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The important things in life, Ukuleles and Fine Art prints

The important things in life, Ukuleles and Fine Art prints

These are definitely interesting times we are living through. fine art prints for sale

A screenshot from my new gallery of fine art prints for sale

Nurses, doctors, refuse collectors, food delivery drivers, supermarket cashiers and many others are working harder and longer then ever, while most of the rest of us pace the house, flick through facebook or netflix, or stare wistfully out of the window.  And it’s been a real learning curve for me, not least in reminding me who the really essential workers in society are: the nurses, the doctors, the care-workers, the supermarket workers, the bin men. Not, alas, the marine biologists, the expedition ship guides or the photographers.  Which leaves me with rather a lot of time on my hands.  So all those tasks I’ve been putting off for weeks, months, or even years in some cases, well …. now I don’t really have an excuse anymore.  So, after my third cup of coffee, and having checked emails one last time (you just don’t know … so much could have happened in the last four minutes) I finally applied myself to the list in front of me.  Number one was …

1.Learn Thai

Well, currently living in Thailand it kinda makes sense.  Now I hold my hand up and freely admit I have no aptitude for languages whatsoever.  At school I was booted out of French class at the first opportunity.  In latter years I’ve tried to learn Spanish.  It’s a pretty cool language and it’s the main language in so many countries that I like to spend time in.  For around four years now I’ve subscribed to online courses, watched youtube videos and poured over my Spanish phrase book, and still …. still, words fail me after ‘Dos cervezas por favor’.  But, I am currently in Thailand, so a little more Thai than ‘Sawatdi kraap’ might be useful.  So Thai it is.  Fortunately I found this great youtube series of videos ‘Learn Thai – Thai in 3 minutes‘. Each lesson is exactly three minutes long, so even my bird-like attention span can cope.  Three minutes and boom! I’ve ticked numero uno off my list for today.

Seriously! I am not making this shit up.

2. Learn to play the ukulele

This is hard.  I have even less musical ability than I have aptitude with languages. Which is  a great disappointment to me, as I love music.  Throughout my life I have struggled with this dis-ability, convincing myself there had to be at least one instrument that was simple enough the even I could play a tune on it.  Pandering to this delusion, I am now the proud owner of several harmonicas and two ukuleles, none of which I can play.  So with time on my hands and few neighbours to annoy, I have been forcing my stubby fingers to develop muscle memory for simple chords like A, A minor, G7 whilst startling local cats with my attempts to strum (‘startling cats’ what a great name for a band…).

Why is it so damn difficult? There are only four strings.

3. Updating my website and selling some art prints

Okay you knew there had to be a sales pitch in here somewhere, and here it is.  Working at sea much of the year is a fantastic opportunity to see some wonderful, remote places and provides great photo opportunities.   The price I pay is lousy internet.  This is often eye-wateringly expensive satellite internet where speed is measured in single digit kilobytes per second, or brief pit-stops in quirky port cafes (one of my favourites being Spooky Boogies in Lyttleton, New Zealand.  Lyttleton is sort of New Zealand’s land that time forgot, and Spooky Boogies is every bit as quirky as it sounds, great music played on vinyl and a wifi password of ‘F–k you baby’ last time I was there).  But I digress.  Anyway, the end result is that luxuries like updating my website simply don’t happen.  So now, like everyone else, I am sitting at home with mostly working internet and plenty of time on my hands.  So if you check out you will find lots of new images added to my galleries.  There is also an embryonic Basic Photography Course in development, possibly some video (not me playing uke, I hasten to add) but most importantly there is now a fully fledged Prints for Sale Gallery up and running.  For many photographers, the bane of their lives is that images that look great on screen do not necessarily print that well (for reasons relating to differing media, differing screen settings and differences between transmitted and reflected light that I will not bore you with now). So what I have done is poured over thousands of images, selected a little over 20 of my favourite ones, and tweaked each one to ensure it prints really well.  I say 20 something as I am continually adding to the gallery.  Currently, you can buy these prints as traditional canvas wraps on a wooden frame; stretched canvas on wooden frames; flat-mounted canvas on rigid gatorboard; metal prints on aluminium sheet or acrylic mounted on metal.  Most prints are available from 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20 cm) up 30 x 40 inches (76 x 102 cm) some even larger. These prints can be ordered directly from my website. Simply visit the Buy Art Prints Gallery, click on the image you chose, them follow the choices.

