Whale Sharks 2019 Trip Report

The annual aggregation of hundreds of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) off the coast of Isla Mujeres, a tiny little island near Cancun, Mexico has been a must – do event among underwater photographers and marine wildlife lovers. I have been sharing this great event with guests and underwater photography for over 10  years now and still find it a thrill and a grand opportunity for close up wildlife encounters. This year was another great year with numerous whale sharks and some giant mantas.

See Trip Details

swim with whale sharks

I had two group trips this year: one in July and one in mid August. Both groups were treated to many encounters, good weather and water conditions. I want to thank all of this year’s guests for being such great participants: it was a joy to host you.

whale shark season Isla Mujeres

My first group was a family of wonderfully fun, positive, and active people. It was a first visit for most of them and it was exciting to see them experience the magic for the first time.

My 2nd Whale Shark  trip was combined with Crocodiles in Xcalak.  We enjoyed  superb diving on pristine reefs in their marine reserve and 2 nights in the remote fishing hut at the Chichorro Atoll with 3 days of in water encounters with the crocodiles. The group then transferred back up to Cancun and Isla Mujeres for the whale sharks. 

Isla mujeres Playa Media Luna
Our Hotel with pool and beach, easy walk to all the shops and restaurants

Many of these guests had joined my whale shark trip in the past: they came back because they love the atmosphere, relaxing days on the boat, the fresh ceviche, all the great food and sites on Isla Mujeres. The first time guests were excited to see so many whale sharks in one place and without the burden of scuba gear.

swim with whale sharks Mexico

I schedule our trips at the peak of the season. In both July and August the weather was great with smooth water, great visibility and hundreds of whale sharks which were easy to find each day. For both our first and second week of guests, the water was clear and flat. Not even one day of bad weather or cloudy water! Very special.

At least one day with each group the  crew were able to find schools of mantas. Most times there were no whale sharks in the area, just the mantas, but one of the encounters had the mantas right with the whale sharks. This was a wonderful chance to get a manta and whale shark together in a single image.  

Isla Mujeres has many shops full of hand crafts

Like most days, we had this encounter to ourselves with no other boats near us. The mantas did their ballet of loops and plunges before moving off out of our range. It was time to return to shore so we came home very happy and content.

swim with giant manta ray cancun mexico

Photo gear

Canon 5D MKIIII

15mm fisheye lens

17 – 40mm Lens

Other camas

Go Pro in underwater housing with short grip handle

iPhone or Panasonic for topside and island photos

whale shark trip isla mujeres mexico
Whale Shark feeding in the vertical position

I use a Canon 5D MKIIII in an Nexus housing for my underwater work. It is full frame and I like the quality video capabilities. Due to the size of the whale sharks I am using a Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens. I visited the crocodiles before the whale sharks, so I also had a 17 – 40mm lens, but I prefer working the results of the fisheye for whale sharks.

I looked at my shooting data in Lightroom from my 10 years of whale shark images and most  fall into the below settings ranges.

Typical Settings Using full Manual Mode
ISO 500 typically but ranging between 400 –  640
Aperture F8 – F9
Shutter Speed 1/200 sec
Snorkel with whale sharks

 I like to photograph the feeding motion of the mouth from a 3/4 profile angle. The idea here is to capture the turbulence of the water as it flows into the mouth. The whale sharks have a natural behavior where they hang vertical in the water and feed on the krill at the surface. We call this “botilla – bottle feeding”.  It makes for a great portrait aspect ratio photo and the action usually lasts several minutes; so the photographer does not need to swim to keep up, rather move around the WS to get different sides.

How this Trip Works

The whale sharks arrive in large numbers every summer to feed on the abundant supply of plankton and bonito eggs. For me it was an incredible experience to be in the warm blue water with these beautiful and graceful creatures. On several peak days hundred whale sharks would congregate in the space of a couple soccer fields. I have photographed whale sharks in locations around the world (Honduras, Mozambique, Western Australia), but never had the experience of being in the water with such a large aggregation and the large individuals who seemed unfazed by my presence.

whale shark workshop in Cancun

Our boats leave from Isla Mujeres, just a short walk or golf cart ride from our beachfront hotel. The 10 passenger boats are comfortable for our groups of 6 or 7 and they are fast, provide shade and storage, and smooth while cruising. Our boat captain and crew were excellent at finding whale sharks each day, sometimes just a short 40 minute boat ride. Sandwiches and snacks are on the boat with us so we are set to spend most of the day at sea. Regulations require we depart the whale sharks between  2pm – 3pm, but this gives us plenty of time to enjoy our swimming. After long day on the water we would head back to Isla Mujeres but not before eating some ceviche freshly prepared while we were busy with the whale sharks. Once back at the hotel, we have a relaxing time in the hotel pool , a cleanup and download , and a delicious dinner out in town at one of many great restauants.

