The cold front seems to have passed by and the second one that was meant to arrive tomorrow seems now to be giving us a miss. We had 40 mm of rain at home on Thursday, for which we are grateful. The break in the weather means there is a good chance some diving might happen this weekend!
I am going to shore dive on Saturday at Long Beach and launch on Sunday, the first dive being to the Brunswick, meeting on the jetty in Simon’s Town at 10.00am. The second dive will be at 12.30, the location weather and viz dependent.
Michael Muller is probably best known for his work as a portrait photographer (focusing on celebrity subjects). He also has, it turns out, a longstanding fascination with sharks. While working as a commercial photographer for Speedo, Muller designed and built a waterproof housing for his 1,200 watt studio strobe lights. Incredibly, he takes these lights underwater – assisted by two to six divers and at least one person on the boat – and has spent a couple of years travelling the world to photograph sharks.
The resulting photos, of bull, tiger, white, hammerhead and several other species of shark, are fascinating. They are unlike any shark photographs I have seen before, with a cinematic quality and the intensely unusual property – for most underwater photos – of being filled with light. Sharks swim out of bright white light towards the camera, and many of the images are deliberately over-exposed, heightening the dramatic effect. The jump from having professional-quality camera strobes to essentially a full studio lighting rig underwater is enormous, and the results are visually stunning.
Muller’s pictures, to me, emphasise the otherness of sharks. They do not look like cuddly, approachable (although in many cases Muller went very, very close to his subjects) or easy to fathom animals. I like this. Some approaches to conservation try to emphasise how sharks do not intend harm, and attempt to demystify them, with the aim of making them comprehensible and thus worthy of protection. The genre of photography that shows divers and sharks apparently harmoniously inhabiting the watery realm is invariably more about the humans than it is about sharks. That criticism cannot be levelled at these images.
The final sections of the book contain a species guide, essays about shark ecology and conservation, and technical information about the photographic equipment and shot set up. Some of the shark biology and conservation information was contributed by Capetonian shark conservation biologist Alison Kock, who put False Bay’s white sharks on the scientific map.
You can preview some of the images from the book here, and an interview with Muller here. The Washington Post and Wired have image-rich features on this project, too.
This is an enormous book (standard Taschen fare). You’re going to need a bigger bookshelf (a joke about this book which has no doubt been made forty times – I apologise). You can get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.
We will not be diving this weekend, but if you are able to get into the water then do so. False Bay looks promising. We will be back to full dive mode on Monday morning.
Thank you to Jerrel for this week’s gorgeous photo of strawberry anemones, which he took on a dive off our boat to Roman Rock on Freedom Day.
Things to do
The winning photographs from the prestigious international Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition are on display at the Chavonnes Battery Museum until 30 September. The exhibition is in partnership with the NSRI. If you have a Wild Card, take it along for discounted entry.
Saturday & Sunday: Boat or shore dives on both days
We spent Saturday morning shadowing a swimmer doing the Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay… Around 7 kilometres in 14 degree water that at times looked like brown onion soup filled with jellyfish. The swimmers are a brave and dedicated bunch and I admire them. Our swimmer did the crossing in just over two hours, but some of the swimsuit folks spent 5 hours in the water, bravely swimming into a humping current.
The forecast looks like a piece of cake for the weekend… Light winds, not much swell and warm sunny skies. False Bay, however, looks a little off, colour-wise, and there are large colour fronts scattered across much of the bay. There is no certainty on where they will go with the light winds over the next couple of days so it is going to be a matter of making the “call to action” early each morning.
I have both shore dive and boat dive students ready to go, so will do either shore or boat based on what it looks like when we wake up, early, on both Saturday and Sunday.
Text, Whatsapp, email or carrier pigeon you desires for the weekend and I will add you to the early morning wake up call list…
If ever you had the urge to show a friend the beauty of the underwater world that you enjoy, now is your chance. Haul them off to the Two Oceans Aquarium and show them some of the stunning creatures captured on camera at a wide range of dive sites scattered along Cape Town’s shores. The photo exhibition runs for two months and is included in your entry fee to the aquarium. Read more about it here.
Watching Whales & Dolphins in Southern Africa – Noel & Belinda Ashton
This is an enormously useful book for local whale watchers, and provides details on the life history and characteristics of the cetaceans found in Southern Africa’s waters. The text is illustrated by beautiful paintings and photographs showing the animals in full from various angles, including what you’d see if they were on the surface of the sea or about to sound.
