The focus of our trip was to photograph the giant mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. These are the largest mantas in the world and can be more than 20 feet (6 meters) across and weigh up to 3,500 pounds (1600 kilograms). The dive site called “the Boiler” is a cleaning station for these mantas where fish remove parasites from their bodies. Consequently, this site provides the best opportunities to see and photograph these gentle giants.
The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. These Pacific islands are more commonly referred to as the Socorro Islands. Aboard the Southern Sport, we dove 3 of the 4 islands (Roca Partida, San Benedicto, and Socorro).
A color variant from the more common black and white manta is an all black or nearly all black manta. It is not a different species of Manta birostris. However, it is exciting when one showed up as it looks so different.
San Benedicto is the island for the giant mantas. They are used to divers and show no fear of people. They swim It seems a bit surreal, even a few weeks after our encounter with them, to have had huge mantas swim within a few meters of us.
The purpose of our dive was to photograph Horn sharks and we got lucky on our second dive around Danzante Island in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Thank you to Juan Carlos Reyes Valerio our dive master for finding these rather reclusive sharks. Although we found 3 different horn sharks, 2 were deep in crevices and they were impossible to photograph. However, it only takes one and this shark was out in the open apparently waiting to be photographed. Horn sharks are not strong swimmers and this shark is trying to tuck as close to the rocks as possible.
This area has more than sharks and we saw 3 different species of ray, two that stayed still long enough for us to photograph. The ocellated electric ray or bullseye electric ray (Diplobatis ommata) can generate a moderate electric charge for self-defence. The bullseye or ocellus on the back is very distinctive and is where it derives its name. It is a small ray reaching about 10 inches (25cm) in length.
The second ray we were able to photograph was the spotted round ray also known as the Cortez round ray (Urobatis maculatus). They have short tails compared to many other rays and reach a length of about 17 inches (45cm). This ray didn’t stick around for very long before it headed to deeper water.
A surprise for us to come across was the banded guitarfish (Zapteryx exasperata). We were not aware that there were a guitarfish species in the Sea of Cortez. This fish can reach up to 4 feet (1.25m) and has both dorsal fins of nearly identical size. Unfortunately, it had its head facing away from us partly going into a crevice.
Our time in the Dutch island of Bonaire in the Lesser Antilles is quickly coming to an end. Our passion is shark photography but this trip was focussed on learning macro photography – you know, the really little stuff. It started off with frustration but slowly produced some good results. These shrimp range in size from 1/4 inch (2-3mm) to about 1 inch (25mm) and some are very difficult to see, especially the transparent ones. Most of the time they are tucked away inside a sponge or an anemone giving few good photo opportunities. As we discovered, perseverance and a bit of good luck are both needed!
What do you do if you are an octopus out during the day and a diver with a camera spots you? First, you keep still and use camouflage hoping nobody can spot you, but when that fails you need to move. This octopus tried a number of tactics from trying to blend in, making a run for it, to puffing up to what I assume is to make itself look bigger. Here is a picture sequence that lasted less than a minute until it found a hole to retreat into. Safety at last!
During the last two days we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the Japanese Giant Salamanders in the mountain rivers of Japan in the Gifu area. These salamanders can reach 1.5 metres (5 feet) in length and weigh up to 25 kg (55pounds). They generally hide under rocks and in crevices but if you are patient you may have a chance to photograph them in the open for a brief period of time. Tricia had just that situation and is busy getting some excellent photos.
We would like to extend our thanks and sincere appreciation to Ito Yoshihiro, our salamander expert and guide. He spends numerous hours learning and studying them and was willing to share his expertise with us. Great job Ito-san! Also, thanks to Andy, of Big Fish Expeditions, for organizing this trip.
As you can see there is a wide variety of colours which is partly dependant on age. It is believed that they can live up to 80 years in the wild. It seems a bit surreal to have driven into the mountains of Japan, prepared our cameras, put on our wetsuits and spent time in the river interacting with these interesting creatures. It was a nice change from photographing sharks.
From our perspective, Banded Houndsharks are the main attraction of the reef we spent 3 days diving on. Of course there is always other life on a reef. Three rays we were able to photograph were the Red Stingray, the Thornback Ray and the Japanese Butterfly Ray. The Banded Houndshark and the Red Stingray hang out together competing for the same food source. These two look like they are best buds!
Japanese Butterfly Ray
A couple of unusual fish that we came across were the Guitar Fish and the Asian Sheepheads Wrasse. Of course there are always the Moray Eels.
Asian Sheepshead Wrasse
If it wasn’t for the sharks we would have spent more time photographing the reef. The underwater strobes bring out some of the bright colours of the marine life.