My guest, Bartosz, is submerged for more than 30 minutes in the cold water of the Okavango Delta. He is diving with our guide Brad on this crocodile expedition in Botswana. Topside, on the boat, Richard and I watch their bubbles surfacing from only one spot. They aren’t moving. This means they have found a croc! (Click on any image to enlarge it .)
The sky is cobalt blue and a light wind rustles the papyrus which glistens in the wind like wheat in the sun. The air is full of sounds: monkeys, river birds and the seductive murmur of water. (Remember, you can click on any image to enlarge.)
When Bartosz finally surfaces and climbs aboard, his eyes are twinkling. Still in his wetsuit and mask he eagerly checks his camera screen. After reviewing his pictures he looks up with a happy grin. He got his croc! Seconds later, Brad surfaces and beckons me into the water. I grab my camera and with the help of my teammates quickly join him in the river. After hours under the African sun, the chill water (55F) seeping into my wetsuit is a welcome relief. Brad leads me under the papyrus canopy into the hidden lair of the crocodiles and turns on the light of his new RED video camera. Illuminated in front of us is a 12 ft. young croc resting on white sand. The darkness around the pool of light is impenetrable and we are only at a depth of 15 ft.
For the next 10 minutes Brad and I photograph the croc. The beast is calm and unmoving. But then things change. Irritated by the strobe lights, or perhaps by our presence around him, the croc rises on his forelegs and like a slow-motion scene in a sci-fi movie lurches towards us. With each step clouds of sand rise and its tail sweeps the silt into a ghastly whiteout. We back off, blinded by sand and satisfied with our encounter.
Most mornings and late afternoons we film the fish eagle’s hunting behavior. Our method is simple and time tested. We catch a few tiger fish in the river. We set up the boat downwind, bracing it against the papyrus. Our guide, Brad, imitates the cry of an eagle and waves the fish up in the air. This brings the Eagle to a tree close by the riverbank. As the predator locks its eyes on the fish, Brad tosses the fish upriver against the wind.
“Are you ready?” Brad asks.
“Wait a minute “ Bartosz replies as he sets up his 400 mm lens mounted on a mini tripod. I scream “Good to go!”
In three seconds or less the eagle spots the bait floating down the river. It spreads its majestic wings and turns into the wind. Then, fighting against the wind, struggling to accelerate, it flies towards the fish. As the eagle turns into the current of air, it dives down, skimming the water with the tip of its wings. It’s talons are now fully extend forward towards the floating fish. We photographers are all tense and silent waiting for Brad’s signal. “NOW!” Brad yells as the eagle start its turn, flying low over the water. There is a cacophony of cameras firing in frenzy—30 and up to 50 frames in less than 4 seconds. There is a sigh as we all exhale at the same time. Frantically we search through our images, focusing on our screens—Did you get? What did you get? Oh yes and oh no…. Let’s do it again and so on…
The sun is setting behind the tall papyrus wetlands and soon we will face the chill of the African night. We tuck our cameras away and speed over the river to our Lodge. Long before we arrive we can smell the welcoming wood fire waiting for us on arrival. After hot tea and coffee we break for hot showers to end another exciting day on the river.
For the next 6 days we explore different parts of the river in search of clear water. “Clear water” is a relative term in this kind of river diving; it means 15 to 20 feet visibility. Each section of the river has a different name. One section is called Fat Albert, after a croc by that name. The legend is as follows: this croc was located near a village in another area some 70 miles away. The croc became accustomed to people and boats and frequently would approach them. Everyone was worried he would hurt someone; consequently the croc was relocated down the river. Now we are searching for this beast. It is rumored he is 14 – 15ft long and 50-55 years old.
Fat Albert channel, about 5 miles long, remains clear through the winter long after most others channels turn murky again. We explore this channel which is shallow, 12 to 20 feet deep with a sandy bottom. The contrast between a dark croc against white sand makes our work easier. We see no sign of Fat Albert until one morning someone screams “CROC!” We suit up with lightening speed as the boat moves up current. Together, we enter the water with a back-roll and speedily assemble on the river bottom. We brace ourselves as the current sweeps us forward. Pushing forward with our fins we dig them into the sand using them like brakes. By the time I see Fat Albert resting against the riverbed, I have passed him and am nearly on his tail. Dragging myself, my camera and strobes against the current I maneuver towards his head. I want to photograph this croc head on – looking directly toward its rows of white teeth.
I look straight into the croc’s unmoving eyes. When I realize how big the beast’s head is, I move my camera like a shield in front of me and start shooting. The croc remains immobile. I inch closer and closer until the camera is too close to focus. I have the Canon 14 mm lens, which means I am merely 8 inches in front of dinosaur. Minutes later Fat Albert moves and each step creates a small sand storm. With apparent ease, this 14 feet long croc turns into the current disappears.
We try to follow the beast but cannot battle the strong current. We stop, look at each other with a smile and raise our fist in sheer satisfaction and relief. We did it again, against all odds.
