Marine Life

Marine life articles for underwater photographers including creatures and critter biology, behavior, food, habitat and photo tips.
An unexpected Orca encounter in the Galapagos turns into a 40 minute high-adrenaline photo session
By Ron Watkins

Face-to-Face with Killer Whales

Ron Watkins
An unexpected Orca encounter in the Galapagos turns into a 40 minute high-adrenaline photo session

A Killer Welcome to the Galapagos

Besides my love of teaching others underwater photography, my favorite part of leading Bluewater Photo Workshops is that I get to travel to the best dive locations in the world and share new adventures with others.  Every trip I enjoy making new friends, but on my last trip, our diverse group of 15 divers from Taiwan, England, New Zealand, Ukraine, Germany and the US got to experience something so rare and special that it will forever bond us together. On the third morning of our June 2016 Galapagos trip we awoke to the majestic sight of the rising sun over the towering Darwin’s Arch.  Darwin Island, along with Wolf Island, are two of the main draws of this special 10 day diving and land tour through the Galapagos archipelago that Bluewater Photo had organized.  It was a dream trip for all of us and nearly everyone’s first visit to the Ecuadorian treasure and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site.  

As everyone was sipping their first cup of coffee and doing last minute camera prep in anticipation of the 6:30 AM dive briefing, we all heard a scream of “ORCAS” and rushed to the bow of the Galapagos Master with cameras in hand.  We first saw one, then 2, then 5 fins surface as we zoomed in on this rare sighting of a transient pod of orcas (Orcinus orca) in the Galapagos.  They swam around the bow of the boat and then headed towards the arch.  The crew readied two pangas and we raced towards them to get some better photo opportunites, but shortly after our departure the orcas disappeared.  Just 2 weeks prior, on the second of four Bluewater Galapagos trips in 2016, they had also seen Orcas in the distance but were unable to get very close to them, so we all felt very fortunate to have at least seen them. 

 

 

 

Return Visit by the Pod

The orcas made another brief appearance escorting us to our dive site, but then again disappeared.  After diving in the strong current at Darwin’s Arch with lots of schooling fish but only a few hammerhead sharks, we returned to the boat to have breakfast and relax during a short surface interval.  The dive master told us that because of the killer whales are in the area, the larger sharks, sea lions, turtles and rays are probably seeking shelter in protected areas or are avoiding the exposed area of the arch.  As we were about to sit down to breakfast, another cry of “ORCAS” rang out and we all scrambled back to the pangas with cameras in hand. 

We watched and photographed the pod from the pangas for several minutes and then observed the large male surface in the distance with what appeared to be a large sea turtle in its mouth and thrash about before diving down.  We discussed whether it was just a play toy or a meal, but after we observed an oily slick near where the orca had surfaced, we guessed it was the latter.  Despite having up to 4” teeth and often being referred to as killer whales, these marine mammals are actually the largest of the oceanic dolphin family.  They may have gotten their deceptively dangerous name from a mistranslation of their Spanish name “asesina de ballenas”, which literally means “killer of whales” because they often feast on whales.  But after witnessing the raw power of these animals, it was evident that they are at the top of the food chain in the ocean. 

 

 

 

The orcas then closed in on our boats and proceeded to engage in what appeared to be social activity.  We spent several minutes photographing them surface a few feet from the boat and jump out of the water, followed by two magnificent tail slaps that got a roar of excitement from everyone.  At this point, I decided I was going in the water to photograph the orcas and after a brief negotiation with the dive masters, our panga headed back to the main ship so we could quickly gather our gear.  I removed my strobes, grabbed my mask, snorkel and fins and advised the others to do the same.  We were quickly back in the panga and racing out to where the orcas were still entertaining the other boats.

 

 

Entering the Water with Orcas

After a brief discussion of whether it was safe or not to enter the water, I quietly slipped in alone as the others looked on in disbelief from the security of the panga. The pod of 5 orcas was a short distance in front of me and slowly approached my position.  I took a test shot, looked at the histograms and made a few minor camera adjustments.  I then looked up to see the large male quickly closing in on me as if to protect the other three females and calf from this strange creature and make sure that I was not a threat.  He came within 8-10 feet of me and slowly changed course to pass just below as I turned around and started swimming with him until I could no longer keep up.  With a rush of adrenaline, I popped up and swam toward the boat and quickly handed up my camera.  Immediately, the group started quizzing me about if they were aggressive and what it was like, but with my eyes wide-open and evident state of euphoria, I think they already knew the answer.  As I explained to them the thrill of the interaction, I hit the display on my camera and quickly showed them a few images I had captured, which elicited screams of excitement as they grabbed their fins and masks.  Evidently, the fear of a photographer missing a rare photo opportunity is much greater than the fear of getting in the water with the ocean's most powerful predator.

 

 

 

 

On the second pass I was slowly joined by a few of the others, and eventually everyone in the boat joined in the fun.  After seeing us repeatedly swim with the pod and hearing our screams (of joy), the other boat raced back to the main ship and returned for a swim with the orcas.  Over a period of 40 minutes, the playful pod of killer whales interacted with us in the water while we took pictures and video, but they eventually grew tired and moved on.  The following day, while surfacing from a dive on Darwin’s Arch, some of our group were treated to a repeat performance by the orcas.

 

 

 

Reflections on a Once in a Lifetime Experience

After our interactions with the orcas, we were all as giddy as school kids and couldn’t stop talking about what each of us had experienced and just how fortunate we were to see orcas in the wild – the way they are supposed to be seen.  We all came to the Galapagos to experience the raw beauty of nature, but none of us expected an interaction of a lifetime.  For the next several nights, the workshop photo reviews were full of orca pictures and videos and some people became very emotional when reflecting on what it meant to them.  For me, it truly was a new high point in my aquatic life and I feel extremely lucky that the orcas allowed us to interact with them.  But most of all, it was being able to share this chance encounter with 15 people from various walks of life who now share an everlasting bond.  I will never forget how terrific I felt when one of the Taiwanese divers, Albert, approached me and confided, “It has been 22 years of diving for me and it is the first time I have spotted wild orcas.  If you didn’t jump into the water, I would not have done so myself alone. Thank you, so much.  Great to share this experience with you.”

