View Full Version : Big Island Divers and The Black Water Night Dive

WV Diver
11-20-2009, 19:16
Certainly one of the coolest dives I have done to date.

So I finally received the pictures of the Black Water Night Dive that we did off the coast of Kona, Hawaii (The Big Island). A little background for those who don't know, the Black Water Dive is a shallow, night dive in very deep water. The purpose is to get the opportunity to see, up close and personal, some of the really deep dwelling creatures that most folks will never get to experience otherwise.

These animals spend their days at depths thousands of feet deep but come to the surface at night to do whatever it is they do. It is thought that they are likely feeding on the microscopic flora and fauna of the ocean. Many of these animals have great bioluminescent qualities, most of them are fairly small and a large percentage has never been described in the world of science. This amounts to hundreds or thousands of species that have never been seen or photographed.

The Divemaster and photographer who took these pictures was Josh Lambus. A very interesting fellow to speak with he is very passionate about his photography and the Black Water Dives that he does. He works out of the Big Island Divers shop. He has done over 200 of these dives and says that he sees something that he has never seen before on nearly every Black Water Dive excursion.

Often he sends many of his photographs to universities and marine scientists hoping to get information or species names for the dozens of animals in his pictures. Many times the replies are simply "we don't know". Seems he is on the cutting edge of science and getting more questions than answers.

Watching Josh get his camera together and ready for the dive I am impressed at how big it is with the twin strobes, underwater casing and high intensity light attached to it. “So this is what you stick into the shark’s mouth,” I say. He just smiles. Nice shield, I thought to myself, I should think about investing in something more substantial. Maybe Josh will sell me his camera rig right now.

The dive takes place some 3 miles off shore of the Honokohau Bay area. Josh explains that going off shore of the Big Island one mile is equal to about a 1/2 mile of depth. That puts you in some 8000' of very dark water, well after sunset. Floating in the current the captain turns off all the lights on the boat so as not to "attract attention" and 6 divers and the DM (Josh) leave the safety of the boat and dive into the abyss expecting to have the experience of a lifetime.

Dive Data:
28 OCT 09
Max depth = 42'
Bottom time = 49 minutes (What Bottom!!!) ;0)
Visibility = As far as your light will shine
Water temperature = 78*F
Splash time = 21:25

On the way to the dive site we pass a fishing boat. I can see the green, starboard bow light, noting that it is returning to shore. I noticed that Josh and Russ, the boat captain, were conversing and pointing in the direction of the fishing boat. After some nods and general gestures of agreement Josh comes back toward the stern of the boat. I ask what is going on and he acknowledges the fishing boat and says they just want to be sure that we are well away from the fishing boat. In his words "At least far enough away that a shark can't swim to us in an hour, we don’t want to "attract attention".

As the boat continues on about its merry way, Josh chats with the other divers and I start going through my rig double checking gear and making sure all is well. Everyone is happy and laughing. It’s a perfect evening for the dive. The air is warm, the water is calm and the moon is about half full.

Josh had given his dive briefing at the dock. Saying that once we get to the site we want to get in the water quickly and not "attract attention". The briefing was a little different than most of us are accustom to hearing. Josh explained that each of us would be tethered to the boat via a 45' line attached to the boat with a weight on the other end to keep the line taught. Then a 10' line will be clipped onto a shoulder D-ring of our BC then attached to the 45' tether line so that we can move up and down the line. The plan is to have three divers tethered to the port side of the boat and 3 on the starboard side. One diver will be tethered near the bow, one near the stern and one near the middle of the boat. Josh will not be tethered and will be moving about taking pictures and checking on divers as needed. The plan seems simple and straight forward enough to me. Although I don't know it yet I am destined to be in the middle and on the starboard side of the boat with my dive buddy in the middle on the port side.

All week long, around the dive shop and on other dives, the employees make little remarks when they hear that we are doing the Black Water Dive. They say things like "Ohhhhhh no, I don't do the Black Water Dives"," You're doing the Black Water Dive!!??", "Wow you're brave!!" and "No, I have never done the Black Water Dive". So I guess I'm just not smart enough to pay a lot of attention to these remarks and think little of it really.

