Archive for dolphins

Isla Mujeres Sailfish – 2012

Posted in news, photography, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2012 by shawnheinrichs

Sailfish lights up as it strikes baitball

We returned to Isla Mujeres for our 4th season of sailfish action aboard the Lilly M and Andrea M of Keen M International. Captains Anthony, Rogelio and David did an outstanding job as usual. Despite challenging weather conditions and fluctuations in the activity, each trip was huge success with epic sailfish baitball action. In addition, we encountered many other species of marine life, and scored some terrific interactions.

Richard and striking sailfish - close one

In our first trip, Richard Branson and his family joined us to give the sailfish a try. Having already experienced the whale shark aggregations in July, he was ready to turn up the heat several notches and experience one of the most exciting and intense marine spectacles found anywhere in the Ocean. Also with me was my good friend John Petry who was trying his hand at a “Shawn Epic” for the first time. Lawrence kindly invited us as guests to join him on the his vessel the Chachalaca for some incredible action!

Sailfish lines up on Richard Branson

Sailfish makes a very close pass by Richard!

Whale shark swoops through with ball of bait fish

Manta ray comes in close to investigate and turns right under Richard

The trip was a huge success with baitballs lasting for hours and sailfish ripping apart the sardines just inches from our masks.  We also swam with groups of giant mantas, a whale shark. One curious manta decided to give Richard a closer look, coming nose to nose before ducking right under him. For Richard’s son Sam, his interaction with a whale shark was a first in his lifetime. Everyone left with huge smiles, excited to return to Isla again from more marine mega-fauna activity.

Sailfish poses with Branson family

Richard Branson and family in the sailfish mix

Sam Branson swims up from the blue

Team Shot: Bransons, Anthony and Shawn

Great trip with Lawrence on the Chacalaca...thank you!

I also had a second group with me during that first week. Sean Havas, Sterling Zumbunn (Backscatter) and my older brother Brett Heinrichs. The group was incredibly proficient in the water and I even struggled to keep up with the furious pace that we chased down baitball after bait ball. Day one we landed a 3 hour baitball and another 2 hour baitball. Day 2 was much the same. Day 3 and 4 I was off the boat and the success continued without me. Day 5 we regrouped and found sails again, but this time conditions had turned and we called it an early day. Overall the trip was a huge success and everyone came back with epic imagery.

Sailfish bites down on sardine

Sean Havas gets up close on the action

Brett Heinrichs photographs sailfish

Sterling Zumbrunn working the baitball

Sailfish blocks retreating sardine ball

On our second trip, David Vic and Debbie, Phil Sokol and Greg Redfern joined me. Except for Greg, the entire team were sailfish veterans so I knew we are going to get it done right. With several very slow days from the outset, I was beginning to get nervous. The team however remained upbeat and positive, and on day four we landed the mother load.

Sailfish charges head on, inches from my dome

We spent 4 hours on a single baitball (5 hours is my record length baitball )with 75-100 sailfish tearing it apart. The action never let up and we documented the ball whittle down to the last few sardines. Two days later we scored another baitball that lasted another 2 hours, and with 6 hours or intense baitball action for the week, the group left with full CF cards and lifetime memories.

Sailfish uses sail to block sardines

Sailfish hits sardine

Sailfish in perfect harmony

Frigates pick up scraps from sailfish

Frigate birds hover right above baitball

Our third and final trip faced just as challenging sea conditions, with persistent winds and upwellings creating green/turbid waters. I was joined by Lupo Dion, and Michael and Nadine Umbscheiden. Unfortunately, Mary O’Malley was booked to come but fell sick the day before the trip and had to cancel. We missed here dearly, but there is always next year!

Chaos - Feeding frigates and pelicans

Day one we chased down a baitball and spent 2 hours with it. Unfortunately the waters were green but we still managed some great shots. On day 3 we landed a 2 hour baitball of epic intensity. In four years interacting with the sailfish, I have never experienced such ferocious activity. The sailfish boxed in a very tired ball of sardines and set about tearing it apart. The passes were fast, furious and often terrifying. Though the entire group were no strangers to intense bill animal action, I have never seen so many defensive postures and dodges. The sailfish would slice off a few sardines from the ball, who would race toward us for cover. The entire swarm of sailfish would set upon them, charging by us at light-speed as we winced behind our cameras. Way to many close calls for my liking!

Sailfish flares in front of Lupo

Very close call!

Sailfish strikes sardine

Full Sail

Sailfish shows it colors

Sailfish chase down baitball

Day 4 turned out to be especially memorable. While motoring across blue waters in search of sailfish action, we came across 100-150 whale sharks feeding on the surface. This looked to be exactly the same scene as we witness in July/August during the annual whale shark aggregation here. At this time of year, satellite tagging data indicates that these whale sharks are meant to be at the furthest extent of their migrations from Isla. But here they were? We dove in and discovered the water was full of tiny clear eggs that looked very much like the eggs we see the whale sharks feeding on in July. It was a mystery why the whale sharks have arrived 3 months early, but one thing was clear; we were going to snorkel with them! We spent 5 hours with these majestic animals, filming as groups of whale sharks, swimming up to 5 abreast and 4 deep came cruising by. It was an incredible prelude to the summer whale shark trips that lay ahead for us.

