Monthly Archives

January 2005

Guadalupe Island Spearfishing World Record

Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Underwater Life

The fellows who freedive at Isla Guadalupe (Mexico) in search of giant fish are some of the most skilled and intrepid hunters in the world. They literally enter the food chain in a way that terrestrial hunters do not. This notion is especially true at Guadalupe Island, a haven to great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) at which several divers have been attacked, some fatally, in the past. Furthermore, freediving spearfishermen have the opportunity to fire only a single shot at a passing fish, using a band-powered speargun that they must reload with their own strength if they miss. They have only as much time to stalk a school of fish as they can sustain on a single breath of air, for this is breathhold diving and not supported by SCUBA, which is too cumbersome, noisy and is illegal for spearfishing in Mexican waters, not to mention unsporting. Once they strike their prey, they must haul the huge thrashing fish in on a thick cord and somehow dispatch the fish by hand before sharks sense the struggle and investigate. These guys are real watermen, very fit and tuned in to the waters that surround them. Since 1992 we have dived Guadalupe Island each summer with a group of spearfishering and diving friends, touring the island on the liveaboard dive vessel Horizon. It is a real pleasure to watch the freedivers at work in the water and hear their stories when they return to the boat. An added plus is the fresh fish we eat each night, barbequed perfectly and served with Jerry’s famous brew.

Craig OConnor and his pending spearfishing world record North Pacific yellowtail (77.4 pounds), taken on a breathold dive with a band-power speargun near Abalone Point.  Guadalupe Island is home to enormous yellowtail.  The three most recent spearfishing world records for Northern yellowtail have been taken at Guadalupe. July 2004, Seriola lalandi, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Craig OConnor and his pending spearfishing world record North Pacific yellowtail (77.4 pounds), taken on a breathold dive with a band-power speargun near Abalone Point. Guadalupe Island is home to enormous yellowtail. The three most recent spearfishing world records for Northern yellowtail have been taken at Guadalupe. July 2004.
Image ID: 09590
Species: North Pacific Yellowtail, Seriola lalandi
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

The 2004 trip was marked by Craig O’Connor’s good fortune at spearing a new world record for North Pacific Yellowtail (Seriola lalandi). Nowhere in the North Pacific do these fish get as large as they do at Guadalupe Island. They are brutes. The 1999 trip yielded two back-to-back world records for this species, first to Joe Tobin and then three days later to Doug Kuczkowski. But Craig’s fish topped them both, barely. In addition, a lot of sizable yellowfin tuna were also shot on the trip (as they have in the past), including these two by Joe Tobin and James Tate of Australia.

Joe Tobin (left) and James Tate (right) with yellowfin tuna (approx 60 pounds each), taken by breathold diving with band-power spearguns near Abalone Point.  Guadalupe Island, like other Eastern Pacific islands, is a fine place in the world to spear large yellowfin tuna.  July 2004, Thunnus albacares, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Joe Tobin (left) and James Tate (right) with yellowfin tuna (approx 60 pounds each), taken by breathold diving with band-power spearguns near Abalone Point. Guadalupe Island, like other Eastern Pacific islands, is a fine place in the world to spear large yellowfin tuna. July 2004.
Image ID: 09593
Species: Yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

James Tate with yellowfin tuna (approx 60 pounds) taken by breathold diving with a band-power speargun near Abalone Point.  July 2004, Thunnus albacares, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

James Tate with yellowfin tuna (approx 60 pounds) taken by breathold diving with a band-power speargun near Abalone Point. July 2004.
Image ID: 09600
Species: Yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

Craig’s fish was written up in the San Diego Union Tribune and the IBSRC’s website of spearfishing world records.

