JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Missing link found for scuba divers' friend the seal

Scuba diving with seals has to be among the best marine life interactions we could hope for.
On a trip to the Farne Islands, off the east coast of England, last year we had some amazing moments in their playground as the inquisitive mammals nipped, nibbled, scrutinized and played with us, zipping around like undersea missiles and then displaying breathtaking underwater acrobatics.

Now a scientist's exciting discovery in Canada's High Arctic has yielded the 24 to 20 million-year-old fossil skeleton of a previously unknown mammal, named Puijila darwini, providing a glimpse into the origins of the species.

The Canadian Museum of Nature said the breakthrough sheds new light on the early evolution of pinnipeds (the group that includes seals, sea lions and walruses).

Dr Natalia Rybczynski said: "The land-to-sea transition in pinnipeds has been difficult to study because the fossil evidence has been weak and contentious.
"Puijila is important because it provides a first glimpse into the earliest stages of this important evolutionary transition."

The fossil was found in the summer of 2007 during a fieldwork expedition on Devon Island, Nunavut, in a meteor impact crater.

The new animal has a body resembling that of an otter, but a skull that is more closely related to seals and backs up the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin forecast the transition from land to sea via fresh water in his seminal work On the Origin of Species, published 150 years ago this year.

A "walking seal", Puijila had legs like a terrestrial mammal, but the feet were webbed and adapted for swimming. A website has been set up detailing the discovery and the importance of the breakthrough.

Life in the Deep Ocean

As scuba divers, we are always interested in what lies just beneath the surface of the waves. Arriving at a dive site, we want to know what we might see in the 30m beneath us. Will it be sharks, barracuda, anemone fish? Will there be a surprise like a whale shark cruising past us on the reef like in Egypt?

Beyond that depth, and with the exception of TV documentaries, few of us ever get the chance to glimpse at life in the inky blackness. Until now.

The Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS) was designed by ORCA’s Dr. Edie Widder to find out what is living at the dizzying depths us humans cannot venture. And ORCA's website provides live streaming footage of what happens in front of the cameras on a deep-water mooring in the Monterey Canyon.

Using a cabled observatory, scientists can see their experimental results every day, collecting data continuously for months at a time and stream the video to shore finally providing a live window into the deep-sea.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Scuba Diving: 180 metres on Yolanda

Most of us UK scuba divers will have dived Shark and Yoland Reef.
Yolanda is one of the most popular sites in Ras Mohammed, in the Red Sea and most of us will have pics of the rows of bathtubs and porcelain toilets - and even the captain's BMW - that were dumped on the sea bed when the ship hit the reef in April 1980.

But what about the rest of the wreck?

The ship initially stood have out of the water was pushed to 50m at the start of 1987 following a big storm and then disappeared into the blue in March the same year.
And there she lay, out of site for more than 20 years.

The wreckage was discovered in 2007 by Leigh Cunningham who conducted several dives on the site and pinpointed its actual position and documented some of the wrecks intricacies.

Now a video has surfaced on YouTube of techie scuba diver Oxana Istratova and the Red Sea Explorers Team heading down to the depths and showing what's left of the Cypriot merchant ship.

The divers started the dive at 757 and spent a total of 261 minutes in the water. They documented the trip in great detail and aside from Oxana having a leak in her dry suit leaving her pretty cold on the last segment of the decompression, it went smoothly.