One afternoon we took the golf carts to the opposite end of the island where they have a zipline, a scenic park, and iguanas. There are many shops to pick up snacks and drinks. Each night we had a delicious meal at restaurants ranging from Mexican tacos to pizza, Mediterranean, and Cuban. After our 4 days on the whale shark boat, some of the guests returned to Cancun and did scuba dives in the Mayan cenotes and toured some of the ruins.

Another Magical Season Wraps Up

Swimming in this aggregation in the Gulf of Mexico was not like other times I have encountered whale sharks in other waters: we would hold in an area where there were 4 -5 visible then wait until they passed close and get in the water with them. They did not seem too agitated by our presence or the splash of our fins.  This is an event that delivers a great guest experience and images year after year.  If you love being in the water and have not experienced this, you must do it.  I have many guests who return year after year for the awesome whale sharks, but also for the fun of Isla Mujeres, great food, and friendly people and guests. 

I will be returning next year:  Check my website for dates and available spaces.

See details and Contact Me through my website

More Links to my Whale Sharks Blog Posts

   Great things about Isla Mujeres

Whale Shark   Photography Guide

  What you need to know about Whale Shark Trips in Cancun, Mexico

Our Photo Safari Dates for 2020

Leopard mother

9 Day Photo Safaris in 2020  – Best of Limpopo & Sabi

May 15 – 23 Sept 1 – 9
May 28 – June 5 Sept 15 – 23
Sept 29 – Oct 7
May Safaris: $5,200 pp  (USD)
September: $5,400 pp (USD)
Inclusive of Accommodations, Transfers, Activities, Food. See more detail on our website
Gregory Sweeney hosts affordable 9 day photographic safaris on private reserves in the game rich area of Limpopo, South Africa.  During the safari we stay at our own tree house lodge as well as in the famous Sabi Sands reserve. We visit Kruger National Park and many private reserves seeking all of the great wildlife. Small groups of 6 -8make this an exclusive and personal experience.
For more information  and price  visit my safari website http://www.AfricaWildSafaris.net
Other safari posts

Tiger Shark Dive Trip Report March 2019

Tiger Beach, Bahamas earns its reputation for clear water, white sands, and 6 species sharks. After over a decade of leading shark trips it still fills me with awe and wonder and still gives me thrills like it was my first time.  An international collection of divers was onboard from Denmark, Germany, Japan, USA, and Canada. For the Japanese guests lead by my good friend and co-leader Takaji Ochi, it was their first experience at Tiger Beach. The 5 -7 tiger sharks and the hammerheads, including one shark new to the area were a highlight.

hammerhead Shark
Patches the Hammerhead

Our trip started under threat of changing weather, but a smart decision by the Captain to leave a few hours early had us avoiding rough weather and a windy crossing. After clearing customs at west end and half way to Tiger beach we encountered a pod of dolphins.  This was an unexpected encounter for this season.  The captain asked if any guests wanted to jump in with them, so several guests jumped in with snorkel gear.  Dolphins enjoy curiosities in their water and interacted with us for a while. 

Join my next Tiger Beach Trip: See the schedule at http://www.TigerSharkDive.com

dolphin pod
Dolphins swim to the surface. Thank you to Koji Tanaka for the image
scuba dive with sharks
Multiple tiger sharks and divers at Tiger Beach
Tiger Sharks
Tiger Sharks

The numbers of large, mature, and often pregnant sharks at Tiger Beach is evidence that the protection measures by the Bahamian government are working and that the sharks are living natural life spans and thriving. Our tourism and the revenue it brings to the Bahamas is their reward for continuing to look after the sharks.  With out Bahamian conservation efforts I believe there would not be many, if any, sharks at Tiger Beach today.