An example screenshot from my Art Prints Gallery. The image can be zoomed in for a close check. Purchasing is as simple as clicking the ‘BUY PHOTO’ button.

Selecting ‘BUY PHOTO’ will take you to a side bar menu where you can specify media (canvas wrap, acrylic on metal etc.) and print dimensions

Before completing the purchase, you have the option to adjust the crop of the print, seeing exactly how much will be visible on your chosen media.

I have chosen Bay Photo Labs near Santa Cruz , California, to create and deliver all these prints. Bay Photo Labs have been in operation for over 40 years and have a terrific reputation as a pro photo lab delivering excellent quality.  They are also a Certified Green Business and part of the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Programme, actively working to reduce their impacts on the environment. They ship both throughout the US and internationally.  Depending on interest, I may set up a duplicate gallery offering printing from the UK to facilitate faster shipping to Europe. For the moment, only this gallery offers purchase of large prints.  This is because many of the images I have uploaded in other galleries have not been uploaded as large enough files for good quality large prints.  However, I am working through these files and gradually replacing ones suitable for prints with full size images.  Of course, if you are outside of the USA or Europe, and you would like to purchase a print of any image you see on my website, simply contact me by email using the ‘contact me’ form on my website (make sure you identify the print by description, gallery, title or even a screen grab).  That applies to images that are within my Buy Art Prints Gallery and to ones that are in other galleries. So why not check it out?




Setting Sail

Setting Sail
Setting Sail.  Hoisting the sail on a traditional outrigger sailing canoe (a sailau) Dobu Island, D'Entrecaseaux Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. © Colin Munro Photography

Setting Sail. Hoisting the sail on a traditional outrigger sailing canoe (a sailau) Dobu Island, D’Entrecaseaux Island, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

Sailing outrigger canoes, known as sailau in Paupua New Guinea, are still vital for trade, fishing and transportation between islands in Milne bay Province, PNG. The canoes are built locally out of mastwood trees (Calophyllum inophyllum) by expert boatbuilders, then traded. Mastwood (also known as Alexandrian laurel, Indian laurel and beach touringa) is found in coastal regions throughout Australasia and the Indo-Pacific.  As the name suggests it is often used in the construction of boat spars and hulls.

Unlike most sailing vessels (but shared with other Proa outriggers throughout the Pacific) sailau do not tack. Instead they swap ends, the bow becoming the stern (shunting) thus keeping the outrigger permanently to windward.

Sailau, a lug rigged outrigger canoe, or proa, Dobu Island, Milne Bay Province, PNG.

Sailau, a lug rigged outrigger canoe, or proa, Dobu Island, Milne Bay Province, PNG.

Sails are made out of whatever is available: tired old dacron sails traded with passing yachts, patches of plastic sheeting, old tarpaulins, often creating patchwork quilt effect. Sailau, use lug sails (four-cornered sails with the top spar attached across the mast). These sailau have what is known as a balanced lug. These rigs are extremely efficient and have the advantage that they require little standing rigging to support them. They also have the advantage that the shape and tension of the sail is far less important than on a bermudan rig, an important consideration considering the patchwork repairs.

Further reading:

Smaalders, M., and Kinch, J., 2003.  Canoes, subsistence, and conservation in Papua New Guinea’s Louisaide Archipelago. SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin. 15. July 2003.

The Grind. Is campaigning for it to stop or condemning it on social media hypocritical?

