May 11, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
Recently, I’ve found myself fascinated by the value of waiting 28 years… Is there is anything worth waiting for so long? Yes: There is nothing like waiting to see the robust population of the Pygmy Blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Although called the Pygmy Blue whale, they are still giants reaching a length of over 60 feet. How many 60-foot animals have you seen passing in front of you only a few feet away??? Seeing up to seven blows, 30 feet high, in one glimpse over the horizon – that’s is a spectacle to behold. This is what I was waiting for – and so was everyone else in the natural history field and wildlife photography business.
All the big names in the business descended on Sri Lanka from February through April: The BBC…National Geo…Scuba Zoo and BigAnimals expeditions. Why? Now two years after the war is over in Sri Lanka, it is a wonderfully peaceful and safe country to travel through, with some of the best underwater wildlife you could hope to see, including Pygmy Blue whales. In the past five years, while the war was still ongoing, I visited Sri Lanka three times to size up the potential of a Blue whale expedition, and examine other cetacean populations, as well as raise the awareness with local tour operators about future eco-tourism and protection of wildlife.
Last month, I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka. I was operating off the coast of Trincomalee – Trinco, as they call it there. The Hindu people of Sri Lanka are very kind, easy going and inviting of us Westerners. They are proud people, gentle, eager to please and learn, catching up with us and the rest of the prosperous regions of India, Singapore, Malaysia and China, of course. The weather could not be more perfect …the wind hardly more than 10 knots, waves no more than one foot…sunny, warm in the 90s and up to 100, and in the water, mid 80s. Visibility – 10 miles out over the sea, and under the waves, 80 – 100 feet visibility.
The sea was calm every day with no exception, the beach was clean and the sunrise was spectacular. We started every morning at 6:30, and for the next ten hours we traveled some 20 miles east and 50 miles north to south, along the coast, and had quite a few fantastic encounters with Pygmy Blue whales, Sperm whales and enormous pods of Common and Spinner dolphins. There were many sightings of Blues everyday, and I swam with at least four of five different BigAnimals. One day I had over 67 minutes with one blue, while it was feeding. The strategy as always with Blues is patience. We spotted one whale and stayed with it. We shut of the engine and just observed. The Blue we were tracking dove, came back to the surface for fresh air, and started its circle swim around the patch of krill.
After seven to nine breaths it took another dive and showed up again only 100 feet away from its dive point, resuming its circle around the krill. I saw the pattern, and I took up my camera, moved gently into the water – free diving – no SCUBA at all, and circled with the whale for 67 minutes. The whale kept its comfort zone, about 40 feet away from me. Every time I started getting closer…it moved away…and every time the whale got closer to me in its search for food…it moved back out for its own comfort zone. In this 67 minutes, however, it dove only three times. My heart was pounding so fast, and after all these years I was still excited like it was my fist time with this Giant of all the ocean giants.
Am I going back? You bet you I am. And you are invited. Here is the scope of the future Blue whale adventure…in order to be environmentally sustainable and operating under the principles of Eco tourism, I am going to lead only two programs next season. One for four guests only, and your early reservation is highly recommended. The second program is available for one lucky TV team. This is a land based operation and I have an exclusive arrangement out of of Trinco with the largest tour operator in Sri Lanka, deploying two 20-foot local day boats, equipped with the latest 40hp, four-stroke engines, GPS — the best “technology” of all – the amazing enthusiasm of the local guides. If you are interested to be one of the pioneer swimmers (only free diving, no SCUBA!) with magnificent Blues, make your reservation with me now.
March 3, 2011
I am lucky to count Dr. Sylvia Earle among my friends. She is also a powerful friend of the ocean, working to call attention to the most important issues of conservation, education and change. Her TED talk from February 2009 is still strong and still affects people. She talked about how we’ve eaten more than 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean and how the ocean’s coral reefs are disappearing. And she has also said that the next decade will be the most critical and important in the next 100 years when it comes to ocean conservation. Last April, inspired by her words and action, a group of 100 scientists, activists and philanthropists set out on an adventure called the Mission Blue Voyage. Their goal is to find and get the word out on what they call “hope spots” – places that deserve to be protected, saved and restored.
This is what Dr. Earle calls “the blue heart of the planet.”
