Archive | January, 2013

The Tug of War

27 Jan

A very old story when I was first getting hooked on freediving.  This story happened circa 2006, right about when the sickness took me over and I began to squander all my money on gear and all my freetime in the water.  I look back at this story some 7 years later and man have things changed…

In two weeks I’ll go in for my shoulder surgery, and after that I won’t be able to fish, spear, or be as active as I like to for a few months until it totally heals. So knowing that I took four days off to enjoy life :). I found myself three out of the four days heading out to one of the islands, the water has been clear and warm.

As always there are fish all around me on the island, and I end up bagging bonita (small tuna family) and some yellowtail. On the second day we saw a school of about twenty rush past us and we both shot really nice ones. Yellowtail sashimi and grilled yellowtail collars anyone?


fruits of a hard days diving, fresh yellowtail sashimi and grilled yellowtail collars with a side or rice and spicy mayo mix

So this third day me and my buddy wearily dragged our butts onto my boat and we shot across the water again towards the island. Diving three days in a row is pretty  hard on the body!  It’s a quick run, an hour later we find ourselves on a different part of the island.  It’s rougher on this side and we’ve never gone that far before. We pulled into a spot that held yellowtail, but today the water was a milky blue. We could see baitfish scattering and running about. But this was the area where they saw a great white shark last week and also last year. In fact last year some guys I know saw it underwater and they rushed back to the boat.  You don’t stand head to head with the taxman, you let him have his space if he’s the senior accountant.

Looking at that murky water, me and my buddy said at the same time that it felt sharky, he didn’t even want to get into the water. Man when two guys get the heebie jeebies like that sometimes it’s a sign so we bailed out and headed back towards the frontside. I found a nice spot that had bait and a good drop off, that has been the recipe for our success the past few days.

As I struggled to slip into my already wet, wetsuit i could feel the cold material sticking to my body. My buddy opted to nap and he already had laid out on the deck of the boat. I grabbed my rabitech railgun “bad karma” and slipped into the water. I’m excited because the water is super clear and I see schools of bonita running thru, they look like silver rivers of fish there are so many. I take careful aim and hit two which I place on the stringer on my belt. They will make great sashimi for lunch, I’ve aleady planned ahead and have rice, wasabe, and soy sauce on the boat :).

No yellowtail show up so I head back towards the boat. A huge sea lion approaches me and agressively dives underwater towards me. He’s looking at my fish and I remember hearing a story about a guy that almost drowned because a sea lion grabbed his fish on his belt and took him down to eighty feet before he was able to release that belt. As I kick away the sea lion rushes towards me and tries to snatch the fish, I try to prod him with my gun but he does backflips under water and blows bubbles in my face. He bares his teeth and he knows he’s faster underwater and can hold his breath way longer. Again and again he taunts me, waiting for me to let my guard down so he can snatch those bonita. He bares his teeth and comes in for a bite and I kick at him and change his mind and he finally takes off.  Bastard.

I concentrate on my dives and work my way back to the boat. In the distance I see four yellowtail moving thru and they are all nice fish, about 15 or so pounds. I drop down and carefully try to guess where they are heading, and I pretend Im not looking at them. It works and one of them dips down for a closer look, pfwwwwwwt the spear shoots from my gun and I see a tiny spot of blood. solid shot! The fish took off and ripped line off my reel and I applied steady pressure and finally it stopped so I began pulling it in. Or so I thought. The yellow had wrapped itself in a kelp stringer about 50 feet down. I was still hyped up and started making drops, I could clearly see the fish and then I realized I saw something else.

Not one but two gigantic black sea bass headed towards it.  One was smaller, about eighty to a hundred pounds and the other was a six footer, I’m guessing two hundred maybe more. I’ve seen them once this year on scuba but never one that big freediving and the big one was absolutely huge, it looked like a cow underwater.  I suddenly remembered hearing some of the guys talking about seeing black sea bass swallow their yellowtail whole but couldnt believe it, yellowtail are about four feet long and twelve inches width.

Yeah well now I can say I believe it, the big one moved right up to it and sucked the whole fish in!  It was still strung up on the spear though and kicking so it would get spit out each time.  I tried to get to my fish about six times, but I was still hyped up and couldn’t spend that much time that deep.  On my first drop the little one took off but the big one simply turned and eyed the bonita on my belt without even showing any concern.   I kept thinking that fish could easily swallow my whole stringer and as it advanced I turned tail and slowly kicked back up to the real world.    When I got to the surface I held the line and could see the black sea bass hitting the yellowtail but they couldn’t pull it off the spear. Then I felt the line pull hard once and then the shaft came out easily, minus the fish of course. The black sea bass sank back towards the depth probably 15 lbs heavier.

