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Sailfish report from Isla Mujeres, January 2010


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#1 echeng

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 07:49 PM

Tony Wu, Sterling Zumbrunn and I have just returned from our first day out on the water looking for Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) with Keen M International. We had great luck and dropped into the water with two schools of sailfish hunting sardines. Both schools numbered more than 25 individuals — and those were just the ones we could see at once.

Sailfish took turns approaching the baitball of sardines, slashing individual fish with their bills and wounding them enough to separate them from the safety of their school. Isolated sardines were consumed within seconds by sailfish moving at incredible speeds. In some cases, the sailfish would actually spear sardines instead of slashing at them — the precision with which they hunt is truly awe-inspiring.

Now all we need is for the sun to come out!


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#2 TheRealDrew

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 07:55 PM

Looks great Eric. Is that the 5D Mark II you are using?

I really need to get back to Isla, has been way too long. It is where I learned how to dive back when...pretty much nothing had been developed on the island when I first started going. Man it has changed :)

#3 echeng

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 07:59 PM

Yes -- 5D2 in manual mode. No filter...


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#4 TheRealDrew

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 08:08 PM

Yes -- 5D2 in manual mode. No filter...


LOL. Man people can move fast when getting ready for diving :) That is great.....

#5 WanderingBob

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:59 PM

LOL. Man people can move fast when getting ready for diving :) That is great.....


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#6 WanderingBob

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 11:02 PM

Tony Wu, Sterling Zumbrunn and I have just returned from our first day out on the water looking for Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) with Keen M International. We had great luck and dropped into the water with two schools of sailfish hunting sardines. Both schools numbered more than 25 individuals — and those were just the ones we could see at once.

Sailfish took turns approaching the baitball of sardines, slashing individual fish with their bills and wounding them enough to separate them from the safety of their school. Isolated sardines were consumed within seconds by sailfish moving at incredible speeds. In some cases, the sailfish would actually spear sardines instead of slashing at them — the precision with which they hunt is truly awe-inspiring.

Now all we need is for the sun to come out!


Good luck on the sun! Clarity looks pretty good. You can shoot with strobes too right? I take it you still carry your strobes, but only use them for stills? Or are there rules against that of Isla?

Keep us posted.
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#7 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 03:44 AM

Very nice.

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#8 MIKE POWELL

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 07:08 AM

Hey Eric,

I'm headed there in a couple of weeks with Amos and would appreciate any tips your willing to provide.

Strobes or not? Lens - 16-35mm? 15mm FE? Magic Filter?

I'll be shooting the 5D2 also.

Thanks and have a great trip!

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#9 NCmermaid

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 09:20 AM

Can't wait to see footage from today's shoot because the sun is out today and the sea is beautiful!
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#10 asmigel

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 11:01 AM

Looks AWESOME guys! First day, woo hoo!

#11 echeng

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 06:39 PM

The sun WAS out, but only in the afternoon, which is when our lovely sailfish disappeared. Oh well -- still had a fantastic day!

Video first. More, soon.

It gets *very* exciting when sardines decide to use your body for protection. PANIC!! :)

In the following video, you’ll see one of the medium-sized balls followed by a short clip of Tony trying to get a tiny bait ball away from him. When a sardine ball gets small enough, one or more individuals will usually decide that it is safer with you than it is out in the blue. Unfortunately, dozens of spear-wielding fish cruising around makes having a little cute sardine friend tucked under your arm not so ideal. In the video, the sardines are nailed as soon as Tony manages to convince them to get away from him.


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#12 echeng

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 07:00 PM

Day 2:

We left dock at 6am this morning in search of more sailfish. The sun broke through for half an hour on our way offshore, which was fantastic — until she was swallowed up by a sky full of clouds. As Anthony so cheerfully exclaimed yesterday, “Come to Mexico! Bring a snow jacket!”

That sounds extreme, but it has actually been quite cold for a tropical beach destination. On the water, we’re wearing big boat jackets to keep warm. In the water, we’re wearing 3mm wetsuits, and I even put on a hooded vest after I started shivering.

All of this would have been much different if the sun had been out! We’ve been hoping for the perfect combination of wildlife, water clarity and sunlight, but we’ve only been able to get two of the three during any given jump. The water had less sediment in it today but was considerably more murky, and the sun didn’t come out until the sailfish disappeared.

Still, we had fantastic action and managed to come back with some decent images. Most of the bait balls today were large and fast (usually correlated), and due to his quads of steel, only Tony was able to keep up with the moving fish for long periods of time; Sterling and I used the boat to keep up — luckily, Rogerio and Juan are incredible and gave us perfect drops every time.

Posted Image
A baitball of sardines runs frantically in an attempt to avoid predation by sailfish. Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Posted Image
Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) with a sardine in its mouth.

Posted Image
An Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) drives a school of sardines up to the surface. Isla Mujeres, Mexico. echeng100118_0243895

Posted Image
Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) chase a medium-sized baitball. Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Posted Image
This sure doesn't look like a pelagic crab! We're 30 miles offshore. Poor thing!
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#13 tonywu

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 07:08 PM

Posted Image

It's been generally overcast, and the water has been a bit murky, but the fish have been playing nice with us the past couple of days, so we've had opportunities to get some nice shots.

The shot above is one of my favourite shots from the day...a sailfish just about to grab a sardine that got separated from the school. Can't help but feel sorry for the sardine, but it's a fish eat fish world...

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#14 yahsemtough

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 07:57 PM

Great stuff guys! If the forces come together to allow the sun the subjects and good clarity in the water I know the images will blow us away.

Have fun and thanks for posting

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#15 Canuck

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 09:56 PM

That third photo is great Eric. Looking forward to more.

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#16 NCmermaid

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 12:00 PM

These images are incredible. I'm only an hour south of Isla Mujeres and a bunch of us in the dive shop discuss doing this every year but so far it's just talk. Just in case we "man up" and actually go this year, I'd love to know what some of the camera settings were.
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#17 TheRealDrew

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 02:25 PM

managed to come back with some decent images.



Eric, a tad of an understatement there. Really great shots and you are making me miss Mexico more than I already do....

#18 james

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 03:10 PM

Those are fantastic Eric and Tony! I especially like the shot of the baitball and sailfish coming toward the camera. Watch out!

Cheers
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#19 echeng

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 07:42 PM

Day 3

Posted Image

Skunked! Perfect sea conditions + blue skies... but no sailfish -- not even one. The search continues...
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#20 echeng

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Posted 20 January 2010 - 04:26 AM

Does anyone know anything about a dive shop out of Cancun called Solo Buceo? I'm curious about their sailfish runs out here. It is fiercely territorial between fisherman and divers, and it's got to be done right to ensure that the opportunity stays open.
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