Location: Sea of Cortez
Duration: 4 day shoot
The biggest fish on the planet! But how can you fathom the size of an animal that is heavier than the boat you are sitting in and longer than the width of your house? You simply can’t until you swim with them. In La Paz, Mexico there is an aggregation site of juvenile whale sharks just off the beach. It’s a five minute boat ride until you see the first characteristic round-shaped white-spotted dorsal fin slicing gently through the water.
Ready-set-go! “Ouch, what was that???”. Of course the whale sharks are there for a good reason: Food. A lot of food. Millions of tiny pieces of zooplankton are floating in the watercolumn and lower the visibility to only a few meters. They sting all over your lips. Some of the tourists on the other boats were yelling as soon as their naked bodies floated into a cloud of zooplankton.
I have dived with great whites, blue sharks, great hammerhead sharks, but the sheer size of the whale shark was simply humbling. You feel small besides it. Insignificant. And at the same time there is nothing to worry about when diving with these sharks: They simply pass by you looking for zooplankton, slowly turn their heads to check you out, almost looking like they are going to ask you for directions. Yet, when by accident someone touches them (which can happen to tourists that are inexperienced in moving in the water) they reacted extraordinarily sensitve.
One can easily get lost behind the viewfinder of a camera when photographing sharks underwater. It’s the combination between sheer fascination for the animal and the thrill of capturing a great picture for others to see what you once saw. It’s extremely important to immerse yourself into that state, if you want to take a great image. However, it’s as important to know when to snap out of it and focusing solely on your surroundings. Whale sharks for example will not move out of your way. These giant vegetarians are growing to a size way beyond 10 meters and that gives them right of way. It happened to me working with a wide angle lens that the shark seemed to be meters away, when I looked up from behind the viewfinder, I realized the shark was only centimeters away, almost swallowing my camera. It takes practice to find the right balance, and due to this challenge handling a camera is not for everyone. Diver @williamwinram with @watermenproject #nature #ocean #whaleshark #underwaterphotography #uwphotography #freediving #diving #camera #wildlife #animals #adventure #explore #travel #mexico #conservation
The reason being that due to the unique location and accessibility for boats, they are often ran over by boats. Most sharks we have seen had huge scars on their backs, and even cuts right through the dorsal fin. The owner of DeepBaja told me that he would like to see more regulation in the area, potentially a protected area, in order to keep the animals safe and ensure that this tourism remains sustainable for generations to come. Despite these troubles I think that the people of La Paz are doing a great job in using eco-tourism as a source of income, an opportunity to study the animals and engaging tourists in an ocean-related activity. There is huge potential and I am optimistic they are going to harness it!
Whale Sharks are gulp feeding by sucking in surrounding waters that are filled with plankton. The power of their suction is not to be underestimated. If you get close and hold your camera really close to the shark’s mouth, you can feel it being pulled towards the shark. They are completely harmless and seem goofy at times. However they are sensitive towards being touched by anything. I try my best not to touch the animals, sometimes though they make a sharp turn and your fins touch with theirs. The sharks reacted to it by swimming away, despite their size. Part of the reason could be that many of them had scars from boats running them over. Even the biggest fish in the worlds ocean can be vulnerable to human activities. With @watermenproject @williamwinram @inkacresswell @apneacity @pmbeauchamp @andreaasunsolo #freediving #conservation #ocean #nature #uwphotography #wildlifephotography #animals #wildlife #diving #underwater #planet #adventure #expedition #science
Thanks to William Winram and the team of The Watermen Project for great company in the water!