For a full report of the dive by Oxana and Faisal log on to Red Sea Explorers. It also includes the full run time schedule of the dive and the deco gases they used - and the best dive profile graph you could possibly have.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

scuba divers swept out to sea in Cornwall

Seven scuba divers on the first sea expedition had to be rescued after being swept out to sea of
Porthgwarra near Lands End.
Falmouth Coastguard officials said walkers spotted the divers and called for help on April 12.
The crew of an inshore lifeboat found five of the scuba divers about a quarter mile off Gwennap head while the other two were rescued after being spotted by a rescue helicopter.
Falmouth Coastguard Watch Manager Marc Thomas said if they had not been rescued so swiftly, they have been carried to the Isles of Scilly.
"The currents in that particular area are strong and it is easy to be swept away.
"They weren't aware of the strong tidal conditions in the area and did not have a safety boat with them on scene. I strongly advise any less experienced shore divers to dive in more sheltered and less tidal conditions."
In a separate incident on the same day a 51-year-old diver from Threlkeld in Cumbria was airlifted to hospital suffering with the symptoms of decompression sickness following dive 22 miles off the east coast of Fife in Scotland.
The man had just completed a 48 metre dive when he started suffering with head aches, dizziness and vomiting.
Forth Coastguard Watch Manager Stephen Higgins said: "A swift call to the Coastguard is absolutely crucial if divers suspect decompression sickness. Minutes can save lives.
"It was a perfectly normal dive, the diver completed all his stops and yet he still suffered with decompression sickness."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dive calendar

While I might appear as shallow as a 5m safety stop, there is a reason for including these images of pretty gals in the almost all-together.

Dive insurance specialist Scubasure has created their first exclusive calendar.

They claim to offer 12 beautiful girls, 12 stunning shots that runs from this month to next April in line with the traditional UK dive season.

More importantly, it features dates of use to us divers.

The calendar is £6 including. They are also using the proceeds to support a number of cancer related charities following the death of Jade Goody

Scuba Diving in Dosthill

So you want to know what it's like to scuba dive in Dosthill at the start of the season? Simple, follow these three easy steps.

Step One: Open tin of Campbell's Pea Soup
Step Two: Pour Campbell's pea soup in large bowl
Step Three: Throw face into cold Campbell's pea soup

If you managed to keep your eyes open long enough, you probably had better viz than we did at the weekend.
BUT amazingly, on my first pleasure dive there for a while (it's mostly been teaching dives in the past couple of years) I saw more freshwater marine life than ever.

The purpose was two-fold, try out my new drysuit and get my other half back into UK diving before hitting the coast next month. And with the Spring sun blazing away it was perfect to just sit and chill.

she looks more glamorous in normal clothes, honest

Despite the water temperature not getting much higher than about 8C -my wife's fingers go numb in anything under the 'tropical' setting - we still had a blast. Well, at least I did.
First dive, I decided to leave the camera behind so I could focus on her and two thirds along the west wall, heading towards the hidden platforms at about 10m down we saw the huge eel lying on the bottom. Six years I've been diving in Dosthill and the closest I have come is the tale end in the hollow in the tree but her she was sunning herself in the shallows.
Then there was the jack pike, giant perch, golden carp and the two giant pike. It's no wonder fishermen want to get their rods out.
Luckily the second dive yielded the same sights as the first, sans eel, so at least the camera got an outing. Oh well, can't be too greedy.

Say what you want about the dive site - yes it is basic, yes there is not as much down there to look at, yes the toilets are crap, yes I've dived it so much there is little to explore any more, but it is a perfect training ground and the fish life has increased massively.

And they make the best bacon buttie!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Diver dives at Stoney Cove

Another dose of sad news from Stoney Cove this week after a diver died at the inland site this week.
The Leicester Mercury reported that sescue teams at Stoney carried out a search to locate the man after it was reported that a diver had gone missing at 1.35pm on Tuesday.
Staff were able to quickly locate the man and gave him first aid until air and road ambulances arrived.
He was taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he was confirmed dead.
A Stoney Cove spokesman said the man was not diving under instruction, or under the supervision of dive site management.
He is the second person to die there this year.