Recently killed pilot whales at the end of a grind or grindadrap. Torshavn, Streymoy, Faroes.
  • The grind, or grindadrap, is a non-commercial, community based whale and dolphin drive in the Faroe Islands.  It is bloody, some say barbaric, affair.  Most notable among the groups campaigning for the grind to stop are the organisation Sea Shepherd.  Earlier this month, Sea Shepherd UK wrote to 16 cruise ship companies, asking them to stop visiting the Faroe Islands until the grind stops.


Recently killed pilot whales at the end of a grind or grindadrap. Torshavn,  Streymoy, Faroes.

Recently killed pilot whales at the end of a grind or grindadrap. Torshavn, Streymoy, Faroes, May, 2019.


The grind, or grindadrap, is a non-commercial, community based whale and dolphin drive in the Faroe Islands.  Around 840 pilot whales and white sided dolphins are killed every year.  This is done by local boats driving them in to designated beaches (there are 26 around the Faroe Islands. Grinds occur spontaneously, when pilot whale pods are sighted. It can only be initiated by sightings from land.  The whales are driven by small boats on to the beaches, where local people gather and kill the whales using a specially designed lance that severs the spinal chord.  The meat is not sold, but distributed equally and freely to all households in the Faroes.  It is bloody, some say barbaric, affair.  There are widespread calls in Europe and North America for it to be halted.  Most prominent among the groups opposing the grind is Sea Shepherd, who have an ongoing campaign, Operation Bloody Fjords, to stop or disrupt the grind.

I was in the middle of writing a completely different blog when the topic of the Grind started resurfacing on social media posts.  The post most frequently reposted, and commented upon, that I saw, was one from Sea Shepherd calling upon cruise ships to stop visiting the Faroe Islands until the Grind is stopped.  Published on the Sea Shepherd UK website, this has been shared on Facebook and other social media platforms, as widely reposted and commented upon, including by several friends and work colleagues.  In this, Sea Shepherd UK has written to 16 cruise ship companies (12th August 2019) calling on them postpone visits the Faroe Islands until the hunting of pilot whales and dolphins is stopped.

This is part of a larger campaign by Sea Shepherd UK, known as Operation Bloody Fjords, aimed at halting or disrupting the grind in the Faroes.  This is something I have given a fair bit of thought to and so, at the risk of alienating quite a few people, I decided to write this blog.

So to firstly declare my own interest in this matter. I consider myself a conservationist; for most of my professional career I worked as a freelance marine biologist/environmental consultant. I have a particular interest in the effects of fisheries on the marine environment, having worked for over 20 years collecting data on the effects of benthic mobile fishing gear on seabed marine life and habitats, and working to establish no fishing zones and monitoring their effectiveness.

Secondly, I work – as a self-employed contractor, on small cruise ships and have more than once been to the Faroes on such ships (though this is entirely a personal blog and represents solely my own views).

Thirdly, I have witnessed a grind, in 2018, and have talked to quite a few Faroese about it the grind and their views on the subject.

I should also add I am no fan of Sea Shepherd, or their founder Paul Watson. I consider them overly aggressive and confrontational with little or no science behind any of their activities, largely ineffective in terms of conservation, and that the prime (often sole) beneficiary of their activities are the finances of Sea Shepherd and their media profile.  Sea Shepherd also prominently bills itself as a conservation body, but nowhere in their letter to cruise companies, or on their website campaign information, do they mention conservation.  The most obvious reason for this is that the grind has no real impact on the conservation of pilot whales and their campaign has nothing to do with conservation. But more of that later.

I am genuinely conflicted regarding the grind.  There is no doubt that pilot whales and white-sided dolphins are highly intelligent social animals.   So I absolutely do not like to see them killed.  Reposting and commenting on social media is quick and easy. It requires little effort and, unfortunately, often little thought.  It can however have significant effect if done by a large number of people.  For me, the core questions are proportionality, effectiveness and comparison of the action I am considering condemning with my own actions.  We don’t want to spend our lives endlessly condemning things on social media to little effect, so it is a question of priorities – what is really important and what is not. Equally we should not be hypocritical: condemning things where our own personal deleterious impact is actually greater.  With the Faroese pilot whale and dolphin hunt I believe the key questions are, sustainability and cruelty, so I will attempt to address these before returning to the question asked at the top of this blog.


