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Everything posted by jtresfon

  1. Obviously just missed you there... Arrived the day of your first post, spent a week in Chuuk then moved to Bikini Atoll for two weeks! One of the divers on our trip had his dome crack when he touched it on some wreckage and lost his entire rig to flooding. Also two DCS incidents while I was there, one fortunately cured with a few chamber treatments and one rather serious case where the diver somehow survived despite having to be resuscitated several times and is now in serious condition with a doubtful recovery ahead. Rgds Jean.
  2. Second what Drew said. My first year I used a DX 10.5mm and found it slightly too wide. The following year is was a DX 10-17mm mostly at the 17mm end. Last few years I've gone the DX 12-24mm route mostly at the 24mm end. FX this year and will definitely use the 16-35mm. Gives you the option to go tight on the birds diving or go wide if something big swims in. Fisheye can work but limits your potential shot list. (9 inch Zen dome works fine) Rgds Jean.
  3. Are these domes still available? Rgds Jean.
  4. Have been on the Sardine Run for the last four years on the row... and will be going again next year! Yes it is difficult to get a great baitball shot because of all the variables that have to come together, but there is so much opportunity around in other areas. If you look at it as a Sardine Run only then you may be disappointed if the sardines do not arrive. If you look at it as an Ocean Safari then you will never be disappointed since there is no limit to the subjects available. Yes there are lots of boats and snorkellers around but that's life. There is an etiquette system in place and a lot of the time it works. It relies and the clients behaving as well as the skippers/operators and this does not always happen. Also when the water is murky it is best not to dive for safety reasons and clients can have a hard time understanding this. I have had two close encounters I would not wish to repeat, both times after diving in low visibility when I knew better but went anyway. For me the lesson is clear! I use Steve Benjamin from www.animalocean.co.za and have done for the last 3 years. I could not recommend anyone more highly. Steve is a qualified Zoologist, great skipper and the most enthusiastic guy you will ever meet. There are many good operators and some not so good, do your research and be sure to get referrals from past clients. The dangerous practices mostly amount to putting clients in the water when the visibility is not good. As a client you need to exercise restraint, even if the operator doesn't. South Africa is no different to any other country in terms of safety and security. There are good areas and bad areas and you need to appreciate that you have to look after your kit and not leave it lying around as temptation. At Port St Johns there is no real problem and security at most of the resorts is fine. The only real worry is that you have a great time... then you'll be like the rest of the addicts going back year after year! Rgds Jean.
  5. Definitely nobody injured in the making of these 2 images... This was one of those rare and special encounters where the animal initiates and dictates the interaction. He had plenty of room to move away and chose to come and have a look at us. Although the picture showing the proximity of Steve and the elephant is fairly dramatic, it was the only time in the entire encounter that the elephant even acknowledged our presence. He turned, gave Steve a shower and went on his way. I have plenty of other pics showing him ignoring us but of course they don't hold the same impact value. Having grown up in Africa we are all very aware of the dangers of messing with an adult african elephant, but in this case there was never even a hint of anger, aggression or unhappiness, just a beautiful moment in time that is forever ingrained in my mind... Rgds Jean.
  6. A group of divers from South Africa and Belgium have just returned from a week long diving safari in the Okavango Delta. The focus of the trip was to dive with and photograph the Nile Crocodiles, but in this wild place you never know what might turn up. After spotting a wild African bull elephant feeding on the river bank, we made a cursory check of the river for crocs and hippos then slid quietly into the water. We stood on a small ledge against the bank that gave us the option of simply stepping off into deep water and letting the current take us away if the elephant became upset. For 20 minutes the elephant fed quietly within just 30 feet of us. We kept low down in the water so as not to overly advertise our presence. Then he walked directly towards us and started to climb into the water, just 15 feet from fellow diver Steve Benjamin. Steve had his underwater housing and was keen to try for a split level. Doubilet and others have split levels of elephants in water, but in all cases these have been trained or tame animals and to the best of my knowledge nobody has done this with a wild African elephant for very good reason! The elephant filled his trunk with water, turned suddenly and gave Steve a thorough hosing as a warning to keep his distance, then plunged into the water and swam across the river. The water was slightly too dirty and the distance just too great with a fish-eye lens to get a split-level showing the elephant's legs under the water but still an incredible experience nonetheless. This is my view from immediately behind Steve... and here is the picture he took... Regards Jean.
  7. Question for the guru's: Why would you use a f/4 16-35mm lens instead of the f/2.8 17-35mm lens apart from the obvious cost factor? I'm still a DX shooter so have no experience of using full frame lenses underwater. Is the 16-35mm better underwater or behind a dome??? Rgds Jean.
  8. Hey Drew Also not a fan of the show and think that Dirk Schmidt has a couple of valid points. However check out this statement from respected shark scientist Alison Koch regarding Dirk's petition... Seems there's been a lot of misinformation all round... Shark Spotters Statement regarding Shark Men
  9. Absolutely incredible day's diving & exploring in the De Hoop MPA yesterday! Up at 04h30, depart 05h30, drive 300km up the coast, on the sea inside the MPA by 10h00, back on shore by 18h00 after nearly 5 hours underwater and home by 23h00, totally knackered... Found 2 new dive sites, had bronzies chasing juvenile yellowfin tuna, shoals of big yellowtail, massive rays, schooling hammerheads, feeding raggies and even a batfish! I have a really bad case of POG (Post Oceanic Glow)... Regards Jean.