Hosted by the National Geographic society, Mission Blue has tracked whale sharks in the Galapagos and investigated conditions in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mission Blue has been described on the TED blogs, and also in Time magazine. Dr. Earle’s wish is to create marine protected areas on the high seas. Just like governments have created parks on land, Dr. Earle wants there to be sanctuaries on and under the water. Think of them as national parks at sea. I know how she’s feels – I am a co-founder of Israel’s Marine National Park on the Red Sea.
I’ve heard about a movie Dr. Earle is part of and I’m looking forward to telling you more about it when I can. Earlier this year, when she received a lifetime achievement award, they played a clip. Have a look at it - I think you’ll find it inspiring.
If you want to experience the Galapagos first hand, I am leading an expedition there with a September 17th departure. This is a rare dive trip to the Galapagos, since it is for a full two weeks. Last year’s prices were $13,900 for the Master cabin and $13,500 for the Deluxe. Now we’re offering them at $11,900 and $11,500. This includes the domestic flight to Galapagos and other local taxes. Book now and take advantage of this deal because there are only eight spaces left. Departures on Sept 17 – Oct 3.
February 16, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
The Galapagos, one of the world’s great adventure travel destinations, just got more accessible. But before I tell you about the special deal I’ve made for you to go there, I want to tell you about the journey. Your trip includes BigAnimals encounters with massive 35-foot-long Whale sharks, schooling Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, Manta Eagle and squadron of Mobula rays. You’ll not only explore Darwin Island and Wolf Island, but your itinerary includes a rare visit and dive to Isabela and Fernandina Islands to see feeding Marine Iguana (only found on the Galapagos Islands) and the elusive Batfish. Because of a special arrangement I’ve made for you, I am able to reduce the price of this unforgettable trip by $2,000 for each spot. Book now and take advantage of this deal because there are only a few spaces left. Departures on Sept 17 – Oct 3.
The region has become ecologically healthier also, according to scientists. There’s no better time to go! If you feel anything of the ocean conservation movement in your soul, you have to go there. Here are some details about the ecological health of the area.
The BBC, in an article titled Have the Galapagos Been Saved, recently wrote that the United National Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to remove the Galapagos Island from the list of endangered World Heritage sites. It’s good news, but some are cautious, because of the importance of the Galapagos.
“I think many folks in the conservation community felt concerned that this action would give the impression that all the issues had been resolved,” said Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy, according to the article.
The Galapagos area should be treated with respect – always. There’s no chance anything will ever be “resolved” there because it’s unlike anywhere else in the world and will always be studied by scientists and visited by adventurers. But it’s also fair to say that tourism is a big part of contributing to the income levels in the Galapagos. It’s a fact that people make a living from adventure tourism. The bottom line is that we all want to be careful about the way we travel there, in the way we make our imprint on the land and sea, and they that we respect this habitat which is unlike anywhere else in the world. How do we do that?
I work with an adventure/excursion company called Ecoventura, which has been certified as ecologically sound by the UN. They are the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources on their watercraft. Working with Ecoventura, you can travel with me on the M/V Galapagos Sky, a custom-built dive vessel, and our expedition is scheduled to take place during prime time for encounters with Whale sharks, schooling Hammerhead sharks and maybe some free diving.We have a special permit to spend eight to ten days at one of the world’s most exciting and unique locations – the islands of Darwin and Wolf, and we’ll get to explore the most western islands in the archipelago. That’s a total of two weeks of Whale shark diving and other events on Wolf, Darwin, Isabella and Fernandia Islands. You’ll never forget what you see and experience in the Galapagos. I keep returning and I find something fresh and inspiring every time.
This is a rare dive trip to the Galapagos, since it is for a full two weeks and i have adjusted my price by not less than the awesome amount of $2,000. Last year’s prices were $13,900 for the Master cabin and $13,500 for the Deluxe. Now we’re offering them at $11,900 and $11,500. This includes the domestic flight to Galapagos and other local taxes!
Join me in the Galapagos for my whale shark expedition. The departure is September 17th, the perfect time to see BigAnimals as they were really meant to be seen.
