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.
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
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.
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.
Lots of seabirds as well Here is nice look at a Sooty shearwater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This massive female (below) was estimated to be over 5 meters in length and weigh in excess of 3,000 lbs.
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.
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!
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.
Baby fur seals barely 4 moths old and just learning to swim are the main attraction for the sharks at this time of year.
Some incredible looks at seabirds including this Black browed Albatross.
Heading down to the bottom.
Dramatic setting sun as we headed in after an amazing week. Wow!
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!
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.
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
Check out this short video we have just posted. It was inspired by one of our fellow travelers.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We have just wrapped up our field work on Cape Cod working with the Massachusetts White Shark Team as the cold winds of winter start to blow and the leaves are falling. Our boats are now stored for the North American winter. Just in time to launch into our next wild adventure which will take us back to Africa for the 7th time since 2009. And believe it or not we are barely past scratching the surface in exploring this amazing continent. Our focus once again is on wild life and wild places, most of which will be new territory. We will plunge into the onset of equatorial summer on our first stop in The Seychelles with a particular interest in diving in the southwestern portion of the archipelago , a world heritage site called Aldabra Atoll. From Wikipedia we learn that, “Sir David Attenborough called the south western atoll of Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world”, and it is also known as one of “crown jewels” of the Indian Ocean. Aside from its vast population of tortoises, it is also the largest raised coral reef in the world with an elevation of 26 feet (7.9 m); a habitat for the biggest crab, the cocunut crab; and habitat for the Indian Ocean’s Aldabra rail, the only surviving flightless bird species of its kind in the world.” We are particularly excited because Aldabra is uninhabited, extremely isolated, and is virtually untouched by humans. Not many places in the world so fortunate. Quite ironically it has been months since we have actually been in the water so we are looking forward to being a fish again in warm clear water.
Armed with tons of camera gear for above and below the water we hope we can capture the spirit of the place. Here are some beautiful images from other explorers.
Our journey will continue with a visit to Zanzibar where we will begin our first encounters in Tanzania. We are extremely excited to travel all the way west into a remote area on Lake Tanganyika where we will spend time with a wild troop of chimpanzees. This region is where Dr. Jane Goodall did her field work. We will then venture into the Serengeti for our first visit into this savannah to discover the summer activity of the great wildebeest migration. Should be pretty green as it is still part of the rainy season. This region is now being seriously threatened by Government plans to put a major paved road into the area which, according to friends, would destroy the Serengeti as we know it forever. Will hope to better understand what is happening here. Ever since I read Peter Matthiessen’s Sand Rivers, I have wanted to see this. From here we will camp (comfortably) in the Ngorogoro Crater before we re-load and proceed to our second home in Cape Town, South Africa to be with many friends and get the chance to view this beautiful country in their summer and yes we be diving with hopes of glimpses of apex predators. So pleased to be spending a warm Christmas among friends there. After several weeks in the Western Cape of South Africa we will again re-load and venture northeast to the Horn of Africa for some exploration of Djibouti on the Red Sea (back in the water) and finally we will spend nearly three weeks exploring Ethiopia, an area so rich in unique culture and fantastic wildlife I will leave the description to a later post.
We will be traveling for 9 weeks. Yikes!! But we are sure the time will pass quickly. It usually does when you are in the wild. And we will try our very best to post reports as internet access allows.
Winter is coming to Cape Cod and the time has come to haul boats for storage until the spring. This is always a little bit sad for us. Many years ago Pam and I dreamed about spending time on a boat chasing wildlife in a wild place that was not in the middle of the Bering Sea. When at last this dream became a reality for us here on Cape Cod …we decided to call our small expedition craft Aleutian Dream. It continues to be a joy for us and this year was special as we pushed this vessel into some new challenges to support the white shark research project.
A word about the totem symbol on the bow. This spirit symbol has been with us for more than thirty years throughout our many adventures. It is a Pacific Northwest Coast Indian (Tlingit) spirit totem called Sisioohl or as the kwakwaka’wakw refereed to it, Sisiutl. The literal translation is “Magic Salmon”. The spirit represents some “heavy magic” and is not to be trifled with. Central to the themes of warrior, power, strength and invulnerability, the Sisioohl was a dangerous creature, capable of bringing harm or death to anyone coming upon it. In the myths it guarded the house of the sky people. For those with warrior power the Sisioohl became a great help – a drop of Sisioohl blood could cause a warrior’s skin to be impenetrable. The spirit would come to the warrior on command and its body could act as a self prepared canoe to make the warrior invincible in war. The skin of the Sisioohl made into a belt allowed the warrior who was wearing it to perform superhuman feats. The Sisioohl eyes could be used as sling stones and were so powerful they could even kill Whales!!
Alternatively, the glare of this three headed serpent could cause a man to die, his joints turned backward, and it could cause an enemy who looked upon it to turn to stone. Fortunately, over the years we have partnered successfully with this spirit to do some amazing things and happily we are still alive and mostly in one piece…though a few times we pushed our luck a bit. We are sure the Sisioohl was with us as we dodged breakers as we tracked white sharks on the outer Cape this year. Through our efforts in 2014, the Massachusetts Shark Research Program has increased the size of their Atlantic white shark database of identified individuals from 39 (gathered between 2009 – 2013) to an incredible 100+ with more than 61 white sharks id’d and cataloged this season by researchers Greg Skomal & John Chisholm. And along the way we were also able to apply tracking tags to 18 of these fish to aid in the understanding of white shark annual migration patterns in the Atlantic. The work was funded through the all volunteer efforts of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Thanks to many generous donors an incredible amount of new information about white sharks in Cape Cod waters has been collected and the learning will continue to help inform responsible public policy in our region with good science.
THE TEAM: Our vessel core crew for the past four + months supporting the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Greg Skomal. Good shipmates all – with Pam King, Cynthia Wigren, Ben Wigren, Jeff Kneebone and Greg Skomal. Pictured below and critical to the work were John Chisholm and our spotter pilot Wayne Davis. We feel privileged to have been part of the 2014 field effort and to have worked with such a dedicated & talented team.