Thursday, December 14, 2017

Humpback Whales Return to Maui

Look Closely: Yearling and Mom
 I started my Hawaii guiding season back in early November and I am pleased to say that I have been able to find humpback whales every week since then for our guests onboard. However, early season whales here in Hawaii can often come up for a few quick breaths and then dive deep for ages, never to see them again. The sightings are usually solo whales on the move, perhaps looking for the few other early season whales among the islands. But this week we saw a gathering of whales into what I think was the first competition pod of the breeding season.

   The sun was getting low in the sky over Lana'i as we spotted two big blows and one smaller blow. We had just finished a wonderful snorkel in Honolua Bay and were planning on heading to calmer water when we stumbled across the whales. It is one of the beautiful things of living and working on a boat on the ocean, you never know what you might see next.

  The smaller of the blows turned out to be a yearling who to our delight started breaching over and over. He was certainly better than newborn calves, and had graduated from the 'flying pickle' breach technique, but still had a ways to go before reach adult full breach status. But he did not lack in the energy department. We saw twenty or thirty breaches until it finally got so dark I had to put my camera down. At one point two groups of whales converged to form a group with about five animals in it. With such an energetic yearling I imagine that mom was pretty well fed herself which means she could very well get pregnant again this year. In a place where the only reason the male whales are here is to breed you can safely assume that was on their mind as the competition group formed.

  And this is still just the start of humpback whale season here in Hawaii! To buy humpback whale prints check out my picture page here: Dai Mar's Humpback Photos

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Extreme Kayaking on Lana'i, Hawaii

  As I looked at the waves crashing along the scenic coastline of Lana'i, I hoped that my guests this week would be up for a bit of an extreme kayak. They bucked up to the challenge and we got some great pictures because of it. We dropped off our kayak group at a place called Armchair, right where the cliffs of the south side of Lana'i start to get very vertical and high. At some time prehistory a large part of the island landslided off into the deep channel leaving behind these awe-inspiring sea cliffs.

   Waves would crash over rocks as we weaved in and around. The conditions were just right for the blowhole to fire off once every few minutes. It even casts a rainbow over the kayaks several times. One team paddled so close to it I thought their stern was going to actually go inside the lava tube...luckily they didn't and they just got splashed instead of flipped.

  In the end it was a wonderful kayak on a beautiful day alongside an island that not many people get to visit. This is UnCruise in Hawaii and a pretty fun way to make a living.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Manta Rays are Back!

 I'm not sure how unusual it is to have a manta ray drought at the famous Kona manta ray night dive location off the Big Island in Hawaii. For three weeks we were skunked, the only sighting being a fleeting vision of one swimming just over the campfire and out of sight. I can remember only being skunked at this location one time in the past two years.  And that is coming here once a week every week from Nov-April.

However this week definitely ended the drought. It was practically raining mantas. I noticed for a few days that the plankton levels have definitely blossomed. Another good sign was actually seeing a large manta ray feeding at the surface as we pulled into our manta ray anchorage. Everyone on board got a good look as the large ray swam near the surface down the entire length of our ship. The plankton levels were much higher density than the previous weeks, so I wasn't surprised when we saw mantas hanging out at the camp fire when we first jumped in.

Unique markings used to ID manta rays
  Things got even better for us snorkeling at the surface as we drifted into the shallows. Here five manta rays were working the plankton bloom doing barrel roll after barrel roll just under the surfboards. By the end of the night we had lost count of how many mantas were out there swimming with us. But I did notice the plankton had become a virtual tornado in our light. Everyone was very excited and even the most experience snorkelers in the group said this was one of their top in water experiences ever. All in a days work at UnCruise.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Underwater Look at Hawaii's Dolphins

Underwater Photos of Dolphins
    This week's adventure from Molokai to the Big Island brought us up close to some very fun charismatic megafauna. We saw some of the season's first humpback whales, we came across a mother and calf Blainsville's beaked whales, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, and several pods of spinner dolphins.
The spinner dolphins were curious enough that on two separate occasions, one from a kayak and one from a skiff, I was able to put my underwater camera in the water and get these shots. Their playfulness shows their underlying intelligence and their family bonds show off a highly sophisticated social network. 

