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‘Whale Whisperer’ Christopher Swann’s sea life photos

by Ace Damon

Just before turning 18, Christopher Swann joined the Royal Navy as a diver – ‘frogs, bronze helmets and lead boots, shipwrecks and the sea, that was the kind of adventure I was looking forward to,’ he said.

The British’s first dive was on a “very cold winter day at the Royal Navy dive school at HMS Vernon in Portsmouth”. He said: ‘It was as difficult and uncomfortable as possible. Of the 32 that started, only six made it. But when it was over, I fell in love with the sea.

Fast forward from decades later to the present day, and Swann can look forward to an incredible career and life, as a Royal Navy diver, oil rig diver, whale watching tour operator, offering ‘unparalleled experiences’ and, in recent years, 15 years, an accomplished marine photographer. He was a two-time finalist in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.

Christopher Swann was a two-time finalist in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. This spectacular photo he took is of a magnificent gray whale in the Gulf of California, feeding on the surface and proudly showing his ‘fins’, brushes on mouth that filter food

A spectacular shot that captured a killer whale jumping high in the air during an attack on a dolphin

A spectacular shot that captured a killer whale jumping high in the air during an attack on a dolphin

His photos are remarkable – and so is his knowledge of whales.

In fact, he is known as ‘The Whale Whisperer’.

As the late radio presenter and producer Tessa McGregor said: ‘Christopher Swann is one of the most notable people I’ve had the chance to meet. He is a brilliant photographer and an excellent cetacean expert. His knowledge of whales, marine mammals and his behavior is unmatched. Once at sea with Swanny, you soon realize why people call him the Whale Whisperer. “

And Sean Whyte – co-founder of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society – said his whale and dolphin trips offer “unparalleled experiences” and that he could think of “no one more qualified” to see them.

But even having a deep understanding of marine life does not guarantee brilliant images.

A gray whale rises to the surface to look around.  Swann said:

A gray whale rises to the surface to look around. Swann said: “Every cetacean is different, some don’t let you close, others go at high speed, some are in murky water, others can stay down for hours”

Lightning strikes mid-flight in the Gulf of California.  Swann said of his photographic expeditions that he often leaves in the hope of getting one thing and returns with another.

Lightning strikes mid-flight in the Gulf of California. Swann said of his photographic expeditions that he often leaves in the hope of getting one thing and returns with another.

Swann told MailOnline Travel: “I think I often go out hoping to get one thing and get back with another. The first thing is to find the animals – they need to be in a good mood and you want time to cooperate. Each cetacean is different, some do not let you close, others go at high speed, some are in murky water, others can stay down for hours. It is a long and slow business.

When asked to reveal the common mistakes that amateurs make when photographing marine life, Swann – who lives half the year in La Paz, Mexico, on the shores of the Sea of ​​Cortez and the other half on the west coast of Scotland – was characteristic. humble.

He said: ‘I suspect I have done most of them. I think maybe running for animals. I always tell people to swim with a whale, just say that you are not really there, kind of approaching them, as if you are uninterested.

A fascinating shot of common dolphins attacking a mackerel ball, mid-ocean in the Azores, an area that, according to Swann, is his favorite for 'clear waters'

A fascinating shot of common dolphins attacking a mackerel ball, mid-ocean in the Azores, an area that, according to Swann, is his favorite for ‘clear waters’

A fin whale glides to the surface in the Gulf of California.  Swann says he loves whales for

A fin whale glides to the surface in the Gulf of California. Swann says he loves whales for “their beauty and elegance”

Water face: Swann is known in marine circles as 'The Whale Whisperer'

Water face: Swann is known in marine circles as ‘The Whale Whisperer’

Its list of places to photograph whales and dolphins ‘is endless’, but ‘if money was not an object’, they include ‘Tonga, the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and the Sea of ​​Cortez’.

He added: “My favorites are the Azores, for clear waters, and the Sea of ​​Cortez, for sheer abundance”.

It was in the latter that he had a heart-stopping encounter with a shark in the murky water.

He revealed: ‘I was once hit by a shark in very murky waters in the north of the Sea of ​​Cortez. Visibility was less than five feet, even on the surface, and I decided it was useless to continue. Only then did a six foot shark appear and swim straight towards me.

