An Encounter with Orcas
We recently caught up with underwater photographer and Pelagic Life board director Jero Prieto after spotting his fantastic photo of two orcas under the surface, bathed in late afternoon light. In-water encounters with orcas (aka killer whales) are fairly rare, and natually, we wanted to share the photos and ask what went on behind the scenes. Below is our brief interview.
Where were you diving when you encountered the Orcas?
JP: In Bahía Magdalena (Magbay) Baja California Sur, Mexico during one of the last Open Ocean Safari of the season led by Pelagic Life.
Where you in a boat or already in the water?
We were returning from freediving with baitballs and marlins 50 nautical miles offshore. On the way back we spotted the pod, grabbed our gear and jumped in the water to freedive with them.
What was the encounter like?
The orca pod was on a clear path (heading south). To avoid any disturbance or risk the encounter, we would move the boat several meters in front of their trajectory. Once we were in a good location we would turn off the engine and silently jump in the water. Within 30 seconds the orca pod would encounter our divers. They usually looked at us and showed us their belly and remained in the surface; clear signs of a healthy interaction. All of the divers stayed at the surface and did not chase the animals. Once the pod passed we would repeat the exercise. We were fortunate enough to make 8 passes with the pod. On the last pass, the orcas (as soon as they saw us) became more compact as a pod and dived in front of us, passing several meters below the divers. This was when we decided to stop the interaction since we interpreted the behavior as non-inviting. The pod continued moving south.
Is there anything that helped you capture these photos? Any tips to share?
I would suggest not forcing the encounter. Use common sense and try to cross path with the animals in the least invasive way possible. This allowed the orcas to swim straight towards us, at the surface and get as close as humanly possible. I would recommend checking your camera settings three times before jumping in the water because once you are in the water your entire attention will probably only focus on the encounter. Just remember to leave your finger pressing the trigger.
About the Author
Jerónimo Prieto, Pelagic Life (pelagiclife.org)
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