Underwater photographer Simone Caprodossi has been photographing the deep seas for over 10 years. The Italian-born, Dubai-based Caprodossi has combined his passions for photography and diving, creating an impressive portfolio of underwater imagery. Particularly fond of sharks, he managed to capture a stunning image of the gills of a whale shark, demonstrating the impressive anatomy of this gentle giant.
The largest living fish species, whale sharks are a slow-moving shark that can weigh up to 21.5 tons and grow up to 41.5 feet. Caprodossi was working with researchers in Djibouti and Qatar to help with photo identification when he snapped this interesting perspective on the shark. “The whale shark spot pattern is unique to each animal like a human fingerprint so photos of the area between the gills and the end of the dorsal fin are used to uniquely identify individuals and estimate populations as well as tracking movement and recurrence of the same animals,” Caprodossi explains to My Modern Met.
While the underwater photographer has taken hundreds of photographs of the “ID area” next to the gills, one day the stars aligned for this special shot. “The light just shone on the pink inner side of the gills wide open during the feeding action and instead of trying to get in front of the animal I swam right along it, getting parallel to the body to get the most open angle that would show the gills.”
Caprodossi hopes his work will help people break their preconceived notion that all sharks are dangerous. He notes that as a photographer trying to get up and personal with them, he’s often seen the whale sharks purposely swerve to avoid hitting him with their tail or fin—a surprisingly polite gesture for the mammoth fish.
What he would really like people to know is just how vulnerable these fish are due to human activity and construction close to their habitats. “We see so many animals with propeller or boat impact wounds already and some of their aggregation areas are getting higher human pressure,” the photographer shares. “The area in Djibouti where juveniles aggregate every year in December/January is getting a new port built by China and this will carry much more shipping pressure, eventually making the area off-limits and high risk for the animals.
The archipelago nation sits at the centre of the so-called Coral Triangle, which is almost six million square kilometres that includes ecosystems containing more coral reef species than anywhere else on Earth, with six of the world’s seven marine turtle species and more than 2,000 species of fish.
Aside from its abundant reefs, the Philippines ocean floor is a home to a variety of shipwrecks, lying at depths ranging from just below the surface to 40 metres.
“You can also do deep diving without even using a boat. The depths are accessible from the shore,” says Gen Abanilla, a freediving instructor from Manila.
Abanilla, together with co-founder Nico Soriano established Seazoned, a Manila-based company that offers freediving courses, including theory lessons, breathing and relaxation techniques, with confined water and open water sessions. Fellow instructor Soriano says the Philippines has seen a surge in interest in freediving in the recent years because of stories and photos shared through social media. As a result it has shifted from a competitive sport to a rewarding hobby for casual divers.
“After seeing photos and videos of freediving on social media two years ago, I immediately pursued my certification,” says Gen Santiago, a 28-year-old Filipino flight attendant who has explored 53 out of the 81 provinces of the Philippines. “The experience of diving into the ocean on just one breath is challenging, and I want to test my limits.”
John Nico Gavan, a master freediver from southern Leyte, Philippines, says it is an invaluable skill that grants him a rare and unique opportunity to have a close interaction with marine life, and take photos that would otherwise be impossible to take. Gavan has a maximum depth limit of 131 feet on a single breath.
“I love showing the connection between the diver and the environment he is with. How they can coexist and how colourful and magical being weightless is,” says Gavan.
Unlike scuba divers who rely on a diving tank to sustain their breathing, freedivers count on a single breath of air. To attain their target depth, a freediver must learn how to maximise their oxygen consumption. This is accomplished by maintaining a “Zen state of mind”, says Abanilla: freediving is where endurance meets meditation.
“If you can’t relax from the beginning, it’s going to be hard to hold your breath longer,” Abanilla says, adding that you should always have a “dive buddy”.
She also notes the importance of proper body positioning, finning and equalisation. Equalisation is necessary to prevent potentially serious injury such as head trauma.
Freedivers experience the changes in the marine environment like few others, says Ivy Bagay, founder of NymPH, a non-profit organisation composed of divers who conduct clean-up drives on Philippine beaches.
They notice the once vibrant coral reefs getting bleached, more plastic bags drifting with the current, turtles getting caught in abandoned nets, and sharks having visible scars left by boat propellers and fish hooks, she says. “We do both underwater and shore clean-ups. We also coordinate with the local government about proper waste disposal and encourage them to involve the local community in protecting the ocean,” says Bagay.