I look forward to seeing Fat Albert and other crocodiles next year. Diving and photographing crocs is exciting and safe providing we use knowledge of the reptiles and their environment. Our guide, Brad, has been diving in the Okavango River for 12 years and is one of the leading experts on crocodiles. From experience he has learned crocs do not see well underwater and therefore feed mostly on the surface. Consequently, it is crucial to stay close to the riverbed while diving. It is also essential to take only 2 guests at a time so as not to crowd the croc and block its escape route.
“Amos Nachoum’s images are absolutely incredible!” - Howard Hall
“I have watched your ascent to the level of World Class in still photography. You have directed your lenses to some of the most feared predators in our oceans and established a level of rapport that has been an inspiration for us all.”- Stan Waterman
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“To go further, deeper, wilder; that is what sets Amos Nachoum’s photographs apart. Truly extraordinary!” – Cristina Mittermeier – the founder and President of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP)
“Amos Nachoum’s images make you want to be there to experience his extraordinary world of adventure.” - Jennifer Hayes and David Doubilet, of National Geographic
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“Amos has developed a style that sets him apart in the underwater realm … and this unique offering best describes a point of view of the animal itself” - Ernie Brooks
“Wonderful, informative website by a superb photographer whose images are truly inspirational.” - Rosemarie and Pat Keough – master photographers, publishers of the landmark book Antarctica: Explorer Series, Vol.1
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“There are lots of great photographers on the planet, but few photographers have the ability to make images that touch on the pulse of the planet or embrace the essence of life from a moment in time in a way that resonates far beyond the first view. Amos always finds a way into the heart of his subject.” - Ty Sawyer – CEO, Sawyer Media Group
“Amos is an exceptional pioneer photographer whose lifelong experience of travels, expeditions and observations allowed him to document some of the greatest moments of the animal kingdom.” - David Pilosof, Israel. Producer, Epson RedSea competition.
“The one photographer, when it comes to wild animals, is Amos Nachoum.” - Dietmar W. Fuchs, editor Edition Fifty Fathoms, founding editor Aquanaut, unterwasser, ScubaDiver.
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Visit my new photography website with portfolios, stock images and limited edition fine art prints. It includes portraits (of animals and people) from all over the world. It’s a fresh way to get to know my life’s work.
As someone said before me – Mother Nature is amazing but fickle, tooooooo. The first week we were here was totally dry, with only one whale encounter in seven days.
Now we’re starting the second week – and it is only the second day – and every one of my four guests is in love with another Sperm whale – we are experiencing about a dozen encounters per day.
However, nothing is like seeing Scar in the water (see first image below) and Enigma, his pod member…(middle image). They both are about 10 meters (33 feet) long. Scar is easily recognized as he comes very close to the swimmers and requests to be petted. Enigma just hangs around and demands that we swim along with her. As long as we do, she’s happy, and she has stayed with the swimmers once for 20 minutes and another time for over 30 minutes.
Yes, we all have great expectations from Mother Nature – now we hope to see a socializing group of seven or more underwater looking into our cameras…
Keep your fins wet, and remember that I am planning to return with three more expeditions next year…
Here are some images. There are more on my Facebook album. Equipment? I use the Canon 1D Mark IV and the Canon 1Ds Mark III. Lenses used are all wide angle – from the latest lens, 8 – 15mm, and also 14mm, and 16 – 35mm. Underwater housing - Seacam.
There was a time when Blue whales were hunted almost to extinction. That changed in 1966 when protective laws were enacted to save the blues, the largest animal on earth. Now there’s a new development, and it’s a good one. A huge Blue whale colony has been discovered in Sri Lanka.
Last year I scouted Sri Lanka for the fifth time in order to set up diving and photography operations - my first exploration there was in 1982. I was amazed at what I saw. I have been waiting all this time for the moment of peace and freedom. I’m very glad to start my first Biganimals Blue whale photography expedition. I’m offering three departures to Sri Lanka in March and April, 2012. I’ve prepared a PDF for you with all the details. Click to download it.
Also, the new BigAnimals Expeditions Blue whale schedule for 2013 is in the making. March 20 – April 1, 2013, March 29 – April 8, 2013, and April 5 – 19, 2013. I accomodate only four guests per adventure – space is very limited. If you’re interested please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place on this amazing adventure.
I’m about to embark on an adventure to the Caribbean island of Dominica. I’ll be there with a few new guests and old friends to photograph what was once one of the world’s most hunted animals – the Sperm whale in Dominica. These whales have made an amazing comeback from near extinction. We’ve sold three departures with four guests to each team. I’ll be there until February 9th … and always pleased to be working with my camera with guests and friends among the Ocean Giants
island of Dominica. I’ll be there with some guests and old friends to photograph what was once one of the world’s most hunted animals – the Sperm whale. These whales have made an amazing comeback from near extinction. We’ve sold three departures with four guests to each team. I’ll be there until February 9th … and always pleased to be working with my camera with guests and friends among the Ocean Giants.
