In this well-received TEDx talk in San Francisco, Amos reveals the story of how an image he made of a Great White shark become an icon, and was used to promote a misleading public perception of sharks as “monsters” and “man eaters.” He introduces the Ocean Legacy project, a five-year plan to photographically document the ability of humans to peacefully interact with animals. He will lead an expedition to encounter and photograph 35 of the world’s Ocean Giants and show their connection with humans.
Imagine being under the ice in the White Sea of Northern Russia and feeling warm and cold at the same time. How can this be? Because I was underwater in the company of three Beluga named Yegor, Kuzya and Kesha. The images you see here are of Kuzya. Yes, the water is freezing (29F or -1C) while outside the sun is bright, reflecting off the ice making the outside temperature 20F or 5C.
I found the Beluga welcoming and friendly. They will come within a few a feet of your lens and make faces, blow bubbles and inspect you with their small eyes. However, to arrive at this moment takes time and patience. Incredibly, these gentle whales seem able to sense the diver’s emotional state of mind. I was lucky to get these images….
Maria, the caretaker of the Belugas, (keeper and trainer are very negative words) described this incident. When a Yogi entered the water, the whales dove swiftly away aggressively thrashing their tails. The Yogi exited the water! On the other hand, when I was there two weeks ago, a 12-yr-old Russian girl had a very different experience. She was not a diver, however she stood on the ice and put her hand in the water. Instantly, a Beluga raised its head above the water several times to get her attention. Then she placed her tiny palm on the whale’s melon-head…clearly both felt a sense of connection.
I wonder how the Beluga saw me? What a contrast between their grace and my cumbersome movement: dressed in a dry suit, with a heavy undergarment, dry gloves, 28 lbs around my waist, scuba tank on my back and camera with strobes. I was missing only the kitchen sink!!!
Achieving buoyancy control is a must. Waiting motionless for the whales to scan me builds trust and allows them to feel safe in my presence. Staying still for 10 minutes in frigid water is a long wait. But with each dive our encounters became more intimate. Gradually the Beluga allowed me to get closer to their surface opening in the ice. They are vulnerable near their breathing-hole and may become agitated with strangers present. My patience paid off. I had gained their confidence.
In March 2013, I am planning for a follow up adventure to Russia. The trip will include diving with the Beluga, a visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg, renowned for it’s unique architecture.
There is a controversy regarding these Beluga whales. They are not wild. They are protected in a contained environment in an area where they were once hunted. Prior to my trip I knew these Beluga were raised and maintained in nearly natural conditions. During my investigation in Russia I discovered they are sold to aquariums to mate with captive females, to breed in captivity, in order to minimize future hunting.
I am torn between my responsibility as a photojournalist and a adventure planner. Without first scouting and exploring I could not bring such issues to light. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to get close up images of Beluga in the wild. Does increasing our knowledge and respect for this elusive animal justify keeping it in captivity?
I hope you will join me in exploring this controversy.
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.
The 1975 Steven Spielberg movie Jaws had a universally chilling effect on the human perception of sharks and, unfortunately, firmly stamped the Hollywood version of vicious shark behavior in our memories. A more recent Hollywood effort, Soul Surfer, based on the true story of 19-year-old champion surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, left the shark out of the story, for the most part.
Sharks get a lot of bad press. But who will defend their reputation? At TEDx Conejo, I talked to an enthusiastic audience about how Jaws is a complete fabrication. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the real nature of sharks.
End the ‘killer’ shark stereotype
Still, the misinformation and hysteria around sharks remains, and biologists, scientists, and others like myself have been working to counteract the negative shark reputation ever since.
You want the truth? The National Aquarium in Baltimore says that more people die of bee stings every year than shark attacks. And remember this: Humans are not a normal or even preferred part of the shark diet.
A number of world-famous divers, including William Winram (also known as the Shark Publicist) and Fred Buyle have been working to fight the myths around sharks and eliminate the ‘killer’ reputation of these Biganimals. These divers are known for diving with sharks and taking only their cameras – no weapons.
We recently had a well-attended scouting mission diving with the Okavango River Crocodiles, another Biganimalof seven to 12 feet in length who also comes with a sinister reputation. Our direct, personal experience – and the experiences of my crew and guests – with these river crocodiles was very different than the current public perception that labels these magnificent creatures as terrors along the river.
The Great White shark’s reputation as a nasty predator is also highly undeserved. Certainly, yes, they’re big ‒ as long as 16 feet and as heavy as two thousand pounds ‒ and they’ve got loads of teeth ‒ as many as 300 ‒ and they are powerful, but the truth is most sharks are actually quite shy and prefer to stay away from humans. Plus, they are some of the most fascinating animals you will ever encounter and some of the most rare.
Humans kill over a million sharks each year – some for their meat, cartilage and skin, some for their fins. Many are killed as bycatch by industrial fishing operations. The bottom line is that sharks have a lot more to fear from humans than the other way around. It’s not hard to figure out who the hunter is in this scenario.
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.
“Of all mankind’s impacts on nature, perhaps none is more pervasive than the systematic elimination of large animals.”
That’s what Brandon Keim wrote recently in Wired. His point is simple. Extinction of animals is inevitable; in fact, many of those who lived 20,000 years ago are gone now, and others are nearly gone: like the rinoceros and South China tiger.
But recent research has shown that when and if the world’s big animals are gone, the world will be profoundly affected. The facts are the same whether you study a coral reef where fishing has eliminated large fish, or study lakes where researchers have experimented with removing all the largemouth bass from a certain area. When the big animals were gone from those places and others, the ecosystems became instable. It seems that large animals keep things balanced in nature, and if we lose them it the world will be different place. Nature will “go on,” scientists agree. But it will be vastly different from what we know. If we lose the big animals, the Earth we live on now will not be a place we would recognize.
Amos gave a presentation about ocean conservation as part of the well-known TEDx talks. His passion for the Ocean Giants is clear, and the value of talks like this are in education – the more people come to appreciate a planet that includes big animals, the more likely we will have an Earth that our children will be able to inhabit.
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.