Every freediver can contribute by sticking to some simple rules, says Bagay, such as making every dive an opportunity to collect rubbish, making sure you use non-toxic sunscreens and refraining from touching or interfering with the activity marine species.
Five of the best freediving spots in the Philippines
1. Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro
Apo Reef is recognised by Unesco as one of the most important reefs in the world as it encompasses the world’s second largest contiguous coral reef system.
“It’s insane clarity paired with the abundance of marine life,” says Gavan. “If you want to see some of the big pelagic fish that call the Philippines home then this is the best place to find them.”
The good visibility means can go as deep as 30 metres to take photos of manta rays, mobula rays, sea turtles and sharks.
When shooting marine life, keep a safe distance from the creatures and avoid chasing them as it will cause them stress. Diving in Apo Reef can be done all year round, but March to May is best for beginners, to avoid strong currents. The dive spot is accessible through Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro or Coron.
2. Coron, Palawan
Coron is blessed with a wide range of dive sites for divers of all levels, from shallow reefs to advanced wreck diving, with well-preserved shipwrecks dating back to the second world war.
For beginners, Abanilla recommends the Skeleton Wreck and Lusong Gunboat. The 25-metre Skeleton Wreck, which has well-preserved keel and ribs, is inclined at 45 degree angle, making it visible at around five metres below the surface. Meanwhile, Lusong Gunboat is submerged just half a metre below the surface. In fact, the stern actually breaks the surface at low tide.
Advanced divers can explore the East Tangat Wreck, inclined on the coral reef on the east side of Tangat Island. Despite its depth at around 20 metres, you get great visibility up to 10 metres.
Another of her favourites is the Black Island Wreck, a small converted tanker designed to carry fuels that were from the Japanese Imperial Army. The wreck’s depth starts at 21 metres, with 15-20 metre visibility.
Coron is also known for its crystal clear lakes such as the Barracuda Lake, which is situated on top of a volcano crater. The lake has layers of fresh, salt and brackish water and thermoclines at four and 14 metres. There are no currents and strong waves, allowing divers to go deep without fins.
It is possible to dive around Coron all year round. However, visibility and weather are best from December to March. There a direct flights Manila to Busuanga Airport. From there, hop on a van for Coron Town.
3. Balicasag Island, Panglao, Bohol
Another budding dive site in the Philippines is Balicasag Island, a marine sanctuary off the coast of Panglao, Bohol. Crystal clear waters – visibility ranges from five to 40 metres – make it a playground for underwater photographers. An abundance of sea grass draws sea turtles, sponges, frogfish, moray eels, mackerel and barracuda. The conditions are normally calm, with little or no current, so diving in Panglao is possible at any time of the year, but the best time to go is from December to June. Balicasag Island is accessible from Panglao Island via motorised boats. To get to Panglao Island, take a plane to Tagbilaran, from where you can rent a van.
4. Southern Leyte
Located in southern Leyte are dive spots in Pintuyan, Padre Burgos and Limasawa. Pintuyan serves as a sanctuary for migrating whale sharks. The sanctuary is not crowded, the water visibility is excellent and sound ecological practices are strictly observed. There are sightings of whale sharks in Pintuyan all year round, but it is best to visit Pintuyan from October to May, their natural migration period.
Padre Burgos on the other hand is where you can find Tangkaan Beach, a quiet white sand beach that boasts a seabed filled with soft coral and waters frequented by turtles. Limasawa Island is home to steep drops filled with fan corals and massive table corals. You can reach Pintuyan Island from Manila by air with connecting land travel from Tacloban. Padre Burgos and Limasawa are accessible by boat from Pintuyan.
Batangas is the closest and most accessible dive spot from Manila. Go to Binukbok View Point in Bauan for an opportunity to swim with schools of jacks and visit Masasa beach in Tingloy Island to explore its white-sand bottom and clear waters. Waves and current can be very unpredictable in Batangas, but the main diving season in Batangas runs from early November to May.
Despite its hulking appearance, the whale shark has only tiny, almost useless teeth and is sometimes so docile that entire boatloads of people can swim alongside the enigmatic, spotted beast. It’s also one of the least understood animals in the oceans.
“My skipper was trying to find some calmer water to get to the hole in the rock when she saw this giant thing moving towards the jetskis,” said Tango Jet Ski Tours owner operator Joff Bakx.
A stunning viral photo appears to show a massive whale sharklurking directly under a boat full of people.