February 9, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
Underwater explorers like me owe a lot to the novelist Jules Verne, who was born 183 years ago this week. Google honored him with one of their “doodles,” but in that doodle is a clue to Verne’s greatness – it’s an image that reminds you of the electric submarine, the Nautilus, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
When Verne’s words were published in 1869, electric submarines didn’t exist – they were just something out of his imagination. As National Geographic wrote, Verne also predicted that news wouldn’t just come from newspapers, but would be “spoken to subscribers,” in the way that radio and television news happens today. He thought of that in a story that was published nearly thirty years before the first radio broadcast.
The Verne list of firsts goes on. In 1865, in From the Earth the Moon, he thought there could be such a thing as a solar-powered spacecraft, and of course he wrote about traveling to the moon long before the first astronaut got there. He even thought of skywriting, videoconferencing, the Taser, and landing a spaceship in the ocean for a “splashdown.”
The mention of water brings us back to the ocean, and the visionary thoughts of Verne make it possible for me to do what I do today – explore the hidden depths and the distant lands that I want to share with you. Verne didn’t have any engineering training at all, just a lot of imagination. That’s all you need to come along on an adventure with me. My polar bear expedition to the high arctic has an April 17 departure and there are just two spaces left. Will you join me?
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January 5, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
You may have seen orcas in captivity or heard them called “killer whales.” First of all, they’re not whales at all, but the largest species in the dolphin family. If you want to experience them for yourself and have a BigAnimals encounter you’ll never forget, join me as I’m leading an expedition to Norway to see the kind of orcas known as “resident” orcas. Their favorite food is herring, and we’ll be going there at just the right time – during an enormous herring migration. I have trips leaving Jan 28 – Feb 5, 2011 and also Feb 4 – 12, 2011.
I’ve seen orcas display amazing behaviors. I’ve watched them blow millions of bubbles underneath the herring, using these “bubble nets” to herd their prey. And the New York Times recently reported that orcas will who feed on penguins will gather a few hundred feet from an ice floe and charge a penguin colony. Just before the collision point the orcas will execute a U-turn, which throws up a big wave. The wave washes the penguins into the sea and the orcas move in.
Orca Photography Expedition
Orcas are clever, and they’re also very social. They live in small nuclear families that we call pods. At the heart is an orca mother who stays with her children throughout her life. They are confident animals, too. When we dive with them, two divers at a time to mingle with the pod, it doesn’t take them very long to see that we aren’t a threat. I’ve found that they will swim close to us – they’re just as curious as we are. Orcas like to have fun, and there has been a report of orcas riding waves like body surfers. They are also well-known for their vocalizations, a language made up of clicks, whistles and pulsed calls. They use the clicks as sonar, a form of echolocation to find food sources and to navigate the vast ocean.
They are among the most fascinating BigAnimals, and I would like to invite you to come with me to Norway in January. The water is cold, so this is a dry suit expedition, but it is also very clear water, with horizontal visibility up to 50 feet and vertically, more than 100 feet. You’ll get amazing views of orca feeding behavior. There are still some spaces left on this trip – I promise you it will be the orca adventure of a lifetime.
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December 8, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
In the Company of Striped Marlin - an Underwater Expedition
The first year I led my Striped Marlin Expedition to Todos Santos in Mexico, it was splendid. Last year was almost a bust because we hardly saw any Striped Marlin. The reason for that was the water temperature rose to over 81 degrees, and that meant there were not many plankton and the sardines had nothing to feed on. The marlin somehow figured that out and almost totally avoided the normal pattern.
This year with support and reports from the University in La Paz and the local fisherman, I have understood that the marlin will show up, but later than last year. What you see below are images from the first two days here. The sea is placid, the wind very calm and water temperature is between 76 – 78 – just right for the plankton bloom, the sardine are feeding and … the marlin are here. Take a look:
My Team of Guests
Chris and Jerry were with me last year – they understood very well what was happening with the water temperature and feeding patterns. We did all that was humanly possible to show them a good time and we succeeded to a limited level. Both were so impressed by the effort they have joined me again and they are here with us and they are so happy that they counted on my research. I am so proud to be able to deliver to such loyal guests, pictured above.