Joe Tobin (left), Doug Kuczkowski (center) and Craig OConnor (right).  In July 2004 OConnor shot a pending spearfishing world record North Pacific yellowtail (77.4 pounds), taken on a breathold dive with a band-power speargun near Battleship Point, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Mexico, July 2004.  Kuczkowski is the current record holder (77.0 pounds, July 1999) and Tobin is former record holder (74 pounds, July 1999), H&M Landing, San Diego, California

Joe Tobin (left), Doug Kuczkowski (center) and Craig OConnor (right). In July 2004 OConnor shot a pending spearfishing world record North Pacific yellowtail (77.4 pounds), taken on a breathold dive with a band-power speargun near Battleship Point, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Mexico, July 2004. Kuczkowski is the current record holder (77.0 pounds, July 1999) and Tobin is former record holder (74 pounds, July 1999).
Image ID: 09747
Location: H&M Landing, San Diego, California, USA

Keywords: Guadalupe Island, freediving, spearfishing, yellowtail, world record, underwater photo, Seriola lalandi, Isla Guadalupe

Sex and the Single Shark

Great White Shark, Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Sharks, Underwater Life, Wildlife

In the world of wildlife study, in which efforts are made to identify and track individual animals over time, researchers can fall prey to the temptation to name their subjects. There is considerable debate about the merits of this, as some scientists feel that assigning names to the animal subjects of a study causes the researchers to lose a certain amount of objectivity in the course of their observations. We have had the good luck of working with humpback whale researcher Dan R. Salden for a number of years, and observed that he made sure to always identify “his” humpbacks with an ID number rather than a descriptive name in an effort to avoid developing an attachment to them. However, it is unavoidable that over many years of work some individual animals receive a nickname in addition to their simple ID number. In the case of Dr. Salden’s whales, one such animal was “Mr. November” who had 30 days of fame when a photograph of his fluke appeared on the November page of a wall calendar.

We have been allowed to name five research subjects. It turns out that in some research efforts, the “right” to name an animal subject is given to the first person to photograph or videotape the animal. In this case, the animals happen to be great white sharks which I photographed and videotaped at Guadalupe Island. Three of them are females, big and beautiful sharks two of which are now named for my daughters who are happy to have the distinction of being the only students at school after whom killers have been named (the other female is named for my mother!). The remaining two are males, real brutes and good looking to boot, whom we decided to name for two notable lotharios of Sex in the City fame: Big and The Russian.

A great white shark underwater.  A large great white shark cruises the clear oceanic waters of Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Carcharodon carcharias

A great white shark underwater. A large great white shark cruises the clear oceanic waters of Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe).
Image ID: 10111
Species: Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

What?

General

Oceanlight.com is a natural history stock photography website that first appeared in 1998 as an exercise to learn what the world wide web and websites were, learn to write the HTML to bring a site into being, get it hosted and see if the world thought anything of it. Considerable thanks is owed to Mike Johnson, a good friend and skilled photographer with sublime images of pelagic animals and blue whales, who offered much early advice about the entire process. For the first few years, the only photos on Oceanlight.com that were worth looking at were blue whales (and even that is questionable). The pages were static and created either by hand or with primitive tools such as NetObjects Fusion.

As inbound links to Oceanlight.com began to accumulate and the resultant traffic (mostly from AltaVista and later Google) built, more images were added to the site and publishers began to contact me to license them, usually for use in editorial books, magazines and news publications. I realized that Oceanlight.com had become a defacto stock photography enterprise, and was actually one of the first of its kind for marine and natural history photographs on the web. I was represented by a couple small agencies but had to learn how to field requests and license images properly on my own. In mid-2002, armed with about 1000 images and a need to search by keywords (open vocabulary) and hierarchical relationship (closed vocabulary), I decided to learn PHP and MySql in an effort to create what has now become a powerful, well-indexed and comprehensive online image search feature. So powerful, in fact, that many of the subjects of which I have coverage now appear quite high in the Google rankings by virtue of the PHP/MySql code I wrote. For example, Google “kelp forest photo“, “Guadalupe Island“, “blue whale photos” or “Carcharodon carcharias photos“; as of January 2005 (and October 2007, and June 2009), these all show up in the top 3 or 4 Google results, some of them via Gygis.com, a companion site of mine that is driven by the same self-authored PHP/MySql/search code. Alas, it is inevitable that as better photographers than I shoot these same subjects, my pages are bound to lose traction in the Google ranks. But at the same time my setup allows new subjects to quickly gain traction and show up in Google, e.g., Mobius Arch, The Wedge, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. While there are exceptions, in general most of the animal and plant subjects for which I have coverage will appear on the first page of Google results when searched by their latin/scientific names, e.g., Zalophus photos and often by their common names as well.

