Hakai Pass: Food for the Soul

Took a couple of weeks off from our white shark research activity on Cape Cod to head out to the Pacific Northwest. Great to visit family, old friends and to venture into the beautiful and wild coast of British Columbia to do some fishing. For many years, as we have reported before, the “Inside Passage”  was a yearly trek for us in bringing fishing boats north and west to the Alaska Peninsula and points north to work. The striking wild beauty of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska were barely acknowledged in those days as we were focused seasonal openings out west in Dutch Harbor and therefore passed most of the natural beauty at night in our 7 – 10 days trek to the fishing grounds. We vowed that one day we would spend more time exploring this beautiful coastline.

So in modern times (over the past 15 years) we have taken a few trips into the area and more regularly some time to visit a special marine park in along the wild coast called Hakai Pass to fish whenever time and schedule permits. This trip included son Spencer, and a couple of great friends to share the experience for 5 days!

Hakai Pass is a water passage located on the Canadian Pacific Northwest Coast.  This beautiful coastal area is inaccessible by road therefore the only way in is by boat or seaplane.  It’s waters are abundant with record size wild salmon, monster halibut, huge ling cod, yellow eye, prawns, mussels and more. Pods of orca whales, humpback whales, gray whales, numerous seals, dolphins, sea lions, and eagles to name a few species live in and make there way to and from this pristine land.

The weather was typically mercurial – mostly wet and a bit breezy at times but when the sun shone it was spectacular. We explored some new fishing spots saw some amazing humpbacks who stalked us in a tight spot while we re-stocked our freezers for another year with more than 275 lbs of king salmon, coho salmon, halibut and ling cod. Wow what a great time!

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Spencer & Gabe take in the last bite at sunset around 9:40PM !

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Joe’s 46 pound halibut!!

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A nice day’s catch for Spencer & Gabe

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Stellar sea lion stalks some salmon

 

Read more.. Friday, July 31st, 2015

Close Encounters of the Shark Kind II

Heartfelt thanks to the Nickerson Art Gallery in Chatham, to all those who turned out for our reception last night and to those of you who visited our show during the past Shark Week! Very pleased to say that most of the images are going to great homes around the country spreading some shark love.  For those who could not make it to Chatham, here is the line up of images including two limited edition posters that are being exhibited. The show closes today.

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Blue Shark #1 Whale Shark #1 White Shark below surface White Shark in Shark Cove Monomoy (5) White Shark in Shark Cove Monomoy White shark SA #1 White Shark SA #3 White Shark SA #4 White Shark SA #5 White Sharks Mex Wild Cape Cod 2013 poster Wild Chatham 2012 poster

Read more.. Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Close Encounters of the Shark Kind: An exhibit of original photographs

With Discovery Channel’s Shark Week fast approaching, the adrenaline in this household is starting to increase with anticipation as it has every year at this time in recent memory. And now imagine our thrill at having the honor to be a (small) part of this year’s lead show for the Shark Week line up , titled Shark Trek featuring our very own Dr. Greg Skomal and his important shark research being conducted right in outer Cape Cod waters.

In honor of the weeks’ coming events we are very pleased to be partnering with our friends at Nickerson Gallery in Chatham to share some of the images we have recorded of white sharks and other shark species in our recent travels. The exhibit is titled Close Encounters of the Shark Kind.  We hope our Cape Cod friends will visit the Nickerson Gallery , 618 Main Street in Chatham to have a look. All of the photography will be available for sale and a limited edition poster of a white shark patrolling Cape Cod waters was created especially to benefit white shark research here on Cape Cod. The show will run from July 5 – 12th concurrent with Shark Week and all friends are invited to an artist’s reception on July 11th 5:00 – 8:00 PM at the Gallery. We will be present to share stories of how these images were recorded in most of the world hotspots where white sharks occur including South Africa, Mexico, Australia as well as in Cape Cod waters. Here is a taste below…..and in case you are wondering…NO seals were injured in the making of this image. -JK

Photographer and conservationist John King in the marsh near his home in Chatham, Massachsuetts

Photographer and conservationist John King in the marsh near his home in Chatham, Massachusetts (Photo by Shareen Davis)

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White shark & seal encounter: Seal Island, South Africa

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Read more.. Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring on the Water

On the outer Cape as most Cape Codders know, spring comes later than on the mainland. Sea temperatures are cool from the long winter and warming comes very slowly. Notice the deep blue color on the image below indicating water temps in the 40s F. This “tongue” of cold water has occurred each of the past three years that we have been looking and others have told us they have seen it regularly here in the spring. As you can see the northern tip of it touches the area just south of Chatham, Massachusetts and the Monomoy NWR. As of this date – there are absolutely no data that suggest white sharks have returned to the area. But they are expected very soon. Last year the first white shark was detected by an acoustic receiver off Monomoy on June 14, 2014.

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Recently we have traveled offshore to see what kind of marine life has returned to the area. We were pleased to find the return of Gulf of Maine humpback whales along with quite a few fin whales feeding on large schools of sand lances about 10 to 15 miles out. Further friends have reported schools of basking sharks also in the area although we have not seen them this year yet.

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Offshore

Humpbacks off Truro

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Lots of seabirds as well Here is  nice look at a Sooty shearwater.

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And a bit of a surprise – literally hundreds of North Atlantic Grey seals foraging completely unconcerned about any mammal eating predators that might be in the area. We observed the seals in large groups “porpoising” along in the late afternoon clearly headed out presumably to feed. We even saw a small school of dolphins on the surface but they were a bit shy and we did not got an image of them.

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We were very fortunate to catch a ride with our friend Wayne Davis to fly the outer Cape several days ago. Absolutely a thrill to observe our region from the air.

Pleasant Bay inside North Chatham Inlet

 

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Chatham Harbor Main entrance

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Read more.. Friday, June 19th, 2015

Finding the Last Dragons: Great Whites in South Australia

Apologies to those of you who regularly check in on this blog. We have been remiss in posting for many weeks. Lots to catch up on. For most of the last few months we were exploring some of the wilder and remote parts of Australia by car, ship and plane in their autumn. In total we were among the wonderful Aussies for about six weeks. Because the experience is fresh and now back on Cape Cod will post some impressions of our last stop in South Australia at small but prosperous fishing village called Port Lincoln. This town of less than 15,000 boasts one of the most successful fishing fleets in all of Australia targeting such high value species like blue fin tuna, yellowtail kingfish, abalone, mussels, oysters and experimental farming in seahorses and spiny lobsters. It is also the jumping off point to the Neptune Islands  a few rocky islets about 15 miles off the coast a seasonal home to a population of New Zealand fur seals and for much of the year, feeding great white sharks. We teamed up with the people at Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions for an eight day expedition aboard their live aboard dive boat the Princess II to attempt to find and photograph great whites from the relative safety of a cage at the ocean floor. Owner and fellow shark conservationist Andrew Fox led the expedition and has been diving in these waters for over thirty five years together with his father, Rodney Fox.

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Together Rodney and Andrew have more experience observing white sharks underwater than anyone else in the world. Rodney was featured in the legendary documentary Blue Water, White Death made by Peter Gimbel and others in 1971. Andrew is active in white shark research projects in Australia and a renown underwater photographer. The Neptune Islands are the only location in all of Australia where cage diving and related chumming is allowed. A strict code of conduct is in force and only two operators have permits. Fox, however has a unique permit which allows he an his clients to plunge a cage down 60 – 70+ feet to the bottom to observe a habitat of sand, kelp and rock formations where white sharks often forage on abundant resident sting rays. This is the only place in the world where one can see white sharks at significant bottom depths and we were keen to try it. Weather conditions in the late fall are often a challenge and we climbed on board the Princess II just after a major storm had passed through leaving behind significant ocean swell and some turbidity making excellent photography a challenge bt nothing could have prepared us for the kind of action we were to experience among these massive predators who Andrew Fox calls – the earth’s last dragons. In 7 1/2 days among the islands we made 15 dives to the bottom in freezing a** cold water (about 50 degrees F) in wetsuits. Each dive lasting about 45 – 50 minutes depending on depth and conditions. What we witnessed was absolutely incredible. Heart stopping action watching the earth’s last dragons in their winter lairs Down Under.