The number of pilot whales killed annually in the Faroes is around 840 – since detailed records began over 300 years ago, and around 640 per year (2000-2017).  All the science suggests this is a sustainable fishery.  The Central and N.E. Atlantic population of pilot whales is estimated over 750,000 (Buckland et. al, 1989) although figure is now quite old.  A more recent assessment of the Faroese pilot whale hunt (NAMMCO 2013) found that, for the grind to be sustainable, a population (in Faroese waters) of 50-80,000 pilot whales was required.  The current estimation puts the Faroese population at over 100,000.  Unless this is a significant overestimate, then the pilot whale hunt is sustainable, with around 0.1% being killed annually.  The most recent study (Pike, et al, 2019) looking at data between 1987 and 2015, indicates that the pilot whale population in the North East Atlantic is relatively stable during this period, with no long term trend of increasing or decreasing.

This is not something to be considered lightly – few British fisheries, for example, could be considered anything like as sustainable.  It is also one of the best regulated fisheries in the World. Each year every single whale or dolphin killed is recorded, along with location and species.  Very few other fisheries have such accurate records.

If one compares the pilot whales grind to fisheries in the UK (which I am very familiar with) or other developed countries:

1. it does not destroy the seabed habitat and all animals living there – unlike many of our fisheries where one hour of fishing will devastate a vast area of seabed, often for decades;

2. there is normally no bycatch; many other fisheries kill far more non-target than target species, which are simply dumped in the ocean.


Cruelty is, almost by definition, a highly emotive issue, and not one easily quantified or compared.  However, think about this hypothetical question.

Before being born you are given two choices for your life:

  1. You will be born into captivity. You will be separated from your mother when still very young.  If male, you will be castrated before puberty.  You will never be allowed to live naturally, in a natural environment, forage naturally, eat a natural diet, live in natural family groups, mate and reproduce, care for your offspring.  You will be slaughtered when a few months old. Your natural lifespan would have been 15-20 years.
  2. You will be born in a total natural environment, surrounded by family members.  Your mother will care for you, and as you grow you will play, be protected, and learn from other family members. You will hunt, feed, socialise, reproduce and raise offspring in a family group in totally natural conditions. You may live 45-50 years, all in a completely natural environment.  Each year, there is a one in a thousand chance that you might be killed.

So if you had to choose one, which would you chose? I would be very surprised in anyone chose the first.  I suspect most people would consider the first a truly horrific fate.  Yet that is the fate of around 25 Million pigs – every single week – globally. That’s 1.5 thousand million pigs every year.  Pigs are also highly intelligent, long-lived, social animals. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that suggests that pigs are in any way less susceptible to experiencing pain, fear, loss or loneliness that are pilot whales, nor any rational reason why that should be so.  It is frequently said that ‘I can be against keeping farmed animals and against the grind.  That is perfectly true, but think of the scale.  If you accept that the life of a wild pilot whale is far preferable to the life imposed on most farmed pigs, then can you really argue that campaigning against the ‘cruelty’ imposed on around 640 pilot whales demands equal effort to campaigning against the greater individual cruelty imposed on 1.5 billion pigs?  The differences in scale of suffering are almost unimaginably vast.  Yet it is not the fate of farmed animals that gets the greatest high profile media attention, or the most reposts and comments on social media.  It is the killing of around 640 pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.  If the scale of campaigning was correlated to the scale of the suffering, then we should be reposting, commenting and campaigning over a million times for every single time we repost or campaign against pilot whales being killed in the Faroes.  But of course that does not happen, reality is closer to the converse.

There is another aspect to this.  For most people the Faroes are simply a group of small, remote islands somewhere in the North Atlantic.  To vilify them online, to call for tourists to not go there, costs us nothing.  We make zero personal sacrifice, but it makes us feel good, and righteous (something Sea Shepherd are well aware of). Conversely, giving up all farmed meat, campaigning against the meat farming industry would, for most of us, involve dramatic changes to our lifestyle and significant personal sacrifices.  So instead we take the easy option of targeting something that has no effect on our own lives.