 

 

 

Learn More about Ron's Camera Gear

Read the full feature Inside the Camera Bag with Ron Watkins to learn more about his underwater camera gear.

Nikon D800 DSLR
Nikkor 16-35mm Lens
Sea&Sea MDX-D800 Underwater Housing
Sea&Sea 8" Fisheye Dome Port
Vivid Leak Sentinel Vacuum System
Sea&Sea 180 degree Viewfinder 

 

Learn More About Orcas

We discuss the range and habitat, diet, types of orcas, conservation and more in our marine life article Facts About Orcas.

 

Join Bluewater Photo for more Big Animal Encounters & Workshops

Our trips, whether an expedition or photo workshop, are hosted by underwater photo experts and offer personalized photo instruction to make sure you come home with great shots.

 

Ron Watkins
Photo Pro, Photographer of Orcas

- Dumaguete, Philippines Photo Workshop (macro, reefs, whale sharks)

 

 

Scott Gietler
Publisher Underwater Photography Guide, owner Bluewater Photo & Travel

- Galapagos Liveaboard Photo Workshops April 2017
- French Polynesia Master for Sharks and Grouper Spawning

 

Brent Durand
Editor-in-Chief, Underwater Photography Guide 

La Paz, Mexico for Whale Sharks & Sea Lions
- Sir Lanka Liveaboard Expedition for Whales & Dolphins


 

View all of our Underwater Photo Trips and Workshops.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Photographing fish feeding on spawning corals, plus discussion on camera gear and shooting techniques
By Brent Durand

Surprise Encounter with Spawning Corals

Brent Durand
Photographing fish feeding on spawning corals, plus discussion on camera gear and shooting techniques

The dusk peach sky stretched into black as I hopped off the bangka into the warm water of Anilao, Philippines. The water was already dark as I turned in the direction of our dive group, lazily flicking my fins to drift towards the lights. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a butterflyfish dart by in a fast turn, quickly followed by a second. Was it mating behavior? I turned to investigate.

It was then that I saw a coral 5 feet across jet a viscous cloud puff out into the water, reminiscent of photos of volcano eruptions. Both butterflyfish made a quick pass by the dispersing cloud, which was now drifting past in the gentle current. Another puff erupted from a different area, but this time full of small particles resembling the egg yolk that octopus hatch with. The butterfly fish saw this too, and within seconds were feasting on the nutrient-packed morsels. I was watching coral spawning!

I looked in the direction of the dive group, but they were already deeper down on the reef in search of blue-ringed octopus (which they found that night). This would be my solo photo session, but I had no idea how long it would last and quickly adjusted camera settings and strobe position to start shooting.

 

 



All photos shot with Bluewater Photo's rental Canon 7D Mk 2 in Nauticam Housing.


 

Telling a Story

This situation presented a unique opportunity to tell the story of the action in front of me – to go one step past photos of spawning coral to photos of fish feeding on the coral spawn. The difficulties in capturing this shot quickly became apparent, and in the end I didn’t get the shot I was looking for.  I take full responsibility for that, but would have had a much better chance at success with different camera gear.

Why mention this?  So that we can take a detailed look at how different underwater photo gear would perform in this shooting situation. Once we understand the benefits of different gear configuations, we can really start to customize our gear depending on what we want to shoot.



The Right Camera Gear

Camera and Lens

I was diving with Bluewater Photo’s rental Canon 7D Mark II in Nauticam housing, using my Canon 100mm macro lens. This focal distance creates a very narrow field of view, making it very difficult to frame both the coral and the frantically moving fish. I backed up as much as I could, but you still only see narrow sections of reef and pieces of the fish.

 

Any camera setup with mid-range field of view would be better for this type of shot. Something between tight macro and super wide-angle: the 60mm on crop DSLR, 100mm on full frame DSLR, wide-angle or kit lens on mirrorless, compact camera without wet lens, etc.

Focusing

My second challenge became apparent after 1-2 shots. The hazy water, unpredictability of the next spawn jet and speed of the fish made it near impossible to see a jet and then move into position and capture the right shot. Sometimes the spawn was no jet at all, but just a thick blanket drifting from the coral. The lens kept hunting back and forth through the milky water full of eggs. And since each moment of action with the fish only lasted a few seconds, I missed many jets due to focus hunting.

 

I resorted to trying to guess where the coral would spawn next and pre-focus on the coral, knowing that the fish would be in the same plane of focus if everything worked out. This technique delivered most of the shots in this article.

 

Another alternative would have been to switch to manual focus (depending on camera), or to switch the Canon to back-button focus and pre-focus. This would take AF out of the picture by allowing the camera shutter to drop as soon as I pushed the trigger.

Strobe Recycle Time

The woes of a pop-up flash without a TTL converter! My old Aquatica 5D Mk3 housing used sync cords, so the only thing slowing me down fast-action shooting was recycle time on the YS-D1 strobes (which is very fast). After a minute of shooting with the Canon 7D Mk 2 (with no TTL converter), I was forced to wait up to 6 seconds in between shots – a very frustrating situation to experience during fast action. Ideally I could have fired 2 or 3 frames in fast succession during each jet.

The workaround: use a TTL converter if you can afford one!  Sync cords are also great but require more maintenance.

 

Background on Coral Spawning

Corals are cast spawners, sending eggs and sperm into the dark water column. When fertilization occurs, the new creature develops into a larval planula. The planulae drift in the current, hoping to avoid becoming a meal before settling on a reef to form a new coral colony.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is the editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads several photo trips and workshops for Bluewater Photo (see below).  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Bali & Lembeh Strait Workshops (Sept '16)   |   La Paz Big Animal Photo Trip (Oct '16)   |   Sri Lanka Wrecks & Reefs OR Whales & Dolphins Workshops (Feb '17)   |   Alor, Indonesia small group Photo Trip (Oct '17)

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


An overview of the life of orcas, including range and habitat, food, size and conservation efforts
By Chino Mendoza

Facts about Orcas, aka Killer Whales

Chino Mendoza
An overview of the life of orcas, including range and habitat, food, size and conservation efforts

Killer whales, also known as orcas, are the largest member of of the dolphin family.  They live in oceans around the world, from the Pacific and Atlantic all the way to the Antartic. 