Diving weekend

Weather's looking great for the weekend and perfect for diving.
Chance to finally try out my new Oceanic Black drysuit after weeks of carefully stretching the neck and wrist seals (so I don't pass out under water).
Also chance to get my other half back into UK waters after her almost three years as a warm water diver only.
Look out Dosthill (okay, not the best dive site, but it's on our doorstep) here we come.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New wreck found in Wales

A new wreck possibly containing a valuable cargo has been discovered in Wales.
The dive team that found the 'Bronze Bell' near Barmouth (That's 'Wulvaramtun-by the say' to us Yam Yams*) are understood to have uncovered the historic wreck of the paddle steamer, believed to date back to the mid-1800s.
Divers examined the wreck over the past few weekends with a film crew but they are remaining tight-lipped about the find.

While I know of the rough location and depth of the wreck, I shall not reveal it to avoid wreckers trashing the archaeological find in the hunt for any valuables it might contain.
But if the previous discoveries of archaeologist Mike Bowyer are anything to go by, it could be a biggy.

Parts of Cardigan Bay are known as a wreckers paradise and the team discovered the wreck as they made a series of exploratory dives more than 30 years ago to see whether the stories of what had foundered on the reef of Sarn Badrig a short distance from the glorious sandy beaches of Barmouth.

The 17th century vessel was sunk whilst carrying 30 tonnes of white marble which some suggested was to be used in the building of St Paul's Cathedral.
The armed cargo ship, carrying cannons, muskets and grenades to prevent pirates from seizing the valuable blocks is thought to have been blown off course and ended up rounding Lands End instead of heading into the English Channel.

Divers Mike Bowyer and Tony Iles were among those who discovered the wreckage in 1978 after the shifting sands which had covered her for years moved to expose the wreck site. It is said that the group first thought they were hallucinating when they stumbled upon the canons such was their surprise.

Clues to the ship's identity were spare, all they had was a bronze bell dated 1677 and the marble, that came from Tuscany.
However, the divers had a breakthrough when they found a navigation chart from the 1700s that marked out the wreck of the "Genoese Ship" as sinking in 1709.

Shipwreck Detectives TV show a few years ago had an episode examining the wreck and there is a fabulous Ty Gwyn Museum (above the oldest building in Barmouth, Davy Jones' Locker, which does fantastic breakfasts, in case you were wondering) about the wreck, and what was raised from it, overlooking Barmouth Harbour and is well worth a visit. I pop in every time I am there.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has some good images and interesting background. Also read the archaeological site assessment.
And below is a nice bit of video has been added to YouTube by Berkcam and can be seen below.

Also check out the Shipwreck Dairies blog for another interesting bite.

The dive is relatively easy as the wreck is extremely shallow, about 6metres. Large marble blocks lie scattered between two big anchors and more than 20 cannons. The area is also a haven for much marine life, such as goldsinnys, dogfish, pollack, wrasse and various crustaceans. It is now a protected site. However because it is shallow it is prone to problems with bad viz caused by the weather of poor diver finning.

*Wolverhampton by the sea to us folk from the fair city of Wolverhampton. Named so because of the huge number of Midlanders who holiday in this beauty spot.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MV Lucy wreck in Pembrokeshire

A dive buddy is planning a trip to Pembrokeshire this July with the possibility of diving the MV Lucy.

The Lucy was a 52metre coaster containing a cargo of calcium carbide when she ran aground in ‘Jack Sound’ on Valentines Day in 1967.
The current carried her into the entrance to North Haven where she sank perfectly upright in 40m of water.
Found this great vid on YouTube.

The deep wreck sits in about 40m of water so is on the technical side of single tank diving.
It has been recommended to dive on an enriched mix of 28%-30% to give significantly more time to explore.
Can anyone who has dived it recommend whether it is worth the effort?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rare magamouth shark caught

So rare are these sharks that each of them is designated with a number.

But sadly the 41st specimen of the megamouth shark has been caught, killed and eaten by fisherman in the Philippines.

According to the WWF the locals were trawling for mackerel along the eastern coast of Burias Isle on March 30 when they caught the giant shark from a depth of 200 metres.

The shark was brought to Barangay Dancalan in Donsol, Sorsogon where WWF Donsol Project Manager Elson Aca identified it as a megamouth.

