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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

Misool Eco Resort – Documenting Progress

Posted in conservation, production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

I returned to Raja Ampat to continue documenting the vast treasures of this amazing archipelago. This time we focused on some of the hidden treasures that only a lucky few have had the opportunity to explore. Among these were the fresh/brackish limestone lakes hidden in the interior forests of certain island. Marine life isolated for an unknown duration abound in these lakes. More to come on this in the next visit.

As always, the diversity and sheer quantity of marine life was staggering. On the house reef alone we filmed a school of over 100 bumphead parrot fish, turtles, napoleon wrasse, numerous macro critters, hunting octopus, and at least five walking sharks!

We documented the resort construction progress which has been fantastic.  The over-the-water bungalows are five star and offer some of the most scenic accommodations imaginable. The restaurant is a work of art. When the resort opens in October of 2008, the guest are going to be treated to an incredible experience.

Finally, we continued our work on the threats facing Raja Ampat. Among the unfortunate activities we documented were camps or shark finners, finned sharks, drying fins, a live turtle slaughtered and destructive fishing. Though much of Raja Ampat is still pristine, these threats could have a significant impact on the future health of the ecosystem if not stopped. With the ranger boat coming soon this will be stopped!

DiveFilm Podcast – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Both Cocos and Mapelo Islands in the Eastern Pacific Ocean are home to an abundance of marine animals, including numerous species of sharks, rays, dolphins and whales.  Cocos Island is some 300 miles southwest of Costa Rica, and has been designated a Marine Park and World Heritage Site by Costa Rica.  Malpelo Island is a little over 300 miles off the coast of Colombia and is designated as a Colombian Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and marine protected area.  The waters off both islands are considered by divers to be among the most exciting areas in the world for big animal sightings.  The immense schools of Hammerhead Sharks that gather in these waters leave divers awestruck.  The biodiversity is rich and vulnerable.

Join Shawn Heinrichs as he takes us to the islands of Cocos and Malpelo to experience the magnificence of these animals and many other marine animals that abide in these rich waters.

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

DiveFilm Podcast Video is proud to present this film as Episode 3  of DiveFilm’s new High Definition Video Podcasts and Web Videos.  To learn more about it, please visit

-Mary Lynn


Cocos and Malpelo – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2006 by shawnheinrichs

Having made the journey twice to Galapagos, it was time to complete the Golden Triangle of the eastern Pacific. The Golden Triangle is an area of water that extends from the northern most islands of the Galapagos (Wolf and Darwin), northeast to Malpelo Island (off Columbia) and northwest to Cocos Island (off Costa Rica). Within this region, flourishes some of them most abundant and awesome pelagic sea life found anywhere on the planet.

Our Journey began at the Sea Hunter headquarters on the coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacast region. From there we motored a grueling 50 hours out to Malpelo for 4 days of diving. Upon arrival we were greeted by a playful pod of pilot whales accompanied by a school of dolphins. We slowed the boat and the whales approached and circled the boat. What amazing and gentle creatures . But we had diving to do and time was a wasting.

Malpelo is a harsh, barren rock located some 250 miles off the coast of Columbia. To protect it rights, Columbia maintains a small base up on the rocks, complete with armed guards. How they get up there still confounds me! The rock may be barren but the sea life below the water is intense. Unfortunately we were not treated to one of the famous (but rarely experienced) Malpelo baitballs we had all secretly hoped for. To make up for it, however, we were fortunate enough to witness the other main attraction at Malpelo, the mass gathering of Silky sharks. On two dives, we drifted through a school of Silky’s one hundred strong. The were not at all threatening and just a little curious. We also enjoyed the other regulars including schooling hammers in Sahara, many cleaning stations, morays everywhere, huge schools of big eye jacks, grunts, an much more.

After four good days at Malpelo, we were ready to head to Cocos. This time we “enjoyed” a 40 hour crossing in unsettled seas. After starring at a barren rock for four days, the site of Cocos is nothing short of breath-taking. Over 200 waterfalls flow from the heights of this rain forrest island in the rainy season. And rainy it was…. but a few hours of stay, it rained constantly, oscillating between downpours and gentle spattering.

I had journeyed to Cocos Island for one reason only, to experience and capture footage of the mass hammerhead aggregations that have given this island it reputation. The scalloped hammerheads gather by the hundreds to have parasites attached to fresh wounds removed by cleaner fish. These wounds are inflicted by either the males during breading or by other females as they establish the “pecking” order.

I had kept my expectations in check as I have so many times experienced the random nature of the oceans. One day the seas are flourishing and the next, empty. This time we struck gold at a site called Alcyone. An underwater sea mount reaching to within 25 meters of the surface, Alcyone was discovered by Jacques Cousteau and quickly became one of his favorite site. On our first dive we descended into clear waters filled to the brim with hammerheads. We made our way down the line, tucked into the volcanic rock, flipped on our cams, and hung on for 30 minutes to enjoy the show. The sea was alive with sharks, everywhere…from a few feet away to the horizon…. overhead, in front and in back! They circled in all directions. Our dive guide estimated there were as many as 500 sharks in this one location! Eventually our computers were threatening to ground us and we had to ascend back up through the schools of hammers. It was undoubtedly one of best dives of my life and more so, one of the most truly awesome experiences (land or sea) of my life.

The following days we returned to the site. The huge school was there without fail but vis was progressively deteriorating. To compensate for this, the hammers came closer and closer. On the third day, they were within touching distance for the duration of the dives, enough so that my lights could easily light them up…what a treat!

We also enjoyed many great dives at other sites. At these sites we had wonderful encounters with masses of white-tips, the largest school of big eye jacks I have ever seen (maybe 10,000), abundant marble rays, hammerheads everywhere, eagle rays, manta rays, green turtles, the impressive silver tips of Silverado, dolphins and even a near miss with a mother humpback whale and her calf. And one cannot forget the awesome and infamous Manuelita white tip night dive featuring hundreds of white tips hunting in packs creating a moving carpet of sharks a meter below.

After an incredible 5 days of diving, it was time to return home. Shortly after breaking into open water, we heard over the radio that a long-liner had been spotted in park waters. A boat was being dispatched to intercept it, while the long-liner was reeling in its line as fast as possible. Further out, we came across a factory tuna boat drawing in its massive nets.

These two instances served as a somber reminder of how at risk these amazing marine sanctuaries are. Every day, long liners and tuna boats invade these waters and extract everything they can…nothing escapes including countless dolphins and sharks, manta rays and even the majestic whale sharks. As much progress has been made to protect these waters, it is still a losing battle. What is needed is more money and direct support. Groups like Mar Viva, WildAid and Sea Shepherd are among the few groups that actively patrol these waters and manage programs to reduce poaching.

Nevertheless, beauty still abounds below the surface in the waters of Cocos and Malpelo. It is a marvel I look forward to experiencing again with great anticipation.