Archive for humpback

Tonga – Ocean Voice Great Whales

Posted in conservation, photography, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2011 by shawnheinrichs

I just returned from several weeks of filming in the Kingdom of Tonga with my partner John Weller. We are working on a global project, The Ocean Voice Film Series, addressing conservation issues and strategies at all levels of the ecosystem. This stop of the project took us back to the Kingdom of Tonga, located as far as one can get from a continent in the South-Central Pacific.

With the invaluable help of our good friend Tony Wu, we returned again this year to complete the filming and documentary work. As with last year, the weather proved to be a real challenge. For all but perhaps a day, the wind howled over the islands, driven by a strong high-pressure cell to the south of us. Fortunately for us, and in stark contrast to last season, this year was a banner year for mothers and calves, with total ID’d calves running at twice the running average. Capitalizing on this, we managed some stunning encounters which again, created lifetime memories for both John and I.

The following are a selection of images. Enjoy!

Vava'u Island Group in Tonga Kingdom

Calf Rises Slowly to Greet Us While Mother Watches from Below

Humpback Calf Playfully Approaches in Tonga Blue Water

Humpback Calf Breaches As We Pass By

Mother and Calf Swim over Reefs in 40 Meters of Vis

Calf Playfully Swims Past as Mother Chase After

Tail Shot from Zero Meters - How Small is Baby Compared to Mom!

Calf Rises into Sun Rays With Mother Tailing Behind

Water Pours from Mothers Mouth as She Breaches

Breaching Whale Throwing Scissor Maneuver

John Weller Likes Big Lenses

Marshall Lally Grinning After Day with Whales

Stunning Hard Coral Formations of Tonga Reefs

Calf and Mother on Surface Over Shallow Reef

Mother and Calf Drifting By

Mother and Calf Humpback Rise from Shallow Reef

White Sided Mother with Calf

Humpback Calf Twirls Below

Curious Calf Playing on Surface

Calf Rolls and Twists on Surface

Close Up of Curious Calf

Calf Rolls Over for Better Look as Mother Swims Below

Good Bye Whales 😦

HDR View of Harbor in the Morning

HDR Pigs - They are Everywhere in Tonga!

Enormous Spider That Could (and Would) Eat You!

Close Encounter With Yearling - a First for Us

Nose to Nose with Mother and Calf

Fisheye Lens - VERY Close to Pectoral Fin!

Calf Injured by Unidentified Source

Mother Rises to Great Playful Calf

There are Mantas (alfredi) in Tonga!

Islet with Abandoned Military Post - Surrounded by Tonga Blue

What Can I Say!

Tidal Pools with Perpetual Waterfalls

John Weller Filming One of the Most Beautiful Islands We Have Visited

Harbor View from Paradise Hotel

Milky Way Over Harbor with Diver in Water

Till Next Time!

SEAL Sardine Run

Posted in production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2009 by shawnheinrichs

This June we began work on a film about the Sardine Run. Incredible numbers of dolphins, sharks, cape gannets and whales converge on the Wild Coast during the Sardine Run. Ready to great them are a select group of people who have planned their lives around this extraordinary event. This is a story about the Sardine Run and how it has shaped the lives of both the marine creatures that depend upon it for their survival and the people who can’t escape its call.

The target audience for this film is wildlife enthusiasts, dive tourists, eco tourists, adventure travelers. For this audience we intend to offer a new perspective on the Sardine Run, where viewers become part of the chase and are drawn into the lives of the people who have committed themselves to the Run. Viewers will be captivated by heart pounding action and mesmerized by stunning footage of diving gannets, charging whales and dolphins, swirling baitballs and hunting sharks.  At the same time they will discover how the pioneering work of certain individuals have made the Sardine Run accessible to the common man, that the Sardine Run is so much more than baitballs, and that once it gets in your blood, you can never escape its pull!

Blue Sphere Media teamed up with Sea-Air-Land Expeditions (SEAL) in 2009 to film this documentary, with the goal to capture the essence of the Sardine Run  through the eyes of SEAL, their crew and guests. With more filming to do in 2010 to complete the documentary, we created a short musical piece of 2009’s adventures, a film that captured the motion, excitement and incredible energy of the Sardine Run!

Dive Photo Guide – Whale Wisdom Feature

Posted in conservation, news, video with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by shawnheinrichs

A new conservation short film, “Whale Wisdom – a Mother Humpback’s View” has just been released by Shawn Heinrichs, an award winning independent filmmaker. The film has been produced in English and Japanese with a Spanish version coming soon. With the International Whaling Commission meetings kicking off later this month in Chile and the recent announcement by certain nations that they are resuming trade in whale meat despite a UN ban, the film seeks to reach a broader audience and encourage them to take a stand for whale conservation.

Online Article: Dive Photo Guide

Video: Whale Wisdom – A Mother Humpback’s View


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,

-Mary Lynn

Video: Whale Wisdom – A Mother Humpback’s View

Video: Sardine Run: Charging Dolphins-Breaching Whales


Australasia – Whale Wisdom Featured

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

Australasia Scuba Diver features the latest conservation film by Shawn Heinrichs. “Whale Wisdom – Mother Humpback’s View” opens with a mother humpback whale resting below while her calf ascends to the surface and explores the wonders of this strange new world. She offers her calf encouragement and assurance, but also warns of dangers to come. She recalls how commercial whaling all but wiped out many whale species and how even now, over 20 years since the ban on commercial whaling, the killing continues. In her parting thoughts she worries if this year they will take her only child.

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

Video: Whale Wisdom – A Mother Humpback’s View

Silver Bank – Conserving Whales Project

Posted in conservation, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2008 by shawnheinrichs

Over the past century most whale species have been hunted to the brink of extinction. Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986 yet over 25,000 whales have been hunted since then. With nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland pushing for the legal resumption of commercial whaling, the situation is critical.

In March of 2008 I lead a charter group to the Sliver Bank of the Dominican Republic. In the months of January to April each year, humpback whales gather in the thousands to give birth to their young and mate. In all directions whales are breaching, tale slapping and diving.

Below the surface, mother humpbacks care for their young calves. Words cannot describe the magic of these encounters. While the mother whale rests below, the calf will rise to the surface to breath, frolic and explore its world. We the guests become babysitters if we are careful enough to earn the mothers trust.

The footage from these encounters captured some of this magic. From this, the concept for “Whale Wisdom – a Mother Humpback’s View” was born. The goal was to step back from the political and racial debates that rage on about whaling and simply present the whales view on the issue.

The trip was a great success, leaving a lasting impression on all the guest and creating a foundation for my conservation film.

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.