I think it is safe to say that our Japanese
Shark Diving Expedition exceeded everyone's expectations. In
Chiba we had hundreds of sharks on every dive. At Mikomoto
Island we saw schoolong hammerheads and found the elusive
Japanese wobbegong shark. Ten species of (mostly endemic)
sharks and rays in one awesome week of shark diving!
Meet and Greet
Our group met up in Tokyo and we drove south
into Chiba Prefecture. Arriving early, we
decided to kill some time before checking into our resort by
visiting a very Japanese castle up above the city.
Immediate and Intense
The next day we plunged in for our first day
of shark diving. The banded houndshark action was immediate
and intense. For the next three days we watched,
photographed and generally enjoyed incredible shark feeds
attended by between 200 and 500 sharks.
We did three days of shark diving in Chiba.
Each dive was filled with sharks. Some guests watched from
the wings while others positioned themselves right in the
middle of the frenzy. Not surprisingly, the word
Sharknado regularly entered the conversation :)
Marauding Red Stingrays
I should mention that the shark feeds were not just attended by
sharks. We also encountered hundreds of marauding red stingrays that
were more than happy to barrel in and grab the bait whenever
the opportunity arose. If you've dove at Stingray City in
the Cayman Islands, you know how persistent they can
be. Fortunately, red stingrays never sting divers at this
shark feed but if you leave any skin exposed, you may come
home with an embarrassing hicky or two :)
Liberated Sharks and Rays
Everything works slightly differently in
Japan. There, the ocean is essentially owned by the fishermen. They
grant permission for the dive shop to operate in their
neighborhood. In Chiba, the dive shop has a very good
relationship with the fishermen because the shark feeds
keep the destructive houndsharks out of the fishermen's
A few sharks and rays inevitably still get
caught and this leads to a novel opportunity. The fishermen
leave the sharks and rays in a holding tank so that the dive
shop staff can release them during the shark feeds. This
divers a unique opportunity to see and photograph
rare species that they wouldn't otherwise encounter. While
we were there, they released three unusual ray species and a
seldom seen 'star-spotted smoothhound shark'. This smoothhound was so uncommon that I couldn't find any live images of it, anywhere on the internet.
We also stumbled upon a number of other
elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) while swimming around the
reef. It was great to find a Japanese horn shark and a half
buried Japanese butterfly ray that took flight and glided
over the reef while we snapped away.
Next Stop Izu
After three days of Japanese shark diving in
Chiba we packed up our wet wetsuits and headed to the Izu
Peninsula; a veritable playground for Japanese scuba divers.
Driving to the southern tip of the peninsula, we dropped our
stuff at the hotel and went out in search of a meal - an
adventure in itself.
The next morning - in far from perfect
conditions - we sailed out to Mikomoto Island; Japan's version
of the Galapagos.
We timed the trip to coincide with scalloped
hammerhead season and the hammers did not disappoint. Like
many places where scalloped hammers reside, it was not easy
to get close to them but we saw some respectable sized
schools and came home with the images to prove it.
Japanese Wobbegong Sharks
The next day - our final day in the water -
we decided to stop chasing hammerheads and hunt for Japanese
wobbegongs on the reef instead. Wobbies are far more common
in the southern hemisphere, especially around Australia
which boasts ten different species. Perhaps in a time when
the seas in Southeast Asia were cooler, some wobbegongs must
have migrated north and settled in the Japanese archipelago.
After thousands of years of isolation, they have evolved
into a unique Japanese species - Orectolobus japonicus.
Although October is officially 'off season'
for wobbegongs in Japan, our local dive master seemed
confident that he could find one for us and sure enough,
after just a few minutes, we came across a meter long shape
blending into the colorful rocky reef. Having photographed
six of its cousin's down-under, I have been itching to find
this species so I was particularly thrilled to finally see
one. The guests seemed quite impressed too, except for our
two Australian guests that didn't understand what all the
fuss was about :)
Three Minutes of World
Class Japanese Shark Diving
This excellent short film by Bob Pecoraro is
a great round-up of the shark and ray species we
Although it was a slam-dunk, high five,
rip-roaring, unparalleled shark diving success, we were left wanting even more. Next
year, we will be back and we plan to offer an optional trip extension
so that we can chase Japanese angel
sharks and enjoy some of Izu's beautiful protected
reefs. It seems that in Japan, no matter where you
dive, it is hard to go wrong.
He has photographed and dived with more sharks than most
people on this planet and he's very good at it.
Andy's images and shark stories have appeared in hundreds
of books and magazines around the world from titles as varied as
Canadian Geographic, Scuba Diving, FHM, Digital Photography, and
the Journal of Zoology.
Andy is the Creator of the ever expanding
Shark and Ray Field
Guide on Elasmodiver
When not running big animal expeditions or on
photographic assignments, Andy lives and dives on Vancouver Island,
Andy is also the driving force behind
the PREDATORS IN PERIL PROJECT
which shines a spotlight on many endangered species of sharks and
rays that are largely overlooked by mainstream conservation groups.
Predators In Peril is entirely funded by Big Fish Expeditions.