The breathtaking shot was recently captured by photographer Tom Cannon in Ningaloo Reef, about 3.7 miles off the coast of Western Australia. Cannon and his friend, marine scientist and photographer Sam Lawrence, are the co-founders of an underwater photography company called Ocean Collective Media, which helps promote wildlife and oceanic preservation.
Cannon’s photo is particularly striking because the whale shark looks like it’s about to swallow the boat whole. But that’s actually not the case. Just take a look at how the boat is out of focus while the whale shark is crystal clear in the foreground of the photo. Like photos of tourists “holding” the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this optical illusion is created by a photography technique called forced perspective in which objects are made to appear larger, smaller, farther, or closer than they actually are.
“When I took the photo the whale shark was literally centimeters from my camera,” Cannon, 26, confirmed in an email to INSIDER. “The boat stayed several meters away to avoid any risk to the shark itself.”
Cannon came across this whale shark while on tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive and Snorkel. “This particular shark was really curious and spent the entire 50 minutes on the surface with us chasing bubbles and checking everybody out,” the photographer told South West News Service (SWNS). “The people on board were customers and staff members who were quite amazed to see the whale shark behaving this way.”
“This was a rare experience to have such a curious playful shark,” Cannon added. “They usually swim in straight lines in search of food.”
“They are a very docile fish and will often shy away from anything they feel threatened by,” Cannon told SWNS. “We are their biggest threat with the increasing pollution to our oceans. They need our help.”
MELBOURNE, Fla. (FOX 13) – Honey is more than delicious, it can be used as medicine, says one Florida zoo.
The Brevard Zoo has been using it to treat sea turtles with fresh, open wounds like ones caused by boats or predators. Officials said when raw honey is removed from a hive, it leaves traces of yeast, wax and pollen. All contain properties that “naturally clean wounds and encourage healthy tissue growth,” they said.
There happens to be a beehive at the zoo, and its honey has treated 14 sea turtles. Zoo officials said the honey helped their shells, which is made of bone and keratin, recover from those open wounds.
According to several studies, honey has been used for healing wounds since the “ancient times.”
A sea turtle swimming in Beirut, Lebanon. A new paper revealed that sea turtles use their limbs to assist with eating.JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
“Sea turtles don’t have a developed frontal cortex, independent articulating digits or any social learning. And yet here we have them ‘licking their fingers’ just like a kid who does have all those tools,” Kyle Van Houtan, science director at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the newspaper.
But Houtan and his team at the aquarium discovered that sea turtles use their fins in human-like ways. After surveying images and videos of the creatures, the team found how sea turtles use their fins. For example, one turtle leveraged a reef to break an anemone away for meal time and another rolled a scallop along the floor of the ocean.
The authors note in their paper, published in the journal PeerJ, that many marine tetrapods, or four-footed animals, do use their limbs to forage for food, though it is still rare.
“Despite being the oldest extant line of marine tetrapods, this is the first time such a wide range of limb-use has been described in marine turtles,” they write.
A sea turtle swims in Western France.LOIC VENANCE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
According to ScienceDaily, walruses, seals and manatees all exhibited these behaviors. This new paper shows that sea turtles are very similar to other groups of sea mammals. Study co-author Jessica Fujii, also of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said that using their limbs to dine isn’t efficient but is nevertheless helpful to sea turtles.
“Sea turtles’ limbs have evolved mostly for locomotion, not for manipulating prey,” Fujii said in Science Daily. “But that they’re doing it anyway suggests that, even if it’s not the most efficient or effective way, it’s better than not using them at all.”
Although not perfected, these skills are vital as most sea turtles are carnivorous, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Tracking down that jellyfish for dinner definitely takes some maneuvering.
Previously, researchers believed that marine mammals could be so large because the buoyancy of water frees them from the constraints of gravity. Although this freedom may still be a factor, Gearty says that his results show that marine mammals need their heft to keep themselves warm in the often chilly oceans.
“These animals are big for very specific reasons. It’s not that they could be big, it’s that they must be big,” he says.
BIGGER IS BETTER?
When Gearty and colleagues created a series of computer models analyzing factors that influence size, they found two that converged to determine body size in aquatic mammals.
But larger animals need more food to support their bulk, which created the second factor in Gearty’s model. Big mammals may trap heat better, but if they can’t get enough food to fuel their metabolism, then it doesn’t matter. (See National Geographic’s amazing whale pictures.)
Body size is one of the most important traits to study in animals, according to Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“If you’re going to measure one thing in an animal, it should be body size because that one thing is related to so many others,” Venditti says. “If you know how big an animal is, you probably know something about how it moves and its metabolic rate.”