Orcas are very highly social creatures and stay in family groups called pods. They also hunt in groups and with very sophisticated techniques and communication.  Orcas also have a diverse diet: fishes, seals and dolphins. The killer whales also bring an ominous tone, as it they have been recorded attacking and feeding on other whales.

Orcas are majestic creatures, which is why they have such a passionate community following and protecting them. And while it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with them in the wild, there are many places where you can admire the whales from boats and land lookouts.

Be sure to check out the photos from Bluewater Photo trip leader Ron Watkins' 40 minute encounter with killer whales in the Galapagos Islands!

Below are some interesting facts about Orcas.

 

Orca Range and Habitat

Orcas, or killer whales, are found in all oceans and most of the seas.  It is very difficult to make more precise distributional estimates due to the following: population density, pod numbers and enormous range.  What's clear is that they prefer living at the upper latitudes and coastal pelagic environments.

According to surveys, the highest densities of killer whales (>0.40 individuals per 100 km²) are found in the northeast Atlantic around the Norwegian coast, Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Alaska and in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica. They are also considered "common" (0.20–0.40 individuals per 100 km²) in the eastern Pacific along the coast of  British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.  High densities have also been reported but not quantified in the western North Pacific around the Sea of Japan.

Population in the mid to lower latitudes of the North Pacific is unclear, especially in coastal waters. Large concentrations are known to occur north of the Northern Mariana Islands and Gulf of Sendai with multiple sightings also reported off Bali, the coast of Taiwan, mainland China and the southern coast of Vietnam.

Migration patterns are poorly understood.  Despite decades of research, where these animals go for large periods of the year remains unknown.

 

Killer Whale Size

Male killer whales typically grow to between 6 to 8 metres (20 to 26 ft) long and weigh in excess of 6 tons (5.9 long tons; 6.6 short tons). The largest recorded male killer whale on record was 9.8 m (32 ft), weighing 10 tons (9.8 long tons; 11 short tons)!

Females are smaller, generally ranging from 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) and weighing about 3 to 4 tonnes (3.0 to 3.9 long tons; 3.3 to 4.4 short tons). The largest female recorded was 8.5 m (28 ft), weighing 7.5 tonnes (7.4 long tons; 8.3 short tons)!

Calves at birth weigh about 180 kg (400 lb) and are about 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long.

 

Types of Orcas

Orcas are classified in to three types:

Resident Orcas:  Commonly found in the coastal waters of the northeast Pacific.  Their diet mostly consists of fish and sometimes squid.  One of the most distinct characteristics of a resident orca is that females have rounded dorsal fin tips that terminate in a sharp corner. The saddle patch (the gray or white area around the dorsal fin) often contains some black colouring.

Transient Orcas:  Transients roam widely along the coast and some of them have been sighted in both southern Alaska and California.  They generally travel in small groups, usually of two to six animals. Their diet consists mostly of marine mammals.  Female transients are characterized by more triangular and pointed dorsal fins. The saddle patch on transients is typically solid and uniformly gray. They are also referred as Bigg's killer whale in honor of cetologist Michael Bigg.

Offshore Orcas:  Offshore killer whales were discovered in 1988 in the northeast Pacific and have mostly been encountered off the west coast of Vancouver Island and near Haida Gwaii (BC, Canada). A group could consist of 20–75 killer whales but on rare occasions might reach approximately 200. They travel far from shore and feed primarily on schooling fish, though research suggests that they also eat mammals and sharks like the transient killer whales do. Offshores appear to be smaller than the others, and females are characterized by dorsal fin tips that are continuously rounded.

* Transients and residents live in the same areas, but avoid each other.

 

 

Type A - would look like a "typical" killer whale, a large, black and white form with a medium-sized white eye patch, living in open water and feeding mostly on minke whales.

Type B - is smaller than type A and it has a large white eye patch. Most of the dark parts of its body are medium gray instead of black, although it has a dark gray patch called a Dorsal Cape stretching back from its forehead to just behind its dorsal fin. The white areas are stained slightly yellow. It feeds mostly on seals.

Type C - it is the smallest type and lives in larger groups than the others. Its eye patch is distinctively slanted forwards, rather than parallel to the body axis. Like type B, it is primarily white and medium gray, with a dark gray dorsal cape and yellow-tinged patches. Its only observed prey is the Antarctic cod.

Type D - was identified in photographs from New Zealand in 1955 during a mass stranding and since then through six at-sea sightings since 2004. It is immediately recognizable by its extremely small white eye patch, narrower and shorter than usual dorsal fin, bulbous head (similar to a pilot whale), and smaller teeth. Its geographic range appears to be global but within latitudes 40°S and 60°S. 

 

Food and the Food Chain

Killer whales are apex predators, meaning that they themselves have no natural predators. Their prey varies from fish, mammals, sea birds, sea turtles to sharks.

On average, a killer whale eats 227 kilograms (500 lb) each day.

 

Orca Conservation

In 2005, the United States government made a move to list the southern resident community of killer whales, which is comprised of three pods which live mostly in the Georgia, Haro Straits (British Columbia) and Puget Sound (Washington) as an endangered population under the Endangered Species Act. These pods do not breed outside of their community, and the population shrank to around 90 from 200 killer whales.

An October 2008 annual servey revealed that 7 killer whales where missing and presumed dead. That same year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the killer whale's conservation status as an endangered species.

In September 2008, the Canadian government decided it was not necessary to enforce further protection of the orca population, which was still of great concern for conservationists.  Six environmental groups sued the federal government in response to the decision, claiming killer whales were facing many threats on the British Columbia Coast which led to Fisheries & Ocean Canada (DFO) protecting habitat of the killer whales.

Today, orca whale watching is very popular in the Puget Sound and BC areas. If you'd like to become involved or learn more, check out the work of the non-profit organization, Whale Scout.