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This massive female (below) was estimated to be over 5 meters in length and weigh in excess of 3,000 lbs.

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This 14 foot male (1300 lbs) below, was one of several very aggressive sharks that resolutely tried to invade our cage through openings that were too small for them and caused us to keep the sliding doors for photography closed during this dive. We literally had three sharks with their heads in the cage all at once! Adrenalin was flowing.

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12 O’clock high..This fellow came in hard and with my spotter’s help just barely able to turn him away with a push from my camera dome. Yikes!

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Strobes failed to fire but you get the idea. ….Camera door open.

After several days one of the very large females that sometime visit the area at this time of year made an appearance at the bottom. At 65 feet she boldly approached the cage at the top lodging herself between the bridle harnessing the cage to the surface and the roof of the cage. Unable to move forward this behemoth started to thrash its body violently in an attempt to back out of her predicament. In the process she tossed the cage with four of us inside in scuba with the force of a centrifuge turning the cage completely on one side then the other  side causing us to divers to pile up inside like cord wood in tanks.. A truly scary moment. The shark eventually freed herself and swam away only to return to investigate the bait we were carrying inside. Once we returned to the surface we realized that the cage’s emergency assent tank had been damaged in the process by the shark’s violence and had our surface cable severed we would have been in very deep doo doo.

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Baby fur seals barely 4 moths old and just learning to swim are the main attraction for the sharks at this time of year.

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Some incredible looks at seabirds including this Black browed Albatross.

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Port Lincoln

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Heading down to the bottom.

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Dramatic setting sun as we headed in after an amazing week. Wow!

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Read more.. Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Djibouti & the Horn of Africa

Continuing our 9 week African odyssey in East Africa we had the opportunity to explore Djibouti with our great friends and amazing wildlife guides Jonathan Rossouw and Giovanna Fasanelli. Of course we took it! You never know what you might see unless you try and man were we surprised by the dramatic contrasts and beauty of this somewhat forgotten corner of the African continent. Unique and wonderful wildlife and culture were in store for us….and no pirates!

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From Wikipedia, “Djibouti is strategically located near the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. It serves as a key refueling and transshipment center, and is the principal maritime port for imports to and exports from neighboring Ethiopia. A burgeoning commercial hub, the nation is the site of various foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonniera, a United States Naval Expeditionary Base. Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa on the Gulf of Aden and the Bab-el Mandeb at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. It lies between latitudes 10° and 13°N, and longitudes 41° and 44°E. The country’s coastline stretches 195 miles, with terrain consisting mainly of plateau, plains and highlands.”

Our main objective in visiting was to locate and photograph the seasonal visit of whale sharks. As you will see – we were very fortunate to get some good looks in beautifully clear water thanks to folks at Dolphin Diving Services, Djibouti City. .Another memory was etched in our brains as we trekked in a 4×4 Toyota pick up truck for some five hour into the desert wastes in search of Lake Abba. Near sunset we finally reached our destination among the volcanic fumaroles and parched rocky landscape. The light and the landscape images were breathtaking. And we also came upon some herders tending mostly goats who moved slowly in the searing late afternoon heat. It was unclear where these shepherds would be spending the night. We were dozens of miles off of the main road.

Lastly we visited  Lake Assal which is located in the middle of Djibouti, in a closed depression at the northern end of the Great Rift Valley. Situated in the Danakil Desert, it is bounded by hills on the western region. The lake lies at an altitude of 155 m (509 ft) below sea level, making it the lowest point of Africa. The lake is characterized by two parts. The dry part of the lake, resulting from evaporation of the lake waters, is a white plain dry lake bed on the west/northwest side, which is a large expanse of salt (now being mined by a Chinese company). The second part is the highly saline water body.  The watershed area of the lake is 350 sq miles. Floating in the lake was exhilarating as it was impossible not stay high in the water like a cork though when we got out we were caked in salt which we were desperate to wash off. 

