Encounter with a Mega-Manta

Filed Under (Special People) by Alexa & Cindy on 22-06-2010

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Last month, we saw a news headline featuring an ocean photographer-diver who had captured some stunning underwater images of  a Manta ray (Manta birostris) while diving in the Pacific, off the Socorro and San Benedicto Islands, at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Rays are among our favorite sea creatures, so we had to have a look.

We quickly found that this ray was a bit – different – than what we were expecting to see.

For starters, it was 16 feet wide!

And this Manta was not shy, as they can often be around divers in the water. Such giant Mantas are well-known and highly sought after by divers in the area, but they’re not always willing to come out and pose for the underwater paparazzi.

Such giant Mantas, also known as devil rays, Atlantic Mantas and Pacific Mantas, are the largest of their kind and are closely related to sharks. These mantas don’t have stinging spines and are truly considered harmless. They can leap high in the air and are often seen with Remoras hanging around to feed on parasites that attach themselves to Mantas’ bodies.

We figured that this must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for even a seasoned pro like Franco Banfi, 50, who lives in Cadro, Switzerland.

So we caught up with Franco and asked him for his personal account of his time with this awesome sea creature, and found out it was pretty amazing not just to us, but to him, too.

Here’s his account of his swim with the Mega Manta:

With my partner, Sabrina, we went on board the Solmar V to Socorro to see and photograph the giant mantas. On our second day we met the dive almost at the end of the dive and we were already happy to pass some time with the manta.

We found the manta so friendly that we went back on board, changed tanks and went back into the water.

During this time the manta was round the boat, almost like it was waiting for us.
We went back in the water to find the manta and start to photograph it. The manta went close to Sabrina and back, swimming around, rolling on itself, turning on its belly upside down and waiting for Sabrina to come close.
We stayed in the water more then one hour, all the time with this manta. On this trip I started using the digital camera, of course I was lucky because in the film era I could do only 36 images before changing film. With the camera I shot 140 pictures, and I was surprised and frightened because before going in the water, my camera said that I could do 114. I understood later that these images with a lot of blue and not many colours are smaller in size, to make possible to save more images on the memory card.

What do YOU think about this Mega Manta encounter? Leave a comment and tell us what you’d do if you could play with one!

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Tony Wu’s Ocean

Filed Under (Special Events, Special People) by Alexa & Cindy on 07-06-2010

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Why on earth are we happy it’s Monday, you ask? Glad you did:

it’s World Oceans Day Week here on O4E, and we have a fantastic celebration planned, which includes a chat with Fabien Cousteau, the 411 on a six year-old ocean-saving tour de force, announcements galore – including Alexa’s new project – and we can’t not hold at least one contest.

We’re excited, and hope you are, too!

While finalizing the revelry, we realized that we could not celebrate WOD without one of our favorite ocean friends, underwater photographer Tony Wu.

Plainly put, Tony is Alexa’s idol, and if you’re unfamiliar with him, you’re missing out on some of the most mesmerizing underwater images (and great tales of their making) - ever. Period.

So, we asked Tony for a favorite image for WOD, and why he chose it, and the story behind it. What we got was the best way we can  think of to kick off the week.

 Immerse yourself in Tony’s ocean.

I took the photo in a remote destination called the Eastern Fields, which is located in the waters of Papua New Guinea. It’s a submerged atoll system about half way between Port Moresby and Cairns, out in the middle of nowhere, subject to strong currents, winds and storm systems.

As a result, not many people have ever visited the area, with probably fewer than 1,000 divers ever having been there. There’s little to no fishing activity there (though levels have increased in recent years) due to the remote location and level of risk associated with traveling there. As a consequence, the reefs and marine life are…pristine. I’ve never seen such beautiful reefs and abundant marine life anywhere, though I’m sure there are other isolated, protected places like this on the planet.
I like the photo not so much because of what you can see (trillions of fish and innumerable coral growths), but for what you can’t see in the image. In the location where I took this photo, the reef stretched as far as I could see in every direction, with trillions of fish and innumerable coral heads everywhere. In other words, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s not in the picture is worth a billion.