 

Read full information for Killer whale facts on Wikipedia and on Rainforest Conservation Foundation

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chino Mendoza , is an avid diver and underwater photographer and tries to go everytime he can.  He is based in Manila which is a few hours Anilao which is the “critter capital of the Philippines”  He likes to shoot macro and his favorite subjects are nudibranchs and frogfishes.

Get in touch with him via email at lorenzo@bluewaterphotostore.com

View Chino's work:  Facebook     |     Instagram

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Facts and insight into behavior of some very interesting macro photo subjects
By Jonathan Lavan

Seeing Double: Colorful Fish Couples

Jonathan Lavan
Facts and insight into behavior of some very interesting macro photo subjects

Capturing a great shot of a fish, particularly when you are a new underwater photographer, can be thrilling. More is better, so knowing what species of fish travel in pairs and where to find them can mean the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Many fish mate for life or group together as juveniles for safety. We’ll take a look at a few of these fish, what part of the world they live in and what angles and arrangements make the best shot.

Jonathan's Gear

Our first shot is of a pair of juvenile Spotted Drums from Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. Adult Drums are usually solitary but juveniles are almost always found in pairs or larger groups. They have the wonderful habit of swimming around each other in little circles. Their dorsal fin and tail fin are very long and flexible (they shrink in length with age) and are constantly changing position and angle. Their black and white color on the colorful background of the reef also makes for a nice capture. They are usually found in medium depths, hiding in little depressions in the reef frequently in front of or amongst the spines of the black Long-spined Sea Urchin.

 

Now we will move to the Sea of Cortez off the Midriff Islands. Taking photos of Moray Eels is always a good starting place for the novice underwater photographer as they are dynamic in their look and tend to be quite stationary. However in most areas where they live they are solitary. In our second shot we find a wonderful exception. A pair of beautifully patterned and colored Jewel Moray Eels. Whether this is a mated pair, an adult and a juvenile or just a couple of eels remains to be seen. The most common opportunity to shoot eels you find together is side by side, so to find these eels juxtaposed like this was rare and naturally made a well-composed shot.

 

Our next couple of shots come from Fiji. Fiji is not far from the Coral Triangle, and is the source of life on earth and an area of incredible bio-diversity. Butterflyfish mate for life so are a fish you will almost always find in pairs. In the Caribbean there are half a dozen different species while in Fiji and surrounding areas there are over 80 different species - so many opportunities for finding pretty pairs. These Dot & Dash Butterflyfish are particularly colorful. Butterflyfish tend to dart around quite a bit, so it is good advice to approach slowly, keep changing your angle in relationship to the fish, try to move in one continuous motion and take plenty of shots. It is often hard to get both fish in the frame so you will need to be patient. Take enough time to experiment and try out different lens to see what will work best. A 60mm will give you clean framing of a pair while a 105mm will get you closer to your subjects without spooking them.

 

Dartfish and Fire Dartfish in particular are beautiful and found only in the Indo-Pacific. It can be a bit challenging to capture a shot because, as their name would suggest, they have a bad habit of disappearing very quickly into a hole in the ground. The female hovers closer to the burrow than the male and will dart into it first, so you may only have seconds to grab the shot. As always, patience and becoming one with the water are your best advice.

 

And finally, as with all fish photography, start shooting on your initial approach to the fish. It is always better to take ten shots from too far away than to miss the one good shot that you do get.  Knowing as much as you can about the animal’s behavior, habits and habitats they frequent will enable you to realize many great shots that would otherwise go unrealized. Happy fish watching, great captures and safe diving!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The owner/operator of Underpressure Diving & Nature Photography is a citizen scientist and wildlife expert and has been SCUBA Diving for thirty years and taking photographs both above and below the water for about 10. Jonathan is committed to making a difference on this planet through his images and his message of good will to all creatures.

www.underpressurephotog.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Marine animals show their secret life under high magnification.
By Adam Martin

Secret Worlds Magnified

Adam Martin
Marine animals show their secret life under high magnification.

"Slow" marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Organisms such as corals and sponges are a vital component of reefs, yet little is known about their behavior.  While they often seem like fixed objects, they are actually very mobile when viewed up close and to scale.

BioQuest Studios specializes in ultra-high definition underwater cinematography, fine art photography, focus stacking, supermacro, precision motorisation, low light, microscopy, and stereography.  They have created a video showing vivid detail of macro life on the reef by creating time lapses.  Each video segment is said to have durations ranging from 20 minutes to 6+ hours.  The video is best viewed on a large screen and at high resolution.  The colors have not been enhanced other than basic white balance correction along with special lighting techniques.  The video can be viewed below:

 

 

More of BioQuest Studios' work can be found at http://bioqueststudios.com.au/.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Photos, shooting tips and unusual stories of macro subjects in Dumaguete, Philippines
By Ron Watkins

Three Crazy Critters of the Dauin Coast

Ron Watkins
Photos, shooting tips and unusual stories of macro subjects in Dumaguete, Philippines

The Dauin coast near the city of Dumaguete, in the Philippines, consistently rates as one of the top muck diving spots in the world and is home to some of the strangest and most rare critters.  On a recent Bluewater Photo workshop aboard the Philippine Siren and a stay at the luxurious boutique Atmosphere Resort and Spa, I was able to rack up a lot of bottom time along the Dauin coast.  Adding to the quality of diving here year-round was the fact that from February through March there are baby frogfish everywhere, including numerous species with eggs and lots of mating behavior.

When asked what my favorite critters of Dauin are, it is a bit like picking your favorite child.  There are the mating mandarinfish on the Atmosphere house reef, several species of ornate ghost pipefish, colorful nudibranchs littering the seafloor, flamboyant cuttlefish hunting at night, highly sought after octopus (mimic, blue-ring, wonderpus, coconut, etc.), interesting crustaceans and those cute little baby frogfish stretching their jaws and fishing with their lures.  So when choosing my top three crazy critters of Dauin, I picked three interesting subjects that have interesting stories behind the photograph to share.

All of the images below where taken with a Nikon D800 and 105mm lens in a Sea&Sea D800 housing with dual Sea&Sea YS-250 strobes and Sola 800 focus light.

