August 20, 2012
Written by Amos Nachoum, Blase and Barbara Mills
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.
Join me next season so we can explore the Okavango River and its wildlife together, as I have done with John H, Daniel B, Bartosz B and John A… will you be next? For more images and a deeper look, visit my Facebook album about the Okavango Delta.
July 5, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
I am on a scouting mission, diving with crocodiles in Botswana, and it is amazing! We have been seeing crocs every day four to five times a day, anywhere from seven feet long and up to 12 feet long.
Today we had an incredible experience. John and Daniel were diving in the river with our guide Brad. They were settling down from diving against the current and were just looking at one croc, taking a few images. The croc started moving slowly and then turned around between Daniel and Brad. Then it went literally over John, crushing on top of him, pressing him to the river bottom, and walking all over him. Then it continued on its own merry way!
So much for the public perception about crocodiles! (The Okavango crocs have an bad reputation along the river, with some people claiming that they terrorize animals and humans along the banks and in boats. But, as you an see from the picture, we are coming away with a very different view of these river crocs.) We have learned so much from Brad and his wife Andy – the ACE team! They have five years experience diving with these amazing and misunderstood animals. Exploring this river with Brad and Andy shows me that once again how knowledge and experience can overcome all fears and old perceptions.
This trip is a great new chapter in my life’s work – to dive side-by-side safely with all water giants. Over the course of this scouting trip I am thinking of you and how I will use my experiences to create the ultimate croc adventure. I am fascinated by this region. The Okavango River drops from its headwaters in Angola down the wide flat delta in Botswana and crosses Namibia’s Caprivi Strip to finish its 1,100 kilometer journey to the Kalahari Desert. Yes, you read that right, the Okavango doesn’t flow into the sea. Its fresh water flows into the Kalahari, fanning out during flood season to form the largest inland delta in sub-Saharan Africa.
Two researchers funded by the Rufford Small Grants Foundation recently took part in an Okavango crocodile research project. They studied the crocodile’s underwater eyesight and their work came up with fascinating results. It’s clear that these creatures have adapted well to their environment and they are very much aware when we are in the water.
March 16, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
The Law Of The Wild says kill only when you are hungry. Photographer Michel Denis-Huot, who captured these amazing pictures on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara in October last year, said he was astounded by what he saw:
“These three brothers (cheetahs) have been living together since they left their mother at about 18 months old,’ he said. ‘On the morning we saw them, they seemed not to be hungry, walking quickly but stopping sometimes to play together. ‘At one point, they met a group of impala who ran away.. But one youngster was not quick enough and the brothers caught it easily’.”
These extraordinary scenes followed.
The images, which ran in the Daily Mail, show the cheetahs playing with the impala and the sequence ends with the impala running away, you assume to safety and a happy ending. But that’s not the whole story. When you look at Denis-Huot’s website, he posts the entire series, which ends with the big cats eating the impala. Sorry, no Disney ending here.
The picture sequence shows how complicated the animal world really is, and how often we want to simplify it by putting our own human vision on it. Cheetahs are hunters at heart, and those in the pictures probably didn’t kill the impala right away because they weren’t so hungry, or because it was a different time of the day than when they usually hunt, or for some other reason. Many animals, though, show kindness, and even to people. There are sometimes reports of dolphins rescuing fishermen from capsized boats, and there was even one recently about a pod of dolphins helping a lost dog. Naturalists like Bernd Heinrich have written about how ravens will share food with each other in the dead of winter, and scientists Frans de Waal have studied how primates will help their sick and take care of their elders. We may have a lot in common with animals, but we also need to respect them for who they are, not for what we think they are. This is a truth that I discover, and share with you, on so many of my BigAnimals trips.
Follow me on Twitter. Look at my How I Did It series on Facebook. I tell you how I made some of my iconic photographs.
February 12, 2011
Written by Amos Nachoum
The arctic is a place of great mystery, and even more so these days, when it’s never been warmer up there. Yes, that’s right. While a lot of the US is seeing snow, ice and excessive cold, the place that we think of as being the coldest on the planet is going through a warm season. Scientists are reporting the arctic just had the least amount of sea ice on record in January. Air temperature is way above normal, too, even as “down south” people are shoveling their cars out of the snow.
A warmer Arctic
The experts are trying to understand if these two things are related. It’s well established that a warmer arctic is a fact – and it’s been going on like that steadily in recent years, but scientists don’t know yet if some of that arctic air moving south is a trend or a blip. Just another mystery of the arctic, I think.
