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Underwater Tango

Underwater Tango

For "Space" and "Underwater Tango" The weather was ominous, moody and the swell and waves reflected that. The small zodiac was being rocked and thrown over all of the swells. The white water from the wave crests made it impossible to distinguish between a whale's breath and the movement of the water in the wind. Myself, the captain, and the naturalist were in the deep pelagic zone; it was the deepest and darkest part of the water in our location in French Polynesia. We were drenched, cold, and morale was not very high. Our morning was sought with no encounters and being humbled by the weather. Patience is something wildlife photographers talk about, and again and again patience always pays off. We spotted a pod of Rough Toothed dolphins in the distance. To our surprise, there was a single Humpback Whale with them. It is always very special to be part of interspecies encounters. The conditions and safety margins were evaluated, and due to my swimming ability, it was okayed to get into the turbulent water. A Velcro bracelet holding a floating orange balloon was strapped to me, so the boat could keep track of us in the swell. This balloon did the opposite of aid me in swimming in those swells. The water was fast, chilling, and dark. The waves pushed so much water into our snorkles that we had to manage gulping for air through the water surges. Underwater you could hear the clicking of the dolphins getting closer to come investigate us. Through some aggressive swimming, we made it to where the Humpback Whale and the dolphins were. The whale did not seem to be interested in us, so we turned to capturing the dolphins. After a period of time the whale changed her behavior. Her behavior was curious and engaged. In the distance, we could see another species coming into to our surroundings. It seemed to be pilot whales, which made my naturalist advise we get out of the water so he has time to review and decide what species that is. This was advised due to Oceanic White Tip Sharks are known to follow Pilot Whales specifically. In the conditions we were in, even with both of us having shark experience, there was a high level of safety involved as the shark would be able to be in the high swell without us ever seeing him/them. Upon review of the photos from the boat, it was seen that the third species was as Melon-Headed Dolphin, the first in twenty years that my naturalist and the company he worked with has seen this specific interspecies interaction. We got in the water again, even more heightened to keep an eye out for any potential sharks from the depths. The whale's curiosity seemed even more inquisitive. She was so close to us, rolling, playing, exposing her belly, and what seemed to be like dancing. "Space" was captured, amazingly enough, with her whole body in frame due to her being so close to us. "Underwater Tango" was captured as part of the dance encounter we shared. It has remained one of the most memorable encounters, the photographer has ever had with a Humpback Whale. From the photograph captured, one would never know that the surface looked like a storm, that we were swimming in ten foot swells, that we had dolphins intertwined between us, our nervous system was on over drive, our lungs and legs burned, to be alone with one of the most curious and playful Humpback Whales to memory. I hope the clarity, perspective, and tonality of this piece can capture the imagination of the viewer for the sense of space and interaction one can have with the ocean.

 

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