It is always a pleasure to be in the company of intelligent life...especially in the ocean! Check out my photo page for high res underwater photos of dolphins: daimarsphotos

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Docked Next to the Hokule'a

Ancient Hawaiian Sailing Traditions

  After decades of oppression during which many aspects of Hawaiian traditions and language were outright banned in the Hawaiian Islands, there came a light amongst the darkness. Aptly named the Hokule’a, after the bright star Arcturus, this traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe first set sail in 1975. It set out to prove that the first Hawaiians didn’t just drift here on the currents, and ending up igniting the pride of Hawaiians.

  It has sailed the Polynesian triangle between Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Marqueses Islands several times. And has just returned to the Hawaiian islands after a record setting around-the-world sail during which it continued to share the Aloha spirit and reinvigorate Hawaiian pride. We were lucky enough to share a harbor with the Hokule’a at Molokai this week. I made sure one of our documentaries was about the Hokule’a so the guests knew the importance of the sailing canoe. We checked out Herb Kane’s historic art gallery containing a few paintings of the Hokule’a, which was created with the aid of his drawings and research. And we were lucky enough to have Danny Akaka onboard as a guest presenter. Danny spent time sailing onboard the Hokule’a as their cultural advisor. I thought of him this morning as the ship sailed by the SFX, conch horn blowing loud for all to hear.

  Hawaii is a place filled with traditions like this…if you know where to look. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Swimming with a Hammerhead Shark

8 foot Hammerhead Shark encounter
  Any time I get to swim and photograph sharks I get pretty excited. I have traveled around the world just to have shark encounters, like shark cage diving with great whites in Africa, to shark feeding frenzies in Fiji, thresher sharks in the Philippines, and even a wild shark dive off the east coast of Florida. You can follow the links to see photos from all of those dives. But I get really excited when I just happen upon a shark which is exactly what occurred yesterday off the lava rock coastline of south Kona.

   We had just wrapped up a wonderful snorkel in Kealakekua Bay, near Captain Cook on the Big Island. As we motored our zodiac around the corner we were about to pick up speed when we spotted a large pale grey shadow just under the surface. It was big so I immediately knew it was something special...maybe a manta ray or even a small whale shark. I quickly grabbed my fins and mask, slid off the boat into the water, and swam towards the pale grey shadow...not knowing for sure what it would be.

  At first I could only see that it was a big shark. Then as I swam nearer the shark turned its head away from me and I could instantly see it was a big scalloped hammerhead shark. It kept its distance and swam a little deeper. Then, as if it knew what I was thinking, it circled back towards me, giving me one chance to dive down near it before it swam off the ledge into the deep blue. It was a magical encounter with such a big, powerful, and graceful animal. One that I will not forget.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The More Fun you Have...

   In my job leading adventure cruise trips among the Hawaiian Islands I find the more fun I am having, then the more fun the guests are having. So I try my hardest to get out there and goof off, especially during the swim parties. Here I am trying paddle board headstands, 360's, and a 'point at the camera' leap off the top deck.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Back in Hawaii

Lava overlook
SFX Crew
  After seven months of working in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska, I am finally back in the Hawaiian Islands. I'll be running the expedition side of things again on the UnCruise boat Safari Explorer. The trips are one-way, week long, adventures from the Big Island to Molokai, or vice versa. I am excited to see alot of veteran crew back again this year as well as some fine new additions.

Bowriding Spinner Dolphins
Backflipping dolphins
  We managed a few days of training before the boat showed up and again I took advantage of that time to get the crew over to the Hilo side of the Big Island to see the active volcano. The flow has moved a little from last year and is just trickling into the ocean now compared to the fire hose that caused a huge steam cloud last winter. We tried to walk uphill towards the fresh surface flows but were eventually turned around by the sheer distance across the treacherous terrain.