  10. The Cape Fur Seals of Duiker Island near Hout Bay in Cape Town are suddenly on hyper active duty... Steve Benjamin called yesterday to let me know that for some reason the seals are incredibly bold at the moment and even the smallest pups are unafraid to approach really close to divers. I immediately ditched work for the day and by 09h00 was sitting in the boat anchored in the channel off Duiker Island. What followed was the best seal interaction I've yet had... only it wasn't an interaction, more like a mugging with me as the victim! One seal biting each fin, one mouthing my head, two trying to bite my strobes and my actual subject gaping at the dome port!!! Countless times I had to reset my strobe arms after they were knocked out of position by the curious seals. Once I carelessly let my hand flap around and instantly there was a pup giving it a bite. At one stage I thought it might get out of hand, some of the pups don't seem to know where to draw the line and some bites are painful, but after moving position a bit things calmed down. Altogether an amazing morning... Regards Jean.
  11. @elbuzo the water temp was warm for our part of the world, 20 degrees celcius. Will say hi to Stevie... @ErolE depends on the conditions. When it's good it's world class, when conditions are bad it's really crap. Soon as the conditions are good we'll go back. @Drew nope, warm as toast! @errbrr sharks featured were ragged tooth shark, pyjama shark and spotted gully shark. Also there but too shy to get on camera were bronze whaler shark and juvenile hammerhead shark. @lianbt here is an extract from an article I wrote on the area: The De Hoop Marine Protected Area (MPA) is probably South Africa’s oldest and largest marine reserve. Following the coastline of the reserve and extending five kilometers out to sea, the De Hoop MPA runs for forty-eight kilometers from Stilbaai Point (the name of a small bay just south of Saint Sebastian Bay and not to be confused with the town of Stilbaai near Jongensfontein) in the east to halfway between Skipskop and Ryspunt in the west. The De Hoop MPA was declared in March 1986 and is a no-take reserve, meaning that no fishing or harvesting of any sort is allowed. The MPA is situated close to the Agulhas Bank making it a crucial habitat for recovering fish stocks.. The reserve is also home to around two hundred and fifty different fish species as well as many mammalian species such as dolphins and otters. Sharks also occur in abundance, and there are few better places for shark photography. Diving in the reserve is like diving in an aquarium. The fish life is plentiful and the individual fish are all a decent size. Older divers diving here for the first time often remark that it is like diving “in the old days” when there were still lots of fish around. To me this is clear evidence of the efficacy of the MPA concept. The diving to be had in the De Hoop MPA is on a par with the world’s best dive sites. Whilst being extremely beautiful, the area is also potentially very hazardous and the diving is certainly not easy. This is not an area for first time divers, but more experienced divers should have no issues. It should be pointed out that the conditions are not always consistent and temperatures, visibility, currents and surface conditions can vary greatly, even from day to day. During the summer months the wind often picks up strongly from late morning. The entire piece of coastline is exposed to the ocean swells without the protection of a headland. Although the De Hoop Nature Reserve and MPA are well advertised, there are not many people that have actually dived there. Snorkeling is possible from the shore inside the nature reserve, however for SCUBA diving a boat remains the only real option. Access is either from Witsands and the Breede River mouth in the East, or from Arniston in the west. Both launches are potentially very hazardous when the swell is running so take care. Those fortunate enough to have dived here will have experienced the fact that often while still descending, even before the reef comes into view, divers are surrounded by shoals of small baitfish such as the Karel Groot-Oog. Many of the offshore reefs are made up of huge rocky structures that stand well proud of the sea bed. The sheer biomass on the reef is incredible. Game fish such as Yellowtail and Leervis often patrol the surface near the top of the reef. Musslecracker are in abundance and I have had a shoal of large Poenskop follow me around for most of a dive. Big Coppers are slightly rarer but are there and at the bottom some really big Yellow Belly Rock Cod can be found. Of course any place that has fish in such abundance also attracts its share of predators and many different species of sharks can be found here. Patrolling the top of the reef the Spotted Gully Sharks circle about, often in groups. There are many depressions in the reefs that form natural amphitheatres and at the bottom of these areas Ragged Tooth Sharks can often be found circling slowly. It is a truly magical experience to sink slowly to the bottom and have the Raggies circle slowly around you, often no more than an arm’s length away. Thanks for the comments, video's not really my thing but every now and again it serves a purpose! Rgds Jean.
  12. Cape Town, South Africa: Following reports of a band of warm blue water along the Overberg coastline, Steve Benjamin and I decided to spend the day diving in the De Hoop Marine Protected Area. In my opinion this is one of the top dive sites on the planet! We were primarily there to capture photographic stills, but I stuck a GoPro HD Hero 2 on top of my camera housing and this was the result... Regards Jean.