Anyway as Josh continues the dive briefing he shows us some really beautiful pictures he has taken on previous dives and talks about all the cool critters that he has experienced during other Black Water Dives. Just as we are ready to leave the dock, he tells everyone to take their last opportunity to use the restroom as there is not one on board the boat and he doesn't want us peeing in the water. He explains that it is a "sign of distress" to deep water sharks and after all there is no need to "attract attention". Seconds later you see folks, myself included, making our way up the dock to the restrooms.

Suddenly the motors stopped and the boat began to sway gently to and fro in the calm seas of a clear, star filled evening. Every star I had ever seen was shinning brighter than I could have ever imagined. There were millions of stars as far as I could see in all directions, what a great night for a dive. I have been in places before far from the city, without light pollution, to view the night sky but I had never been so far out to sea at night with such clear skies, it was a really nice experience.

I looked back to see the fishing boat. It looked as if it had stopped and it looked fairly close. I asked Josh if he thought a shark could swim that distance in an hour because I was pretty sure it could. He didn't answer.

Slowly things begin to come to light for me and suddenly all the remarks from the previous week begin to resonate in my mind. One after the other I begin to hear all the phrases from the past week echo in the emptiness of my now very awake and alert mind. But true to form, any red flags that should be flying at this point are quickly dismissed. "Let's get in the water."

Then Josh tells us that the dive is likely to be around 55 minutes and he will start sending divers to the boat one at a time about then. If however there is a situation he may just give us a two thumbs up signal. This is an indication that we should get on the boat as quickly and efficiently as possible in an orderly manner. Josh is to be the first one in the water and the last one out.

Russ's turn to give us direction on how to get on and off the boat without becoming entangled with other divers and one by one, Josh and six divers enter the water.

Once in the water I immediately begin to get my camera ready. My plans are to take video as Josh has already explained to us that it is very difficult to take still pictures because of the transparency of most of the animals and the inherent problems with focusing. But that doesn't stop me from trying to take a couple still photographs anyway. After a few moments of trial and error I realize that video really is what I should be doing. However there is just enough current that all the amazing and beautiful things that I am seeing are just not in the frame long enough to really do a good job with it. After all I am trying to hold my flashlight on the subject with one hand while it floats by and in and out of my light beam while trying to see the subject in the display of my camera in pitch black water with the other. So having seen the huge light built onto Josh's professional camera with twin strobes I decide to clip my camera off, enjoy the experience while I can and let the pro do the pictures.

So as things come into view I am able to swim to the creatures I can reach and get a really good look at them, remember I am tethered to the boat like a big piece of bait on a hook. Josh bangs his tank every once in a while to let everyone know he has something cool going on in front of the camera. So I become accustom to turning and going over to Josh when I hear the tank bang. His camera light shines 5 times further than my light and is much brighter and whiter and boy are we seeing some really amazing animals.

I look at my dive computer and we are 27 minutes into the dive just as I hear Josh bang his tank again. Cool I think to myself as I turn to see what new, amazing thing he has cornered this time. As I turn I see Josh giving me the sign for shark and pointing. Yep shark!! The current is quartering me from the port bow to the starboard stern, the same direction that Josh is pointing and the same direction I last saw the fishing boat. I turn and see the shadow of a shark far off at the end of his light beam. As it approaches I realize very quickly that I am looking at an Oceanic Whitetip. He is about 6' long and swims right by me. Far enough away that I am not super concerned. I am more in awe at the site of him. I had never seen an Oceanic and certainly not at night in 8000' of water helplessly strapped to a boat. He was not showing any signs of aggression nor was his posture anything more than that of a curious spectator come to see what we were and why were there.

The Whitetip made several passes, always 15-20' away but always from the same direction, straight upstream toward me and from directly behind me. Josh was spinning in place every time the shark would go out of sight trying to see where it might come from next. I was doing the same thing except I had to spin part way in one direction then back the other way to keep from getting tangled in my bonds........I mean tether. Josh content on looking in one direction and I in another in an attempt to cover as much of our 360* spherical world as possible.