Whale sharks feeding on surface

Whale shark feeds on surface

Whale shark gulps down fish eggs

Whale shark with snorkeler

Split shot with whale sharks and Lilly M

Juan, Nadine, Shawn, Rogelio and Lupo

Overall this year was a huge success and offered even more diversity of interactions than prior seasons. In addition to sailfish, we encountered:

–       Whale Sharks

–       Giant Mantas

–       Caribbean Mantas

–       Mobula Rays

–       4 species of dolphins

–       Wahoo (hunting)

–       Barracuda (hunting)

–       Jacks  (massive school)

–       Bonito schools (hunting)

Gulping Whale Shark

Manta ray glides overhead

Caribbean Manta passes below

Dolphins hunt bonito

The diversity, quantity and quality of big animal interactions sets Isla Mujeres apart from other locations on the planet. Working in small groups, we achieve the best interactions possible. I can’t wait for next year!

Home away from home

Gathering of Giants – Whale Sharks

Posted in conservation, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by shawnheinrichs

This May we began work on a 3 part series call “Gathering of Giants – Whale Sharks of the Meso-American Reef”. In three special locations along the Meso-American reef, whale sharks gather in numbers during certain times of the year, creating some of the most impressive marine aggregations found anywhere on Earth. What draws them here?  Where do the come from and where do they go? And, what is being done to protect them?

The target audience for this film is conservationists, dive tourists, eco-tourists and adventure travelers. We travel to Gladden Spit Belize, Isla Mujeres/Holbox Mexico and Utila Honduras to document in full HD, the amazing aggregations of whale sharks. Through first hand documentation and interviews with researchers and park rangers, we reveal what draws these gentle giants to these special locations and unravel some of the mysteries of where the whale sharks come from and where they go to. And finally, we learn about the measures that have been put in place to ensure these aggregations continue into the future.

The goal of this film is to reach a broader audience who will be captivated by the impressive footage of the whale shark aggregations and will also learn how easily these aggregations could be destroyed. We will highlight how certain organization and individuals are working hard to ensure that never happens. Through engaging visual footage and inspiring conservation stories, viewers will be motivated to get involved and support future measures to protect these gathering places.

Our first stop on the journey takes us to Gladdens Spit, Belize, where 10’s of thousands of snappers spawning attract dozens of whale sharks. Working in partnership with SEA and The Nature Conservancy we are able to shoot some amazing footage and learn a lot about the behavior and migrations of the snappers and whale sharks. We created a short promo video as a thank you to Isla Marisol Resort for all their support!

Our second stop on the journey takes us to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where over 400 whale sharks were discovered feeding on fish eggs. It was an event never before documented! On our last day in Isla Mujeres, our friends from The Nature Conservancy joined us to experience the sharks. In addition to an exhilerating day of whale shark interactions, we documented the scientists fish egg collection efforts and learned more about the science and conservation initiatives in this area. We created a short promo video as a thank you to Keen M International for all their support!

San Diego Undersea Film Festival – Selected

Posted in conservation, production, video with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2009 by shawnheinrichs

Sailfish: House of Sailing Daggers was featured in this years San Diego UnderSea Film Festival.

House of Sailing Daggers

Each year during the winter months, nutrient rich currents flowing north push up onto the shelf of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, drawing in large shoals of sardines and minnows. Following these baitfish are great numbers of sailfish which, working together, break apart these shoals and create some of the most amazing baitball spectacles on earth. Braving dangerous conditions and open seas, the team became one of the few film crews to shoot this aggregation – creating a documentary short.

Video: House of Sailing Daggers

House of Sailing Daggers

Posted in news, production, video with tags , , , , on May 1, 2009 by shawnheinrichs

This January we headed out of Isla Mujeres Mexico to film one of the most exciting and difficult to capture scenarios in the Ocean, the sailfish baitball. Each year during the winter months, nutrient rich currents flowing north push up onto the shelf of Isla Mujeres, Mexiico, drawing in large shoals of sardines and minnows. Following these baitfish are great numbers of sailfish which, working together, break apart these shoals and create some of the most amazing baitball spectacles on Earth!

Over two weeks with long days on the water, we finally managed to capture what we were looking for. Clean water, several dozen sailfish, and a tight baitball of sardines were the perfect recipe. Ducking sharp bills and working hard to maintain position, we captured over 20 minutes of incredible footage. With our job complete, we headed back to shore to enjoy some cold cervezas and guacamole!

We created this short documentary that captures the excitement and energy of the sailfish baitball while filling in the story of how this phenomenon comes to be. The film has already been a favorite as several film festivals!