If there’s a message I’d like people to contemplate on World Oceans Day, it’s that this photo shows what the oceans should look like.

-Tony Wu

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How it all Started for Coastal Photographer Darren White

Filed Under (How it All Started) by Alexa & Cindy on 03-06-2010

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You know when a great seascape hits you – you’re just minding your own business, clicking around the internet,  checking out ocean photos - and BAM, all of a sudden you feel the wind in your face, hear the surf pounding in your ears, taste the saltwater in your mouth and become enveloped by the omnipotence of the ocean –  and you didn’t even flick an eyelash.

That’s the difference between viewing a photo and experiencing an impactful image. You, the viewer, become figuratively submersed.

How does this happen? In this case,  it’s because the photographer is literally so.

This week, O4E would like to introduce you to fine-art photographer Darren White of Portland, Oregon.

We stumbled across a fantastic image of Seastars on Flickr one day (shown below), and upon viewing it,  Alexa had to be repeatedly scraped off the ceiling.

We just had to bring you the same feeling, and ask Darren about what we knew must be a hyperfocal passion for the ocean that we just had to get in on.

He makes it look easy, sure. But Darren’s talent and eye has traveled a long way. Read on while he tells us about that journey. Oh, and the ocean eye candy won’t disappoint you, either!

To the Sea I Have Returned, by Darren White

O4E: Do you remember at what age you became interested in the ocean? Do you know how and why?
DW: I would say around age 8 or 9. I was with a friend out at the beach during a major storm. We got caught by a sneaker wave and nailed against a cliff with nowhere to go…it was then that I realized the shear power of the ocean and the respect I need to have for it!

O4E: Did you always want to be a photographer? How did you come to photograph the oceans as a body of work?
DW: I actually got into photography in 6th grade when my mom got a free camera from one of those TV ads. I used it to photograph my friends skateboarding.

The next year my class took a trip to a local marina and I shot everything I could see….all in black and white and from there I was hooked. 

I grew up on the coast and once I got my drivers license I spent every evening watching the weather over the ocean. Sometimes there were amazing sunsets and other times just dark and gray. I always had my camera and took pictures.

Free Hugs, by Darren White

O4E: If oceans could talk to us about their futures, what do you think they’d be saying?
DW: Treat us right, don’t pollute us anymore!

I was on the beach today and there was quite a bit of garbage that had washed ashore. I can only imagine what is still out there.


Stars of the Show, by Darren White

O4E: What’s your favorite ocean animal and why?
DW: Either the Starfish (seastar) or the sand dollar.  I can remember going out before school as a kid at certain times of the year and picking up hundreds of sand dollars in a matter of minutes…Full, unbroken ones!  Today, my daughter who is 3 found 3 starfish on her own while we were beachcombing on the -1.4 tide.

O4E: What, in your view, and at the most basic level, is important that kids grasp about our oceans as a living, breathing entity? 
DW: Probably the fact that the fish we eat comes from the ocean and we really cant afford to continue to pollute it.   I feel kids have a good grasp that fish and oceans go together.

O4E: What goes through your mind when you compose an ocean-themed image?
DW: Today, it’s much different than it was when I was 16 - back then I just wanted to take the picture to document the color or the weather…today my work is more geared towards fine art and showing many elements in one image.

 I look for sea stacks on the horizon, starfish on rocks, if there are any. I like to get water movement in my images too. I like to think that my images convey a sense of emotion and feeling to the viewer and they don’t simply say, ‘oh thats a nice photograph.’

O4E: Describe an ocean shoot for us; what’s a day on the job shooting the Big Blue like?
DW: First and foremost, know the tides, know the weather you are dealing with, as tides can really change in extreme weather.

Safety is number 1. Many people I shoot with may not agree with my statement. I do keep focused on where I am, water levels, and I always leave my self an escape route.

Most of my shoots are early morning or evening when the light is better. Midday harsh light is not the best, although it can make for some nice black-and-whites. 

I try to add a little something to each image to give it feeling….maybe a rainbow if I can find one, water movement, a setting moon.

After safety, the most important thing is waiting for the good light and knowing which beaches have the subject matter you want to photograph.

Oregon Coast Moonset at Sunrise, by Darren White

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