I sat there dejected for a while and then reminded myself that I had just witnessed something that many people will never get to see.  And then I realized that I didn’t mind it so much that I got to see a black sea bass do that, most people dont ever get to see black sea bass and I had seen six this season, four freediving and two on scuba. and what a story, I still cant believe it ate my fish whole.  I smiled to myself as I reloaded my gun and kicked back to the boat. We didn’t get any more yellowtail today but we still had a great time out on the water.

I was going to try to go spearing for the fourth day at the island today but my hands are too cut up and I’m just too tired, getting up at four am every day and kicking all day long underwater gets to me after a while. I also have a sore spot on my chest from loading the spearguns over and over.  If you want to know what that’s like here’s what you do.  Take a broomstick and put the stick part against your chest. Now run into a wall. Do that six or seven times in the exact same spot and you will know what im talking about :).  But that’s not my main problem, I’ve got two more weeks till I get that shoulder fixed and I’m already thinking of how I can get a few more days off to go back to the island…



Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s “Tidelines” Newsletters focusing on Chip Matheson

2 Jan

Below are three fairly old articles from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s (you may formally remember it as the Cabrillo Marine Museum) Tidelines newsletters, which have been posted with the permission from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. 

For those of us who were lucky enough to know Chip Matheson, these articles are an amazing insight into the early workings of his life.  Even when he started out at the Aquarium, he was determined to become a marine cinematographer, something that he accomplished at an early age.  As I leafed through the old archives a big smile opened up on my face, it brought back another flash of great memories.




A Newsletter for the FRIENDS of Cabrillo Marine Museum

Summer 1982

Sharks, Films in Matheson’s Future

A few years back, Chip Matheson was in the junior high school training program at the old museum.   Today he is an assistant aquarist.   Tomorrow, he would like to be functioning as an underwater film maker.   And, if determination is a factor, he will be.

“I spend all my money on equipment, film and getting to the place to take pictures”, he says.   He recently bought a boat to help him in this purpose.   Matheson sees great opportunities in the underwater film field as it is still a frontier.   He says there are only ten to 15 really good underwater cameramen and he plans to join that elite group.

More mundanely, Matheson is responsible for the tanks containing sea hares, grazers and browsers, ghost shrimp, shark eggs, bioluminescence display, sandy bottom demonstration tank and the holding system.   He and other assistant aquarists have a daily routine of cleaning and maintaining tanks from about 8 to 10 a.m. before turning to special projects.   Much of his time is spent scrubbing algae, cleaning buckets and painting rust in the pump room.   The most enjoyable duty comes when he can assist Bob Johnson and Lloyd Ellis in their collecting.

Of collecting Matheson says,  “There is the thrill of the hunt, but even better is the special satisfaction of not killing but seeing the animal you collected flourishing in an aquarium you are maintaining.”

Matheson’s career with the Cabrillo Marine Museum started in 1973 when he was a volunteer in the junior high school program.   He joined Whalewatch in 1978 and was hired on the museum staff the same year at the age of 18.   In 1980, he went to work for Bob Johnson, taking responsibility for two tanks in the old museum.

Johnson has encouraged his movie-making ambitions and has taught him how to work with sharks,  including the valuable information of when you do and when you do not get in the water with them.   “You have to look for mood changes in the sharks, ” says Matheson,  “and you must know how you will react yourself.   If you panic you might get killed.   You can’t be a thrill seeker.   You must use common sense, as each situation is different.”

Chip Matheson and Pacific Lobster




A publication for FRIENDS of Cabrillo Marine Museum

Summer 1988 Vol. 8, No. 2

Profile:  Chip Matheson

By Sue Lafferty

If you’ve spent any amount of time at Cabrillo Marine Museum lately, chances are you’ve encountered a busy young man ardently photographing sharks in the museum’s exhibit hall and projects lab. This is Chip Matheson, a local underwater photographer, producing the museum’s newest multi-media show, “Shark!” Chip is another of the museum’s volunteer success stories.

Chip began his marine-oriented career as a volunteer at CMM at the age of 13.   Like the rest of us, he became hopelessly hooked on the study of the sea and its creatures.   Since then, his life has been one underwater adventure after another, ranging from filming sea otters in Monterey Bay for the BBC, to diving with great white sharks in Australia—without benefit of a shark cage.