Sea Shepherd

As Sea Shepherd is the organisation driving this campaign, it is worth examining their record and modus operandi.  I make no secret of the fact I am not terribly impressed by the group. A couple of illustrative examples may help explain this. Sea Shepherd was founded by Paul Watson after he was expelled from Greenpeace in 1977 for his ‘aggressive’ approach and distain for Greenpeace’s non-violent methods.  That following year (1978) he gave an interview broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Association (CBC) about the Canadian harp seal cull, claiming the profitability of the campaign was why Greenpeace campaigned against the cull: ‘Well it’s definitely because it’s easier to make money and because it’s easier to make a profit because there are over a thousand animals on the endangered species list, and the harp seal isn’t one of them’ stated Watson in the radio interview. He then added ‘and now we have a dozen people this year from Greenpeace California — I mean they’re coming from the highest standard of living region in North America — they’re traveling to the place with the lowest income per year on this continent telling them not to kill seals because they’re cute but not endangered species.’ A year later his new organisation, Sea Shepherd, began their direct action campaign against the Canadian seal cull, recruiting celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and Pierce Brosnan to pose next to baby seals on the ice for publicity purposes.

More recently (2010) Sea Shepherd hit the news again when their 24m racing trimaran the MY Ady Gil collided with a Japanese whaling support vessel the MV Shonan Maru 2. The bow of the Ady Gil was badly damaged and she sunk the following day.  Both parties blamed the other; the official inquiry found that both were at fault for the collision.  Paul Watson first blamed the Japanese vessel for the collision, then blamed the Ady Gils captain, Peter Bethune, after falling out with him. Sea Shepherd claimed that the Ady Gil sunk the following day as she took on water while being towed.  Peter Bethune subsequently claimed that Paul Watson had ordered him to deliberately scuttle the Ady Gil for publicity purposes, something Watson denied.  The owner of the MY Ady Gil (the millionaire animal rights supporter Ady Gil) then took legal action against Sea Shepherd and Watson under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. He won. The court in New York ruled that Sea Shepherd had indeed intentionally scuttled the vessel for publicity purposes and awarded compensation of half a million dollars.  In the ruling the Arbiter described Watson as ‘“highly evasive, internally contradictory, or at odds with his own prior written statements, and in certain areas simply lacking the basic indicia of genuineness that instinctively inspires confidence and trust.” She ruled that the order to scuttle her by opening the sea cocks came from Paul Watson and that the accounts given on the Whale Wars reality TV show were false and the sinking staged to maximise publicity.  Sea Shepherd tried to keep the court ruling secret from the public, but failed in this.  I described these two events as I think they well encapsulate the personality of Paul Watson and the aims of Sea Shepherd.  I have no doubt that many Sea Shepherd staff and volunteers are well meaning and honest, but the basic philosophy behind the organisation seems to be to generate conflict and drama and to maximise publicity and profits.  There is very little science behind their campaigns and not a great deal of evidence of their long term effectiveness; rather they often antagonise local people and entrench views to resist change.

Sustainability – wider aspects

In we consider the wider aspects of the sustainability argument, the comparison between the grind and meat farming is even more damning. One is totally unsustainable. It destroys huge amounts of the World’s natural resources, and is directly responsible for the extinction, or imminent extinction, of a great many species.  It is a major contributor to climate change and is a major polluter of land and waterways.  It is also one of the greatest threats to the survival of tens of millions of humans around the planet through the large scale use of antibiotics. And that one is not the killing 640 pilot whales each year.  Meat farming is one of the largest causes of deforestation and habitat destruction around the World.  It causes even greater habitat loss through the growing of crops specifically for animal feed.  Habitat loss and fragmentation are probably the biggest causes of species extinction globally.