  Our first weeklong trip is already in the bag. We had a packed boat with wonderful guests. And despite not seeing manta rays on our night snorkel we did have many dolphin encounters including the playful spinner dolphins pictured here, and we swam with more turtles than we could shake a stick at. An early humpback whale was added to the list right before we took the guests on a rare backwall Molokini snorkel.

Crew bonding on the lava fields
  I always worry that my Hawaii information will disappear in the months that I spend guiding up in Alaska, but again it came rushing back to me when I needed it and now I am feeling like mid-season form. The crew is also firing on all cylinders making for a very smooth trip. The sun just rose here in Molokai so I'm off for an all day adventure of waterfall hiking and cultural immersion. Hopefully lots more Hawaii post to come!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hidden Gems Around the Corner: Vermont

Snow at Stowe
Neka in the wildflowers
The first sprinkling of snow on top of the mountains brings an air of excitement here in Vermont. It is time to dust off those skis and snowboards. For me that is a lot of dust. It has been about 7 years since I last snowboarded so I'm hoping that all these surf sessions pay off as a kind of cross training.

  And with the excitement of spending a bit more time here in Vermont I wanted to do a bit of exploring. Just across from an old covered bridge that I photographed earlier this week I found a trail that supposedly followed the river to a couple of waterfalls. I thought I would see if I could photograph them with a bit of the waning fall colors before the snow season took over.

Brewster River
Lower Falls
  The trail led to many other trails which was a cool surprise since it was right around the corner from Heidi's family place. Its called the Brewster River Gorge, or as some locals call it the lower and upper falls. Coupled with some late fall colors this was a great hike of discovery. It turns out you never know what is right out your backyard if you never look.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fall Colors in Vermont

Fall colors in the pond
Everyone is a fan, including Neka
  Living in Hawaii for the few years has meant that I have been living in an endless summer. While this sounds pretty magical, especially to a ocean lover like myself, you do miss out on all of the other seasons. Luckily for me warm temperatures have stuck around in Vermont deep into October. So I was able to catch some of the last of the changing colors of Fall.

Makes for a nice bike ride
  With all of the different species of maple trees covering shades from deep red to bright yellow, everywhere you look here in Vermont is awash in color. The sheer amount of leaves already on the ground made me realize that I was a little late for the peak of the fall colors, but I am so happy to have caught at least the end of it. Here are a few pictures from about Vermont blazing in reds, yellows, and oranges.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Kayaking in Savannah with Mom

  Gliding through the marsh grass at high tide, following the winding path of the creeks, passing ancient mounds of disposed oysters, and watching incredible birdlife are just some of the reason I love kayaking around Savannah's waterways.

   On this epic three hour paddle, my mom and I started at Butterbean beach and made it all the way to the Isle of Hope causeway before making the turn and riding the current back out around Wormsloe Plantation. Ospreys, kingfishers, and terns dove into the water around us and wood storks circled high above. The weather in October is downright pleasant for this kind of adventure. Chalk another fun one into the memory books.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Under the Stars: Nighttime Photography in Vermont

Vermont House lit up and reflected

  I haven't spent much time in Vermont during the fall season. It was something I was hoping to remedy after seeing all the pictures of the changing of leaves and crisp weather. Now that I am here at the end of October I can say that fall is definitely a nice time to be in Vermont.

   What I didn't expect was downright warm temperatures this late in the year. This, combined with clear dark nights, gave me the idea to head outside and do some star photography. I was hoping to see some meteors since this was during the Orionids meteor shower but only one shot across the sky during the photo shoot.

Star Gazing in Vermont
  Using a long exposure (30 seconds), I was able to start capturing the milky way streaking across the night sky. A little bit of light pollution and some low wispy clouds added a bit of color and drama to the sky. Then as I walked around the pond down below the house I got the idea to include the reflection of the house lights lighting up the yellow leaves of the maples just outside.

  When I teach photography I often suggest to think about what the light is doing in your scene. The problem with nighttime photography is that there is so little light to work with. But the absence of light can be just as powerful in a photo to help capture the mood and to tell a story. My story, turn off the electronics, grab a headlamp, head out of the city, and enjoy the night sky like our ancestors did for thousands of years.