Enjoy these images of a relatively unknown country on Africa’s horn and the fringe of rich, warm tropical waters with excellent scuba diving, in close proximity to Somali pirates but western military might. Djibouti is safe and definitely worth a visit.

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 Lake Abbe

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Floating in Lake Assal, the saltiest body of water in Africa and the lowest at -150 meters below sea level.

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Greater Flamingos at Lake Abba

 

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Read more.. Sunday, March 8th, 2015

North Atlantic Humpbacks in Winter

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For the 4th consecutive year we made our way south out of the frigid New England winter to spend time with our friends at Aquatic Adventures who run expeditions from the Dominican Republic to the Silver Bank to observe North Atlantic humpback whales in their winter habitat. As many of you are aware 2015 is showing the northeast portion of the US and Canada some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in addition to record amounts of snowfall. The Boston area, near where we live on Cape Cod, had already recorded more than 2 meters of snowfall by the time of our departure (in mid February) and more was on the way.  And we were also very excited to join whale researcher Jenn Tackaberry from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA for our week on the Silver Bank. Jenn has studied Gulf of Maine whales for a decade but this was her first chance to observe humpback whale mothers and young calves (3 – 5 weeks old) as they learn the ways of the ocean in safe Caribbean waters without predators.

We made the 10 hour passage (80 miles off shore) from Puerto Plata out to the Silver Bank in relatively calm waters. However for the following five days we had strong winds and choppy seas to deal with making underwater photography a challenge. And the weather did not dampen the excitement of the expedition team as we observed these beautiful mammals conducting the child rearing and mating rituals that they have been doing here for 100’s of millennia.

Here are just a few images from the experience and once again it was unforgettable. For more information about these expeditions and to learn more about the partnership between Aquatic Adventures and the Center for Coastal Studies AND how you can help – please check this site. www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

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Check out this short video we have just posted. It was inspired by one of our fellow travelers.

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Read more.. Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Report from East Africa: Lake Tanganyika

Our African Odyssey continued in Tanzania as we ventured by small plane south and west to the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the Mahale National Park. Our friends at Africa Easy http://www.africaeasy.com/ had suggested we make this visit off the usual safari path to Greystoke Mahale Camp on the shores of this crystal clear African Great Lake. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest, in both cases, after only Lake Baikal in Siberia and it is also the world’s longest freshwater lake.  The lake is divided among four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. In truth, most of the Lake, because it is long and skinny, borders  Tanzania  and the DRC which was clearly visible from the Tanzania side.  The water flows out of the Lake into the Congo River system and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean. This jewel of fresh water in the middle of the Albertine Rift Valley is remarkably pristine and home to more than 325 fish species many of which are endemic to the area. Visitors who like to fish or even snorkel will not be disappointed however when we asked about the snorkeling opportunities we were presented with a formidable release of all liabilities form due to the presence of crocodiles! We decided to stay out of the water this time.

Upon landing at the airstrip on the lake’s edge we linked up with our guides from Greystoke Mahale who trundled us aboard a basic dhow called Wolfe for the 90 minute ride south to the camp. We spent the next four amazing days in this special hideaway. And because we were traveling off season we had the camp practically to ourselves.

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Mahale Wolfe

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Palm Vultures over the Mahale Mountains

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As we arrived at Greystoke Mahale we were greeted by a gregarious white pelican who is known locally as “Big bird”. It was only later that we learned he is a big internet star having been “retained” by the folks that make GoPro cameras to be a celebrity “stuntbird”. You may have seen Big bird during the holiday season at stores that carry GoPros. His Learning to Fly video was featured on YouTube and every department store kiosk in the world. You can check it out here if you haven’t seen it.

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“Big bird” meets “The Gorilla guy”.