Despite pleas, the fishermen butchered the megamouth and sauteed it in coconut milk.

Rarest of all sharks, the megamouth (Megachasma pelagios) is a fairly recent scientific discovery, with just over 40 recorded encounters worldwide.

The first specimen was caught off Oahu, Hawaii in 1976 and was hailed as the 20th century’s most significant marine find.

Megamouth 41, as named by the Florida Museum of Natural History, measured four metres and weighed an estimated 500 kilograms. Facial scars indicated a protracted struggle with the fishers’ gill-nets while stomach contents revealed it was feeding on shrimp larvae.

A tagging project almost 20 years ago indicated that the sharks spend the daytime in waters up to a kilometre deep and surface only at night to feed on plankton, small fish and jellyfish

Only last month WWF found and rescued a 15-inch baby whale shark.

“The presence of two of the world’s three filter feeding sharks warrants special attention for the Donsol-Masbate region,” said Aca.

“Whale and megamouth sharks, manta rays, dolphins and other charismatic giants indicate that the region’s ecosystem is still relatively healthy. By protecting megafauna, we help maintain the dynamic balance of our seas, and ensure the entire ecosystem’s resilience and natural productivity.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Diver Airlifted from Solmali wreck

A diver was airlifted to Aberdeen with suspected decompression sickness after a rapid ascent while on the Somali wreck off Seahouses
According to the Coastguard, the divers had been diving at depths of 28.4 metres when the incident occurred on Sunday afternoon.
Although initially it appeared the 33-year-old from Leeds might only need medical assistance from a local hospital, his condition began to deteriorate.
After receiving medical advice, Humber Coastguard requested that RAF Rescue Helicopter 131 be sent from RAF Boulmer to transfer the diver to the hyperbaric unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Humber Coastguard Watch Manager Graham Dawson said: "Although the temptation if you, or one of your diving party suffers from decompression sickness will be to seek medical advice in the first instance, you should always contact the Coastguard via VHF channel 16 to allow us to locate your vessel and provide the most rapid response."

Pirates hijack dive boat

Not content with oil tankers and cargo ships, it would appear Somali pirates have branched out to seize a luxury liveaboard offering trips around the Seychelles.

The Indian Ocean Explorer, one of the boats offered by UK operator Aquatours, was hijacked last week shortly after dropping a group of divers following a trip around the archipelago's pristine coral reef system.

Kirk Green, director of Aquatours said he had been told the boat would be taken to Harardhere, a pirate stronghold north of Mogadishu and could be held about three months.
"It's the first time it's happened to us, so it's a bit of a shock at the moment," he told the Associated Press.

"Obviously one of the feelings we have is relief because none of our clients were taken. But on the other hand, we are extremely concerned about our crew."

Since the incident security forces have deployed to outer islands of the Seychelles archipelago. Foreign Affairs Minister Patrick Pillay said his government had contacted naval forces in the region who "guaranteed to track down the boat."

Aquatours website offers said the vessel offered itineraries range from 3 to 15 days to "Places Once Called "Inaccessible" such as Aldabra, the World Heritage Site visited by only 182 very fortunate divers a year, and the Seychelles Inner Islands where the specialty is Whale Sharks.

It is thought the pirates had moved further into the Indian Ocean after an international naval force began patrolling waters close to Somalia following a number of high profile hijackings in the Gulf of Aden.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seals shot in Scotland

Britain's seal population is facing a silent massacre at the hands of the fish farming industry, wildlife campaigners have claimed.

According to the Seal Protection Action Group an estimated 5,000 seals are being killed in Scotland alone each year by salmon farming and angling interests.

The Saving Scotland’s Seals Campaign has now been launched to create legislation to provide seals with full protection and encourage retailers to only stock ‘seal-friendly salmon’.

The UK is home to globally important seal populations of grey and common seals. It is currently legal to shoot seals outside their breeding season when they are threatening fish farms.
But a drop in the number of common seals around Scotland - possibly due to ecological changes, a shortage of wild fish and perhaps predation by Orcas in some areas - has led some campaigners to fear the gunmen are being a little too trigger happy.