Photography at Tiger Beach

Tiger Shark over the eel Grass
A large tiger shark circles over the eel grass

My Equipment

Primary Camera

  • Canon 5D MKIV
  • Nauticam Housing
  • Inon Z 330 Strobes
  • EF 16 – 35mm f/2.8L II USM

2nd Camera

  • Canon 5D MKIII
  • EF 15mm f/2.8 fisheye
  • Nexus Anthis housing
  • 2 Inon Z 240 strobes
caribbean reef shark
Caribbean reef shark

GoPro

I have this mounted ontop of my camera but also place it on a weighted base on the sand near the bait crates and just let it run.  I get crazy close ups and swim overs.  Sometimes it gets knocked around by the sharks.

drone image of boat and sunset
The Dolphin Dream at sunset

Mavic Pro Drone

I fly this over the boat on clear days and while the guests are doing “lemon snaps” with sharks on the surface at the stern.  (It is tricky to land a drone on a moving boat so I do not recommend this unless you are experienced with landing in challenging situations or hand catching)

Experimenting with Strobes

In the past I have found that my Inon Z 240 strobes were not always able to reach far enough to expose the passing shark.  This year I brought my Inon Z 330 to see if the extra reach was an improvement.  There was a noticeable difference with the Z 330 strobes. 

hammerhead shark close up
The new resident hammerhead shark. Very large and feisty

Positioning for Photography and Using Sharks’ Behavior

Before diving, our captain and crew detail the shark attraction and diving procedures. 

Underwater, divers find that the Tiger sharks  swim slowly and all into a pattern circling the chum crates.  They approach from down current then circle wide and back around to the crates. Our photographers can position themselves along the shark’s path for head on shots or overhead passes.    Staying on the bottom and with minimal movement is the safest way to observe the sharks at close distance. 

Sharks species of Tiger Beach

Tiger Shark Dive Chum
A crew member Dave Finch gives a fish to a large Tiger Shark

Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are the stars of the show. Most are very large and mature females. We enjoy seeing the same sharks year after year and some have been given names so we can refer to them.  They glide in a slow pattern among us and the bait crates, received a few bits of fish from the crew. Most are not shy but there seems to be a ranking order with smaller individuals pushed out. 

Hammerheads

            For several seasons we have had a frequent hammerhead shark visitor to our dives at Tiger Beach.  Shy at first, this hammerhead has progressed from shy in the periphery to standing up to the larger tigers in the commotion around the bait crates.  Now “Patches” is a regular known to all the shark dive crews.

Now there is a new Hammer in town!

           A new hammerhead shark has made her debut at Tiger Beach. Just like Patches this hammerhead was spotted in the distance but too shy to come to the divers, crates, and tigers. Now this huge female, “Cleopatra” mixes in the crowd and asserts herself like a matriarch. I even had the chance to photograph the two hammerheads and a tiger shark all in the same frame.  It seems hammerheads are now ranging to Tiger Beach and not just off the shallows of Bimini. This is very welcome.

            Bull Sharks

            We have had a few bull sharks joining the mix in the last few years.  This year there were a few hanging around on the dives. While nice to see and well behaved, due to their aggressive tactics, we do not let them get any of the bait for fear that if they do they will morph from manageable visitors to a dangerously unpredictable menace.

Drome image of Dive boat
Drone image of our boat taken while attracting lemon sharks to the surface

Lemon Sharks

           Lemon sharks have a permanent toothy grin and can sneek up on you.  They have great character to their faces and are easy to get close to for photography.

Lemon Shark
lemon sharks assemble for a session of “lemon snaps” by our guests

Taking Lemon Snaps

            We like to attract some lemon sharks to the surface at the back of the boat for a chance to take over/under split images of the sharks at the surface.  Using a pole or other safe method (no hands!) we get surface level, shallow depth, or from above images of the lemons thrashing about at the bait.

Caribbean Reef Sharks

            The CR sharks are very graceful and beautiful sharks that join in around the bait crates with the tigers, but also can be found circling under the boat and among schools of jacks.  This shark, like its name is also found hovering over the small reefs found at Tiger Beach. This shark has no problem coming close to divers and will pass over to right near to you.

Caribbean reef shark over the eel grass
Tiger shark dive boat

Night Dive

            Most evenings everyone relaxes over a great meal and recharges after a long day of diving. We had a night of calm weather and low current so some of us took the opportunity to go for a night dive.  We encountered a few bull sharks and quite a few lemon sharks.

Photographing the sunset
sunset
Sunset over the Atlantic

I want to give special thanks to Captain Scott Smith and his crew for getting us in the middle of the action with the sharks and for the fantastic  meals.

Check out my future Tiger Shark Dive Trips at http://www.TigerSharkDive.com

Shark diving trip
Our guests
Dolphin Dream Tiger Shark Dive Boat
The Dolphin Dream Docked at West End , Bahamas while clearing customs

Baja, Mexico Safari

November 9 – 17 2019

A Striped Marlin Hunting Frenzy with Shark Diving, and Mobula Rays by Night

Limited to 5 guests

The adventure starts in Cabo Pulmo National Park where protected marine habitat and pristine coral draws an enormous amount of tropical fish, seals, turtles, and more. Large schools of jacks are an awesome sight as the formation pulses and morphs before us. We do dives specifically for bull sharks who lurk and patrol on the scattered remains of ship wrecks.