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We spotted this vessel on the second day of our stay. Wow what a story. The M/V Liemba is an affectionately known icon of Lake Tanganyika. She has been chugging up and down its waters for over eighty years. The ferry departs from Tanzania’s border town of Kigoma on the north of the lake each Wednesday afternoon. She stops in at a number of small Tanzanian lakeside villages before reaching Zambia’s Mpulungu town two days later where she turns around and heads back up.  Originally known as the Graf von Gotzen, the old steamship was built in Papenburg, Germany in 1913. She was disassembled in Germany and shipped to Dar es Salaam. From there she was transported in pieces by rail to the Kigoma shipyard. At that stage the Dar es Salaam– Kigoma railway had not yet been completed and so the Liemba was carried in pieces by porters on the final stretch to Kigoma. Yikes!

She was used to transport cargo and armed troops for the German army until 1916. That year, following the British take over of the Central Line Railway, she was sunk by her German crew who would rather have her at the bottom of the lake than fall to the victorious British army.AND THEN she remained underwater for eight years until 1924 when the British retrieved her from the lake floor, rechristened her the M/V Liemba and reinstated her as a cargo and passenger vessel. Today she transports some 600 passengers and their goods up and down the length of the lake, providing a vital life-line along its route. Amazing but true!

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“Primus”, the alpha male of the Chimpanzee troop at Mahale

The main attraction at Mahale is the opportunity to track and spend time with a group of chimpanzees that have been habituated to the presence of humans. Meet “Primus”, the alpha male of the troop of 264 chimpanzees that live in the Mahale Mts. above the camp. If his demeanor looks tough that is because he is a brute. Primus rules this troop of chimps like a tyrant – with fear and intimidation. We learned from the local guide that this is not unknown in chimpanzee culture. According to the local naturalists Primus took over the colony just a few years ago by assassinating his predecessor in a bloody coup d’etat with the aid of some co-conspirators. And Primus must defend his supremacy every single day including the right to breed with all of the mature females by constantly harassing and physically abusing potential challenging males with force. Hence his scarred face and attitude that radiates “I am a bully”. He is a dictator and feared by all. The pattern repeats itself down the line of successor dominant males who each know where they are in the troops’ pecking order. We were surprised to observe this kind of behavior from our closest living primate relatives…but then again after thinking about this a bit…we understood more clearly.

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Male chimp known as Darwin

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Very rare sighting of Pels Fishing Owl!

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Collared Sunbird

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This beautiful fish became dinner

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African Fish Eagle on the hunt

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Sunset over the DRC

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Greystoke Mahale Camp

Greystoke Mahale Camp (owned by Nomad) is a true gem and away from the usual safari destinations. Flights arrive just a couple times a week so stays are for a minimum of 4 nights. Chimpanzee trekking,  can take much of the day as with guides visitors search in the Mahale Mts to find chimps. We were very fortunate and in three days of trekking we never had to walk longer than 90 minutes to catch up with the chimp trackers. Once found we spent the 1 hour (regulation controlled) observing troop behavior and then still had lots of opportunities to observe and experience the beautiful lakefront forest and the birds and animals that live there. Cam and Kate, Camp Managers were delightful and fun. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and highly recommend a visit if you are considering remote destinations in East Africa.

 

Read more.. Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Report from East Africa: Tanzania

After spending more than 17 days exploring The Seychelles and Aldabra Atoll we disembarked in  Zanzibar, the island gateway to East Africa. Zanzibar City sits on the west side of the island of Unguja in the Zanzibar Archipelago and its charming Stone Town holds a great deal of historical significance into the shaping of the region. We spent a couple of nights here on our way into the wilds of Tanzania. Here are a just a few impressions from a very brief stopover.

Dhows Zanzibar

Stone Town is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium. The ruling Islamic dynasty of Zanzibar and its foreign merchants became very rich and embellished the Stone Town with palaces and fine mansions. These were built in a variety of styles and traditions, which were amalgamated and homogenized into a characteristic Swahili architecture. In addition the east African slave trade, started by the Portuguese, assumed large proportions in the 18th century, when slaves were required in large numbers especially for the French sugar plantations in the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. We visited the oldsite where the Slave Market took place as it has been preserved almost exactly. Quite a moving experience to imagine the horrors that took place here.