In the last five years, scientists have uncovered evidence showing that, over time, families of mammals have tended to evolve larger body sizes. Bulkier animals can better fight off rivals for mating, food, and other resources, as well as access a wider variety of foods.
Land mammals, however, are hemmed in by gravity: They need massive bones and blood vessels to support their bulk while maintaining mobility—no easy feat when you tip the scales at several tons, like an elephant. (Read how blue whales are mostly “left-handed.”)
Initially, when Gearty started studying the factors that affected body size in marine mammals, he thought that he would simply see the elimination of gravity as a constraint.
Instead, his data told him that the minimum size of aquatic mammals was a thousand times larger than the smallest terrestrial mammals. The maximum size, however, was only 25 times larger, which meant that something must be forcing marine mammals to get large.
Scientists still haven’t entirely cracked the mystery of what determines body size in animals, Venditti says, but that hasn’t stopped life from evolving an array of shapes and sizes to fill every niche.
By-catch deaths of five Hector’s dolphins in fishing nets off the Canterbury coast has prompted an order to fast-track work on a new protection plan for the nationally endangered species.
The dolphins were trapped in a commercial set net about six nautical miles north of Banks Peninsula on February 17, and their deaths were reported to Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ), and to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
There were an estimated 9000 Hector’s dolphins off the South Island’s east coast, and these were a sub-group of the wider South Island population of 15,000 mammals.
Fisheries officials believe the east coast population may be declining.
Hector’s dolphins live close to the coast, making them highly vulnerable to being caught in set nets.
Official records show 188 Hector’s and Maui dolphin are known to have been killed in set nets since 1973, although potential Hector’s dolphin captures could range between 19 and 78 each year.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have now pointed out areas where more work needs to be done and have asked whether changes can be made to some fishing practices in the short-term.
Options included prioritising the development of a new Threat Management Plan (TMP) for Maui and Hector’s dolphins, reviewing the use of set nets in a bid to reduce or phase out their use, and considering extending the ban on set nets in the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary further offshore.
Other potential measures included encouraging voluntary closures of certain fisheries to set nets, such as those recently put in place by commercial set netters to protect the yellow-eyed penguin off Southland, and reviewing the role of observers and camera coverage on fishing boats.
Nash said the fisherman did the right thing by coming forward to report the catch, as legally required.
FINZ chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson had since told him that the fisherman “deeply regrets” the capture and had now decided to stop set netting in the area, Nash said.
“I am also advised he appears to have been fishing outside the area closed to set netting, although MPI compliance staff are still assessing the incident.”
Nash and Sage are overseeing a review of the TMP, in place since 2008, which will consider longer-term measures to better protect the dolphins from the risks of set netting and deaths caused by other human activity.
“In light of this capture, I have asked officials to prioritise the development of a new plan,” Nash said.
Sage said the “needless” deaths of five dolphins in one set net underlined an ongoing problem of set net use in places where highly endangered species, like Hector’s and Maui dolphins live, “and the indiscriminate nature of set nets as a fishing method”.
As well as Hector’s and Maui dolphins, set nets caught and drowned seabirds such as yellow-eyed penguin, little blue and Fiordland crested penguins, shags, shearwaters and terns.
“Areas around Banks Peninsula and on the North Island’s West Coast have been closed to set nets to protect Hector’s and Maui dolphins, but dolphins and seabirds continue to get caught and die in set nets,” Sage said.
“Having a serious look at how to best phase out these near invisible and deadly mono-filament gill nets is long overdue. Fishers can use other methods to catch target species such as butterfish, mullet, rig and school shark.”
Sage believed New Zealand could follow the example of American states such as California and North Carolina, which have banned commercial set nets to protect endangered seabirds, marine mammals and turtles.
“South Australia has done the same to protect the Australasian sea lion, as has Finland for the Saimaa ringed seal.”
In a media statement today, Helson reaffirmed the industry regretted the incident.
“The fisher involved is also deeply affected and has moved completely out of the area in which the incident occurred.”
FINZ had “moved quickly” to suggest that MPI bring forward the review of the Hector’s dolphin threat management plan, along with measures that will help to prevent such an incident happening again, Helson said.
“This incident is regrettable, unusual, and upsetting for all involved.”
Helson noted in a letter to Nash that MPI had estimated more than 95 Hector’s dolphin mortalities would need to occur annually before the species’ long-term viability would be at risk.
“While fishing mortality is estimated to be well within those bounds, the seafood industry is committed to reducing our impacts on the marine environment.”