  13. My bread and butter photography work is architectural photography, most usually paving and building installations commissioned by the product manufacturer. Every 2 years in South Africa there is a massive industry wide competition called the "Awards For Excellence" where project teams submit their projects under various categories (Paving, Masonry, Roofing etc) for judging and the winners are awarded major prizes and much prestige within the industry. As the judges cannot be expected to travel the length and breadth of the country to visit every site, the judging is based on photos of the projects submitted. One of my clients spent a great deal of money on his entries and I spent many hours shooting and processing images for him. I was very chuffed when his company won the overall prize based on my photos, but my ego-stroking was short-lived. One of his major competitors lodged an official complaint (through an attorney) that he cheated by having his images "photoshopped" and broke the rules of the competition. They demanded that the results be nullified and a new winner announced. This caused a stink in the press and looked to turn messy. The competition rules were very vague stating that the photos "should be submitted as a colour print (untouched)". The client asked me to respond in writing to the competition organisers and in doing so I gave some though as to what constitutes "untouched". My reply touches strongly on the topic under discussion so I have included part of it here: ---start--- As I understand the complaint, the three issues at stake are that: 1. The images are not in the “original” format 2. The images have been modified using a computer program 3. The images do not fit the Oxford Dictionary definition of “untouched” If indeed these are the official rules of the competition then it is patently obvious that neither the complainant nor the person that set the rules has even a basic understanding of photography, and especially not modern digital photography. Please allow me a brief (and simplified) explanation of the modern photographic image making process, starting at the moment the digital camera’s shutter button is pressed. Millions of bits of information regarding colour and light levels are recorded digitally and stored in a RAW file on the camera’s memory card. Much more information than is needed for the final image is stored during this process. RAW files however cannot be used to produce a final image and this information now has to be converted to the final image format (JPEG or TIFF) and this can be done in camera or on a separate image editing computer, either automatically or manually. The recorded information has a number of criteria applied to it (assignment of a colour profile, levels adjustment, sharpening, contrast adjustment etc) and much of the original image information is discarded during this process. The final image is then used by the photographer. This is the process that happens with each and every digital photograph ever taken. The digital camera itself fits the definition of a computer as it is a piece of hardware controlled by software, and in fact most of the digital cameras available as I write this (including my own) have the ability to conduct advanced image editing within the camera’s own software menus. In reality it makes no difference whether an image is edited in camera or on an external computer as it generally amounts to the same thing. So before I continue, I can state the following as fact, without fear of contradiction: Not one image submitted to the competition by any competitor is in the “original” format. Every single image submitted to the competition has been modified using a computer program. Not one image submitted to the competition by any competitor fits the Oxford Dictionary definition of “untouched”. In the case of a professional photographer, the images are usually shot in RAW format and then downloaded to a separate computer for editing using advanced and purpose designed software (such as Adobe Photoshop). The editing process is carefully controlled and images are adjusted by the professional for maximum accuracy taking into account a myriad of factors (even to the extent of soft-proofing using the photo printing shop’s colour profiles for their printers). In the case of the most basic amateur, the camera is set to Auto mode with the picture quality set to JPEG. The button is pressed and the picture appears, which is then taken to the printing shop and printed, supposedly “untouched”. But even in this case there is plenty of “touching”. The conversion of the RAW information to the JPEG file format is done automatically according to a pre-selected set of criteria. Editing operations such as sharpening, contrast control and assignment of a colour profile happen whether the user is aware of it or not. Again when the JPEG image is taken to a print shop it is loaded onto their print software which automatically edits the image using correction software before printing. This happens with all print shops unless you specifically ask them not to correct your photos (most photo pros will have already done the corrections themselves and are aware they need to do this). If the existing rules of the competition are to be strictly applied then every single image submitted by every single entrant has to be discarded, including those taken by the complainant. Ultimately the problem that is highlighted by this complaint is that in the past people were aware that paintings where fanciful creations but photographs were expected to portray reality. However modern day photographs can be altered beyond recognition. So where should the line be drawn? A distinction needs to be drawn between image editing on the one hand and image manipulation on the other. Both are as old as photography itself, in the past having taken place largely in the darkroom with difficult to perform techniques. Nowadays with modern photo editing software the techniques are much easier to perform and are much more commonly done by even skilled amateurs. Image editing is usually taken to encompass aspects such as colour correction, exposure correction, contrast adjustment, sharpening etc, which in some instances take place automatically as has been mentioned. Image manipulation (or photoshopping as it is often called) is a much more explicit alteration of an image (for instance putting a different head on some person’s body) and generally encompasses aspects such as the adding or removing of portions of the image with the intention to change the content of the image. The resulting image may have little or no resemblance to the RAW image from which it originated. The ethics of photo manipulation are widely discussed and in some instances it is an acceptable art form. However it is frowned upon for most journalistic and documentary practices and I would consider that the Awards for Excellence Competition fall into this category. The National Press Photographers Association in the US has even gone so far as to set out a Code of Ethics promoting the accuracy of published images advising that photographers “do not manipulate images […] that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.” Most professional photographic competitions have a set of rules that are well documented and strictly applied, and although these differ from competition to competition, most share a common theme. Generally image editing is allowed and image manipulation is not (except in specific categories such as creative photoshopping). I would strongly suggest that the CMA follow a similar practice. Lastly it must also be remembered that the portrayal of so called reality has already been skewed before the shutter button on the camera was even pressed. The scene has already been edited by the photographer’s own interpretation and resulting choice of angle, lens, lens filters, lighting and composition. Often what is done to an image comes down to intent. Was the intent to mislead the judges or was the intent to produce an image that represents as closely as possible to the actual reality of the site? Is sweeping the paving on site before taking the photograph an alteration of reality? ---end--- As it turns out the competitor had not wanted to "waste" money on a photographer when he already had a perfectly good camera. He went to his sites and took the photos himself thereby saving a lot of money. And then could not understand why he didn't win! (and the photos were properly crap!) The competition organisers agreed with my response, upheld the results and rewrote the rule book with comprehensive digital guidelines for future entries. Regards Jean.