Every day we leave at 6:30 am along the western cost of Baja (on the Pacific side) and stay out till 5pm – watching the Frigate birds feeding action and formation. It’s the birds who actually give us information about the marlin. When a formation of two dozen or more Frigates is tight and close over the water I know the birds are feeding on sardines below – and the marlin are in pursuit.
All day we jump in and out of the water. The encounters last from just one minute up to sometimes 20 minutes. It’s a dance among the birds and fish. The “bait ball” of sardines, the Striped Marlin below, and the birds above all work in opposite directions from each other. The sardines run for their life but they are not much of a match for the quantity and skills of the birds up above and the marlin under the water. Both the flying and swimming predators are relentless and work the bait ball till it is consumed. It’s dramatic and exciting, especially when visibility ranges from 80 to 150 feet plus … next year we will come back in December. There will be room for only four people to join in the adventure, to be in the company of the ocean giants like the Striped Marlin.
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November 10, 2010
SkinIt, the leading company in personalization for electronic devices, is offering some Big Animals images for your gift-giving pleasure and your own enjoyment. They’re making me a featured artist on their site and they’re offering 15 percent off to you as a reader of my blog. Read on to find out how.
What is “personalization” for electronic devices? Well, let me ask you first, what’s the one thing you’d never be without for more than a few moments? Most of us would say “my phone” and the rest of us might say “my laptop.” SkinIt offers a way to make those important accessories even more your own – with Big Animals images. You can express your connection with nature and personalize at the same time. The images are high quality and carry my signature. Here’s what they look like, and you can find a collection of Big Animals images on the SkinIt site, and a bio of me.
It’s a new way to make your iPhone or laptop an even greater expression of yourself. I’m glad to be working with SkinIt. Their customer service is great and you can personalize your phone or laptop or give a SkinIt Big Animals gift. Just go online and order. If you enter the AMOS15 promo code, you’ll get 15% off!
November 10, 2010
“The Ambassador of the Big Animals” – that’s the title of my talk at the Explorer’s Club in New York on November 20th.
To live up to that ambassador role I’ll be in the city, presenting my best stories and information about some of the most fragile regions of the underwater world. I’ll be showing and discussing photographs from my expeditions around the world and will probably include a few “classics” from the hundreds of my images that have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Life, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Le Figaro, and Der Spiegel. You can also see more of my images on my website, plus news about my latest expeditions. It’s all part of spreading my message that only through observation and interaction with these animals can people understand and respect some of the most impressive citizens of our planet. In a few words, “you have to go there and experience this firsthand.” But the next best thing would be to hear me at the Explorer’s Club!
My talk is part of an all day event at the Explorers Club called “Sea Stories.” It’s a day focused on exploration, conservation, scuba diving, shipwrecks, nautical history and marine life. Registration opens at 9am and the presentations start at 10. The Explorer’s Club won’t be selling tickets at the door, so you have to call and reserve ahead of time. Call the Explorers Club at 212-628-8383. There’s good information online, too, about the event. Ticket prices are $60 for members and guests and students with ID are $25.
Some of my fellow Explorer Club members will be speaking about diving Spanish treasure galleons, exploring the habitat of the ocean floor and filming and saving sharks. It will be a fantastic event and I hope to see you there!
Follow me on Twitter and check out my Facebook page. Here I am on YouTube, giving a talk at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA.
October 23, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
My striped marlin adventure is leaving on December 4th, 2010. Want to come along? To get you started, here are the ten best things I know about the striped marlin.
1. You might have seen a marlin on the wall of a sportsman’s lodge and were impressed. I can assure you that the striped marlin is much more impressive in person.
2. Sport fishing is really big in Cabo San Lucas, and marlin are some of the most prized catches. I’ll tell you a secret, though. If you come with me to warm and sunny Todos Santos, a Baja California artist’s colony and surfer’s mecca up the coast from Cabo, you’ll find a special kind of inner peace in a beautiful location. And you get something else: You can scuba dive with a legend of the ocean.
3. Marlin are legendary animals, and not just because Ernest Hemingway wrote about them. The striped marlin we’ll encounter are said to be among the fastest fish in the ocean. I’ve seen them attacking schooling mackerel “bait balls” with their spear-like bills and I can tell you, they’re fast. They can even use their spear as a defensive weapon and to help catch food.