As far as I know there is no evidence that the grind has any measurable long term environmental impact whatsoever, and the available evidence suggests it is quite sustainable.

Sea Shepherd UK has written to cruise companies asking them to cease visiting the Faroe Island until the grind is ended.  Sea Shepherd identifies itself as a conservation organisation.  It is pretty clear that, while the grind is bloody and upsetting for many to watch, it is not a conservation issue.  As someone involved in the cruise ship industry I am well aware that this is a far from perfect industry.  It does indeed have major environmental issues.  The amount and type of fuel burned by cruise ships is one.  But this is also a heavily regulated industry and one where all involved – especially those in the small ‘expedition ship’ more likely to visit the Faroes – are deeply concerned and very aware of the issues. These are regularly discussed and ways sought to reduce our plastics use, our carbon footprint and our impact on the environment in general.  One of, if not the biggest, impact is flying. You need to get your passengers to and from departure and arrival ports.  This is a problem for all cruise ships not exclusively operating in local waters, and a huge problem for the tourism and travel industry in general.  It is pretty indisputable that climate change is the biggest environmental threat to our planet at the moment.  Currently, civil aviation accounts for around 2.5% of all energy-related CO2 emissions, and 4-5% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.  However, emissions from air travel grew 40% between 1990 and 2010.  Air travel is predicted to grow at around 4% a year.  Even with improvements in technology and carbon trading (i.e. buying carbon credits from less polluting industries) there is a still a real disconnect between air travels targets for reductions in greenhouse gases required to have a realistic chance of keeping climate change to the 2o C rise target set as part of the IPPC’s Paris Agreement.  In most Western developed countries, flying is the biggest single contributor to our carbon footprint.  The UK’s carbon emissions are now (latest figures 2018) around 5.6 tonnes per person.  But for one return flight (economy class) from London to Perth, Australia releases around 5 tonnes of greenhouse emissions.  So one long haul flight a year can effectively double one’s impact on climate change.  That is a pretty sobering statistic.  So let’s return to Sea Shepherd UK’s call for cruise ship companies to boycott the Faroes.  Were Sea Shepherd really a conservation organisation one might think, when targeting a particular sector, they would look at that sector’s activities and choose the most environmentally damaging and attempt to persuade them to reduce or mitigate the damaging effects of that activity. So if the target industry is the cruise ship industry, then campaigning for a boycott of the Faroe Islands makes zero sense, in terms of conservation.  If, instead, the target is the marine environmental impacts of the Faroese islanders and Government, then targeting the grind makes zero sense in conservation terms.  Now that is not to say that there are that there are no significant conservation issues with Faroese fisheries.  There are; currently, and for some years, both cod and haddock stocks within Faroese waters are severely depleted, with cod stocks at historic lows, largely due to a combination of overfishing, over-capacity and poor regulation.  Now were Sea Shepherd really a marine conservation body, that would be valid issue to campaign on.  It probably would not command the same media attention though.