  14. Congrats Jeff on winning the OWU 2012 with this stunning image! Rgds Jean.
  15. After a week of south easter the Atlantic coastline of Cape Town is icy cold and crystal clean. On Sunday I took the opportunity to share the morning with a pod of playful dusky dolphins. Later on we moved into Hout Bay where the remnants of the mini sardine run are still being heavily predated on by the resident cape fur seal population. The water was dirty and heavily silted but there were some interesting photo opportunities. So far it's been a good week! Regards Jean.
  16. St. Sebastian Bay, at the mouth of the Breede River, 300km east of Cape Town, is a unique piece of coastline. The entire area is a nursery for Southern Right Whales, being the breeding ground for 40% of the world’s population of Southern Right whales. During the months of June and July the bay contains 70-80% of cow and calf pairs on the South African coast, and is probably the most important nursery area for Southern Right whales in the world. Armed with a permit from the SA Department of Environmental Affairs I ventured there last month with fellow Wetpixel member Mark Van Coller. I arrived at the adjacent village of Cape Infanta on Thursday 13th October in preparation for the whale shoot. I originally applied for the 14th to the 23rd October and had not yet heard whether or not the permit application had been successful. The rest of the team was on standby in Cape Town waiting for an answer. The weather at Infanta on the day of arrival was good, with reasonable visibility and not much wind. On Friday 14th I contacted the DEA for an answer and they sent the permit through via email, approved dates being the Sunday 16th to Friday 21st October. I immediately notified the team and also contacted the local Parks Control Officer for the Cape Infanta Area to inform him that the Underwater Images crew would be working with the whales and that they could possibly expect phone calls from the public to report a boat in proximity to the whales. The boat and crew could only arrive on Monday the 17th and I had a frustrating weekend watching the weather deteriorate and the water going slowly brown. Steve Benjamin (Animal Ocean) arrived with the boat on Monday at lunchtime but the SE wind was 30kts plus and there was no possibility of going to sea. Tuesday the 18th dawned slightly calmer and we launched the boat and headed out, but could not dive due to the very rough and very dirty water. I did however manage several reasonable topside shots. We found approximately 40 southern right whales in St Sebastian Bay, mostly mother and calf pairs, and they where situated very close to shore (in some instances right in the waves) between the Witsands side of the Breede River mouth and the mouth of the Duiwenhoks River. By the afternoon the wind has come up again and we beat a hasty retreat back to shore. Wednesday 19th saw the wind swing to the SW and reach gale force. Although we were forced to sit out for the day, we did notice two things: 1. The water looked like it was starting to clean up. 2. Every afternoon at around 3pm a group of whales would pass just offshore from the Infanta slipway on the way to St Sebastian Point where they would spend the afternoon/evening, before heading back. Thursday saw the wind drop off completely and we had our first calm day at sea. The "clean" water turned out to be a patch of 5m visibility that was about 100m across and was located just at the Infanta slipway. Everywhere else was pea-soup. What we did not know at the time but subsequently learned was that the entire SA coast had was subjected to a huge plankton bloom and the chocolate brown water was moving down from Mozambique towards Cape Point. We found a large adult whale near St Sebastian Point and I slipped into the water and started to cover the almost 100m swim to the whale. (Prior to this trip my normal black long fins had snapped a blade and on this trip I was forced to use a pair of neon yellow short fins. I was more than a little nervous about this since yellow fins have been proven time and again to attract sharks and the waters in the area are noted for the abundant shark population. This time however the fins proved to be a bonus.) I approached the whale from the side at the level of its eye. I did not want to frighten the whale and given the dirty water I knew it could not see me until I was very close. At 2m away I could see the whale on the surface, but putting my face underwater I still could not see the whale. At 1m away I could see the whale underwater and noted its eye was closed. I took a few shots and then coughed gently to alert the whale to my presence. It opened its eye, and moved gently out of sight. About 30 seconds later the whale approached me from behind and passed very close to my fins for a closer look. (Throughout the expedition this happened time and again, the yellow fins were a big drawcard to the curious whales). The whale then swam about 100m away and remained stationery. We decided that this whale had been disturbed enough and ran the boat down to the Duiwenhoks River Mouth to see if the conditions were any better. I really liked the approach of alerting the whale to my presence and then letting it make the approach. I thought that forcing an encounter in dirty water might be asking for big trouble. Even being in a boat close to a whale gives no impression of its true size, but being in the water right next to them was hugely intimidating. Our second encounter was less than successful. We had stopped the boat around 200m offshore with around 15 whales in sight. After drifting for around 30 minutes a mother and calf surfaced right next to the boat. The calf was very curious and gave the boat a thorough inspection before moving off again. We decided against starting the motors and just stayed put. About 15 minutes later I saw a single adult about 150m from the boat and moving slowly in our direction. I slipped into the water and swam almost 200m to the whale which had now turned and swam off a little distance. Appoaching the whale the water was noticeably more dirty and I could not see much. At 2m from the whale I could still not see anything and when the whale swiped its tail in my direction I made the decision that the water was too dirty to be safe and called it a day for diving. The afternoon was spent once again on topside shots and we