After 2 days of diving, we transfer to La Paz where we do a dive unique to La Paz: a night dive with Mobula Rays. Plankton are drawn like a magnet to our lights and schools of rays come swooping in to dive down to feed in the sand. It is non-stop swirling action at night.

stripped marlin and sardines

On to Port San Carlos where Magdalena Bay is host to the largest stripped marlin migration in the world. We will be on our own boat from 7am to 4pm looking for sea birds who will point us to the epic hunting action going on underwater. The marlins hunt the sardines as do the sharks and seals. Under the surface will be a frenzy of action as marlin hunt in cooperation containing and maneuvering the bait balls. One by one they attack the sardines and take their meal. To conclude the trip we transfer back to La Paz for our return travels.

bull sharks at Cabo Pulmo

Itinerary

  • Nov 9 – Guess arrive Cabo transfer to Cabo Pulmo
  • Nov 10 – Shark dive, 2nd Dive
  • Nov 11 – Shark dive, 2nd Dive, Transfer to La Paz, night Mobula Dive
  • Nov 12 – Depart midday for Part San Carlos
  • Nov 13 – 16 – Stripped Marlin & Sardines (4 days)
  • Nov 17 – Transfer to La Paz Airport, Guests depart

Notes: Arrive on the 9th to San Jose Del Cabo Airport (SJD), Depart on the 17th from La Paz Airport (LAO) This trip combines Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in open water conditions

grouper
stripped marlin

Price

(US)$ 3,700 per person Single Room

Includes:

9 nights accommodation in Single Room (discount for sharing),

All Transfers between Cabo airport, Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, Port San Carlos, back to La Paz airport,

2 days of 2 tank diving in Cabo Pulmo, 1 night dive with mobula ray in la Paz

4 full days on boat for stripped marlin

Cabo Pulmo wreck
sea lions attack a baitball

This will be a real marine experience; be in the action with fast and elusive predators

email me at info@gregorysweeney.com to reserve your space!

Favorite Safari Images from September 2018

Images from my September 2018 Safaris

Animal Portraits & Action Captures

Each safari brings a wealth of wildlife encounters for my guests.  I feel like I have come to know some of these animals through multiple sightings from year to year.

Safari images taken in South Africa can be very intimate since we are often able to get very close to the wildlife.  Between our proximity and our medium range lenses, it is possible to get eye to eye portraits of our subjects displaying all the details of their faces and sometimes even reading their story in their eyes.

In contrast we are often witness to fast moving moments in the animals life played out right in front of our cameras and safari vehicle.

Find out about my next Photo Safari

I thought it would be nice to precent couplets of images contrasting these two common image styles. Each was taken while in the Greater Kruger Park private reserves, Kruger Park, and the Sabi Sands Reserve.

The lenses used were my

Canon EF 24 – 105 F 4 IS  and my EF 100 – 400mm F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Lions

Lion on a termite mound

Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound

young lions spar with each other

Elephant

new born elephant
The family moves away from the newborn elephant giving us a clear shot

elephants at wateringhole
One of the funniest elephant incidents I have ever seen: an older elephant refuses to let the young one drink the fresh water.

Leopard

Male Leopard
Grumpy leopard sits guard below the tree holding his kill

leopard with kill
A young female leopard brings a rabbit kill to her cubs

Cheetah

Cheetah
The watchful glance of a cheetah mother (with a damaged eye)

Cheetahs
Cheetah cubs and their mother wrestle

Jackal

(ok, not an action shot exactly, but a neat contrast between adult and cub)

Adult Jackal

jackal cub
A black backed jackal cub calls to an adult

Rhino

White Rhino
A white rhino stares us down at close range – luckily they are more calm than black rhino

Black Rhino Aggression
A black rhino gives us a warning display giving us the clear message that he is tired of our vehicle in his view.

Wild Dog

Wild Dog
A Wild Dog stops moving long enough to get a detailed frontal shot

Wild Dogs
Wild Dogs play both for fun and to establish rank in the pack

Love the feeling I get on safari as if I am part of these animals’ daily life. A precious few hours spent in their world indeed!

I hope you enjoyed my selections and pairings and found inspiration in them.

Polar Bears Photo Expedition to Churchill

Trip Report:  Polar Bears in Churchill , Canada 2018

Polar Bear

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Churchill, Manitoba

Join my 2019 Polar Bear Expedition to Churchill

This year’s trip featured very nice weather under partly cloudy skies and snow.  The ice has started to form, but is not solid enough yet for the bears to move out.  The bears were gathered and very much anticipating the next few weeks when the ice will be fully formed for their trip out to seal hunting territory.