After several moments of searching and spotting and searching and spotting the shark and watching as it would slowly flank us it seemed to have disappeared. After several more moments we all seemed to get back to what we were doing as if it had all been a dream. I ascertained that the shark had satisfied his curiosity and headed back to the fishing boat or just went on about his way. I and the others were back to watching the amazing light show from all the bioluminescent creatures of the deep displayed at arms length, right in front of us, seemingly just for our amusement.

Just as I am beginning to relax and get back into the dive I hear Josh's tank banging again. I look and again he is giving me the shark sign. At this point I'm wondering who the hell pissed in the water. I turn to look and here he comes directly at me, with purpose this time. I wasn't sure what the purpose was but I knew he wasn't flanking me anymore he was coming to take a close look at what I was and I sensed this. Josh had his industrial light on him and I had my little hand held light on him too, right in his eye. As he approached I first wondered when he would turn. Then I began to wonder if he would turn. Now he is close enough that I realize I have to make a decision..........just in case. I have all of about 5 seconds to make this decision and he's getting closer. My world focuses solely on this shark. He has my undivided attention. Everything begins to go into slooooowww moooootiooooon and I begin the countdown in my head to impact with a top predator of the sea.

Five..................four...........no change in his direction and no indication that he will turn, three and I have made a decision. I will keep my light in his eye until just before zero and drop my light away from his eye. Hoping that this leaves spots in his eye and gives me that split second I need to turn my back to him just in time for him to get a mouthful of my stainless steel back plate and tank. Giving me and the others the time we need to get back aboard the boat. Yeah that will teach him to bite at me. Still his posture is not aggressive but he IS coming Straight at me.

What, like I'm not going to do anything and just hope for the best? Yeah right, what would you do? I was determined to do something. Two................One..................and my heart is racing and my eyes are wide. Just as I stop breathing and begin to drop my light, duck and make my turn putting my back to this shark Josh snaps a picture, our whole world lights up and the shark turns. Needless to say I am relieved. I'm not sure if Josh realized all that was going on with me or even how close the shark was to me. I imagine he was concentrating on getting that picture. The shark made another flanking pass or two and I am starting to settle down a little now but I wouldn't mind being back on the boat either.

Josh hasn't appeared to be too excited up to this point but this ain't his first pony show either. Suddenly he gives us the double thumbs up, which if you remember, means "please get your ass back on the boat" or something like that. We all made our way back on the boat one at a time and I took a deep breath and watched to be sure everyone got back on the boat safely. There were still four divers in the water when I stepped on board, including my dive buddy and Josh. Once everyone was on the boat I again looked at my dive computer, 49 minutes. I certainly felt alive at that moment.

Later Josh said he knew it was time to get on the boat when he realized that there were two sharks in the water. Though none of us every saw two sharks at once Josh said the first one had a distinguishing scar on its tail. When he noticed that the scar was gone he realized it wasn't the same shark. There were two sharks in the water with us.

On the way back Russ tells us that he used to do the Black Water Dive but after having a rather disturbing nightmare he was no longer interested in the dive.

I had really hoped that I would be in the frame with the shark when Josh snapped that oh so close picture, but it wasn't meant to be.

Anyway enjoy the pictures and if ever you get the chance to do a Black Water Night Dive with Big Island Divers and Josh be sure to jump on it. It is the dive of a lifetime and let Russ tell you the story of his dream of Black Water Diving with Makos. He might even let you buy him a beer.

Black Water Night Dive see pelagic fish off Kona Hawaii's magic coast line Scuba Hawaii (http://www.bigislanddivers.com/Black.html)

WV Diver
11-20-2009, 20:29
Josh Lambus pictures.

WV Diver
11-20-2009, 20:33
Not a lot of pictures but I may have a few more coming in from my dive buddy.

11-20-2009, 22:20
Holy crap! You had me on pins and needles. Great report and photos.

WV Diver
11-21-2009, 07:13
Holy crap! You had me on pins and needles. Great report and photos.
Thanks!Thanks and I am sorry you had to read the "draft". I went back this morning and made some corrections so others will have an easier time with it.