were privileged to see a playful white calf spy hopping and performing actively around its mother. Friday the 21st was also a calm day and Graham Fenwick had arrived the night before and was on the boat to assist. We decided that the dirty water was too risky and we opted to anchor the boat in a cleanish patch of water just offshore from the Infanta slip. We had noticed whales passing this point every single day and adopted a waiting game. After several hours some whales were spotted approaching from the direction of the Breede River mouth and Graham and I slipped into the water and swam about 100m from the boat. The first set of whales passed between us and the boat but the second set of 2 mother and calf pairs swam right up to us. What follows has to rank as one of the most amazing underwater encounters of my 20 years diving experience. The mother made 3 passes right in front of me to check me out. Initially I thought this might be a single whale as I could see no calf. However this mother had simply been shielding her fairly large calf from what might be a threat, and once she determined that we presented no danger she brought the calf out from behind her and right up to me for a look. The calf was noticeably more curious and swam right up to my fins to see what this strange yellow creature was. After several more passes where the whales seemed genuinely curious for an interaction of sorts they continued on their way to the Point. We decided to give the same approach another try and hopped back on the boat. Almost an hour later more whales were spotted and we hopped back in the water for another attempt. This time it it turned out to be a well grown white calf and grey mother, but since the whales had sounded over 80m from us we were not sure what to expect. The first sighting we had was when the white calf appeared right under my fins. (Score another point to the bright yellow fins). The calf made a turn to inspect me and the mother stayed below the calf for the entire encouter. The pass turned out to be a single inspection and then the pair moved off towards the point. Shortly after this encounter the visibility started to drop again and after an attempt to photograph an adult whale in the soup we gave up on diving.As the evening drew nearer we moved towards the Point for some topside shots. The whales were playing in front of the houses on the rocks at Cape Infanta which made a nice backdrop for the human element of whale interactions so we spent some time composing a suitable shot. That was that and we headed back to shore with what could have been the last shots of the expedition. I had earlier asked for an extension to the permit to cover the days lost due to the weather but we had not yet heard anything. On Saturday 22nd we packed up and returned to Cape Town where we heard that the visibility was around 20m in False Bay. I modified the extension request to include False Bay and we waited. The reports on Sunday were also for good visibility and we sat hoping for a positive answer on the 2nd permit application. On Monday 24th I went for a shore dive in False Bay and found the visiblity dramatically reduced. The plankton bloom had moved down the coast and now intruded into False Bay. We made the decision to go back to Infanta where we knew there were whales (logic dictated that whales in dirty water were better than no whales in dirty water) and I decided to go via Hermanus to check the local conditions there. On Wednesday 26th we drove up the coast and I found Hermanus to have dirty water and only one or two whales visible from the clifftop lookout points. We carried on to Infanta and launched for an afternoon session but the wind was very strong and we decided against diving. On Thursday 27th I was joined by photographer Mark Van Coller and we launched early in calm conditions. If anything the water was even more filthy than the previous week and we found that the whale population had been radically reduced. There were now only around 8 pairs that we could see, all just offshore from Witsands. In the few days that we had been away, many of the whales with bigger more robust calves had started the journey south. We went to the Point and found a patch of slightly cleaner water but no whales. We decided to snorkel along the rocks in the area to pass the time. I swam about 300m to the Point itself and was on my way back to the boat in the dirty water when Steve signalled that there was a whale in the vicinity. After a minute or two a young whale swam right up to me. This whale was extremely curious, gently bumping and pushing me around. There was no parent in the vicinity and the whale seemed pretty fearless. It swam close by several times and I had to be really careful to avoid the tail... even this young whale was big enough to do some damage. Suddenly the whale disppeared and swam off around the Point in the direction of the De Hoop Reserve. Several minutes later we spotted a mother and calf pair in the area which could have been the same animal, but by that time I was out of the water and back in the boat. We then headed along the coast into the De Hoop Reserve and travelled as far as Mosselbank, but the water just became more and more discoloured. I had hoped for a scuba dive at Kaisersgat (a local reef noted for ragged tooth sharks), but given the conditions it was out of the question. We went back to the Witsands side and Mark entered the water on his own and took several shots of an adult whale. Mark had to leave that evening and on Friday 28th I found myself alone on the boat with Steve skippering as usual. Even more whales had departed, the water had not improved and we decided to call the expedition at an end. While it was a fantastic experience and the topside shots were better that had been hoped for, the dirty water meant that the underwater shots, even after a lot of post-processing were not quite up to the standard we required. I will make an application for another permit again next year and hope for cleaner water. Regards Jean.
  17. Well one is made up of sardines and the other of herrings ... The sardine baitballs tend to be more static and the predators seem to prefer them so usually more action. The red-eye can move very quickly if the predation behaviour is not intense. It can be very frustrating to jump, get 30 secs on the baitball, climb back in and repeat over and over. Jean.