Sea Shepherd has a history of focussing on marine mammals, so what are the main threats to pilot whales in the NE Atlantic, and globally.  Undoubtedly one of the biggest threats is the amount of plastic waste in the oceans.  And not just to pilot whales but a great many other marine mammals and marine life in general. On June 1st 2018, a short fin pilot whale found floating off the coast of Thailand took five days to die.  Hours before it died it started vomiting up bits of plastic.  An autopsy found 80 plastic bags in its stomach.  In March 2019, a Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up dead on the Philippines coast; an autopsy found 40kg of plastic bags in its stomach.  In April 2019 a pregnant sperm whale washed up on the Sardinian coast and was found to have over 20 kg of plastic in its stomach.  In May a dead young sperm whale washed up on the coast of Italy; again its stomach was found to be full of plastic rubbish.  This is clearly the tip of the iceberg.  Undoubtedly many toothed whales (possibly the majority) will have plastic rubbish in their stomachs and be suffering sub-lethal effects.  Equally, many will die at sea and their plastic burden will go unrecorded.  Studies have shown that pilot whales have very high levels of mercury in their tissues.  Sea Shepherd use this as part of their argument to halt the grind.  A more conservation-minded approach might be to ask why they have such high levels of mercury contamination, and what can be done about it. The main sources of organic mercury (methylmercury) in the marine environment are anthropogenic; particularly coal burning power plants, chlorine production and gold mining.  The levels of organic mercury in pilot whales is among the highest recorded for marine mammals (although it is also high in polar bears, belugas, ring seals and many other top marine predators).  In pilot whales the concentrations are considered high enough to produce neurological changes in them, along with liver and kidney abnormalities and changes in lymphocytes affecting their ability to fight infections.  Yet another likely big impact on pilot whales (and many other cetaceans) is noise pollution from ship traffic and seismic survey activities.  Like most cetaceans, pilot whales rely on vocalisation for communication over distance, for navigation and for hunting.  Anthropogenic sources of marine noise, which have grown massively in the past hundred years (and which cruise ships contribute to) has been implicated in in many adverse effects on cetaceans, including displacement and avoidance behaviour, changes in vocalisation and mass strandings.  The above all have real, profound and sometimes catastrophic effects on pilot whale populations and much other marine life besides, yet Sea Shepherd campaigns focus on none of the above. Instead, they chose to focus on an activity for which there is no evidence that it has any significant effect on pilot whale populations, on other marine species or on the wider marine environment. But it is one that garners Sea Shepherd a great deal of publicity.  In my book that disqualifies them from being considered a marine conservation organisation.

The questions posed by this blog title was: is it hypocritical to campaign for the end of the grind or to criticise it on social media?  Ultimately that depends, I believe, on your own personal lifestyle.  If you eat farmed meat, if you use disposal plastics at all (recycling doesn’t count – most ‘recycled’ plastics are shipped to Third World countries of sit around in waste collection centres) if you travel by air at all, then the answer is ‘yes’ it is hypocritical, because your own negative impacts on the environment are almost certainly greater than those of the grind. I certainly do not meet that standard, which is one reason I would be very reluctant to criticise it.  The grind is likely to slowly die out as younger peoples attitudes change; less likely as long as outsiders aggressively condemn the Faroese over it. In my view criticising and supporting campaigns to stop the grind are, and best, simply a distraction.  They divert attention, time and energy away from environmental issues that are genuinely important, and the real threats to whale and dolphin populations.

Rabaul and Grove Island: shaped by volcanos

Two young boys playing in an old inner tube, Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea. Colpyright Colin Munro

It has been quite a while since my last blog post.  During the past five months I have been travelling a lot, mostly with limited internet and often with limited time to write.  So a catch up is long overdue.  Since December 2016 I have been working in New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, New Georgia, The Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, The Philippines, Ecuador, Colombia. I started writing this in Panama, as we passed through the Panama Canal in to the Atlantic.  Almost three weeks later I am now in the south of France, driving through the Medoc vineyards, and this blog is still not complete!  I use the excuse that time to write is generally limited to late nights in airport departure lounges or the odd hour snatched in cafes or bumpy coach journeys. However, I have run out of excuses so now must buckle down and finish the damn thing.  So here goes.

A local boy in a dugout canoe paddles by us. Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea. Copyright Colin Munro

A local boy in a dugout canoe paddles by us. Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea.


A significant chunk of February was spent in Papua New Guinea.  This was not a country I had visited before, nor one I knew a great deal about.  The little I did know was limited to snippets such as lurid tales of cannibals, penis-sheathed hill tribesmen, the rascals of Port Morsbey and the effects of mining on the country.


