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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Galapagos Sharks In The Revillagigedo Archipelago

Our previous posts on the Revillagigedo Archipelago, also called the Socorro islands, have included the giant mantas(Manta birostris), whitetip reef sharks(Triaenodon obesus), and silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis). Although Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) are fairly common especially at Roca Partida, we did not have any encounters with them there. However, on one dive we did come across a few juveniles at Socorro island and this gave us an opportunity to photograph this species.galap2galap3

Older sharks of all species have very scarred bodies which are simply a result of surviving in a dangerous ocean environment. However, these juvenile Galapagos sharks, which were about a meter (2-3 feet) in length, had skin with very few blemishes. Adult Galapagos sharks can reach 3 meters (9-10 feet) in length.

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Silky Sharks Of The Socorro Islands

The silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) gets its name from the smooth texture and silky look of its skin especially when it is young. These sharks can grow to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length and are very abundant in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. Generally referred to as the Socorro Islands, these volcanic islands lie approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.silky2silky4

Although we encountered scalloped hammerheads, tigers, Galapagos, whitetip reef, and silvertip sharks the most numerous were the silky sharks. At dusk, as the sun was setting, a few of us slipped into the water behind the boat in an attempt to photograph these sharks with the sun’s rays penetrating behind them to give a visually stunning look. Thank you to Andy Murch of Big Fish Expeditions for showing us this technique as we are relatively new to underwater photography.

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Giant Mantas of San Benedicto Island

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.

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Giant manta with two remoras attached. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

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).

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“The Boiler” has the best encounters in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.

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.

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The “black manta” is a color variant of the Manta birostris. Pacific ocean, Mexico.
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Both color variants are shown here. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

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. 

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What do they think of us when we look into each other’s eyes? “The Boiler”, Mexico.
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Pair of mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto island, Pacific ocean, Mexico.
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“The Boiler” at San Benedicto Island, in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.

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Whitetip Reef Sharks: Socorro Islands

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). The whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) is common here.

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Whitetip Reef Shark Swimming At El Canyon Dive Site At San Benedicto Island
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Male Whitetip Reef Shark. The Reproductive Claspers Are On The Bottom

The whitetip reef shark rarely exceeds 1.6 meters (5 feet). It is nocturnal and rests during the day under ledges and caves.  At Roca Partida, we observed many groups of whitetip reef sharks congregating in groups of 3 to 15 on the ledges. By approaching them slowly we were able to capture this behavior.

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Group Of Five Whitetip Reef Sharks On Ledge At Roca Partida

 

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Group Photos Are Possible By Approaching These Sharks Slowly

 

These sharks hunt at night and eat mainly crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp as well as bony fishes. They tend to hunt in groups. During the day, it was interesting to observe many large lobsters out in the open just a few feet away from the whitetip reef sharks. Apparently, the lobsters know that they are safe from these sharks during the day.

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If Disturbed Whitetip Reef Sharks Swim A Short Distance And Return To Their Ledge.
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Pregnant Female Cruising Over The Volcanic Island Known As Roca Partida.

 

From Safari To Sharks

Strange to be photographing lions and leopards in the Serengeti National Park in Africa one week and then photographing sharks in the Bahamas about a week later! We departed from West Palm Beach, Florida and headed to the famous “Tiger Beach” off of Grand Bahamas Island in hopes of finding tiger sharks. The Dolphin Dream, a 83 foot ocean expedition liveaboard, was our home for a week and we were well looked after by Captain Scott, Gerard, Shane & Heidi. We sailed through the night, cleared customs in the Bahamas in the morning and headed to a spot to do a few checkout dives in the afternoon to make sure our gear was working fine.  It wasn’t long before we were taking photos of lemon sharks which commonly inhabit this area. Day 1 was all about lemon sharks.

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Lemon Shark, Bahamas
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Lemon shark with remoras attached getting a free ride in the Bahamas
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Lemon Shark in clear blue water near Grand Bahama Island

Sharks are opportunistic feeders and lemon sharks are no exception. They are slowly swimming about searching for food but once it appears they quickly shift gears and the action can get lively. These sharks discovered food in the sand and the competition to get there first is fierce. Notice a second shark below the first one in the second photograph.

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Lemon Sharks Looking for food in the sand, Bahamas
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Lemon sharks competing for food at the Anchor Chain dive site, Bahamas

Lemon sharks are easy to identify as the first and second dorsal fin (the fins on top of their backs) are almost the same size whereas most other sharks the back dorsal fin is much smaller. These sharks can reach 11 feet in length but are commonly found in the 7 to 10 foot range which are the size that we photographed. Their eyes are a bit smaller than other sharks and they often swim with their mouths partially open.

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Lemon Shark Cruising Through the Bahamas
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Pair of Lemon sharks north of Grand Bahama Island
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Lemon Shark at Anchor Chain Dive site, Bahamas

One of the new photographic techniques we are trying to master is what is called an over-under where you place your camera 1/2 in the water and 1/2 out. This captures the shark in the water and at the same time shows the sky. We tried these as the sun was going down at the end of the day. It gives a very unique and different perspective of these lemon sharks. Not bad photos for our first attempt at “lemon-snaps”! Thanks to Terry Steeley of In The Blue Photography for all his advice about this technique.

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Pair of Lemon sharks, Bahamas photographed at sunset
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Lemon shark, Bahamas using over-under technique at sunset