Rock formations Churchill

 

In my Camera Bag:

I keep my photography kit streamlined for easy travel and utility in the field

Canon 5D MK IV

Canon 5D MK III

Canon 100 – 400 F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Canon 400mm F4 +1.4x teleconverter

24 – 105mm lens for murals etc around town.

 

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Tundra Buggy for polar Bears Polar Bear looks at the Tundra Buggy

Our first day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area – a nature preserve.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.

 

Polar Bear in Churchill These vehicles are the only way to get into the Park area as the terrain is too rough for standard vehicles.

We had many bear sightings  from the bear vehicle.

Our 2nd day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. When out with our wildlife guide we are able to get out of the vehicle (when safe) and use our tripods to photograph the bears or arctic wildlife.

Churchill mural Photographing polar bears Cross Fox Polar Bear

We had several opportunities to see bears up close and were able to place the van in such a way to get great images from outside the vehicle.

bear traps
Bear Traps to remove nuisance bears away from town

Eskimo museum Churchill mural

Learning about conservation in this Arctic Region is a primary goal of these visits. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

Polar Bear Female Polar Bear Polar Bear

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.

We had a chance to see a polar bear trying some hunting on a ice covered pond.

Wildlife such as  snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox were harder to find on this trip perhaps due to weather changing on our last day.

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

 

Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip

 

 

Whale Sharks 2018 Trip Report

Whale Sharks Season 2018

Giant Mants

This year was characterized by the number and quality of giant manta ray sightings we enjoyed.  Our guests were very happy to be able to get in the water with groups of them on several occasions.  Our boat captains have become quite good at finding mantas while on our way to the whale shark aggregation.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

We enjoyed great weather on most of the days.  One of the days we returned at the end of the day in a storm, but we have always been lucky to avoid any tropical storms by visiting in July.  The whale sharks were at peak numbers and very concentrated around food sources which lay on the surface.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Drone shot Whale Sharks

The guests had many chances to get in the water each day with the whale sharks enjoying clear water and calm seas.  The whale sharks were feeding on the surface making it easy to snorkel and to make great images.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

It is special to see a whale shark feed in a vertical position: the locals call it “bottle feeding” .  This can last for quite a while with the whale shark pumping its mouth open and closed close to the surface in order to draw in large volumes of water.  A majestic spectacle!

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

In more than 8 years of visits this one stands out as one of the best.  I had the company of some great people, Mind blowing wildlife encounters, some good food and drink, and great photography.

Giant Manta Giant Manta

I will return again in 2019 with a new group of people to share this must do, awesome experience with.

Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres

Get Details about my 2019 Trip

I will also be pairing this trip with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico (a few hours S. of Cancun)

Crocodiles 2019 Trip Details

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodiles in Chinchorro Atoll 2018 Trip Report

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area) 2018

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

This was my 2nd trip to Chinchorro for crocodiles, but for all my guests this was their first encounter so close to reptile predators.

Crocodiles in Mexico
Chinchorro Atoll with the fishing huts and eelgrass huts

This is a place few people have been to and a chance to see and photograph pristine Caribbean reefs and also get close to the rare and endangered American Crocodile

Banco Chinchorro Crocs
One of the guests gets a close up action shot

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photographing Crocodiles crocodiles Chinchorro

Summary:

Chinchorro Atoll (Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve) is the best place in the world to get close to American crocodiles. Located south of Cancun, Mexico and near the Belize border. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is the largest stand – alone reef in the Northern hemisphere and one of the healthiest. Currently only 1,928 hectares of the 144k hectares are zoned for diving and fewer than one thousand divers get to see these remote and unspoiled dive sites per year. It teems with fish and other sea life, and contains more than 100 shipwrecks as well as the largest population of American crocodiles found in the Americas.

Crocodiles in Mexico

Crocodiles Chinchorro
Guests relax and get used to their hammocks

This is a safe encounter with guides who have done years of experimentation and careful planning to make this safe. Our outfitter and guides in Xcalak: XTC Dive Center,  were the first operator to organize croc encounters in Chinchorro and they remain the only dive operator with an official concession. They are committed to sustainable tourism and conservation. This year they were training a new guide to work with the guests and crocodiles.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
The fish huts at Chinchorro

The weather was very nice and calm for our visit.  The hurricane season has so far been quiet this year.  We  started out at the beautiful beachside resort in Xcalak for some amazing dives. The reefs are healthy and colorful with many fish.  Again this year we found ourselves watching a manatee as we dived.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
The rustic fish huts with hammocks

Crocodiles Mexico
Our beachside hotel in Xcalak

We made the crossing to Chinchorro on our 3 day in Xcalak. The water was smooth on the way out.  At the fish huts we found that the water would change from a tea green hue to a clear blue color depending on the tide level.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
Our fish hut and boat

Crocodiles in Mexico
Guides collect invasive lionfish to feed to the crocs

Each morning we dive and while taking in the pristine reefs and marine life, we hunt lionfish. There is a duo purpose in this; to help eliminate the invasive lionfish population and to get food to attract the crocs.