 

SDUPS Film Festival – Top 10

Posted in news, production, video with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by shawnheinrichs

Sailfish: House of Sailing Daggers was featured in the Top 10 in this years San Diego Underwater Photographic Society Film Festival.

House of Sailing Daggers

Each year during the winter months, nutrient rich currents flowing north push up onto the shelf of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, drawing in large shoals of sardines and minnows. Following these baitfish are great numbers of sailfish which, working together, break apart these shoals and create some of the most amazing baitball spectacles on earth. Braving dangerous conditions and open seas, the team became one of the few film crews to shoot this aggregation – creating a documentary short.

Video: House of Sailing Daggers

 

DiveFilm Podcast – Sardine Run and Whale Wisdom

Posted in conservation, news, production, video with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2008 by shawnheinrichs

With the International Whaling Commission meeting just around the corner, DiveFilm“` HD Video Podcast has released as its latest episode, Shawn Heinrichs’s “Whale Wisdom – A Mother Humpback’s View.” This short film evokes the world of a mother and calf as whaling resumes in much of the world’s ocean.

Other great episodes of DiveFilm Podcasts recently released include Irish filmmaker Vincent Hyland’s homage to the ocean life off the South West coast of Ireland, and more of the award-winning video entries from the 2008 Our-World Underwater / Wetpixel / DivePhotoGuide Competition, including Simon Spear’s “Porbeagles in Peril” and Shawn Heinrichs’ “The Sardine Run.”

Shawn Heinrichs is a conservation filmmaker based in Longmont, Colorado, USA.  To learn more about Shawn and his work, please visit his website, BlueSphereMedia.com.

-Mary Lynn

Video: Whale Wisdom – A Mother Humpback’s View

Video: Sardine Run: Charging Dolphins-Breaching Whales

 

South Africa – Sardine Run

Posted in production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

For years I had dreamed about returning to South Africa to experience the Sardine Run. I was born in Durban, South Africa and spent the first six years of my life there before moving to the United States. I have only faint childhood memories of the Sardine Run. It was a time of year when the sky over the beach filled with birds, dolphins broke the surface in the hundreds, when we stayed out of the water for fear of sharks, and when fishermen on the shore hauled in huge nets bursting with glistening silver fish.

Now a seasoned diver and underwater film-maker, I returned to the Sardine Run to relive that excitement, but this time anxious to join the sharks underwater and experience the full energy of the Run. With me were my close buddies Justin Ebert, Mattias Fornander and Nick Jackson. Our leader Drew Wong and boat captain Pkee would do all they could to get us as close as “safely” possible to the action.

Having traveled to big animal destinations around the globe, I had learned enough to temper my expectations. Nature can be unpredictable and unfair. Sometimes for no apparent reason, the seas can be empty when they should be full. The Sardine Run has a particular propensity to promise much and deliver little…sometime nothing. The number of factors required to get in the water and nail the legendary baitball are many. For a baitball to form, at a minimum the following conditions are necessary:

– Cold northerly flowing current

– Counter current pushing cold current close to the shore

– Presence of sardines

– Dolphin pods (and or sharks) detect sardines

– Cape gannets find the dolphins

– Predators succeed in driving sardines to form baitball

If all these factors combine to form a baitball, there are a whole set of additional factors necessary for one to actually experience the baitball underwater. These include:

– Good fortune of actually finding the baitball

– Enough daylight to view the baitball (10am to 3pm)

– Safe sea conditions (the seas on this coast can be rough)

– Sufficient visibility (vis is frequently less than 2 meters)

– Baitball lasts long enough for you to suit up and get in

When all these factors are considered, the odds of a baitball encounter are very, very low. Many a diver who has come to the Sardine Run with dreams of the “Blue Planet” baitball on  daily basis, have left severely disappointed. On the Sardine Run you can count on many things, but a baitball is not one of them! That being said, with enough time, patience and tenacity, a well orchestrated effort to locate a baitball has a good chance of paying off over a two week period.

The real stars of the show are the dolphins and whales. Day after day, dozens of humpbacks pass by on their way north to their calving grounds off Mozambique. Along he way, the put on quite a show, charging, diving and performing spectacular breaches. If you are very fortunate, you may even have in-water snorkel encounter with one of these gentle giants. I had such good fortune and will cherish that memory for a long time.

The massive schools of common and bottlenose dolphins are not to be overlooked either. From kilometers away, they can be seen leaping and splashing as they charge in on sardines. In the water, one has many opportunities to snorkel and play with these curious and excitable creatures.

The cape gannets, in their thousands, put on an impressive show. When the action really heats up, they pile into the water by the dozens. Combined with the dolphins churning the surface, this creates quite a melee. Of course the action most sought after by divers is that of the elusive baitball below the surface.

We did find our baitball. The vis was ok. The baitball was not very big. There were few sharks. But even then, the charging dolphins, diving gannets and graceful motion of the sardines recoiling in unison made the encounter amazing! The entire experience lasted ten minutes but the memory will last a lifetime.