This beautiful image of Swann - who started his nautical career in the Royal Navy - shows sea lion cubs at play

This beautiful image of Swann – who started his nautical career in the Royal Navy – shows sea lion cubs at play

The eye of a gray whale, pictured on Mexico's Pacific coast.  Swann's whale watching trips are said to be incredible

The eye of a gray whale, pictured on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Swann’s whale watching trips are said to be incredible

Humpback whales in the Mexican Pacific beak - a process that involves blowing all the air out of the lungs.  The water vapor in the air condenses above the whale in a spectacular way

Humpback whales in the Mexican Pacific beak – a process that involves blowing all the air out of the lungs. The water vapor in the air condenses above the whale in a spectacular way

A hypnotically large school of effervescent mobula rays, which are specialized acrobats

A hypnotically large school of effervescent mobula rays, which are specialized acrobats

– I hit the snout with the camera box and it fired, only to reappear seconds later. I crashed again and waved to my girlfriend on the boat to get me – she was not good with the boat. She didn’t react at first, and when she finally did, she came at full speed and ran over me and ended up farther than when she started. Then the shark hit me. I swam as fast as I could – very complicated with the heavy accommodation – and was relieved to leave.

Swann said he loves whales and dolphins for “their beauty and elegance” and that amateurs who want to photograph them must be “determined and passionate” … and don’t worry about making money.

  • To learn more about Christopher Swann and see more photos of him, visit his website – cswannphotography.com.

An incredible encounter with sperm whales on the coast of Dominica

By Christopher Swann

Six kilometers off the coast west of Dominica, the water is two thousand feet deep. When the trade winds subside a little, the height of the island shelters the sea here and stillness penetrates. The Caribbean remains silent and silky. The island is shrouded in thin rain clouds, a silver filigree dripping life into the fertile lands. Here, as we ascend and descend in the gentle breath of the ocean, we can see Martinique far south and north, Guadeloupe. These are mountain tops of volcanoes, still occasionally problematic. Below the surface, they are naturally joined.

Invisible to us, the underwater world has its own highways and avenues, along which countless animals travel, feed, attack, mate, socialize and communicate, among them one of the most notorious creatures in the world – Moby Dick, the sperm whale or sperm whale . Here they can be found in large numbers and, sometimes, as today, in a good relaxed mood.

It was just after breakfast, when we approached the north end of the island, that we saw the first blow. It was typical, a small white mist tilted forward, low and easy to miss if there is a lot of white water. Today, however, in this luxuriant calm that we can see for miles, the surface is oily and wavy, like stretched and stretched silk. It waves and pools. The sun shines, flattening it with heat.

Sperm whales in the Eastern Caribbean.  Swann describes them as

Sperm whales in the Eastern Caribbean. Swann describes them as “gray-black submarines … prehistoric, deformed, bizarre”

Approaching the whale, we begin, as usual, to see other strokes. Of course, there are many whales out there. They are mothers and calves, females and young people, in pairs, in small groups and the strange wandering young man, apparently alone. Blows explode in silence from cotton wherever we look. Backlit by the sun, they are bright and golden.

Close to the first animals, it is clear that they are quite relaxed, and not the sometimes common behavior of contraction of sperm whales. So they are strange beasts, difficult to approach and disappear as soon as you cross the border they have established, perhaps about 80 meters away. But now it is the other way around.

We stopped silently, slowing down and finally shutting down an engine. The noise is at least, whales less than 30 meters away and show no signs of nervousness. In gear, we move forward. Whales are sailing slowly, their dark, wrinkled coasts and asymmetrical bubbles make them look prehistoric, deformed and bizarre.

Now we are traveling with them, side by side, maybe a knot or less, and they are perfectly happy to be there. They are mere feet away and it is magnificent. Occasionally, two or three passes right under the boat and they are crashing and crashing against us, but with no apparent concern or warning. They are grouped under the boat, in the bow, on each side.

Everywhere we look, they occasionally blow a tail that appears above the horizon like the flower of a fossil plant.

Lowering my face back to the sea, I can see them in the distance, coming straight towards me like a row of gray-black submarines.

These are truly strange animals. Their heads represent more than half the length of the body and the rest is all tail. They have small, medium, but not unintelligent eyes, and paddle-like fins. When they shed their skin regularly, they look irregular and even shabby. In their bodies, remora [suckerfish] squirm and glide with incredible agility and speed, gathering what the food takes on this fair ride to the depths, as this is a creature designed to dive into ridiculous depths, where, in the darkness of the abyssal depths, they hunt among other things, squid giant, architeuthis.

It is surprising to contemplate that evolution has led to this battle from the depths, to which both competitors are well adapted. Perhaps five or six thousand feet below the surface of the sea, this fight will be decreed and there will be no hearing.

But for now, they intend to travel slowly south and are almost continuously on the surface. We are among them. Sometimes they stop. Nothing is happening, they just stop. Now is our chance and we put on masks and …

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