Chip’s main interest (aside from photography) is sharks.  Beginning

with a report on sharks in the fifth grade, his fascination has  continued to grow.   His first face-to-face encounter with the creatures was in 1980 when he was invited along for a day of shark

diving with then Chief Aquarist Bob Johnson and shark expert Don Nelson, Subsequently Chip found himself assisting Bob with his research for the U.S. Navy /California State University at Long Beach Shark Research Program as photographer and safety diver.   Numerous projects involving sharks followed. He spent five years as assistant cameraman for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in such locations as Australia, the Bahamas and Mexico’s Guadalupe Island. Nearly all episodes featured sharks.

Chip’s respect and admiration for sharks has grown and he hopes to

convey this attitude in his “Shark!” multimedia slide show.   Chip would like to continue producing educational media presentations for museums and other institutions.   What the immediate future holds for him is (as usual in his profession) unpredictable.   He has several exciting summer opportunities and they all involve travel, photography, and, of course, the ocean.  Whichever adventure he chooses this time, Chip’s sure to be successful.   We look forward to more beautiful photographs and fascinating stories by this talented man.

Chip eye to eye with a BIG Great White Shark as seen in the “Shark! A new Look” slide show



A Publication for FRIENDS of Cabrillo Marine Museum

Fall 1988 Vol. 8, No. 3


By Sue Lafferty

Sharks, to most of us, are mysterious, sinister, and frightening creatures.  To photographer Chip Matheson, however, they are a misunderstood and misrepresented animal, deserving of much better regard.   With this in mind, Chip has developed Cabrillo Marine Museum’s newest multimedia slide show Shark! premiering September 23 (see page 3).  Through the show Chip hopes to project a new and different image of sharks, one he feels portrays them “as they really are.”

Hollywood filmmakers have done much to perpetuate current ideas , about sharks.   They are often depicted as bloodthirsty and vengeful monsters.   This isn’t necessarily true.   In fact, most species of sharks are completely harmless.   All, in Chip’s opinion, as he demonstrates in Shark! are actually fascinating, highly diverse and only sometimes violent denizens of the ocean.

Chip’s association with sharks goes back a number of years (see his profile in the summer issue of Tidelines).  Throughout his experiences with sharks, he has learned some surprising things.   For example, the most feared species of shark, the great white, can actually be an approachable and somewhat passive animal under the right circumstances.   Chip has actually been in the water with a great white, without a shark cage, camera in hand.   (He does not recommend trying this on your own, however!) Stunning, up close photographs of the magnificent animal are included in the show.

In addition to catching and sharing the beauty of sharks, the show is informative and complements the existing shark exhibit.   Common questions about sharks are addressed, such as why some sharks need to swim continually throughout their lifetime while others lie motionless on the ocean floor, and the most common question (and a good one!), “Why do sharks attack people?”  In keeping with the theme of Cabrillo Marine Museum, the show features only sharks found off the southern California coast. Species featured include blue sharks, horn sharks, swell sharks, mako sharks, and of course, the great white shark.   We are given a glimpse into different aspects of the natural history of these species, that we might not otherwise see.   For example, through time-lapsed photography, the development of a baby swell shark in its egg case is dramatically followed up to the shark’s emergence—an event few have seen.  Definitely one of the highlights of the show!

Chip also includes recent findings and current advancements in the field of shark research.   Incidentally, in the process of photographing the development of the swell shark embryo in its egg case.   Chip may have stumbled upon a new finding.   It seems that light may have some effect on the rate of development of the embryo.   Along with biologist Ed Mastro, one of our exhibit curators, he plans to further investigate this hypothesis.

As fierce as they may seem, sharks, as all sea animals, are quite vulnerable to man’s activities in the ocean.   In Shark!, Chip hopes to bring attention to the plight of sharks.   Gill nets, for example, seem to be taking a major toll on the local population of blue sharks.   Chip explains, “No one really cares about sharks being caught in gill nets and thrown overboard as waste, like they do when just one whale or dolphin is caught.   This is because most people see sharks as ugly and threatening.”

Accompanying Chip’s photography and the informative narrative in Shark! is an original musical score written and performed specifically for the show by Academy Award winning musician Christopher Cross and his associate Phil Giffen.

Shark!, the multimedia slide show, is an educational and popular addition to Cabrillo Marine Museum.   After seeing it, don’t be surprised to find yourself suddenly becoming a shark enthusiast too! Funding for Shark!  was generously provided by the Arco Foundation and CMM Volunteers’proceeds from the gift shop.