Photography Adventures in the Musandam….with Whale Sharks

One weekend during the month of the May 2011 I joined a bunch of like-minded divers from the Atlantis Underwater Photography Club and headed off on an unforgettable two day Musandam dive trip.  Being a group of photographers of all levels of experience our primary goal was to have fun, share and learn from each other as well as all working hard to get three photographs for our ‘share and discuss’ presentation at our next club meeting (first Tuesday of every month).  Of course, with whale shark season well under way, everyone was eager for the Limah Rock dives as many other local dive operators had been claiming their sightings.

With the boat loaded up and everyone ready to go, the Al Marsa liveaboard slowly manoeuvred out of Dibba port and headed for the Jazirat.  The sea conditions were perfect and while everyone got to know each other a bit better, the sun slowly set behind the dramatic mountains of the Musandam.  The next morning the sea conditions were pond like and as the boat did the last leg to Jazirat Bay, dolphins and rays were seen jumping in the distance.  Arriving at the destination, everyone transferred to the rib for the first of four dives of the day – Tawakul.  This is a very colourful sloping dive site with a stunning array of colourful soft corals in and around the ledges and overhangs at around 15m.  It goes without saying, the marine life was extraordinary and while descending many of the group were treated to a leopard shark encounter.

Back on the liveaboard and with breakfast ready and waiting, everyone exchanged encounters and chatted about the photographs and video that they had taken during the dive.  With the surface interval done and everyone back on the rib, we eagerly set off for our second dive of the day at Jazirat Bay.  After a current check, the dive plan was re-confirmed.  Once everyone had entered the water, the team descended together.  The profile of this dive was very easy, making it perfect for photographers of all experiences.  Sadly the visibility was quite limited but everyone did well at adjusting to the conditions and continued to work on getting their photographs.  As I followed the slope of the site, I noticed several fresh leopard shark eggs, which was quite satisfying, considering the challenges sharks face in this region. Looking for something really interesting to photograph, I eventually found a small whip coral with a few gobies swimming up and down it.  With my buddy close by, I relaxed and just experimented with different lighting techniques knowing that there were no worries about keeping up with fast swimming divers.

With cameras rinsed in freshwater and a quick shower it was not long before it was lunch time and although everyone was still excited by the mornings activities, it was more that apparent that we were going to take the two hour rest period to catch up some with sleep.  Our third dive site of the day, Raz Jazirat, was a very tough dive from a photographer’s perspective.  With a strong current, some people struggled to focus on their photographic technique and with poor light/visibility; even a camera equipped with a wide-angle lens struggled to capture anything remarkable.  With that said, it was a wonderful drift dive enjoyed by all.

With a three-hour surface interval ahead of us, everyone enjoyed the late afternoon sun while the liveaboard made its way back down to Al Maqtah where we would do our night dive over night stop.  With torches and camera strobes re-charged, all the photographers descended onto the dive site that was covered with rich marine life.  Like something out of the Abyss, the torches, video and focus lights shone brightly lighting up the reef.  This dive site was perfect for macro photography and was full of tiny critters that only come out at night.  Those without macro were very fortunate to see some of the Musandam’s night time predators including a bunch of large marbled stingrays that swam over the reef looking for food.  For me, the amazingly shy and stubborn coral crabs that I had been trying to photograph all day were everywhere and I was very happy to come away with a few close up shots of one in its coral.

The next morning the group entered the water for the first of three dives of the last day – Ras Sarkan.  Again, visibility was still very much limited down to a green six metres making wide-angle photography difficult.  However, equipped with mid range lens (17-55) I set off to try and bring a half decent Musandam marinescape to the surface.  As some of the team descended they bumped into a six metre female whale shark covered in remoras.  These lucky divers were easily distinguishable once back on the boat by the size of their smiles.  Meanwhile, oblivious to the giant encounter, my buddy and I navigated the site looking for something special to photograph.  Eventually my patience paid off and as I experimented with strobe positioning, aperture and shutter speeds, I eventually got the shot of a giant honeycomb moray framed with soft corals and fry.

Heading closer towards home, the liveaboard made its way towards Limah for its final two dives and while gliding through the very calm sea, we spotted another whale shark swimming at the surface.  With the boat engines cut and everyone on the sun deck looking down into the water, the team watched as this amazing five metre female whale shark circled the boat.  After watching it do two circles of the boat, members of the team jumped into the water to have the encounter of a lifetime.  As the shark continued to circle the boat, more of the team jumped in to join it and by its seventh lap, all of the team were in the water swimming with this gentle giant.  Taking photographs from the sun deck I spotted another whale shark about thirty metres away from the boat and then, like the sharks were communicating, both of them disappeared simultaneously.  With sex confirmed, left and right identification photographs taken for Sharkwatch Arabia (www.sharkwatcharabia.com) the liveaboard’s engines restarted and we lazily continued our journey for Limah.

Sadly, the dive at Limah Rock did not bring the whale shark encounter that everybody thought might happen.  However, after what the team had experienced from the morning, nobody was disappointed with the dive and everyone continued to use their cameras and record their experiences.

For myself, what I wanted from the Musandam was a nice seahorse photograph.  As we set off for our last dive site at Ras Limah I was keeping my fingers crossed.  Like all the other dives, the visibility was not great, but all of the sites were buzzing with fresh young marine life and healthy looking corals.  Eventually we got to a spot where a large female sea horse was searching for food amongst the sandy bottom and our small group of photographers all waited in turn to get the photograph we wanted.  Waiting for everyone to leave I took my time and got the best shot I could.

Sailing back to Dibba Port and while everyone got together for a group photograph it was apparent that the whole team thoroughly enjoyed the adventure with some once in a lifetime experiences thrown in for good measure.  I certainly have no doubt there will be a lot of interest for the return trip in June.

I would like to give a big shout out to our Divemaster, Brian Asistido, who was simply brilliant.

If you own an underwater camera and want to use it more, or you want to share and develop with other people that are at the same level to you then join us at the Atlantis Underwater Photography Club.  Its not serious, it’s a bunch of like-minded divers that get together and photograph stuff underwater.  For more information, ask for Vladimir Radnic (photography club leader) at the Atlantis Dive Centre on 04-4263000, check Facebook or just be at the Atlantis Dive Centre at 6.55pm on the first Tuesday of every month.

Perhaps you may be interested in joining us on our next underwater photography Musandam Adventure – for further information on the date of our next trip contact Jason at the Atlantis Dive Centre on the same number.

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