Crocodiles at Chinchorro photographing crocodiles

The fisherman’s’ hunts have no wifi, cell phone, mobile services, no running water, only marine toilets, and 2 or more hours from shore. Guests and I slept in hammocks in the huts and delicious food was prepared and cooked by our boat captains with the aide of a small generator and ice storage chests (all food must be transferred out with us). Since there are fishermen in the other huts, we also  had the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

Crocodile at Banco Chinchorro

When the crocs come in as per their daily schedule, we would go in pairs into the water with our guide and the junior guide to watch over our safety and to manipulate the bait.  They are really good at reading the crocs and they are able to get the croc into different poses so we get a variety of good images.

Crocodiles in Chinchorro
One of my favorite dives at Xcalak has dozens of resting tarpon

It was a great trip and everyone came away with some great images. It was certainly a great time being relaxed and unplugged out in the remote marine environment.  We returned to Xcalak for another day of diving and a return to Cancun.  Some of the guests joined me for the Whale Shark Aggregation on Isla Mujeres.

Crocodiles at Chinchorro

The Whale Sharks were Extra Special this year and loads of Manta Rays!

We spent 4 days on the water and 5 nights on Isla Mujeres for the Whale Shark Aggregation.  Always a fun place with great food, we had nonstop whale shark encounters to keep us busy on our 4 days on the water.  We also had great manta sightings .  The water was clear and blue and the weather was very nice with mostly flat water throughout my 3 weeks in

Whale Shark
Whale Shark, Mexico

Find out more about the whale shark portion of the trip: Whale Sharks 

and my Trip Log

Ready to Jump in Next Year?

If ancient reptiles and remote adventure is calling to you, get more information on price and availability from Gregory Sweeney at www.GregorySweeney.com – Crocs

Trip Specifics

Included

2 Days scuba diving (2 tank dives) in Xcalak in the Reef National Marine Park

3 days snorkel with crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

4 nights hotel  in Xcalak (we keep our rooms while at crocs)

2 nights accommodation in Chinchorro in rustic/ basic fishing huts

Morning dives at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve to gather invasive lionfish

Tanks, weights, dive master, guide at Chinchorro

All meals while at Chinchorro Atoll

Breakfast and Lunch while in Xcalak

Transfers to/from Cancun Airport ( or other location TBD – 6 hour journey)

 

All fishing huts are shared and we sleep in hammocks.

Itinerary

 

July 30 Transfer to Xcalak
July 31 2 dives on reefs
Aug 1 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 3 hour boat ride
Aug 2 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
Aug 3 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – afternoon return to Xcalak
Aug 4 reef diving, Xcalak
Aug 5 Transfer back to Cancun area
Aug 6 – 11 Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres (optional)

 

Limited spaces – contact me with questions or to reserve your space

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

 

2018 Tiger Shark & Hammerhead Trip Report

Results: Our 2018 Tiger Shark & Hammerhead Dive Trips

This was the 2nd year of our combined Hammerhead and Tiger shark trips.  Both our March and early April trips had many tiger sharks and at least one hammerhead on most of our dives.


Join my next Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Trip to Tiger Beach
See the schedule at  TigerSharkDive.com

Our guests achieved many nice photos and had a great time

While underwater with so many sharks, I was able to observe some interesting behavior.  There is definitely an order of dominance among the sharks and between the different tiger sharks; most of which are female.  Many times the hammerheads are shy to approach when there are many tigers and especially if there are bull sharks.  There was one brave hammerhead female who joined the crowd even though there were many other bigger sharks around.  I observed the largest female tiger shark reminding the hammerhead of her dominance by body-checking the hammerhead near the bottom.  Though this happened a few times, the hammerhead was not scared away and provided us with many great poses.

