Behind the Image: Prepare for the Unexpected

Behind the Image: Prepare for the Unexpected

In my last "Behind the Image" article I talked about looking where other photographers aren't. This week I'd like to talk about the importance of being ready for just about anything — particularly when it comes to wildlife photography, as well as how images can impact our behaviors. 

A year and a half ago, I traveled from New York to Cabo san Lucas, Mexico to shoot the then new free-diving expedition—the Pelagic Safari. The goal of the shoot was to highlight the amazing array of life for which the waters surrounding the Baja peninsula are known. For those who are unfamiliar, the region is a an absolute Mecca for marine life. Within minutes of leaving the marina, multiple shark species, sea lions, schooling fish, dolphins, orcas, humpbacks, and many others can be found.  

However, I set off specifically to find silky sharks. 

I was told the journey out of the marina to deeper water would take us about a half hour. Knowing I had some time to relax, I threw my wetsuit on halfway, and sat back to enjoy the flat, royal blue sea ahead of me. I had a brand new Nauticam underwater housing that was a little different from my previous one, and so I found myself wanting to make sure things were just right. 

As I tried to memorize the slightly different layout and get my go to settings (f/8.0, 1/125 sec, ISO 100) sorted, the boat started to slow. Suddenly, it took a sharp turn to the left. The boat captain pointed towards a large plastic bottle floating on the surface. We headed to retrieve it. As we approached the bottle, we noticed there was a bit more too it. In the middle of a bunch of tangled ropes, a frightened sea turtle sat.

While all eyes on board were affixed with laser focus and concern, the turtle appeared equally surprised and alert. Unable to descend because of the plastic bottle, the turtle was in a very sad predicament. The gentle creature was a sitting duck for predators. Upon closer inspection, we noticed the ropes had hooks on each end. They had seen it before. The sea turtle was entangled in a baiting contraption left by shark fisherman.

As we geared up to get in the water, I was thankful I had done all of my pre-dive housing inspections. The dive guide entered the water and proceeded to start removing the rope from the turtles fore flipper. I followed behind, circling around the pair, all too cognizant of the fact that we were levitating over ~1,500 feet of blue open water with a sea turtle and shark baiting contraption! 

While it took a few minutes to remove the contraption, I prefer this image, which was taken seconds after the sea turtle was freed. Besides a bit of chaffing, it seemed okay as it quickly swam south with a few new friends. As I reviewed my images later, a great sadness came over me. Despite the joy and satisfaction of the day's rescue mission, I thought about all of the others out there who would not find help. Sharing this story with others is one thing, but having an image to go along with it can hopefully make a few of us stop and think about how our actions impact the lives around us, however remotely or indirectly it may be at times.

Joanna Lentini's picture

Joanna's writing, photography, & trips focus on the natural world and our connection to it. Whether underwater or on land, she strives to capture not only the magic of our planet, but also the perils facing it. She is also the COO of the non-profit organization Oceans in Focus whose mission is to raise awareness about the plight of our oceans.

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1 Comment

It's a beautiful image and great that you could help the turtle. There's some footage I saw recently of a manta ray that 'looked' as though it was asking divers to remove hooks. Don't have that link, but it is remarkable if you find it.

I now pick up the bits of discarded fishing line which are death traps for innocent creatures, and lament the amount of crap I've left behind over the years.

I see also that you're in beautiful clear water. We were diving on Ningaloo reef to see the whale sharks (amazing) but the water is turbid. The best I could do is this crappy capture off my gopro.