  18. JH Tresfon, Sardine Run Diary, 2011 Strangely enough the best analogy I have for the Sardine Run is to compare the experience to a drug habit. Both are seriously addictive and will keep you coming back for more. Both will see you spending more and more time and money in chasing the total high of the first time experience. Both can result in bad judgment and silly behaviour. And both can result in injury or death if you are not careful. Having done the Sardine Run twice before, both in 2009 and 2010, I was determined to go again this year. The difference was that this time I had booked 14 days as opposed to the 7 days booked for each of my previous attempts. I had also decided to combine it with a trip to Durban to compete in the Surfski World Cup race. I planned to drive up from Cape Town to Durban for the race and then down to Port St. Johns for the Sardine Run. The most challenging part was getting the leave application for a month away from the family past my wife. To those who complain about the cost of a trip on the Sardine Run, it is nothing compared to the cost of simply being allowed to go! Arriving in Durban for the race, the sea was standing on its head. As I passed Port Shepstone I could finally get a view of the coast and was not very comforted by what I saw. All the way up to Durban I was filled with trepidation as massive waves smashed into the coast. The big wave surfers were tow-in surfing the Mound (A reef in the middle of Durban Bay that only breaks in huge seas). The race was a whole story in its own right, but on that same day sardines started to arrive at Addington beach. Immediately I wondered if I had left things too late and worried that the sardines had already passed Port St Johns. Driving back down to Port St. Johns I was in view of the coast for a lot of the journey and could see clouds of gannets raining out of the sky into huge baitballs not far from shore. Arriving at Port St. Johns I found out that all the operators had been unable to go to sea for the past four days because of the giant seas. It should be remembered that these self-same operators are the Durban skippers famed for their surf-launch abilities. It has to be truly intimidating before these guys decide to can the launch. The rest of our crew arrived the next day and we were all kept busy preparing our kit and the boat. It was good to catch up with some familiar faces from the previous year and the following morning found us on the beach bright and early, eagerly anticipating our first day out. There were more than a few nervous passengers as Steve warmed his boat engines up in the channel. The surf at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River was still plenty big, but our skilled skipper negotiated the break with ease, showing off the skills of a consummate professional. Our first day out was a taste of reality… no instant gratification to be had here! All the baitball action was happening off the river mouth in the dirty water. Jumping in is not advisable in these conditions, not only is it unsafe but there is really no point as the photos generally turn out poorly. We managed a swim in cleaner water with some bottlenose dolphins and ended the day offshore Laputhana watching the massive waves colliding with the rocky shelf and sending bursts of spray thundering skywards. Dolphins were playing in the big waves and we managed a few nice images. Port St. Johns is a curious town in many respects, one of which is that it has an abundance of excellent restaurants out of all proportion to the size of its population. The evening (as were most to follow) was spent at one of the many fine dining establishments, and then it was early to bed for the tired divers. Overnight the seas had moderated and day two started with some small baitfish action, but it was not sardines. The fish were red-eye herring and the baitballs were anything but static. We managed to do several jumps near the common dolphins as they smashed up the baitfish, but the action was fast and fleeting. Grant provided the amusing moment of the day as a skua sat almost on top of his lens as he approached unseen from under the water. The dirty water moved further offshore with the wind and signaled the end of the day’s diving, but we followed the dolphins and spent the afternoon shooting the topside action on the baitballs. The speed at which the gannets dive (usually around 100kph) is incredible and never fails to impress. Then it was home, shower, wash kit and track down the next gastronomic gem. Day three saw us up early and running north to Waterfall Bluff after having received reports of action there the previous day. Arriving there we found the Earth Touch crew already in the water on the only baitball. We waited patiently next to their boat and on surfacing they gave us the go ahead to jump. There is a definite etiquette to the Sardine Run and most operators abide by the unwritten rules. As we prepared to enter the water the action just disappeared. And that was that for the underwater portion of the day as the dirty water moved up the coast. The rest of the day offered many wonderful opportunities to capture whales and dolphins with their topside behaviour as they joined the gannets in chasing down the perpetually doomed baitfish. Over the course of the day the seas steadily increased in size and the wind started to freshen. We arrived back in the river mouth through a fairly substantial wave break and started the evening routine; nobody was destined to lose weight on this trip, despite the rigorous physical regime of spending all day at sea. Steve decided against launching due to the dangerous conditions and day four saw us heading up the coast by road to Laputhana to watch the giant seas smashing into the shore. Ever keen to provide his clients with an interesting shot, Steve and his boatman, Marc, dressed in some brightly coloured oilskins and stood right on the rocks where the spray was falling. After much amusement, we hiked down the coast to Waterfall Bluff, guided by Mr. Port St. Johns, John Costello. Guesthouse owner, NSRI station commander, pilot, archaeologist, geologist, photographer, diver, you name it; John is a master of many trades and generously gave us some of his time to show us the wonders of the Wild Coast. About this time some doubts were starting to appear and questions were being asked whether or not the sardines had already passed us by during one of the storms. Steve had already been on site for a month by this time and despite a few good days no one had seen any real action yet. Most of us have seen some fantastic images from the run, and almost all of us have seen