The last 6 years or so have seen an acceleration in the process of making photos, getting them on the web and in front of photo researchers and publishers, and licensing them. I am adding about 4000 new images to the library each year, using Canon digital cameras (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III & II) with lenses like the 500 f/4, 400 f/5.6, 300 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 16-35 f/2.8 II and 15mm fisheye (all killer lenses).

The image search, keywording and categorization aspects of the Oceanlight.com photo library are now highly automated and need little further work, so that as new images are added to the stock files they appear online with rich metadata in a few days, and are eventually indexed and have the potential to appear in Google search results rapidly. The addition of textual (non-image) content naturally requires more time. Some photographers hand-build individual pages for their subjects. I just don’t have the patience for this, so instead I use weblogging software to add new text content to the website. Currently, I use WordPress that I have customized in a number of ways. There are 650+ posts so far, as of June 2009.

At present, Oceanlight.com has a Google rank of 6 and receives about 5000 unique visitors (omitting robots and crawlers) each day. Sure, there are other measures of a web site’s traffic and relevance. However, I think Google’s opinion of my website is more important than anyone else’s, and counting the unique visitors to a site is a no brainer. These numbers are quite good for an individual photographer’s web site, and I think they are attributable primarily to smart use of metadata, longevity and simple HTML design.

Who?

General

Phillip Colla bio: I am a natural history photographer and writer. I focus on wild marine mammals, the California kelp forest, inhabitants of remote eastern Pacific islands, National Parks of the American West and, most recently, waves. I am fortunate to have visited many spectacular terrestrial and underwater settings as well as to have encountered a variety of threatened and endangered animal species on and in the ocean. My natural history photography has appeared in the pages of BBC Wildlife, National Wildlife, National Geographic Magazine, Ocean Realm, New York Times, Ranger Rick, Reader’s Digest and Skin Diver as well as many others, has been used in various advertising and publicity campaigns, is on display in aquaria and museums, and is occasionally recognized in photographic competitions. My underwater videography has been broadcast in various productions in the United States and abroad. My current plan is to shoot it all. Here are some “self portraits” I’ve shot out and about.

Click here for a list of my publication and broadcast credits.

The Milky Way galaxy arches over Arch Rock on a clear evening in Joshua Tree National Park

The Milky Way galaxy arches over Arch Rock on a clear evening in Joshua Tree National Park.
Image ID: 26792
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Delicate Arch and Milky Way, lit by quarter moon, hiker's flashlight and the fading blue sky one hour after sunset.  Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch and Milky Way, lit by quarter moon, hiker’s flashlight and the fading blue sky one hour after sunset. Arches National Park, Utah.
Image ID: 27855
Location: Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Photographer in the Virgin River Narrows, with flowing water, autumn cottonwood trees and towering red sandstone cliffs, Zion National Park, Utah

Photographer in the Virgin River Narrows, with flowing water, autumn cottonwood trees and towering red sandstone cliffs.
Image ID: 26130
Location: Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Bubble ring

Bubble ring.
Image ID: 06998

Bored photographer takes own picture, Tabletop, Cardiff by the Sea, California

Bored photographer takes own picture
Image ID: 18973
Location: Tabletop, Cardiff by the Sea, California, USA

The long shadow of a hiker lies on Mobius Arch, a natural stone arch in the Alabama Hills, Alabama Hills Recreational Area

The long shadow of a hiker lies on Mobius Arch, a natural stone arch in the Alabama Hills.
Image ID: 21733
Location: Alabama Hills Recreational Area, California, USA

Phillip and Tracy Colla

Phillip and Tracy Colla.
Image ID: 03469
Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Mesa Arch, Utah.  An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that's me, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Utah. An exuberant hiker greets the dawning sun from atop Mesa Arch. Yup, that’s me.
Image ID: 18036
Location: Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA