Tiger Shark on Aliwal Shoal...

_DSC8101550.jpgTiger sharks are such lurkers, surface lurkers with a love of the shallow ambush. Shot with a Nikkor 12 - 24, 1/250 at around f3.5, Shutter Priority. should have been on Manual 1/1250 minimum f5.6 to increase depth of field. The sharks in the background are blacktips. all female.

I love the languid intensity of these beasts, and the way that they lurch through the water column like portly sentinals on a mission to scavenge and feed.


Zambezi or Bull Sharks on the prowl...

The last time I was up at Mamoli with Barry Skinstad, I was using a borrowed Nikon D100 with no strobes, and it was my first real attempt to capture the essence of a wild animal in the constraints of an image - needles to say I failed dismally.

Zambezi or Bull sharks are not the easiest animals to photograph - despite their fearsome reputation they are surprisingly difficult to get close to. This time I had the benefit of over a years experience of photographing sharks and other large pelagics with my own camera, plus strobes, plus a great team, so no excuses this time.

But as is often the case, it was not to be. On the first dive I was using my Nikkor 10.5mm, a lens where the subject has to be CLOSE, and in the majority of my pics the Zam’s just looked tiny and far away. When I did manage to get in close, the squat shape of the Bull Shark looked even squatter, kinda like a stunted Shrek. On the second dive I switched to my 12 - 24 Nikkor and got some workable imagery, but I have still to get my head around the use of that lens underwater - it just seems to lack the punch and sharpness of the 10.5.

In terms of the brief to capture the essence of the highly capable and cunning Zambezi or Bull shark, this image above is perhaps my favourite. While its far from a great shot, it suggests for me the maurauding, menacing and business like nature of the Zambezi Shark, and the numbers aggregating into a ‘pack’ also hints at the frightening prospect of becoming Zambezi prey. I have seen a pack of Zambezi’s tearing into a speared fish, and its ferociously impressive.


Photographing Ghost Crabs in the shallows of Ponta Malangane

While running on the beach with Barry, I noticed some channels which formed at low tide and as they prevented the ghost crabs from disappearing into the surf, I decided to try and get some shots of them underwater.

At first I simply tried to hold the housing underwater and shoot blind, but it just didn’t work - the crabs moved too quickly and I would loose them in the churn and the sand clouds. So I put on my goggles and simply floated after them, using my feet to power me. Strange to be shooting in 50cm of water, but a jorl, and thanks to the legendary Nikkor 10.5mm lens, the images came out way better than I had expected.


The Human Instinct to Anthropomorphize...Bert the Potato Bass!

  _DSC6883Small.jpgAnother classic example of the human instinct for anthropomorphization concerns bass, in this case the mighty Potatoe Bass, which are common off the reefs of East Africa in the warm Indian Ocean. What appears to be ‘friendly’ behaviour, as in the bass swimming in real close and checking you out is far more likely to be an aggressive sign of dominance, as in “get the *&^% out of here!” Evidence? Ask Mike Wood, who was bitten on the face by a bass while freediving at a depth of 60 feet, or any spearo who has lost fish to these amaziningly aggresive animals. Scientists claim that Zambezi sharks have the most relative testoterone of any animal alive - I reckon that pound for pound, the humble friendly bass has more!


Even Dolphins need to take a shit now and then...

We were tracking a pod of bottle nose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the water just past the backline off Ponta Malangane, when all of a sudden this plume of brown ‘smoke” erupted from the back of the pod, not unlike the smoke that those acrobatic plans deploy to make their movements more easily identifiable from the ground. Only thing this was not smoke but dolphin shit. It should be said that the dolphin concerned had the decency to let rip at the back of the pod. Not sure if this qualifies as evidence of decency, being a sample of one, but definitely evidence of the human talent for idealization!


Tiger Sharks, April 2007 on Aliwal Shoal revisited...

_DSC64840Final.jpgI’ve been determined to get my digital photography workflow sorted, and to that end have bought a large external drive from which I can systematically work through all of my images shot to date on RAW, and start to farm the value inherent in them.

Images on a drive have no value unless they are put to use - the only challenge is that it takes massive energy and discipline. And like any chore, the longer you leave the post processing work, the harder it becomes to tackle the mounting mass of bits that start to clog your drive.

Anyway one of the benefits of this type of chore is that you come across images that you on second viewing are quite cool, either for sentimental or reportage reasons, or simply because one’s sense of what is cool changes with time and influence. This pic of me with a tiger was shot by Wolfgang Leander while he was trying out my digital setup - yes I know its a classic macho shot blah blah, but for various reasons I dig it, thanks Wolf!

Dec162007 - Planet Earth in Real Time!

If you want to see the video clips captured by Greame Dwayne and Barry Skinstad during our trip to southern Mozambique, click here to visit the website. Earth-Touch is an amazing and ambitious business concept, drawing inspiration from the Africam model, with the goal of using using the latest HD and satellite broadcast technology to package wildlife action from the bush and the sea in real time to a global audience. Still in Beta phase, the site offers a great preview of the potential of this idea, even through the clips are currently flighted a day after shooting.


Basket Stars and Kingfish, the Pinnacles, Ponta Mamoli

_DSC7327Final.jpgThis morning we launched around 7am and headed north in a choppy North-Easter sea to the Pinnacles, a dive site in around 40m of water about 5km north of out launch site at Ponta Malangane. Although not much more than a small bump relative to other pinnacles we know of, this reef consistently attracts huge shoals of game fish and along with the game fish the ever impressive Zambezi or bull shark.

