Croc Album from the Okavango Delta

Written by Amos Nachoum

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.

If you are interested, contact me right away, because these spots will fill up fast.

Click to see the album posted on Facebook.

Sardine Run – Latest Update

Written by Amos Nachoum

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.

Here are some of the images from this season…

Field Report: Sardine Run

Written by Amos Nachoum

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.

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10 Top Ocean Predators

Written by Amos Nachoum

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!

28 Years of Waiting – Free-Diving with Blue Whales in Sri Lanka

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.

Mission Blue and Dr. Sylvia Earle

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.