Scott Landsburgh of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said estimates of the number of seals shot were well off target.
According to industry figures, 489 were reported shot last year and Mr Landsburgh branded the current outcry as ill-informed reporting. SSPO have also produced a background document on the issues.
He told BBC1's Countryfile programme: "The seals are very aggressive, they attack the nets and can bite through them, and they can also actually use their flippers to steal salmon out of the cages.
"We all like seals, we all want to protect the seals, but our paramount responsibility is the welfare of the salmon."

Paramount responsibility is the salmon? Is that the very salmon that will be fished out, killed and slapped in a plastic container ready for out tables?
Or should the statement have read: "Our paramount responsibility is the welfare of our bottom line"?

Andy Ottaway, Campaign Director at SPAG, said: “The British public are appalled at the mass slaughter of seals in the Canadian seal hunt. They will be horrified to learn that the mass killing of seals is taking place in this country all year round.
“Surely the Scottish salmon industry, which is worth hundreds of millions of pounds can find ways of keeping seals away from their stock without killing them."

An interesting observation. With some estimates putting the industry's worth at £380 million (page 9), there's a lot of cash floating around which could be used to fund conservation efforts rather than a bullet through the brain.

While we as a nation are continually asking other countries to stop the slaughter of animals and think of the cash that nature tourism could bring to their economies, it's a bit hypocritical for politicians to be turning a blind eye to the issues on home shores.
Having dived with seals in the Farnes Islands, I can only say what a magical experience it was. They rank as three of the best dives I've ever done in terms of marine life interaction. We were buzzed, examined and nibbled by the playful creatures and I've got countless pics of whiskered noses being rubbed against the port of my camera.

The Scottish Government does have a working group called the Scottish Seals Forum, but the latest minutes on its website are from three years ago and the most up to date scientific research is from four years ago. Better to look at the Sea Mammals Research Unit for its up to date research.
While their report acknowledges the problems faced by the salmon farming industry, it states:
"Very little research has been directed specifically at the interactions between seals and fin fish
It also suggests that more could be done across the industry to share best practice on dealing with the problem before picking up the gun.
"By using current industry knowledge it may be possible to design solutions to the problem of seal-fin fish farm interactions by applying techniques that are currently available," the report adds.

If this angers you click here for different ways to take action.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Save the Cheerleader Save the Whales, Diver with spear in his head and other odd news

Heroes hottie Hayden Panettiere came face to face with sharks while Down Under to rally support from Australians for the “Save the Whales Again!” petition at SocialVibe.com.

Hayden will be delivering the petition to the International Whaling Commission at their meeting this June in Madeira.

“This is the easiest way for people to make a big difference in our fight against commercial whaling and the Japanese dolphin drive hunts. All we need people to do is go to sign the petition," she told the Insider website.

The goal is to stop all commercial whaling and lethal scientific research whaling by Japan, Norway, Iceland, and to enforce the current global whaling moratorium.

Three time Olympian and ex NBA basketballer, Luc Longley, won the auction to name a new species of shrimp.

He beat 48 others and paid a whopping AU $3,600.00 for the privilege after the Australian Marine Conservation hit upon the fundraising idea.

While Luc has not yet come up with a name he said: "I haven't decided on the name yet, but it doesn't really matter. What really matters is that we need to protect our oceans.

"Discoveries like this new deep sea species remind us of how little we know about our oceans and how much we need to protect them."

Despite my earlier blog suggesting some had more money than they knew what to do with, all credit to Luc for dipping into his pocket and shelling out a huge chuck of cash for such a good cause.

And finally.......
A little at odds with the previous story, but the pics are amazing.

A Brazilian diver was taken to hospital with a spear stuck in his head after a diving accident.