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead
A Tiger Shark shows dominance to a hammerhead shark

Dolphin Dream Scuba Liveaboard

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A Guide to Photographing Whale Sharks in Mexico

A Whale Shark & Manta Photography Guide

 

swim with whale sharks in Mexico

Photography & Video tips, Equipment, Techniques, and Best Settings

Useful for photographers with DSLR, Mirrorless, Compact, and GoPro Cameras

Whale Sharks are the biggest fish in the sea and likely the largest living thing you have ever shared the water with.  Even knowing how big they are and seeing them from the surface before getting in does not prepare you for the underwater experience: what is on the surface is only the tip (or fin) of the iceberg.  Their casual effort at swimming and their tenacious feeding effort is an awesome experience and you will want to capture all of this plus your emotional response to their size in your photos.  This guide will give you some pre-travel advise on how to prepare.

This guide is written based on my experiences with whale sharks in the Cancun region of Mexico at Isla Mujeres.

Join one of my Snorkel with Whale Sharks Trips

Divers, free divers, and snorkelers can also swim with whale sharks all over the world including Sea of Cortez Mexico, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Honduras’ Utila, Cebu in the Philippines’, and Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay.

I have had many seasons of swimming with whale sharks to experiment and perfect techniques.  I have changed techniques over the years as my cameras have evolved and my creative goals changed from year to year.  With the addition of video to my DSLR camera and the rise of GoPros, I have allocated more in water time to  video.

Photography Equipment for Photographing Whale Sharks

Safety equipment

A wetsuit is required by the regulations. It also keeps the sun off  and protects somewhat from marine creatures.

Consider a hood or lifeguard beanie for sun protection – a colored beanies is also a great safety device which will help the crew keep you in view if you get further afield.

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and coverups for on the boat.

Don’t forget a protective bag and sun coverup for your camera

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Use a Fisheye Lens

Whale sharks are huge and it is possible to get close to the subject. Using a fisheye lens will let you get the whole fish in the image and capture some detail

DSLR 

Select the widest lens you have – ideally a fisheye prime or fisheye zoom lens: both will give you up to a 180-degree field of view with a reduced minimum focus distance.  When you get as close the shark as you can (without violating any regulations) you will get the whole thing in.  Compared to photographing other moving subjects like dolphins and sailfish, the drag caused by your large dome port will not be a huge factor. Whale sharks are moving, but more at a walking pace than a running pace.

Fisheye lenses like  a 10 – 17mm will be the most popular, especially on crop sensor cameras. Full frame shooters can use the lenses such as  the Sigma 15mm or the Canon 8-15 circular fisheye.

Mirrorless

Underwater photographers using Olympus E-PL and OM-D cameras will opt for the popular 8mm fisheye lenses.

Private charter for whale sharks
Our boat captains are good at dropping us ahead of the moving whale sharks so as to get the front on shots

Compact Camera

Compact camera users will need to use a fisheye wet lens on top of their camera’s built-in lens.

The wet lens increases the field of view (up to 165 degrees).  Without a wide lens, compact users will not be able to get the whole shark in the photo or be too far away: the wide angle lens reduces the minimum focal distance so the photographer can get much closer and still fit the subject into the frame.

Wet lenses require the user to check for and release bubbles around the wet lens each time you get in the water.

A compact camera or phone camera is a great addition for shooting fun shots, cultural features around town,  and people. You can then leave your DSLR in the housing without worry about resetting o-rings and seals.

GoPro

GoPro shooters should be able to record great underwater photo and video of whale sharks without any additional lenses. The shallow depth and natural light mean that you will not need to add a red filter. You might want a polarizer for on the surface though. Using a handle or mount to hold the GoPro can help steady the shot, but beware of rules governing the use of “selfie sticks” – it is prohibited to use a stick to go closer to the animal than the rules allow and rules may have changed to prohibit them altogether.

Strobes

When snorkeling or freediving with whale sharks, strobes are often unnecessary given the amount of available light at the surface. It’s also against local regulations to use strobes in these situations for fear of startling or harming the animal. Make sure to ask your dive guide about the local rules.

The bulk of the strobes can hinder your swimming and the movement may make it difficult to keep them aimed properly with little time to fix them once you are face to face with the large subject that is coming straight at you.

You may wish to have a strobe for topside shots

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks

Settings
Exposure

DSLR, Mirrorless and Compact shooters have a number of shooting mode options to choose from.

My method is to start with some manual settings and change them as the daylight changes.  Most of my images are at ISO400  with some ranging from ISO320 to ISO640 on cloudy days or when I go deeper under the surface (such as for mantas)

My shutter speed stays at 1/250sec  or more . You must be able to shoot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action.

Mostly I shoot manual adjusting the aperture to suit the conditions.  Shutter Priority would be a 2nd choice to full manual

My Canon 5D IV has very good options for pattern metering mode.