11-21-2009, 09:09
Awesome report, what a great experience! This is defiantly on the
'Bucket List". It is sooo cool you the got the opportunity to do this dive and the conditions were good. Hawaii is a fantastic destination....

The opportunity to see a OWT up close like that (maybe not that close) is getting to be a once in a lifetime experience. That is one of the only sharks that I would be truly apprehensive of especially in a situation like that. The opportunity to get to see the amazing creatures that rise out of the depths in the dark and get to see them first hand is unbelievable. Really makes you realize how little we get to see of the amazing diversity of the oceans.

Josh takes amazing photos and there is almost no one else capturing these creatures in the wild like he is.

You can see more of his photos here: Flickr: JLambus' Photostream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlambus/page3/)

WV Diver
11-21-2009, 09:45
Yes, thanks for posting this link of Josh's work DD. I didn't know about this one and you're right he does some amazing work. He told us that he only knows one other person, I don't remember his name, that does these Black Water Dives. Josh says he is second only to this fellow in having done the most Black Water Dives.

Having experienced this dive myself I can easily see the potential for a very quick and unwanted, unwarranted mishap that can blind side one in a split second. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that one's odds growing increasingly greater of something happening with every dive.

Many have lost the "edge" to do this dive and I hope that Josh is able to keep his edge and is safe for many dives and years to come. The work he is doing is very important, at least as far as this biologist in concerned.

I hope you get to do this dive one day DD. Josh told me he sees sharks about 10% of the time.

11-21-2009, 19:38
Thanks for the report and pics.

I would have reservtions about this dive but more from the point of view I'm in the water with a group of people that are all teathered but have plenty of room to entangle their lines. Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

But I agree, it would be most memorable.


02-24-2010, 13:10
I just joined this forum today because I found your post while searching for descriptions of the Blackwater dive. We have a group that is planning on doing this dive in the fall in Kona. We've talked about it for awhile and your narrative is really helpful and exciting! I had wondered how the tethering process worked and now I know. Thanks for posting such a great and memorable experience. I am looking forward to experiencing this dive with my friends.

02-24-2010, 13:54
Shark in the dark... Scary:smiley5:

Cool pics, thanks for putting them up.

02-24-2010, 13:57
Wow that was an awesome report! Had me on edge thinking you came back less a limb!

02-25-2010, 22:02
Wow that was an awesome report! Had me on edge thinking you came back less a limb!

I talked to a couple of guys in Kona last summer about this. They were heading all the way up to the fish aggregation bouy north of "the Grounds" (toward Maui).

When they mentioned seeing Tiger sharks there, I decided that it probably wasn't for me.:chickendance:

WV Diver
02-27-2010, 13:28
Thanks for the compliments. This really is a memorable dive and a must do. Today is my birthday and my wife contacted Josh and bought one of his many beautiful photographs for me. It is a picture of a Blanket Octopus. It is really small in real life, maybe the size of a half dollar but the picture is blown up to about 11" X 16". When I get it matted and framed I will post a picture of it here for all to see.

WV Diver
02-27-2010, 13:49
Blanket Octopus... i think. on Flickr - Photo Sharing! (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlambus/3449545464/in/set-72157604267138182/)

Oh, here I found it online.


02-27-2010, 14:31
that is a very cool pic!

02-27-2010, 14:45
Blanket Octopus... i think. on Flickr - Photo Sharing! (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlambus/3449545464/in/set-72157604267138182/)

Oh, here I found it online.


That is a beautiful pic. Thanks for sharing it.

WV Diver
02-27-2010, 14:58
I just joined this forum today because I found your post while searching for descriptions of the Blackwater dive. We have a group that is planning on doing this dive in the fall in Kona. We've talked about it for awhile and your narrative is really helpful and exciting! I had wondered how the tethering process worked and now I know. Thanks for posting such a great and memorable experience. I am looking forward to experiencing this dive with my friends.
Josh doesn't exactly keep track but he said that sharks are seen about 20% of the time. Good luck.

