Archive for mexico

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

JASA-Blue Sphere Media-Wetpixel Mexico Whale Shark Aggregation – 2011

Posted in news, photography, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2011 by shawnheinrichs

Jim Abernethy and I just wrapped up this years series of whale shark aggregation trips off Isla Mujeres, Mexico. As with they prior two years (see videos), this year was a home run with incredible in-water and topside activity and on peak days, several hundred whale sharks gathered in the space of 1 square km. When we first discovered the aggregation, we could never have guessed how it would transform the the tiny island of Isla Mujeres into the worlds whale shark mecca. Nowhere else can you swim with such huge numbers of whale sharks, in blue water with such a great degree of certainty.

Ocean full of whale sharks

Our guests hailed from all over the world including Hong Kong, France, Europe, Australia and of course the US, among others. Many guests reported this was one of the best experiences of their lives. This year we are also hosted a special WildAid supporter trip that delivered in spades.

The whale shark activity was full on, the Island delightful, the hotel and pool a welcome haven after a long day on the water,and the guacamole, cervezas, and gelato unforgettable.

Douglas Seifert enjoys a gelato after a hard day of whale sharking

Please enjoy this small sample of images from thousands of images taken on our trips.

L-R: WildAid Crew - Shawn, Jeanne, Raymond, Walter, Sharon, Richard Branson, Samantha, Mark, Pete, Keith, Corrie

Dr Robert Hueter - Whale Shark Researcher

Peter Knights - Executive Director WildAid with Whale Shark

Whale Shark eats tourism boat

Briana Rivera with Whale Shark

Briana Rivera with Whale Shark

Richard Branson sharing a whale shark moment (video grab)

Ocean full of whale sharks

Greg, Debbie and David after looking the wrong way!

Corie Knights enjoying a whale shark moment

Mantas and whale sharks feeding frenzy

Whale shark with manta Birostris below

Manta Birostris with whale shark behind

Whale shark taking a BIG gulp

Corie Knights with feeding whale shark

Peter and Corie Knights enjoying a whale shark moment

Whale shark smile

Douglas Seifert drops down to capture silhouette shot

Two whale sharks split as they approach

Stationary whale shark feeds below surface

Huge whale shark rises below the Lilly M

Whale shark in vertical feeding posture

Whale shark refelections

Gordon Klein silhouetted with two whale sharks

Three whale sharks cross while feeding

Whale shark passed by drifting sargassum with colony of minows

Cownose rays glide below whale shark aggregation

Gordon Klein drifts down below whale shark

Danielle Heinrichs photographing whale sharks

Whale shark feeds in glassy calm seas

Whale shark poops

Sailfish dart through whale shark aggregation

Loggerhead turtle drifts below whale sharks

Whale shark filters eggs through its gills

Whale sharks cross while feeding

Danielle Heinrichs enjoying the whale shark action

Left-Right: Greg, Captain Rojelio, Gordon, Shawn, Phil, Debbie, David and 1st Mate Juan

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


Socorro Island – Silky Shark

Posted in conservation, photography, travel with tags , , , , on May 1, 2004 by shawnheinrichs


We were hanging at 15 feet on our safety stop, having just completed yet another wonderful and action packed dive in Revillagigedos (more commonly known as Socorro). Led by our fearless dive master Ray from our ship the Solmar V, today we were diving a site at Isla Socorro, the second stop on exploration of this remote island chain. The dive had been wonderful. 10 minutes into the dive at a depth of 60 feet, the silence was broken by the high-pitched calls from a pod of dolphins passing overhead. They noticed us immediately and within seconds, we were surrounded by playful dolphins darting this way and that. It took another 10 minutes before they finally tired of our antics and moved on their way. The remainder of the dive presented more of the treats so abundant in the Revillagigedos. We encountered game fish (wahoo and tuna), all kinds of reef fish, morays and out in the blue, The passing hammerhead and Galapagos sharks. Fully satisfied with our dive, my buddy and I began our ascent to our safety stop right below the Solmar V.

As we settled into our safety stop, I noticed a shiny/brownish silhouette approach from behind my buddy. I quickly identified this as a silky shark perhaps 6 feet in length. Now I know silky sharks to be quite curious but this one was down right friendly. As he circled closer, I noticed that the poor shark had a hook lodged in its mouth. As all forms of extraction fishing are banned in the Revillagigedos, this poor fellow could have made his way in from open waters to the safety of this sanctuary or just as likely been the victim of illegal long-line fishing activity within the park boundaries. When he continued to circle even closer, I began to fear he may be seeking revenge for the injury inflicted upon him by man.  My first instinct was to withdraw, however my curiosity and appreciation for this beautiful creature prevented me from backing away. He continued to circle closer and closer, so close as to almost brush against me. Upon one such approach, I was overcome by desire to offer some comfort to this poor shark that had been mistreated. As he drew close to me, I reached out and began to stroke the side of the silky behind his gills and along his back. He offered no resistance and seemed to enjoy it. Eventually our air gauges indicated it was time to surface. We said our good byes to our friendly silky and ascended to the surface. Our silky followed us to the surface, made one final farewell pass and then meandered into the distant blue.

I often reflect back on this encounter. It was so personal and so unusual. This was not just a shark encounter and this was not only a silky shark; this was much, much more. Our silky shark encounter was a wonderful and rare opportunity to truly appreciate the gentle and personal side of one of nature’s most impressive predators. I think of this silky as a friend one meets on a journey, a solitary traveler who has fallen upon misfortune and is now seeking compassion and companionship. I also reflect on other marine friends made on this journey through the Revillagigedos: the playful dolphins, the gentle humpback whales, the curios yellow fin tuna, and of course the incredibly close encounters with the giant manta rays. Upon such reflection, it finally dawns on me what makes this island chain so special. More so than any of the other great big animal diving spots on earth, the Revillagigedos offer the most personal big animal diving on earth!