Great Hammerheads (#1): Bahamas

Although we love to photograph all sharks, our favorite is the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran). Generally, it is a cautious shark and will keep its distance from scuba divers. There are 9 species of hammerhead sharks worldwide but the great hammerhead is the largest. An average adult reaches lengths of about 3.6 to 4.3 meters (12-14 feet) but can reach 6 meters (20 feet) and exceed 550kg (1,200 pounds).

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Great hammerheads are newer sharks on the evolutionary scale and have developed some unusual characteristics. The unique feature of this shark is obviously the head. The “hammer” which is called a cephalofoil is full of electrical sensors. These pores called ampullae of Lorenzini aid in hunting as these sensors pick up electrical signals given off by all living creatures including humans.

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As you view these photographs notice how different the shark can look depending on the angle of the photograph. On a larger shark, the cephalofoil is about a meter (3 feet) in length and the eyes are at the ends which gives it a large range of vision.

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The diet of this shark is diverse. They will feed on a variety of fishes including tarpons, porcupine fish and even other sharks. As well, lobster, squid, and octopus form part of their diet.  However, their favorite food is rays. Stingrays bury themselves in the sand and the great hammerhead uses its cephalofoil with its electrical sensors to detect their location.

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Spiny Softshell Turtle Las Vegas, Nevada USA

We were looking for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), a native species, in the rivers around Las Vegas. Got some tips from a few local people on where we might find them and after 3 days of searching, we found this unusual turtle. Not sure we would find them as the temperatures had been near freezing which is often when turtles brumate (a type of hibernation for reptiles).

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The turtle has an unusual tube-like protruding nose which makes it different from any other turtle we have photographed. It has a thin body and the shell (carapace) is somewhat flexible. Near the head, on the edge of the shell, there are some small spines and hence the name spiny softshell turtle.

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We discovered them on some rocks on the far side of a fast-moving river. They were larger than we anticipated. The shell averages 40 cm (15 inches) but can be much larger, especially in females. Apparently, they can live for about 50 years.

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At about 10 years of age, these turtles will begin to mate. This occurs mid to late spring as the temperatures warm. On average, the female deposits about 20 eggs on the sunny banks of the river generally in a sandy area or a gravel bed.

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Like many turtles, they consume a wide variety of food. Insects and various types of vegetation make up a large portion of their diet as well as fish. They will often bury themselves in the river bottom and wait for a fish to pass by and then ambush their prey.

Olive Baboons at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

There is so much expression in the eyes of a primate and you have to wonder what is going through his mind. This male Olive baboon was beginning to tire and was looking to get some sleep. With us nearby he was unwilling to close his eyes. We assume as soon as we left he closed those expressive eyes and got some deserved sleep.

0W4A0201Of course, if you have recently been born into this wonderful world then you have little use for sleep and would rather explore this new and curious planet. Everything is new, exciting and interesting so why sleep? This young Olive baboon was fascinating to observe and proved to be very photogenic and interested in us.0W4A0209-10W4A02140W4A0204-1 Mom, however, is never far away. She is allowing her baby to explore and learn about this new environment but within limits. Should this calm situation change then she will immediately intervene to protect her baby.

0W4A0219-3Of course, the male baboon is really in charge of the entire encounter. Here he is grooming the female and picking off insects and parasites. Just below his eye is a wound probably received from a fight with another male baboon. It is a tough job being a male baboon and protecting your status as the dominant male.

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A Whale of a Tale: Humpbacks at Silver Banks, Dominican Republic (2019)

Silver Banks in the Dominican Republic is about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Puerto Plata and is only accessible on a liveaboard. It is one of two places in the world where you can legally get in the water with humpback whales and only about 630 snorkelers are allowed to go each season (January – April). However, in water encounters are restricted to a few situations only that include sleeping whales, singing males or a “Valentine” when the male is courting the female and the two are gently dancing around each other.

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The majority of the expedition had no in water encounters as the whales were constantly on the move so it turned into a glorified whale watching trip. However, the above water interactions were numerous and close and included breaches and pectoral slaps. For those who have not experienced humpbacks then these encounters were second to none. Unable to get in the water we resorted to hanging our cameras over the boat and blindly shooting towards the whales hoping to capture them under water. Fortunately, we were able to get some reasonable shots.