Doctors had to surgically remove the spear from Emerson de Oliveira Abreu's brain after it
apparently ricocheted off a rock and entered his head just above his left eye while out hunting, the Associated Press reported. Check out their video below.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Drop Zone Tahiti Premiere's at Divefest

PADI has announced it will premiere the movie Drop Zone Tahiti at Divefest in Cornwall on Friday May 15.

The movie follows the exploits of professional surfers and divers Holly Beck, Alex Gray and Cheyne Magnusson on a "unique journey both above and below the surface" as they explore coral reefs, dive with sharks and surf the world’s heaviest waves of Teahupoo.

It is hoped the movie, sponsored by Bodyglove will help bring younger people into the sport.

Check out the trailer below and a making of at the bottom.

Trailer One

Trailer Two

Making of

Swimming Fish Can Generate Elctricity - April Fools

The best story of the day, featured in today Daily Telegraph, told how harnessing the power of swimming fish could hold the key to generating electricity to power Britain's homes.

The paper reported Government scientists claiming that installing networks of electric prongs along the riverbed, the energy from of fish migrating upstream could be captured and fed into the National Grid.

The report on project, codenamed 'Finetics', suggested a typical salmon could generate enough electricity to make 18 cuppas.

While it's quite believable Government scientists would waste money researching such a barmy scheme, the giveaways were researcher Dr Andrea POOL, green technology boffin Gavin ROACH and said the trials would be monitored by the Université de Poisson d'Avril in Paris (Poisson D' Avril is actually a French April Fools Day tradition, which involves kids attempting to attach a paper fish to a victim's back without being noticed).

Even though it's rubbish, I loved the quote: "Initially, we looked at working with sheep and cattle as well as fish but it quickly became apparent that the energy-generating potential of fish far outweighed that of slow-moving grazing stocks."

On a serious non-diving point, read the story linked to from the page about Kosovo survivor Dren Caka. It makes shocking reading. Having been there with the British Army, the country has a special hold on me and it worth remembering the horrors of that conflict.

Name that Shrimp 2

Quick update to a previous blog about an auction to name a new species of shrimp.
A total of 49 people bid for the opportunity and the winner paid a whopping AU $3,600.00. Some people obviously have more money than they know what to do with.
Oh well, at least that cash will be used on marine conservation initiatives.

U-Boat found in the North Sea

A father and son team have helped find the location of a U-boat lost at the bottom of the ocean for almost 100 years.

Iain Easingwood, who runs diving firm Marine Quest with his father, Jim found the sunken U-40 vessel in good condition 70m (210ft) beneath the sea, 40 miles off the coast of Eyemouth and miles from where she was recorded as going down.

Torpedoed on June 23, 1915 in a cunning - some say dirty - ambush during World War I, she even has her attack periscope still raised.

The discovery, initially scanning a five mile box in the North Sea using hydrographic sonar in December, was a 15-year labour of love for the pair. They were finally able to dive on the wreck, listed as a war grave, earlier this month and footage was given to the BBC

Now her story has resurfaced thanks the Marine Quest, the discovery has served as a reminder of the early years of submarine warfare involving fishing trawlers.

The U-40 was part of a fleet being used in an unrestricted warfare campaign targeting merchant ships bring crucial supplies to British shores.

The crew had surfaced to target what they thought was a fishing trawler out in the North Sea. But unbeknown to them it was a decoy - what later became knows as Q-ships. For being towed below the trawler Taranaki was the British sub HMS C-24. After receiving word from the trawler captain by a phone line linking the two, the C-24 slipped the line, surfaced suddenly and scored a direct hit with a single torpedo.

Of the 32 on board, only the commander, Gerhardt Furbringer, and two others escaped. The other 29 perished. Germany later labelled the tactic a dirty trick but it helped ease the pressure on merchant shipping and it was only ever successfully used once more.

The Distinguished Service Cross awarded to C-24 Captain Frederick Henry Taylor.

The story featured in the Times Online, in Berwiskshire Today, and Ian was also interviewed on BBC Radio's Today programme.