the BBC footage that took over two years to acquire. The only problem with this is that people do tend to arrive with some very high expectations. It really does need to be understood that the sardines migrate at their own pace, and there are so many environmental and oceanographic factors that have to fall into place to make things happen. The cold water has to spread up the coast. The dolphins have to herd the sardines into baitballs. The weather has to be good enough to launch. The skipper has to find the action. The water needs to be clean enough to photograph the action. The action has to remain stationary and consistent for long enough to be captured. The divers have to cooperate so as not to scare off the predators. But when it all comes together it is as spectacular as can be imagined. A lot of potential visitors are put off at the prospect of paying large amounts of cash with no guarantee of sardine action. This is the gamble that must be taken. A lot depends on when you go, where you go, and for how long you can afford to stay. There have been some years where nothing happened at all, and some where the action has been incredible. Prior to the trip I had thought that I understood the gamble, but having done it a few times now I can say that the gamble is far more uncertain that I had originally anticipated. Day five started with a bang. The seas were still big and Steve had his surf launching skills properly tested, but after a fifteen minute wait in the channel a gap appeared on the verge of us cancelling for the day and out we went. We sped straight offshore looking for clean water and found a small baitball with attendant marine life in full predation. Quickly kitting up I found myself in the water first. The visibility was excellent and the action unbelievable. Right on the surface a bronze whaler shark was thrashing into a shoal of red-eye herring as the common dolphins swarmed at the edges keeping the baitball intact. The gannets and a few cormorants where hammering the fish from the surface when Mark, Grant and Jean-Marie arrived in the water and the baitball descended a few metres. Finally it was on! We had arrived at the Sardine Run’s holy grail, a static baitball with predators in action, all in clean water. But it as it turned out it really was too good to be true. Suddenly the birds disappeared and looking up I saw a snorkeler right on top of the baitball. Severely annoyed, I was about to surface and “educate” the errant diver when another fifteen divers arrived in the water, surrounded the baitball and completely cut the predators out of the loop. In disgust I called our crew and we surfaced. Two other boats had arrived and with a complete disregard to the etiquette of the run they disgorged all their divers onto “our” baitball. Action that could have lasted for hours had now disappeared in seconds. Within minutes all the other divers surfaced, surprised that there was no longer anything happening. I suggested to Steve that he give the other skippers a tongue lashing, but ever the professional he declined to get involved in recriminations. By this time there were now nearly ten boats around us and to say it was a dog show would be understatement. Steve suggested we get as far away as possible and we routed south for Brazen Head. There we were, watching the huge swells breaking against the cliffs, when a pod of around forty dolphins jumped out of the back of the wave in perfect synchronization and Mark and I nailed the shot. That is still one of my favourite shots of the trip, a completely unexpected bonus. The rest of the day passed slowly and we headed inshore. Overnight the sea state worsened and day six was reserved for another land based adventure. We headed off to the Magwa Tea Plantation to view the magnificent Magwa Falls, a 144m high waterfall in the middle of nowhere. This was a real highlight of the trip. The falls are spectacular, and were they located anywhere closer to civilization they would be a major tourist attraction. Day seven was an exercise in frustration and energy expenditure. Heading out early we found a baitball of red-eye herring in very average visibility. As soon as we jumped in the baitfish sped off and we swam after them as fast as we could. Eventually the fish escaped and we climbed back on the boat and repeated the procedure. Steve and I ended up swimming over 1.8km before the fish co-operated and we could have a dive on a static baitball. The visibility deteriorated steadily and photography became a pointless exercise, but the diving gannets were awesome to watch as they chased down their prey. Later in the day we jumped on a second baitball after Drew and his crew graciously allowed us in on their action, but found the visibility no better. Eventually the water became really murky and I should have known better than to stay, but I was desperate and broke one of my own golden rules about not diving on a baitball in dirty water. I had a moment of distraction fiddling with my camera and as I looked up a brute of a dusky shark was inches from my face and it looked like a nibble on my head was his intention. I brought my camera up quickly and pushed it into his underside. The dusky accelerated over my shoulder and then started to harass Jean-Marie. We quickly decided it was time to get out. The next morning the sea was monstrous, but Steve was determined to get out and we eventually found ourselves a few kilometers out to sea in a maelstrom of lashing winds, rain and heaving seas. After an few attempts to photograph feeding petrels from the water we called it a day and headed back ashore as the weather became progressively worse. On day nine the weather gods had still more ammunition in their weather arsenal and another day of terrestrial activities was on the cards. John Costello offered to take us up into the Majola Mountains on a cultural tour to see how the Pondo people lived. A fascinating day was to follow with Jean-Marie in his element as the eminent portrait photographer among us. The seas were still wild on the morning of day ten, but we launched and headed out. There was no diving to be had however, and it was a slow day on a rough sea. We headed up to the airstrip for a sundowners and a stunning view over the Umzimvubu valley. That night I chatted to Drew Wong and Barry Skinstad, who have done nearly thirty sardine runs between them, and they both offered the opinion that this was the worst year they have had, both in terms of lack of sardines and in terms of bad weather. We still had yet to see a sardine, with almost all the baitballs consisting of red-eye herring. Steve asked us to make a special effort to be early the next morning as he wanted to be the first out. