtained documentary evidence of fins from endangered shark species being openly offered for sale by over half of all shark fin traders surveyed in Taiwan’s southern fishing port of Kaohsiung.

Of the 13 shark fin processing and trading companies visited, more than half were found to be trading CITES- listed fins, and seven had shark fins from CITES Appendix II-listed species as part of their product range. One company saidthere was no difference in selling protected or unprotected species. Protected sharks’ products usually create a problem for international shipping only.”

The new report details how seven out of thirteen traders surveyed in Taiwan were found to be selling shark fins from silky sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks and great white sharks in broad daylight – in contravention of Taiwanese and international law.

Over a three-month period, Shark Guardian investigators witnessed multiple shipments of shark fins from endangered species being unloaded at Donggang fish market which is in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung.

Alex Hofford, Marine Wildlife Campaigner with Shark Guardian, said “To save sharks and the marine environment, Taiwanese authorities should implement an immediate crackdown on its cruel and unsustainable shark fin trade, and should tighten up local laws to ban the domestic sale of shark fin as well as better enforce its international obligations under CITES. It is also high time that the Taiwanese government should rein in its out-of-control distant water tuna fishing fleet, who are a major supplier shark fin to Chinese markets. Whilst Taiwan is a beacon of democratic and progressive values in Asia, it is allowing its unsustainable and often crime-ridden fisheries sector to rape and pillage our ocean with impunity. This must stop. Taiwan needs to show leadership in environmental protection and must quickly clean up its act as regards its sleazy shark fisheries and trade sectors.”

During our investigation, Shark Guardian also found evidence of Taiwan-based online retailers selling fins of endangered species of shark in contravention of local and international law.

According to WWF, a third of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, yet fishing and trading in unsustainable shark fin remains a highly profitable, but environmentally destructive, enterprise for Taiwanese companies operating out of Kaohsiung.

Brendon Sing, Co-Director of Shark Guardian said “Clearly more must be done to protect sharks globally. There are over 500 known shark species with only a handful of them listed under CITES. Even then, CITES listed sharks are still traded illegally where monitoring and enforcement lack any power and expose loopholes in the system. As long as this continues, there is no real protection for any shark species regardless of CITES listing or not. Taiwan must be responsible and take positive action in response to this report.”

Shark Guardian believes that excessively large profit margins are the main reason why Taiwan has never acted to rein in its shark fisheries and trade.

Shark Guardian hopes that Taiwan can apply its progressive values towards preserving the marine environment by imposing a comprehensive ban on the physical and online selling all species of shark fin in Taiwan. Such a ban would go above and beyond what is required under international law, and Taiwan’s domestic laws can be changed with public support.

For more information about Shark Guardian visit their website by clicking here.

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Egypt | Safaga, Brothers & Elphinstone | 27 January – 04 February 2022 | Emperor Elite

Jump on board this famous Red Sea liveaboard and enjoy diving the famous wrecks of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer.  Emperor Elite offers a contemporary living space combined with the best itineraries available in the Red Sea.

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  • 7 nights in shared cabin
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  • Free Nitrox

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