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During our short stay on Zanzibar we made a surgical strike outside the city to search for a rare primate that is only found here – the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. …and we got lucky with some up close views.

Red Colubus Zanzibar

From Zanzibar we ventured westward by small plane to Arusha, the gateway to beautiful wild areas in the north and western parts of Tanzania. We were met by our guide for the next two days and then drove (on rough roads) for about 3 hours into The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 110 mi west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands.  Our destination was the Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area, is recognized by one private organization as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It is  the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 100 square miles Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 14,800 to 19,000 feet high and the elevation of the crater floor is 5,900 feet above sea level. We were fortunate to visit in the short rainy season time when few tourists are present an we organized our game drive to begin at sunrise to among the first to venture down into the crater from our lodge on the rim.  We were greeted with a beautiful green landscape and lots of relaxed animal and bird residents just waking up. It was wonderful!

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We were thoroughly enamored with our visit down to the crater. The vistas were impressive and for the most of the day we were all alone with Nature!

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Report from Africa: Ultimate Aldabra

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A few weeks ago we foretold of our long anticipated expedition into a remote island group off the African east coast in the southern hemisphere. Aldabra is officially part of The Seychelles but lies 700 miles southwest of the main Seychelles group and capital Mahe. Designated a World Heritage site for the protection of its unique and magnificent biodiversity Aldabra is very seldom visited by anyone outside of the research and conservation communities. Most visitors arrive by private yachts seeking the absolute beauty and solitude among an ocean ecosystem few will ever see. We were fortunate to join a group on a small ship in Mahe and made the long journey comfortably visiting and exploring a few of the granitic Seychelles on our way to the Aldabra Group.

Upon arrival at Aldabra Atoll we coordinated our activities with the research team stationed there to take advantage of unusually calm weather to explore the atoll’s lagoon with mask and snorkel when the daily tides permitted. The Atoll itself was immense measuring more than 23 miles across making it impossible to see the outer edges of the lagoon from our entry points on the atoll’s west side channels. These incredible channels were accessible only by shallow draft inflatable boats  a few hours a day when the incoming tide flooded the scorched sandy shallow seabed which goes dry at low tide every 12 hours or so. Our amazing experiences included performing fantastic ‘drift” snorkels where one floats into the lagoon with swift moving currents running at 2 – 3 knots along with fish, rays, sharks, turtles of all shapes and sizes as they make the journey into the lagoon to feed on the high tide pools of life that flood in. Because fishing activity is illegal and the conservation zone is protected around Atoll many very large fish and sharks are present and show no fear of human presence given the protection they have enjoyed for more than 40 years.  The sights were absolutely magical.

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Common dolphins outside the Aldabra Lagoon

 

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Spotted Eagle Rays

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Brown Booby

 

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Green Turtle leaving the Lagoon on a falling tide

 

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Red Footed Booby

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Crab Plovers, Aldabra Atoll

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A school of Jacks

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Anemone and Clownfish

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Island of Mahe, The Seychelles (Granitic Isl)

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Island of Mahe, The Seychelles (Granitic Isl)

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Fairy Terns, Aride Is.

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The Wall, Astove Island, Aldabra Group

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Rare gathering of 40 large Sting Rays – Aldabra Lagoon

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Black tipped reef Shark, Aldabra Lagoon

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Aldabra Rail, A Rare Endemic

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Aldabra Giant Tortoise, This fella is likely more than 250 years old!

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Longliner off Zanzibar

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Chart of the west end of Aldabra Atoll

Land Crab - Aldabra

Land Crab – Aldabra

Seychelles (5)

Aldabra Mangroves

Island Sky

Island Sky, Off of Aride Is. The Seychelles

 

Astove Wall

Astove Wall (1)

The Wall, Astove Island, Aldabra Group

 

Mangroves at Aldabra

Read more.. Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015