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to get results for his clients and was clearly feeling like he needed to get us on the money shot. Day eleven dawned brisk (it was two degrees centigrade on the river) and early. We were one of the first boats out and headed straight for the clean water. We found Morne from Shark Explorers on a baitball and jumped on another close by. The water was crystal clean and the action intense. After a while we surfaced and found another baitball, and jumped in again. This was it! Gannets rained down out of the sky and tussled underwater with cormorants trying to steal a meal. Dolphins streaked into the baitball and a few sharks cruised underneath, wary of the divers. The water was the cleanest I have ever had on the sardine run and we were floating in the middle of an “actual” reality BBC documentary… I could almost hear David Attenborough’s voice as the predators threw caution to the wind and charged in. It was impossible to stay out of the baitball as the baitfish tried in vain to use the divers for shelter. I drained my strobe batteries, filled my memory card and sucked a tank dry. We surfaced in jubilation and found that all the other boats were on scene, but this time had played by the rules and were all waiting their turn. Several boats all had a chance to give their divers the experience of a lifetime and then we jumped in again for another go. This time around I had calmed down to a mild panic, knowing that I already had several keepers banked. I took time to frame my shots carefully and looked for unusual action sequences. I tried some wide angle and some tight shots. I played with natural light and strobe lit shots. As with all good things eventually my second and last tank ran dry and time was up. We climbed back on the boat and called it a day. The following few days were quiet, the sea having calmed down dramatically. All the action was once again in the dirty water and the clean water was like a big blue desert. After the events of day eleven nobody was keen to go back to trying to eke out a few shots in dirty water so it was back to concentrating on the topside shots. We did find a dead gannet floating on the surface with a head injury, most likely from a dive gone wrong. Examining the bird close up, it was suprising how big and heavy these birds are. On the final day with not much happening I had a chance to dive and explore the wreck of the Melliskerk, a world war two casualty that we had found by accident. I brought a few shell casings back for the local museum and that marked the end of Sardine Run 2011. Although it will not be remembered as one of the better years in the annals of Sardine Run lore, it was for me a more complete experience than that of previous years as I was able to see more of the countryside and people that would have otherwise been possible had the weather been good. We did not see any sardines, we spent quite a few days out of the water, but yet had a phenomenal two weeks and even managed some good images. At the start of this article I likened the Sardine Run to a drug, and said it was addictive. But it’s not the run itself; it’s the place, the people, the whole experience. And come what may I’ll be back next year, I’ve already booked… have you? Pictures were already posted in the WETPIXEL Photo Gallery Forum Regards Jean.
  19. For the past week, Sardines have been trapped along the Cape Town Atlantic coast. They moved into Houtbay and surrounding areas causing a frenzy of activity for fishermen, seals and dolphins. This has happened before but not in-recent memory and certainly not in such vast quantities, in November 2009 we saw a similar phenomenon with anchovies but that only lasted a single day. Steve Benjamin with photographers Jean Tresfon and Graham Fenwick headed out on Sunday morning to look for shoals of fish being predated on by seals. We found this in a small bay under Chapmans peak drive, here large pockets were trapped in shallow, clean water with hundreds of seals in pursuit. The seals seemed to favor the tiny loose shoals of 2-5 fish and these they chased like dogs after a tennis ball. I saw numerous seals biting sardines and not consuming them, a massacre of injured and flailing fish. The theory as to why the fish are trapped is that they were caught close to shore by a sudden cold snap in water temperature by a sudden strong SE wind. The thermal shock stressed the fish and predators took advantage. The fish were thin and weak, looking disoriented and lost. This experience was unique and rare and I am so glad we made the extra effort to get out there and get into the action. These events happen quickly and you just cant put it off "till tomorrow", in this environment there is no tomorrow, you must act now. Adventure divers put great effort and finances in traveling around the world to see unique marine events and one just happened on our doorstep. There are so many incredible wildlife experiences to be had right here in our regular coastal waters, if you know what to look for. From a photographic perspective the weather was overcast and gloomy, and the water was clean in patches. The low ambient light was challenging with the fast moving fish and seals. Regards Jean.
  20. Finally got around to putting some of my Sardine Run 2011 photos online... While it was not the best year in terms of weather and the sardines did not really put in an appearance, it was still an awesome trip and the Wild Coast has a way of getting under your skin. Enjoy. Regards Jean.
  21. I've done the last 3 years in a row with Steve Benjamin from Animal Ocean, very enthusiastic guy with loads of experience in getting you where you need to be to get the results you want... Jean.
  22. In April a group of South Africans was afforded a rare opportunity to explore the southernmost atolls of the Maldives aboard the Ocean Dancer. Owner David and his wife Gaelle were taking a break from their usual charter schedule and invited a few guests to join them in a trip down south. Whilst we did not see any of the large pelagics (whale sharks & mantas) we had pristine diving on virtually untouched reefs and spent a wonderful two weeks working our way back up north. In sharp contrast to the Red Sea, we did not see another liveaboard until we approached Male. The quality of the corals was superb and while the trip was not quite what I had expected it was still very much a worthwhile endeavor. Regards Jean.
  23. Awesome images Jeff... I like the 2nd shot in the first post best. Regards Jean.
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