December 31st, 2012

humpback whales #4

myself getting closer to the humpback whale, Wild Coast, South Africa

Photo by Dave Caravias

Many asked me about "behind the scenes" of whale photography. Well, Two words describe process best - patience and endurance. Most of time whales are not exactly interested to socialize with you, and for them it takes only couple of tail movements to swim away from you very far. Most of the encounters are very brief 'fly-by' types, with very little actual interaction happening in the course.

For good results you have to find special situation - static whales occupied with something. We found two big male humpbacks this season in South Africa, doing some sort of dominance game on the surface. Huge bulls, making loud scary sounds like excited elephants. Of 6 people on the boat I was only one willing to get into water and approach them - such powerful was spectacle of splashes they created, people were bit afraid.

Well, visibility was not perfect too - about 6 meters at best. I jumped into water and started to make my way towards those giants. I could raise my head on the top and clearly see them on the surface. Put it back into water - only to be back into greenish milky substance - and some obscure shadows in front. I was moving very slowly since I was afraid to be hit by their pectoral fins - each about 3 meters long.

This is when something really scary happened. Remember - I told before that Sardine Run 2012 was without sardines. They failed to show up - but sharks, dolphins and photographers all came into area. I was suddenly hit into my leg above knee - quite hard. I sharply turned and saw huge 3.5m dusky shark - it came to check me out out of frustration - since I - and whales - were making splashing sounds, and sharks often associate them with fish on the surface.

I hit shark very hard with my camera. I think it was hardest blow I ever delivered on the shark - and I dove with bulls in Fiji many times ! Dusky turned, made circle and went straight at me again. After third hit I raised my hand and called skipper loudly, who was staying on zodiac about 50 meters away. Hearing engine sound shark went below me and disappeared.

In the end I managed to get close to those two males - and it was magnificient experience. Problem - I don't have very clean shots of them, since water was milky, but believe me - I was just 1 meter away from an eye of 16m long animal, biggest humpback whale I saw in my life, and I saw a few of them !

Those kind of adventures is the reason why I keep going into ocean. I feel alive and happy doing these kind of things. 2013 is promising to be interesting ! I will keep you posted on my adventures - and Happy New Year everyone ! ^_^

Also - if anybody interested - I posted story on my dusky shark shot from this year on Tetis - - and it is in Russian ! Crazy shit ! Enjoy ! ^_^