Here’s another arctic mystery for you: Polar bears might be facing their own population crisis. Why? Polar bears rely on sea ice when they hunt. They use it to get to the seals – their main food. Researchers have discovered that as the arctic becomes warmer, sea levels have dropped and there are fewer newborn polar bear cubs. Pregnant polar bear mothers go into hiding in a winter den and fast during part of their eight-month term. If they haven’t eaten enough before they do, they might not be able to sustain themselves. Scientists believe that having less food makes it less likely for a mother polar bear to give birth to a surviving cub. So there’s a relationship between the polar bear mom’s ability to survive and warmer weather. Since things seem to be changing in the wilds of the arctic, it seems like there’s no time like the present to have a look around there yourself.
Experience the High Arctic of Canada
I’d like you to experience some of the mystery, in mid-April. Will you join me? I’m leading an expedition to the high arctic of Canada, where we’ll see polar bear families emerging after months in their snow dens. We’ll see polar bear cubs learning to walk and play and track them when they head out to the edge of an ice floe to hunt for seals.
The days up there are 18 hours long – perfect for wildlife photography. Put your camera to your eye and you’ll capture spectacular images of baby polar bears and their mothers, the Aurora Borealis, endless white landscapes, seals and whales. We’ll have an opportunity explore Inuit camp life, too. There are only two spaces left on this trip, so I’d ask that if you would like to join us, please book today.
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December 24, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
Even after twelve years of traveling to Antarctica to see Leopard seals, Antarctic icefish, crabeater seals and penguins, I am still discovering things about the region. Scientists are now saying that penguins, who live on Earth’s coldest continent, may have once lived where it was a lot warmer.
Penguins have lived in the Southern Hemisphere for 40 million years because they can tolerate cold water. Really cold. But it turns out that penguins lived in a warmer climate at first, and while they were there they developed a life-saving network of blood vessels that moved heat from the body to the wings. That network of blood vessels, called the plexus, was a part of penguin anatomy at least 49 million years ago when Earth was a very warm place – and nothing like Antarctica existed. Back then, the planet was in a phase of global warming, probably because of volcanic activity.
So it looks like penguins learned how to retain heat back when the much of the Earth was warm, not while they were living in the frozen landscape of Antarctica as we think of it today. Amazing.
The earliest-known penguins to feature the plexus lived on the lost continent of Gondwana, on what is now Seymour Island in Antarctica. Back then, the waters there were 59 degrees, compared with the water’s current average temperature today of 34 degrees.
I’m looking forward to my next Antarctic trip and have some great adventures for you in the pipeline now. I’m planning one to Norway to bring some adventurers an unforgettable experience with Orcas, followed by a trip to experience polar bears in the Canadian High Arctic. That’s where you find ice trekking and wildlife photography unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Will you join me? It will be a pleasure to have you along.
Have a happy, healthy and safe holiday and best wishes for 2011.
November 17, 2010
Written by Amos Nachoum
I am very excited to be here in Marrakech. It is exotic and truly a different marketplace for a business convention. A business convention in Morocco? Let me explain.
Pure Life Experiences
This year, after 30 years in the diving business, I am not attending the annual meeting of the dive industry in Las Vegas. That’s the show known as DEMA – the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association. This year is different because I was invited to join the Pure life Experiences gathering, known as PURE. This is a special convention, by invitation only, that is all about brainstorming and networking on definitions of the new face of travel. It’s exclusive for exhibitors like myself, and for travel agents and others who do what is known as experiential travel.
Experiential travel goes well beyond offerings like eco-tourism. It is all about creating a new experience for higher-income clients worldwide. People who are looking for a higher level of experience in life, rather than experiences that are driven by price bargains. These experiences include retreats and unique hotels the world over, and – most importantly to me – discovery journeys, wilderness experiences and explorative adventures. Since I am providing you these adventures, I was invited to network with others who are working at this level.
NYC Explorers Club
Next, I’m on my way to New York, to speak on November 20th at the Explorers Club. This event is open to the public, so please come by. My talk is part of a day-long event called Sea Stories, and it features scientists, explorers, a videographer, a historian or two, and talking about the fragile regions of the underwater realm that I’ve visited. I’ll be showing some of the hundreds of images I’ve created for National Geographic, Time, Life, The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Le Figaro, and Der Spiegel. I hope to see you there! Tickets are not sold at the door, so you do have to call first: 212-628-8383. Here are a few more images from Morocco.
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!
October 4, 2010
By Amos Nachoum
Great White Shark Diving is a Great Teacher
When I travel to the Galapagos Islands, or lead a Great White Shark expedition to Baja California in Mexico, or journey to Antarctica to see Leopard seals and other animals, I find that these places have a lot to teach me. They teach me not only as a photographer, but also as a human being.
Every time I suit up and jump in I rediscover a deep connection with nature. Personal encounters with large animals are life changing. The people I take on my trips tell me that all the time. Whether we’re diving in the Galapagos or walking in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica, there’s this amazing paradox that happens.