03-07-2010, 20:37
I just make reservations for Oahu and the big Island in for mid-May. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be there for the right nights for the blackwater dive, my schedule was driven by when I could get free flights with airline miles. But Big Island Divers is the dive op I was looking at, did you do any other diving with them? I'm definitely going to do the two tank night dive with the manta rays, and then hopefully a few morning dives as well. Any recommendations?


WV Diver
03-10-2010, 16:39
We also did the Manta Ray Night Dive with Big Island Divers and there is a thread here about it if you would like to read it. Otherwise we just did shore diving from our beach house. Very nice diving.

Seattle Scuba Dad
05-08-2010, 21:29
yup, I'm gonna sign up for that dive when I'm on the BI in September -- but I will not tell my wife about the sharks! After all, my 12-year-old daughter, the kid who wants to be a marine biologist, wants to come with me. So I think our cover story is "it is all about the cute glow-in-the-dark creatures, honest!":smiley2:

05-09-2010, 04:53
very nice experience. you sure got your money's worth. hehe

WV Diver
05-09-2010, 06:06
On page 58 of this months issue of Sport Diver Magazine is an article entitled "Midnight Rambler". It talks about a Black Water Dive and the Manta Ray Dive off Kona Hawaii. Having been there and done both dives I personally feel the article leaves much to be desired and does not do either dive justice.

I'm just sayin. There was so much more to say to lure potential customers to the island and the dives. I guess I will attribute my personal feelings of the article's short comings to having had the experience and the small space given for the article by the magazine.

06-11-2010, 06:28
I have to agree WV Diver, I did the Manta Ray dive a couple weeks ago with Big Island Divers and I'm not even sure how to describe it. I still watch the video I shot (and the one I bought with me in it) and it brings back the feelings of being there with those amazing creatures. I wasn't there on the right night to do the Black Water dive, but dove one morning with Joshua Lambus who is the photographer who has done so many amazing photos during that dive and after hearing him talk and seeing his photos I've already put going back to Kona to do that dive on my list of future trips.

Zeagle Eagle
01-08-2012, 17:57
Wow, all I can say is wow! What great pictures. BTW, I don't think you would have to worry about pee in the water. It would be the crap in my pants. It's one thing to see sharks in the daytime and totally different at night.

BTW, you have great writing skills. That wasn't a post it was almost a short story. Nice job on the report.

01-08-2012, 22:20
Wonderful pics, great experience.

05-10-2012, 22:08
as I expected...i am in search of information...i find it here....

wow!!! manta dive has been on my bucket list and now the blackwater dive has been added to my list.
Hubby and I are planning a trip to Hawaii for our anniversary next year
Oh how I wish I was wealthy.... I'd be on a plane tomorrow......

05-11-2012, 16:40
Josh Lambus has a great pic in ALERT DIVER my copy arrived in the mail yesterday////

WV Diver
06-03-2012, 14:35
What are your dates for Hawaii?

06-03-2012, 16:33
we are looking at feb or march nothing set in stone yet.....

WV Diver
06-03-2012, 20:05
we are looking at feb or march nothing set in stone yet.....

You might see some whales in Feb. I think that is nearing the end of the whale migration through that area. :smiley9:

06-04-2012, 20:06
Whales...I like whales..... we were in Hawaii 4 years ago the last week of march and the first week in april we heard many whales but never saw them underwater. we were on a spectacular whale watch boat trip and saw a momma humpback teaching her baby how to breach....talk about breathtaking......

06-05-2012, 07:26
February and March are good times to see Whales in Hawaii. The official migration is December through March, though seeing/hearing them in November and April isn't unusual.

10-03-2012, 21:26
FEB it is!!!! rooms booked.... flights being perused for purchase..... southwest points being accumulated..... heart rate above 100... sniffing neoprene!!!!! I can't wait!!!!! Big Island Divers Hawaii and Maui.... here we come!!!! well unless the Mayans are right....

WV Diver
11-10-2012, 18:31
Sweet, are you planning to do the Blackwater Night Dive?

11-11-2012, 20:31
YES!!!! blackwater dive is on our list of things to do....