 

Orangutan Crab (Achaeus japonicas)

ISO 200, F/18, 1/250 sec

 

At first glance, one might think this type of spider crab is a commonly photographed subject. Those that have found them know they are typically found in bubble coral.  But many of the photos I have seen and that I have taken seem a little blurry, and the hair on the crab is hard to distinguish.  I spoke with the resident biologist at Atmosphere Resort, Daniel Geary, and he instructed that I have to find a crab that is perched on the outside of the coral that is in current so that the hair looks like it is freshly combed.  That allows you to take a sharper and more impactful photo.  Equipped with this new knowledge we went out on the house reef and found several Orangutan crabs that I passed for photos until finally discovering the one pictured here.  The result is much better than I had taken before. 

 

Orange Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes)

ISO 200, F/22, 1/250 sec

 

Bobtail squid are one of my favorite cephalopods to try and find on a night dive and the Dauin coast is prime territory for them.  We had spotted two of the common blue/purple colored bobtails on the night dive already and then came across this less frequently seen orange one that was about an inch long.  It was the first one that Daniel had ever seen on that site and we were both quite excited.  We watched it hunt around the bottom and eventually burrow down in the sand so that only its eyes were peaking out.  If you have ever photographed a bobtail squid you may have noticed that the edge of the squid is always blurry.  It turns out that it is not your photography skills, but rather a bioluminescent bacteria that filters the light and creates that blur to help conceal its silhouette.

A tip for photographing cephalopods is to use a focus light with an amber filter so that the pupil of the eye will dilate more.  The first picture was taken when I first found the squid and before I had switched the light to amber, so the squid is closing its pupil.  The second one was taken with the amber light mode.

 

The Donald Duck Shrimp (Leander plumosus)

ISO 100, F/29, 1/250 sec with a ReefNet SubSee +5 Diopter

 

When I asked my dive masters what they consider to be one of the craziest sought after critters that divers want to photograph, they all said the Donald Duck Shrimp!  I had never heard of it and when they started to describe it to me with this big long orange bill like a duck I thought they were joking with me.  Then they started to talk like a duck and all laugh and I thought for sure I had been punk’d.  But two dives later when they were pointing inside a small white sponge at a tiny orange thing floating around in the water column and making a duck bill sign over their regulator, I realized they were not joking around.  The shrimp, which was less than half an inch long, actually did have an oversized hairy bill (or more precisely, a rostrum).  It was pretty funny looking for sure and made for an interesting, but challenging photo subject.  In order to get the necessary detail of the tiny shrimp, I had to flip on my diopter, which has a very narrow depth of field but razor sharp focal plane.  Using my back button to focus down to the minimum distance I waited until the shrimp became parallel with the lens and in focus before firing away with the shutter.  It took several attempts, but I was able to capture a nice portrait of this funny little guy.

 


 

Book the perfect dive & photo trip to Atmosphere Resort in Dumaguete, Philippines with Bluewater Travel.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Exploring natural shark encounters on North Carolina's shipwrecks plus photo tips
By Tanya Houppermans

The Sand Tiger Sharks of North Carolina

Tanya Houppermans
Exploring natural shark encounters on North Carolina's shipwrecks plus photo tips

 

“North Carolina?!?! Really? I had no idea!”

I am still surprised how often I hear that reaction from fellow divers when I tell them about the world-class diving found off the coast of North Carolina. Known as ‘The Graveyard of the Atlantic’ because of the large number of shipwrecks found within easy reach of the coast, the waters off of North Carolina also harbor a multitude of big marine life including southern stingrays, barracuda, sea turtles, and even the occasional whale. But the stars of the show are the sand tiger sharks.

 

 



Tanya's Gear Profile

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Panasonic Lumix 8mm Fisheye Lens

Nauticam EM1 Housing, Nauticam 4.33" Dome Port, Dual SEA&SEA YS-D1 Strobes




About The Sand Tiger Shark

The sand tiger (Carcharias taurus), also known as the ragged tooth or grey nurse shark, resides in temperate waters worldwide. Although ferocious-looking with rows of pointed, protruding teeth, sand tigers are quite docile. Adult sand tigers average 6-10.5 feet in length and can weight up to 350 pounds. Their diet consists of bony fish, skates, rays, and even smaller sharks.

 

Sand tigers are found year-round in the waters of North Carolina, although their numbers tend to be higher in the May-October timeframe. No bait is used to draw the sand tigers to the area; the sharks are already there. They congregate around the many shipwrecks, although no one is quite sure why. One theory is that there is more food around the wrecks due to the abundance of fish on these artificial reefs. Another theory is that water temperature may be slightly warmer in and around the wrecks, producing a more comfortable environment for the sharks. Whatever the reason, North Carolina is one of very few places in the world where divers are able to experience the thrill of both a wreck dive and shark dive simultaneously.

 

The sand tigers are very tolerant of divers if approached from the front or side (where the shark can see the diver). If approached from behind, the sand tiger may become spooked, in which case it will warn the diver with a sudden “thump” of its tail, producing a startlingly loud noise sure to get the diver’s attention. As with any wild animal, approaching slowly and cautiously will yield the best results.

 

In the July-Aug timeframe every year off of North Carolina, sand tigers congregate by the hundreds, particularly near the wreck of the Caribsea. They tend to stay in mid-water, at the 40-60ft range, where they meander lazily, providing an amazing spectacle for divers lucky enough to witness it.

 

Photographing Sand Tigers

I highly recommend using manual mode since lighting and visibility may vary significantly during a single dive due to shifting currents, depth, and your location in relation to a shipwreck (whether you’re above, in, or to the side of a wreck). Having the ability to quickly adjust your aperture, shutter speed, strobe power, and ISO is important.

 

My preference is shooting at higher shutter speeds, typically 1/250-1/350. Oftentimes schools of baitfish will surround sand tigers, and using a fast shutter to freeze motion often results in a sharp image of baitfish nicely framing the shark. When photographing the large groups of sand tigers, I’ve found that using a fast shutter speed with a wider aperture (f/3.5-f/5) produces sharp images of the closer sharks while still correctly exposing the sharks father away in the group.