You get what one participant called “an unparalleled intimate experience” with an animal many times larger that you are.
I’m excited to talk about all this at Google headquarters in Mountain View. On October 5th, I’ll be leading an invitation-only audience at Google through images and stories of personal encounters with awe-inspiring blue whales, cage-free encounters with Great White sharks, close-up experiences with polar bears, Leopard seals, anacondas and more. I am passionate about image-making, but I think there’s even more going on when we document the activities of these big animals. I love the work and the adventure, and it’s fun, but I also think it’s important – a reaffirmation of our deep connection with nature. At my Google talk, I’m going to highlight the place wildlife has in our culture.
We co-exist on Earth with amazing creatures. We may think of ourselves often as “the boss,” but when you experience the presence of a Great White shark close up, you start thinking other things. It’s more likely that we’re not “the boss,” but something like stewards of the planet. And first things first, we have to understand the animals we share the planet with.
One of the clients I’ve dived with wrote me to say that Great White sharks are “the most misunderstood animal on the planet. Once you have an opportunity to dive with them, you begin to understand their true nature and predicable behavior. They are not the mindless eating machine that the media portrays them to be. The thrill and excitement cannot be compared.”
I keep leading these trips and creating these encounters for myself and for others because they create a kind of magic. I have never felt more human – and more vulnerable — than in the presence of a magnificent animal. It might sound a little mystical to you, but when you look into the eye of a whale from very close, and experience that creature’s focused and calm regard, you feel its intelligence in your bones. Maybe even its soul. The memories I take away from these experiences are epic. They also demand of me that I share them with others.
That’s the reason I keep taking it to the edge, pushing the envelope, living outside my comfort zone and even sometimes testing common sense. I feel driven to highlight the meaning wildlife has for us, deeply experience the places where the world’s biggest animals life, and understand how their future co-existence with humanity is going to work for all of us. Wish me luck at Google! I’m looking forward to it.
There are some upcoming trips that I’d like you to know about. We have an October 16, 2010 departure to Mexico’s Baja California for a close encounter, both in-cage and out of the cage, with the Great White shark. We’ve already sold out one of these trips this year, so book now to catch the recently-added October 16th departure. For details, visit the trop page for the Great White shark expedition.
In Mexico, December 4 – 12, 2010, there are just three spots left for an intimate look at the world’s greatest game fish, the striped marlin. We’ll venture out on a 36-foot dive boat to see the secret places where magnificent striped marlin gather to feed. Our home base will be warm and sunny Todos Santos, near enough to Cabo San Lucas if you feel the urge, but with its own quiet charm if you want to drink that in.
April 17 – May 1, 2011 we’ll be in the Canadian High Arctic, following in the legendary footsteps of Henry Hudson, Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, Richard Byrd, Roald Amundsen and Nanook for an unforgettable adventure in wildlife photography. Expect long sunrises and sunsets filled with warm, golden light – perfect for photography. We’ll see polar bears, seals and whales, with icebergs calving in the distance, and also get some experience of Inuit camp life. Just four spots left on this trip, so book now.
Coming up on February 9-26, 2012 I’m going to take just five people to Antarctica to experience an encounter with the Leopard seal. We’ll be aboard the 158-foot luxury ice-class yacht Hanse Explorer.
August 11, 2010
With the approach of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the San Francisco Examiner asked me what I’ve learned during my adventures swimming with the sharks, in particular the Great White Shark. The Examiner took down some of my words to the wise for anyone thinking of trying to have a successful shark encounter, and here they are for my blog readers as well – please note that the following are in no particular order:
A diver swims with a Great White Shark with no cage on a Big Animals dive expedition
- Expect the expected: monitor all directions around you for the shark’s approach
- Dive only with experienced leaders with excellent safety track records in waters where Great White Sharks are very likely to be seen, and stay close to your guide.
- At the point you dare to swim with a Great White Shark without a cage, be at peace internally. No matter how excited you’ve been about this adventure, now is the time for the zen of cageless shark diving.
- Never chase a Great White Shark; if you want the shark to come close to you, hold very still, don’t even exhale too often, since sharks are hyper-aware of movement, even of air bubbles.
- When there is more than one shark in the water, it is time to seek the protection of the cage, promptly but in an unhurried manner. The dynamics of sharks in groups are different than solo shark behavior. Always bear in mind the location of the cage and be aware of what the shortest route to get to it is; but besides that never get too far from your guide and your safety diver. That way all of you together are perceived by the shark as a larger unit, rather than as one small human swimming alone to the cage.
For the full length edition of these tips see the Shark Week article here; links to all ten tips are at the bottom of the article.
And when you’re ready, come swim with me and some of my favorite creatures. Sharks can teach you a lot about yourself.
An awe-inspiring experience getting so near a Great White Shark on a BigAnimals dive trip