I just posted a Blue Whale Album on Facebook – take a look. You’ll see that I’ve found an innovative way to get close to shy Blue whales by using a kayak. The kayak permits us to get face to face with the Blues, even some that are 60 feet long simply pass before my eyes (and lens.) Blue whales are the largest animal ever to live on our planet. I hope you enjoy the album.
I’ve posted a Facebook album of croc images from my recent expedition to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We saw crocs every day, four to five times a day, anywhere from seven feet long and up to 12 feet long. I had a great experience with my ace guide Brad Bestelink, who is also an extraordinary filmmaker. The expedition was such a great success that Brad and I have created two new croc adventures – the first of their kind anywhere in the world.
Croc Expedition Departures
The initial departure, during the third week of July 2012, will be seven days of croc encounters for just two diver/photographers. The second departure, during the last week of July 2012, will combine five days of croc expedition with an eight-day Big Cat Safari (encountering lions, cheetah and leopards), and is also for only two diver/photographers.
An update on the Sardine Run. In the overall scheme of things – this year was an “off year” for seeing the classic Sardine run – and by that I mean a big bait ball of sardines attacked by hundreds of Common dolphins, sharks and also Brutus whales. Sardines need cold water, between 15 – 17 C or 59F – 64F, and this year the water temperature ranged from 19C – 21C or 69F – 72F – a bit warmer than they prefer!
There were a few reports of people seeing smaller bait balls, but even those were not necessarily sardines, but probably Red Eye – another type of small fish that frequents these waters close to shore. Other teams out on the water saw Red Eye consumed by birds and dolphins, but not sharks or whales.
My two weeks here were pure adventure, all search but no encounters, and only with the Red Eye. Everyone had a good time, simply because the local operator, Ivan from Extraordinary Expeditions, and I did our level best to get our people to sea everyday. We covered a great distance, really about 80 to 100 miles per day, on 8 meter Zodiacs, with plenty of extra fuel and with a helicopter with us almost every day.
We did have few amazing in-water encounters with migrating Humpback whales, and rare encounters with the Mola Mola…here are the images.
For this adventure, we had plans to operate the first live-on-board dive boat. However the vessel had a major mechanical failure that could not be fixed in time. Therefore we offered our people a land-based operation, and a refund on the difference between the two styles of operation and a chance to join us next year. All eight guests on the first departure joined me on the first trip and six of them are returning next year. On the second departure eight guests decided to stay put or made other travel arrangements and we are refunding them the full trip price.
It’s been a very quiet year for the Sardine Run. Though some sardines have been seen, there’s been nothing of the magnitude and epic scale you’ve perhaps seen on National Geographic or BBC, and nothing like what I saw here in the early years of 2000.
My guests and I have ten more days here along the wild coast of South Africa. We have moved south to Port Edward with the hope that the last of the Run or the shoal is still to come through and we will intercept and engage the shoal together with the classic predators…the Gannets, common dolphins, sharks and the Brutus whales. We will see! For now, here are four images that summarize our wait, and show the high morale everyone has kept up for the past week.
In my journey around the world I have seen the world’s greatest predators through my viewfinder. I like to write about them here for you, and I’d like to start out with an unlikely predator: the Humboldt squid, known as the “red devil.’ On May 20th, National Geographic is featuring these giant predators in its series called “Hooked,’ and they are subtitling the episode “Squid Invasion.” They promise to show you, “Marauding mobs of huge Humboldt squid are spreading northward along the Pacific coastline, devouring salmon stocks already diminished by other threats.”
World’s Greatest Predators
I can tell you from experience that the Humboldt squid is very impressive. These big animals can move very quickly (as quickly 15 miles per hour) and are capable of large migratory patterns. The adaptability of the Humboldt squid means they are able to explore and take advantage of new environments. The name ‘jumbo squid’ is well-earned, as these creatures reach six feet in length and can weigh as much as 110 pounds. Their Spanish name, ‘diablo roja’ comes from fisherman off the coast of Mexico who report seeing a color change – a flash of red and white – when they attack other fish.
Would you like to see this for yourself? On August 6-13, 2011 and also on August 14-21, 2011 I’m leading BigAnimals Humboldt Squid expedition to Mexico to experience these ocean giants, swim with them, and photograph them. The BBC and National Geographic have documented the Humboldt squid, but they used noisy fishing vessels to do it, and dove only at night. I’ll offer you a lot more.
Following our own protocol that I have designed for you, we will start out of La Paz on a live-aboard dive boat and follow along the coast of Baja north toward Santa Rosalia (the Humboldt capital). Long the way, we’ll have the opportunity to dive with hammerhead sharks and the sea lions. Our aim will be to dive for three days, taking advantage of early night, midnight, and early morning, which is typically more successful time to see “red devil.’ I’m also going to launch test day-time dives. Will you join me? This PDF has all the details.
Swim with the Humboldt
Recently, as the National Geographic TV special shows, there has been new interest in these mysterious creatures. Some of their behavior will be documented in the National Geographic series Hooked: Squid Invasion airing on May 20. I invite you to see for yourself in August!