 

Shooting upward from beneath a swimming sand tiger can make for a lovely image of the shark against the lighter-colored blue water of the surface; however, the underside of the shark is nearly white, making this area easy to overexpose. Keeping strobes at 1/3-1/2 power while using a medium aperture (around f/10) tends to yield the best results in this situation.  

 

Dive Conditions

North Carolina diving can be somewhat challenging, and it is not for the inexperienced. The boat rides are typically 1.5-2.5 hours, and dives can be as deep as 125 feet. The seas are sometimes smooth and calm, but can be choppy and rough. The good news is that during the summer months, water temperature is typically around 80°F, and visibility can reach 80-100 feet or more.

 

Final Thoughts

Coastal North Carolina offers a marine environment like few other places in the world. Where else can you dive on a World War II German submarine (the U-352) and swim with dozens of sand tiger sharks in the same day? For the wide-angle underwater photographer, North Carolina truly is a dream destination.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Houppermans is a professional underwater photographer, marine conservationist, and writer. She especially enjoys photographing sharks, and is involved in several shark conservation efforts. She is also an advocate for adaptive scuba programs for those with disabilities, as her own son is a certified scuba diver who has autism. For more information about Tanya and her work, please visit her website at www.BlueElementsImaging.com, and follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/blueelementsimaging.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


What do you do when approached by an unpredictable shark in the open ocean?
By Jeffrey Milisen

Encounter with an Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Jeffrey Milisen
What do you do when approached by an unpredictable shark in the open ocean?

Laughter could be heard echoing out of the steel hull of a schooner drifting 40 miles offshore from Hawaii.  The occupants were reviewing footage shot on the maiden deployment of an ROV that was designed to clean the world’s first drifting aquaculture pen.  Almost as soon as the unit hit the water it was dragged sideways for a few hundred meters.  The culprit showed up on the first images captured by the vehicle and continued to circle our robot even after the initial strike.  Large fins tipped in white flashed across the screen.  As our injured robot limped back to the boat for retrieval, I contemplated the encounter I had with the same animal a mere hour before.

The animal in question was an oceanic whitetip shark.  At first glance, it is easily confused with its peaceful reef-dwelling doppelganger, but don’t be fooled.  Whitetips of the oceanic variety show up downing an extra pint of adrenaline on an empty stomach.  The result is an agile, quick-tempered animal with the gall of a drunk on St. Patty’s Day and strategy that would baffle a velociraptor.  They don’t have the fame of tiger sharks, the legendary status of great whites or even the ability to swim up rivers like the bull, but they have more notches on their belt than all of those brutes combined.   Because they clean up at-sea disasters, the exact number of human fatalities is vague since their victims are often only reported as “lost at sea,” but their resume includes such legendary tales as Brett Gilliam’s tech diving thriller and Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis debacle referenced in Jaws.  In spite of their harrowed history, oceanics remain at the top of many a diver’s bucket list.  Their swaying swimming pattern mixed with sweeping long pectoral fins makes for an enchanting view.  To a working diver, however, an edgy oceanic whitetip can mean the end of the workday.

 

oceanic whitetip shark

 

Earlier that day I splashed hoping to scrub fouling from the cage.  Before I could yell to my buddy, a medium-sized oceanic whitetip had zeroed in on me.  The animal started nosing a carabiner that I was carrying, so I dropped it only to watch it disappear into the mouth of the animal.  Soon, the shark lost interest in the new toy and came back towards me.

Divers on the project always carried a shark defense device.  Most preferred an item we dubbed “shark pokers” that were simply a length of 3/4“ PVC to prod the animal away.  My camera was big enough to serve as a sizable bite, so I relied on it instead.  Besides, animals that want to eat you make great photographs. 

After making a couple of darting charges, the shark started circling well inside of arm’s distance.  I simply spun around with it, keeping my camera housing between the beast and myself.  The word the captain used to describe the scene was “wrestling.”  With the shark distracted by me, my dive buddy was recalled and made his way up the ladder.  I resorted to trying to push the animal away with my strobe arm, except the animal was too quick and would dodge each attempt.  Finally, as I was making my way back to the vessel, I jabbed one too many times and the frustrated shark spun and snapped, narrowly missing my plastic camera housing. 

We saw many oceanic whitetips during our 6 months diving at sea, but this is the memory that sticks.  The ability of the relatively small shark to take control of the situation was fascinating, and it is this very same tenacious nature that has helped drive them to the brink.  In the 1950’s, oceanic whitetips were considered the most common large animal on earth.  Sixty years later it was listed on CITES Appendix II.  Some studies estimate that, in that 60 years, more than 95% of the oceanic whitetips disappeared, victims of both commercial bycatch and the barbaric shark finning industry.  I shudder to think of a world without top predators, and that’s exactly where we are headed.  Oceanic whitetips may be dance-on-the-ceiling crazy, but that’s exactly what makes them so special.  They are a reminder that, no matter how big your truck or well-groomed your lawn, we are all still a part of the food chain somewhere.

 

oceanic whitetip shark in hawaii

 

hawaii aquaculture cage

 

 

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From cone snails to sharks and many things in between, Jeff Milisen has interests firmly rooted in anything related to marine biology. Such a varied career has led him to spend considerable time in remote habitats. When not plying the open ocean or poking around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, he visits the multitude of dive sites around his home in Kona. Wherever his exploits go, he is sure to have his dive gear and camera packed and at the ready. Visit milisenphotography.yolasite.com for more of Jeff’s imagery.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Tips, tricks and advice for finding and photographing nudibranchs underwater
By Linda Ianniello

How to Find Nudibranchs

Linda Ianniello
Tips, tricks and advice for finding and photographing nudibranchs underwater

Since nudibranchs come in such a huge variety of colors and shapes, they are a favorite subject of underwater macro photographers.  It also helps that they are often sitting still, or at least moving slowly, so they can be relatively easy to photograph.  But despite their bright colors they can be hard to find if you don’t know what to look for.  This is where local knowledge is a huge help. 