This dive however out target was something different, something one only finds in deeper water – a creature from the brittle star family known as a basket star. I have seen these before in the Canyon off Sodwana, and yet according to “Two Oceans – A guide to the marine life of southern Africa”, these animals range only as far north as East London. Basket stars like to attach themselves to sea fans, and we knew off a number on the bottom near the Pinnacle – if there was ever a good place to find them it would be there.

Using his local knowledge, Barry put us smack bang on top of the Pinnacle and we dived down quickly to avoid being swept off the spot we were looking for. Immediately on entering the water we saw the familiar shapes of Zambezi sharks cruising in the deep below us, as well as the silvery promise of large shoals of pelagic game fish.

Once on the bottom around 36m, Graeme scanned around for the sea fans and headed in their direction. At 36m on normal air Open Circuit we had precious time to linger – we had to find the basket star quickly and film it before heading up to a shallower depth to avoid going into decompression. And sure enough, there they were – two beautiful basket stars, which Graeme quickly pounced on and started filming. Tightly balled, one had to watch closely to see the motion of the tentacles, and despite our presence they failed to unfold – perhaps we will have to come back for a night dive.

Within what seemed a very short space of time our bottom time ran out and we ascended to around 20m to check out the blacktip kingfish and other pelagics. They swirled past in large numbers, rising up from the depths to circle us and then drift back down, intrigued at our presence but cautious of our size. The Zambi’s also followed us up to the surface, and as one circled below a large shoal of the blacktip kingfish trailed after it, as if playing a game of tag, and one even rubbed himself up against the shark to possible get rid of parasites. After a 2 minute safety stop at 5m we hit the surface and headed back to camp.

Diversity Day at Bass City, Ponta Malangane

My second day with the Marine Team based in southern Mozambique, and today we elected to take a drive north to Bass City, a reef in around 20m of water 5km’s north of Malangane.

The viz looked great and I was excited to be diving on Bass again, a reef I had last visited with Mitch Rankin in 2003 on our MarineTrek down the coast. Plunging overboard with Barry, we sank down onto a plethora of wildlife that is so characteristic of these reef systems in southern Mozambique, and immediately got to work. I watched intrigued as Burt, the resident male, immediately made a beeline for Barry, who with his larger girth and bigger camera clearly looked like the dominant of the two ‘invaders’ now entering his domain. As a I took some pics of Barry, Burt sidled over to me and gave me the stare treatment, in what some would view as curiosity but what I suspect is a challenge of sorts, maybe a bit of both.

Swimming north I followed Barry as he focused on picking up some great footage of the bass, the numerous moray eel species on the reef, and the two small garden eels, which bobbed in and out of their burrows as they sused out the neoprene visitors. After a dive time of around forty minutes, and tanks on 50bar, we headed of the surface, and no boat in site.

Where was Graeme? Staring out to sea, we could just make out the shape of his boat. Clearly he was either having engine trouble (unlikely with two motors), or he was into a fish. We reckoned the latter, and just waited for him to come in. About twenty minutes later he arrived, and sure enough he had succeeded in hooking into a sailfish. Unable to fight the fish and pick us up, he had tied his rod to some of his lifebuoys and ditched the whole lot into the sea, taken a waypoint on his GPS, and then raced in to pick us up.

We raced back out to the point and sure enough there were the lifebuoys. Graeme picked them up and the fight was on. Barry and I got ready, bailed over and captured this phenomenal animal as it worked its way around the boat, before Graeme released it and it slipped away into the infinite blue horizon.


Diving with Seals in Shark Alley at Dyer Island, Gansbaai

 _DSC2624Border.jpgYesterday I took a drive up to Gansbaai with my mate Robin Sprong to pay a visit to Graeme Duane. Graeme is a freelance cameraman who is currently working in the field for an innovative new wildlife channel called Earth-Touch, which provides viewers with daily insights into wildlife activity from around the world. Browsing the site is not unlike browsing an interactive version of the BBC’s “Planet Earth”, and I must admit to finding it quite addictive.

We launched from Kleinbaai mid morning once the tide had come in, and headed out towards Dyer Island, the infamous hang out of the Gansbaai Great Whites. The sea was flat and the wind blowing a mild 10knots or so. We skirted the kelp fields inside of the island, and then entered the infamous ‘Shark Alley”, a shallow channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. I could not believe the colours - the slightly overcast sky combined with the brilliant sun and the clear greenish water combined to create a visual feat of green, brown and blue hues which was truly breathtaking and quite frankly unexpected. For a moment I felt like I was in the Caribbean, but then  the reality that this we were about to dive in great white shark territory dawned and I felt truly privileged to finally be freediving in this phenomenal wildlife area.

With Robin on boat duty, Graeme and I slipped into the water and swam to the relative safety of the inshore area close to Geyser Rock. Graeme’s only advice was to keep some seals between us and the deeper part of the channel, but with it being summer we did not expect to see many great whites hanging out on the channel - it is in winter that they make this there killing ground.

_DSC2774Border.jpgPerhaps knowing this, there were a large amount of seals in the water, and with there inquisitive and playful natures, there was plenty to shoot. This was the first time that I had taken photographs of seals in this way, and it was a fantastic experience, not at all frightening, and only sometimes alarming when a lone bull seal cruised through occasionally to check us out. I was also amazed at the noises that the seals made, incredibly audible animals, not unlike a pack of hunting dogs.

Later that afternoon we headed down to Die Kelders to film whales from the shore, but despite the stunning location, the whales an the light failed to deliver up anything remarkable. After a classic fish and chips meal withGraeme and his wife and kids, Robin and I packed up and headed back to Cape Town.