Using the Ambient Light

I try to pick my subjects based on not shooting directly into the sun. This is not always successful, but if I can get a whale shark with the sun to my back it improves the chances for a great shot.

When swimming with whale sharks, you will want to be as mobile and nimble as possible. Since the whale sharks are feeding at the surface you can shoot entirely with ambient light.  As stated before, strobes are not permitted and would slow you down anyway.

Shooting Techniques

The whale sharks are swimming they could change direction at any moment, so pay very close attention to their movement to avoid touching them or being run over.

When using the wide angle lenses such as those with 180 degree coverage, watch that your fins do not get in the shot!

You do not need great freediving skills, but being able to stay underwater at 2 – 10 feet will give you a shooting angle of slightly upward and can help mitigate the effects of very bright and direct light.

Practice before your trip to increase your underwater time and clearing your ears. Even breath holding exercises on land can help you be prepared for the day.

Being able to freedive to 20 feet will give you the options of silhouettes and sun burst shots.

Types of Images to Try
Behavior

 Catching the wide open mouth during feeding either from the front, side, or ¾ angle

whale shark gills
Close up of whale shark gills

Whale Shark
Whale Shark, Mexico

Add drama to the feeding image by getting details of the water flowing into the mouth

Whale Shark
Whale shark feeding on the same food that the sardines enjoy

Position yourself ahead of the shark and wait for it to approach. While photographing, move off to the side to get ¾ angle as it goes by. If it is too late to move, quickly submerge and swim to the side letting it pass over you.  You do not want to get “bonked” – those fins are hard and rough.

One of the most dramatic images you can take of a whale shark is with its mouth wide open in the middle of feeding. This is common in Isla Mujeres, where the sharks shift into a vertical position to feed, called a “botella.” You will use every bit of your wide lens to capture this. The good part is that they are not moving while in this position.

Above and Below

When photographing the whale shark near the surface, try capturing a split shot with the fish underneath and the topside scene above. In some cases, the above subject might be boring: Just clouds or sky. But in other locations, you may be able to capture unique interaction with fishermen, either in a boat or on a floating platform.

swimming with whale sharks in the gulf of Mexico
Make a Complete and Varied Portfolio

Make sure to thoroughly describe your subject in both shape & form and behavior.

Check list:  Front, ¾, side, below, above, tail shot

snorkel with whale sharks in mexico
A whale shark feeding just below the surface

whale shark at the surface
A whale shark swims to our boat as it feeds with other whale sharks on a giant patch of plankton

whale shark bottle feeding
A whale shark goes vertical to do what they call “bottle feed” by pumping massive amounts of water into its mouth while staying stationary

You will get chances to get a tail shot as the whale shark swims past you into the distance.

Getting lower in the water, looking up that the subject adds variety and drama to your image collection.

If a whale shark is below the surface, get an image of its back from above. The spots are one of the most interesting features of the whale shark.

Shoot Silhouettes

Shooting up at the whale sharks creates a beautiful image. A whale shark is a unique shape (negative space) which makes a very interesting from above or from below shot.  To capture a sunburst, make sure to stop down your aperture (f8 on compact, f18 on mirrorless, f22 on DSLR) and use a fast  shutter speed to trim the amount of light getting in.

Take images with people as part of the composition

Remove distracting elements such as other people in water by moving off to a whale shark with no other people around it.  There are usually enough sharks around for everyone to get their own without getting too far from the boat.

Use a person for a sense of scale, but be careful to have them isolated against the water, not positioned between you and the whale shark so as to cover part of the subject. The best compositions will have the whale shark with a person below and behind or in front of the approaching whale shark.

Try adding a person to a silhouette. This will take some consultation with your model and a plan with signals and most likely several tries to get it right.

whale shark private charters for photographers
I free dive deep to get the entire whale shark framed into the shot

Whale Sharks are easily accessible and comparatively easy large marine subjects to photograph

The techniques are easily practiced and perfected while on my Whale Shark Photography Workshop.  With 4 days on the water we can experience all light conditions and move around to find the best areas of the aggregation and even search for mantas feeding on the same food patches. Back at the hotel, photographers have time and a safe place to download and review photos.  Shots missed can be attempted the next day and successes shared with others to inspire their next days shooting.  The little amount of equipment needed and streamlined snorkel kit make this trip easy to pack for. Abundant wildlife and the welcoming and fun nature of Isla Mujeres make this trip a must do for all underwater photographers.

Information about my Whale Shark and Manta Trips (and all of my photography trips) can be found on www.GregorySweeney.com

 

swim with giant manta rays