 

1.  Local Knowledge

At home in southeast Florida, I have this local knowledge.  I know what species are likely to be found, and that certain species can be found on hydroids, others in rubble, and still others on sponges.  Some are out during the day, and others only come out at night.  I have done hundreds of dives in the same area and know what to look for and where, which really helps my success rate at finding them.

 

Above is a Plocamopherus lucayensis from southeast Florida.  It only comes out at night, and is generally found on this purplish bryozoan which is its food source.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 200, f/29, 1/250

 

This is a Lomanotus vermiformis which is seasonal, generally found in the daytime during the summer.  It is found on its food source, the feathery hydroid Lytocarpus philippinus.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 100, f/16, 1/250

 

 

2.  A Good Guide

When I am traveling to a new location I find that the best way to find nudibranchs is to use a local guide.  They know what species are in the area, how big they are, and where they can be found.  If you tell your guide that you are interested in seeing and photographing all the nudibranchs he or she can find, you will soon learn the underwater sign for nudibranchs and should have productive dives. 

 

This Miamira alleni is quite rare.  It had been seen in the same area for a couple of weeks, but I never would have seen it if the guide hadn’t found it on prior dives and knew roughly where it was located.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 100, f/32, 1/250

 

I probably wouldn’t have seen this well-camouflaged Melibe engeli if the eagle-eyed guide hadn’t pointed it out.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 200, f/32, 1/250

 

 

3.  Research

If you are going to be on your own in a new location, first do some research on the Internet to see what nudibranchs have been seen in that area.  This will give you an “imprint” image of what to look for and it will make spotting them easier.  Check out the liveaboard/resort’s web site or Facebook page to determine what they have been finding recently.  Then study the substrate the nudibranch is on (assuming it hasn’t been moved for the image).  Or send them an email and ask!  Two other good sources are the Facebook groups Nudibranch Central and Nudibase – Sharing Nudibranch Knowledge.  Currently the two best reference books are Indo-Pacific Nudibranchs and Sea Slugs, which is out of print but an updated version is due out this fall, and Caribbean Sea Slugs.  This research is a good idea even if you have a local guide; when he shows you a nudibranch, you will recognize what it is and have a better idea how to approach and photograph it.  You will even know where the head is, which can be a challenge with some of them!  (When photographing nudibranchs, you generally want the rhinophores in focus – those things that look like horns on the top of their head.  The “feathery” things are the gills and focusing on them usually results in a butt shot!)

 

The rhinophores of this Phyllodesmium briareum are very similar in color and shape to its cerata so it is important to look closely and find the rhinophores before taking a shot.  (The head is in the lower right corner of the image.)

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 200, f/32, 1/250

 

 

4.  Food

Then do some additional research to try and find out what the local ones eat – nudibranchs are usually on or near their food source.  This will give you an idea of where to look for specific ones.  Once you find a species and want to learn more about it, a good resource is the Sea Slug Forum.  It is no longer being maintained, but Dr. Bill Rudman spent a lot of time documenting a huge number of species, where they can be found, what they eat, and in many cases, what their eggs look like.  The General topics section also contains a lot of interesting information about sea slugs.

 

Arminas feed on sea pens.  Since the sea pens come out of the sand at night, whenever I do a night dive and see sea pens I start looking for Arminas.  This one has its mantle folded back and you can see the gills between the mantle and the foot.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 200, f/32, 1/250

 

Favorinus feed on the eggs of other opisthobranchs, notably the eggs of the Spanish dancer, Hexabranchus sanguineus.  This image shows two species of Favorinus feeding on the eggs of an unknown sea slug.  Whenever I see a string of eggs, I stop and check for the presence of Favorinus.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm lens. ISO 200, f/32, 1/250

 

 

You will note that I have used the term “nudibranch” throughout this article.  Technically I should use the term “Sea Slugs” which covers numerous orders within the taxonomic group Opisthobranchia, one of which is nudibranchs, but also includes sap-sucking and solar-powered slugs, headshield slug, sidegill slugs, etc.  But it has become common practice to use the term nudibranch to cover all of these.

My final message is “please do not move them or collect them for an aquarium”.  They are usually on or near their food source, and if you move them they have to find it again.  You may move them onto something that will make a pretty negative space, but it may attack the nudibranch.  For example, some hard corals will attack a nudibranch placed on it.  Or you may put them on something that the nudibranch would normally not crawl onto and therefore it is pretty obvious to those in the know that the subject has been moved.  No photo is worth stressing or injuring the subject!  And if you collect them for an aquarium, the chances are you won’t have their food; they are all very specialized feeders and they will likely die a slow death from starvation.  I have even heard that “the nudibranch must be doing fine because it is laying eggs.”  That is often a final effort by the nudibranch to propagate before dying.

Enjoy your slug-hunting and photography……  Hopefully these tips will help with the hunting!

 

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Ianniello has been diving and doing underwater photography for almost 30 years, progressing from a Nikonos V to her current Nikon D300S in a Nauticam housing. Her favorite type of photography is macro, where half the challenge is finding the small, unusual subjects. She especially likes to find and photograph nudibranchs and finds their variety of shapes, colors, and habitats fascinating. She travels frequently to Indonesia and the Philippines, which are both excellent for critter-hunting.  lindaiphotography.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


How to appoach mammals, their behaviors, trust and advice for capturing incredible photos
By Jeffrey Milisen

Tips for Interacting with Dolphins and Whales

Jeffrey Milisen
How to appoach mammals, their behaviors, trust and advice for capturing incredible photos

 

Tips for Interacting with Dolphins and Whales


How to appoach mammals, their behaviors, trust and advice for capturing incredible photos

Text and Photos By Jeffrey Milisen

 

 

 
SHARE THIS STORY

We humans have much to be proud of.  We have cured many diseases and also developed ways to avoid getting sick in the first place.  We have created beauty in art and music.  We have plumbed the depths of the ocean and climbed the highest mountains.  And not only have we mastered flight, but we have used it to visit other celestial bodies.  And we owe much of these achievements to our intelligence.  So what would you do if you met creatures even smarter than us?