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A female that has given birth to a calf will generally have males competing for her attention and mating rights. There is an escort, a male that currently has battled off his competitors and swims next to the female and calf. Then there is the challenger, another male that is attempting to replace the escort. Battles between males occur and the winner temporarily becomes the escort until another males challenges. The mother and calf, as well as the escort and challenger, can be seen in this photo.

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Unfortunately, it was not until the last day that we came across a mother and a calf that had no accompanying males. The mother can sleep for 25 minutes but the calf needs to come up for air every few minutes. This mother was stationary at about 40 feet and the calf would swim from beside her or under her to the surface, breath and return to her. This was our only good underwater encounter of the week.

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Upon reflection, these are wild animals and interactions with them are on their terms. Sometimes they give us only a brief moment to share their world and at other times we get lucky and have numerous and spectacular encounters.

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Village of Hope Bulale, Tanzania (2018)

Larry & I have committed ourselves to help with the Village of Hope and the farm in Bulale. Each year we spend a couple of months helping on site. While Larry was busy at the farm developing infrastructure projects (future post),  I enjoyed spending time with the children at the Village of Hope. This school is one of 10 Village of Hope locations in Africa and opened in April 2018. Both the Lower Class (Junior Kindergarten in North America) & Upper Class (Senior Kindergarten) have approximately 17 children who were chosen because they were ‘at risk’ for a variety of reasons and may not have otherwise had the chance to attend school. I spent most of my time with the Upper Class and really came to know them & their amazing teacher, Betty.

I was really impressed that these kids didn’t know English when they started school and only 6 months later are taught exclusively in English. They take pride in their work and were happy to show me what they were working on.

A huge advantage of the small class size is the chance for one-on-one attention when needed.

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Mid-morning they are served a nutritious porridge which they really look forward to.

The kids enjoyed stories, crafts & playing.

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They also had a lot of fun with my hair 🙂

Outdoor fun was always a huge hit!

I can’t wait to see them again next year!

Humpback Whales In Mexico

Two different encounters with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) during our Mexican holiday make up this post. The first experience was breaching humpbacks while in Cabo San Lucas (Baja California Sur) on the Pacific Ocean side. We followed three whales for about an hour and only had them break the surface to breathe. Shortly after this, they got more active and for about 5 minutes and they breached a number of times.humpback2humpback3humpback1

We have over 500 dives and have never encountered humpback whales underwater. In Hawaii, we have heard the males singing during our dives but they always seem to avoid us. All that changed in the Socorro islands (Revillagigedo Archipelago). We had a very brief encounter (about 10 -15 seconds) with a mother and her calf. They were moving toward us but immediately turned away to avoid us, but this allowed for a couple of quick photographs. This was a very surreal experience to see a 13-15 meter (40-50 foot) whale and calf such a short distance from us!humpback8

Great Whites Of Guadalupe, Mexico

Our first liveaboard experience was to Guadalupe Island off Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. The sea conditions were rough with waves 7-9 feet and many people were very seasick. The good news is that we handled the conditions quite well and just felt a bit nauseated. It proved to us that we could handle very adverse sea conditions. The 400 km (250 mile) trip started from Ensenada, Mexico and took about 24 hours to cross on the 33 meter (110 foot) vessel called the Sea Escape. Guadalupe Island is a volcanic island and home to some very large great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias).

great white9great white1great white6The great white shark, also called the white shark, can grow extremely large with some females capable of reaching 6+ meters (20 feet). As the females mature their girth increases considerably for every foot of growth. It was hard to imagine a 1900 kg (4,000 pounds) great white shark swimming a meter or two away from us and we had big expectations. Sadly, the largest shark we experienced was about 4 meters (12-13 feet). Certainly, not a monster female but a very large shark none the less.

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Our first experience with great white sharks was in South Africa but the water was not very clear (green water) so it was difficult to get good pictures. As our photographs show, Guadalupe is a great place to photograph these majestic creatures. We will certainly do Guadalupe island again with hopes of photographing a massive female.

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