Noel Ashton is an artist, sculptor and conservationist, whose sculptural work can be seen in the foyer of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Nature writer and designer Belinda Ashton has co-authored several books with him. The Ashtons also provided the whale and dolphin identification posters upstairs between the Predator Exhibit and the Kelp Forest tank. Their love for the natural world is evident in the beautiful illustrations and careful attention to detail in this book.
There is a history of whaling in South Africa, but fortunately there is now a yearly strong recovery in whale numbers and an appreciation of the economic value of whales alive rather than dead. There are incredible whale watching opportunities all around South Africa’s coast, including world-class shore-based viewing from Cape Town to De Hoop via Hermanus and De Kelders. There is boat-based whale watching out of Cape Town and from Gansbaai, Hermanus, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Durban, St Lucia, and other locations in between. For those who do not remember whaling, it is easy to become blasé about this embarrassment of cetacean riches, but it makes us, as South Africans, extremely privileged indeed.
For ocean lovers, this book is as indispensable as a bird book to a twitcher. It is highly recommended.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa) or here.
The first event to do this was a free speaker evening, held at the Bluebird Garage in Muizenberg on Monday 7 September. Hundreds of people attended; I took the photo above before the room got so full that no one could move!
Here’s a link to a collection of coverage of the events on Storify, and the same compendium is embedded below. There are also some images in there from the welcome evening for the symposium, which was held at the Save Our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay.
I first saw Camille Seaman’s photography in a feature on Wired.com. She is thinks about photographing icebergs the way one would photograph a person of advanced age: with respect and reverence.
Melting Away is a book of magnificent photographs taken in the Antarctic and the Arctic. Seaman worked as a resident photographer on cruise vessels taking passengers to each end of the earth, and over a ten year period was able to take portraits of icebergs, each of which has its own character, and to observe the changes that are taking place at the poles as a result of climate change.
A feature on Seaman in the New York Times explains how her Native American heritage influenced her connection to nature and her ability to observe it closely. Her grandfather taught her to recognise trees as one would a person, and to be consciously quiet and observant in the natural world.
The text interspersed between the photographs is surprisingly personal and autobiographical. Seaman writes about her childhood, her aspirations, and the formative experiences that have brought her to where she is: a world-renowned photographer with a unique perspective on the impact humans are having on our planet. I found this part of the book to be fascinating, and would recommend it particularly to young women, especially those who might feel they don’t fit or conform, who are needing hope that somewhere in their future they will find their calling.
One day in October last year (there are no acceptable excuses for the delay posting this, so we’ll just leave it at that), Seahorse and her skipper were chartered by a multi-disciplinary team who are working on a project called Sea-Change. If you’ve visited the Sea Point promenade recently, you might have seen a beautiful array of mini-billboards featuring photographs of sevengill cowsharks, kelp forests, and other marine life, including recreations of how early humans may have interacted with the marine environment in the Cape.
The Sea-Change team wanted to find a co-operative whale to swim with and film, being in possession of the necessary permits (many pages of paperwork). It was late in the season for whales in False Bay, and we spent a morning looking for them without any luck. Reports of whales on the Atlantic seaboard led us to Hout Bay about a week later.
It was a misty day, and we went as far north as Clifton without seeing any whales. We did see a large sunfish and lots of seabirds (including rows of terns perching on pieces of kelp), and we spent some time at the seal colony at Duiker Island, where the team spent over an hour in the water… without wetsuits! Just as we were about to call it a day we spotted a whale at the entrance to Hout Bay – it may have been there the whole time but the mist was too thick for it to be seen. Unfortunately it didn’t want its picture taken, so we had to call off the search for another day.
We’ve been slow to draw your attention to this (unless you follow us on instagram), but there’s a wonderful photographic exhibition at Sea Point that you should check out, rather than a ridiculous giant pair of sunglassses. The Sea-Change exhibition is the brainchild of a multi-disciplinary team of artists, scientists and multi media experts, with the aim of telling the story of humanity’s earliest days and our ancient relationship with the sea.
The exhibition can be found along the promenade near the ox wagon park, opposite the SABC building in Sea Point. It’s coming down soon, so make haste!