Members of Cetacea - dolphins and whales - have a larger brain to body mass ratio with more folds in their cranial tissues than humans.  Much of this extra mass is in the communications center.  So while we value our rich languages, Flipper communicates on levels we cannot even comprehend and can do so over enormous distances.  Take a hunting pod of false killer whales for example.  They spread out over many miles working as individuals until word gets out of a hunt in progress.  Suddenly 4 or more whales will show up to join in the kill.  How dolphins and whales communicate information over miles of ocean with clicks and whistles has been the subject of many PhD dissertations.  We still have little idea what they’re talking about.

No other animal has the ability or intelligence to impart such a sense of awe as a whale or a dolphin.  Even when viewed from the surface, the power of a diving humpback or the intense energy of a dolphin in play can be overwhelming. Swimming with large, sentient and often predatory animals means we must play by a special set of behavioral and legal rules that most other reef organisms don’t require. 

 

Legalities

As a disclaimer, no other aquatic animal enjoys the same protections as marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Protection Act covers all marine mammals in the United States, and some are afforded additional special protections.  While it is recommended that divers read this act in its entirety, the gist is that divers, swimmers, and boaters may not intentionally approach a marine mammal in such a way that it alters that animal’s behavior. 

 

Gaining Their Trust

Most of the battle of photographing marine mammals lies in finding a photogenic subject, and much of that depends on how you interact with them.  It is best to think of dolphins and whales as intelligent animals.  For example, dolphins and whales must rest and do so by using half of their brain at a time.  Approaching a resting marine mammal is not recommended.  It is akin to waking one of your sleeping neighbors in the middle of the night.  They are just going to awaken grumpy, tired and just want to be left alone.  It is best to find a tour that specializes in whale and/or dolphin encounters with people who can read the animals’ behavior.  These animals can swim MUCH faster than you, and any wrong move might cause them to swim away or worse, react defensively. 

It is important to conduct yourself appropriately in a non-aggressive manner so as to not spook them. For starters, it is always best to let the animals approach you and let them decide how the encounter is going to go.  Behaviors such as tail slapping are often signs of aggression, so it is important to keep your fins from splashing.  Rotating your body such that the fin strokes are horizontal and the fin tips never break the surface is a good start.  Furthermore, do not swim with your hands.  The less splashing the less intimidated the animal will likely be.  Turn your strobes off for these encounters. Don’t ever try to touch a wild animal.  Finally, always watch for signs of aggression.  Tail slapping, blowing bubbles, jaw gaping and any other strange behaviors can be a sign that you should leave the animal alone. 

Dolphin and whale intelligence is precisely what makes interacting with them so interesting.  They cannot be baited and they don’t visit cleaning stations.  The best and only legal way to interact with cetaceans is to gain their trust and arouse their curiosity.  You can start from the surface by whistling or clicking when the animals come up to breathe, listening as they often mimic you back.  You might try diving down and balling up or spinning or flipping underwater- anything you can do to appear interesting and playful.  Hawaiian spinner dolphins play a game of “pass the leaf,” and will often let you join in if you bring your own leaf.  Other dolphins enjoy mirroring, or mimicking the way they behave. 

 

Photographing Whales and Dolphins

It is a good idea to have two cameras for marine mammal expeditions.  The first should be a topside, dry camera with a long lens (100mm or more) to capture the animal surfacing, breaching, spy-hopping, or any other interesting interactions with the boat.  A super fast shutter speed will help freeze the action. Creative opportunities abound from the surface. 

A second camera, in an underwater housing, should be fitted with a wide-angle lens.  I always recommend the Tokina 10-17mm lens for wide underwater work.  It has beautiful color rendition, focuses very fast and has excellent sharpness.  The fisheye effect is not noticeable underwater where few straight lines exist.  For the underwater rig, I usually use a shutter speed of 1/160 or faster to capture the action.  While most underwater photography articles will encourage you to shoot up at a subject, that isn’t always the case with marine mammals.  In many cases, diving underwater will scare the animal away and often shooting down will better capture the background scenery of a coral reef or sunrays filtering through the depths.  As far as framing, the old adage of “get close, then get closer” is a little skewed.  Because the animals glide so much faster than you can swim, getting close is a matter of timing when to pull the shutter.  Also, try to capture the animal looking at you, as a successful interaction will allow for lots of photos of the animal actively investigating your camera.

 

Humpback whales are among the largest marine animals that have ever existed and must be treated with extra respect.  Often, the best interactions will be from a boat, dangling your camera over the gunwale if they swim in close enough.

 

Pilot whales are capable of diving thousands of feet down in search of their favorite prey - squid.  They are best approached when lazily “logging” at the surface.  Be on the lookout, however, as another ocean predator often accompanies pilot whales... oceanic whitetip sharks.

 

False killer whales are a special kind of mammal.  They cover an enormous amount of ground in a short amount of time and must constantly be hunting.  They are equally adept at hunting epipelagic tuna, reef-dwelling jacks and deep-water snappers.  Their hunger also makes them a frequent victim of longline bycatch.  This animal is a member of the Hawaiian insular population, of which an estimated 125 animals remain.

 

Offshore dolphins portray their personalities in unique ways.  Rough-toothed dolphins have a certain prehistoric look and don’t often encounter freedivers.  They can become quite curious, using their extra-flexible neck to investigate newcomers to their environment.  They are also one of the main enemies of tuna fishermen, capable of filleting a caught fish while it is still on the hook.  

 

 

In Conclusion

There is no surefire way to guarantee a marine mammal is going to take an interest in you.  As intelligent as they are, marine mammals have moods and sometimes they just don’t want to play.  But when everything aligns properly, marine mammal encounters can be one of the most enriching encounters a diver can experience underwater. 

 

 


Want to Dive with Dolphins and Whales?

 

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect big animal dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.
 

 

 

Also by Jeffrey Milisen

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish.  Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

photo: Kelsea Sanborn

 

Author's Gear Profile

Canon T1i with Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens in an Ikelite housing.

 

Support the Underwater Photography Guide:


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


 

 
 
SHARE THIS STORY

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Syndicate content