Sunday, September 11, 2016

Solitary Island - Grey Nurse Sharks

Woho, diving again.
On the way up the East Coast a couple of months ago I stopped by in Coffs Harbour, which is where I then subsequently took my first of many whale watching trips. Staying at the hostel at that time, I had heard that they have a nursery out in the sea for Grey Nurse Sharks. As you nearly have a guarantee of seeing the large predators out at the Solitary Island, I made sure that I would stop on the way back down the coast. So here I am and today was my first of a few dives. Originally I had also booked in for last Friday, but the weather had turned out to be bad, so it had to be cancelled. Sunday saw us heading out to the island in the boat provided by the dive centre I was going out with (Jetty Dive Coffs Harbour). Previously all of us guest, trainees, etc. (all in all 12 people I think) had gotten our gear at their base and loaded it all on to their boat.
On the way to the island we passed a shoal of fish being bothered by sea birds, but no whales, dolphins or other mammals were spotted. We arrived at the island and moored up to one of the lines provided there. Gear on and then we all dropped in to the water. We had a total of three or four dive guides with us, so the groups were held comfortably small. Before we could proceed down, I noticed a slight hissing coming from my tank, so back to the boat, O-ring changed and all good again. Bit luckier than Johanna in Egypt a couple of year ago I remember, she ended up sitting on the boat for one hour while the rest of us went down. 
Anyway, down we went. Nearly immediately the silhouettes of sharks could be spotted hanging around the reef. Woho, after over forty dives on which I had “only” seen two sharks I see half a dozen in the first couple of minuets. And whilst Grey Nurse Sharks are probably not as impressive as hammerhead sharks, they are still spectacular animals. All in all on that entire dive we saw probably around two dozen sharks. Also saw a woebegone, some lion fish, a nudibranch and heard whales calling close to the end of the dive. We dived through an archway, through gorges and across some corals. And whilst the corals aren't as impressive or colourful as the ones in the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef, there was always the presence of a top predator around. Toward the end of the dive, the guide and me made one of the sharks fell rather uncomfortable and he had a surprise for me. We were travelling along one of the gorges when the presence of a shark was seen lurking around half way. He was swimming towards us and I got a front row view of the bottom of it's mouth. He thought about going left of me, saw the guide behind me, (probably) panicked and turned around so fast his tail cracked in the water. The guide (Vicky) later mentioned that it is the equivalent of a sonic boom underwater. I for one didn't know what the heck was going on, just that a shark had sped up from cruising speed to racing in the opposite direction.
The first dive ended with me having been down for 50 minutes, a maximum depth of 25.4 metres time in 0923 and having 50 bar left of pressure after starting with 240 bar.
One hour later we were back in, to see more of the underwater world. On this dive we didn't see as many sharks, but I myself still counted seven whilst the dive guide spotted nine. The whale calls were a lot more prevalent throughout the dive and I was hoping to see a giant shadow hovering across us. At one point I did, so I turned upwards expectantly. Wow, it was the boat (gruml). Carried on the dive more relaxed than last time, I didn't take the GoPro with me this time (purposefully) as once I have the camera with me I don't relax as easily. The things we saw were the Grey Nurse Sharks, two turtles (a loggerhead and a sea turtle), a stone fish, a small moraine eel, some bat fish in the distance and a large amount of other types of fish.
The data of the dives is thus. Max. depth: 15.6m. Duration: 51 min. Time in: 1110. Start/Remaining pressure: 220/60

Then on the way back we saw some whales and a lone dolphin hoping the waves. Back on shore we cleaned all the gear we had used, some people wrote their logbooks (mine is in Germany, argg) and I went back to the hostel for a rest. Will be back tomorrow with more diving.  

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