4. If you want to come on my expedition, the timing is critical. First of all, there are only a couple of spots remaining. The people who have signed up know that in December we’re in the peak feeding time for whales, seals and marlin. When the ocean’s that busy – it’s good news for scuba divers. We’ll see some spectacular displays of striped marlin feeding on mackerel, but we’ll also see the intense aquatic competition between the Bryde’s Whale and California Sea Lions. See it once, remember it forever. The photographs you get of this feeding frenzy will be among your most treasured.
5. Our boat is meant for 24 divers, but I like to take just four people on this trip. We can move fast to the best spots for marlin. How do we find them? We watch carefully for birds who are fishing for mackerel. Down below, we’ll find big groups of as many as a dozen striped marlin going after the smaller prey. They’re joined by seals, sea lions and Bryde’s whales up to 40 feet long.
6. It’s likely that you’ll see a lot more striped marlin with me on this trip than if you go anywhere else. Other divers report seeing just two or three, and they have to travel as far as Tonga or Ogasawara, Japan to have the experience.
7. On our adventure, we are there to capture the spirit of the animal, not its life.
8. Little known striped marlin fact: They can change the color of their stripes. When feeding or courting, the stripes on this amazing animal can light up – glowing with a blue or lavender phosphorescence.
9. If you check out Todos Santos on Google Earth and have the new Oceans plug-in, you can get a taste of what it’s like without leaving your desk. I recommend leaving your desk, though. You’ll have an experience on this expedition that you’ll never forget.
10. Did I mention that the timing is critical? December is when it’s all happening. I hope you can join me in this incredible adventure!
October 20, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
Great White Shark Diving Field Report: Guadalupe Island
Here’s a field report from Baja California, Mexico as I wrap up part one of this year’s shark diving adventure. I’m getting this out to you before the next group of guests arrive.
Under my leadership, nine people just had the trip of a lifetime. They gathered from across the USA, South Africa, Australia and Germany to encounter the Great White Shark as only as biganimals.com expedition can deliver it. For five of them, “once was not enough.” They had been with me already on as many as six other trips – and, amazingly, one was back for the second time for an adventure with the Great Whites. It’s always gratifying for me to reconnect with people with a passion for adventure. This trip was no exception.
Cage-Free Diving with Great Whites
Shark dives off Guadalupe Island are usually done inside a protective shark cage. But with through preparation and very close supervision, it is possible to have the “cageless sensation” for a select few. On this trip I carefully chose five divers to join me, one at a time, for a cage-free experience, described by some as the “Everest of Diving experiences.” Here’s one guest as he’s getting ready to leave the cage.
I go about this very carefully. I started everyone in the surface cage at first. As you can see from the picture below, when guests leave the cage, they are always escorted by a safety diver. Though we saw sharks during the whole five day-trip ranging in size from 12 feet up to 15, the pace of shark visits on the first and second days was slow. But then, on the third day, the pace of the sharks frequenting our cages picked up and on the last day and last dive out of the cage we had four Great Whites circling the cage while we were swimming with them…carefully yes, and very much aware. Everyone returned home safely this morning, and now I’m waiting for the second team of this year’s Great White shark expedition.
The weather was calm and sunny, the sea was flat, and the team — they were an extraordinary group of adults who clearly understood what is at stake, the risk, and the adventure. All of the guests did a great job, and know very well how to work as a team, and take part in my know-how to manage risks as I lead them to experience the Great White in this dramatic way. Together we were able to dispel the myth of the “mindless predator” the Great White is so often made out to be. But the myth can only be dispelled when it is done thoughtfully, with responsibility and respect for these magnificent animals.
The water temp was a chilly 66-degrees F at 40 feet and at 80 feet, even cooler at 64 F. The semi drysuit by Bare was very helpful! A good thing, because the lower we took the cage obviously the colder the water got – but also more and more sharks were around us. We even recognized a few from last year. (We named them Lucy and Schroeder.) The year before as well as saw and ID’d some newcomers. One of them we called Noreiga. Once you see a Great White up close, like in the picture below, you’ll never forget it.
Next year’s Great White trip is scheduled for October 9 – 16, 2011, and only five spaces remain open. I suggest that you reserve your spot to see the great white shark for yourself as soon as you can.
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