We arrived in Papua New Guinea at the port city of Rabaul. A recent Lonely Planet guidebook described Rabaul thus: ‘Walking the lonely streets of eastern Rabaul is like stepping into an apocalyptic film’.  Spending a day there I can understand what they meant.  Rabaul is something of a ghost town. In September, 1994, Mount Tavurvur erupted, burying much of Rabaul and Simpson Harbour under thousands of tons of ash.  The ash that rained down destroyed most of the buildings in Rabaul.  This was the second major eruption in living memory.  In 1937 Mount Tavurvur erupted and almost totally destroyed Rabaul.  These two eruptions, along with the continuing low level activity, have inhibited rebuilding and development, so although the fantastic natural harbour is still in use as a commercial port, the streets immediately beyond have an aura of post-apocalyptic desolation.  That being said, it is only a few blocks walk to the open air market.  When we arrived this was a pretty busy place, with bananas, peppers, sweet potato, and tobacco for sale.  Rabaul did not feel unsafe, nor unfriendly, simply down on its luck.  A couple of general stores were all that was open.  It did not seem like the sort of place that would have a café, let alone a restaurant.


Garove Island.

Our next port of call was Garove Island.  Garove island is essentially the exposed tip of Garove Volcano, a largely submarine volcano in the Bismarck Sea, some 40 miles north of New Britain Island.  The island itself is a shaped like a giant donut, some 7 nautical miles in diameter.  This ring of land is in fact the emerged rim of the volcano caldera.  A mile-wide breach in south side of this rim allows ship entry to the large body of sheltered water within, known as Johann Albrecht harbour (presumably named after Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo, the 17th Century German traveller – by accounts a rather colourful character – rather than Johnan Albrecht the Russian diplomat, Johan Albrecht the German theologian or even Johan Albrecht the 17th Century German prophet , but who knows; I have not been able to find any information detailing why the harbour is so named).


Two young boys playing in an old inner tube, Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea. Colpyright Colin Munro

Two young boys playing in an old inner tube, Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea.



Unlike lagoons within coral atolls, this harbour is not shallow, most of it is over 100 metres deep.  Thus snorkelling (or SCUBA diving for that matter) is limited to the steep walls of the caldera or a small, shallow area on the east side on the harbour.  This shallow area lies between a little un-named island and the inner wall of Garove Island. A glance at a chart reveals that this island is, in fact, the tip of a rocky promontory projecting in to the caldera.  Apart from the island-forming tip, the rest of the promontory lies just a few metres below the surface.  This was where we chose to run our snorkelling operation.  As one might expect on such a small patch of shallow seabed surrounded by deep water, the coral present was quite limited.

Soft corals, Johann Albrecht harbour, Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea. Copyright Colin Munro

Soft corals, Johann Albrecht harbour, Garove Island, Vitu Islands, Bismark Sea, Papua New Guinea.

There were quite a few soft corals and a few sponges though, so the area was interesting if not terribly diverse.  The presence of significant numbers of white people and two Zodiac inflatables piqued the curiosity of a couple of young local boys playing in the water nearby.  They were having fun splashing around in an old vehicle tire inner tube when they spotted us.  Wearing big grins, they paddled across to us, the older boy sculling with what looked like a small piece of driftwood. The younger towed a towed a little, hand-made wooden boat attached to a pole and string.  Quite what they made of us is hard to know.

Sponge, Garove Island, Papua New Guinea. Copyright Colin Munro

Sponge, Garove Island, Papua New Guinea

They spoke no English and we did not know what language they spoke (there are 840 extant languages listed for PNG; English is an official language but spoken only by a tiny percentage of the country’s population).  Thus our communication was limited to smiles, waves and thumbs ups, but that was okay.  Garove Island, with its lush vegetation, warm clear waters and (at least from our snapshot perspective) idyllic lifestyle seemed as far removed as could be from the dusty dreariness of Rabaul.  But of course snapshot impressions of tropical paradises all too often fail to capture underlying problems of poverty, lack of opportunity, and health problems, so I make the comparison cautiously.  Both Rabaul and Garove island have been shaped by volcanos.  Rabaul more recently and more catastrophically.  Garove is the visible remains of a stratovolcano (reports of most recent eruptions vary from tens of thousands of years to possibly only a few hundred years ago).

I finally finish this blog in a small cafe in Oban, in the West Highlands of Scotland.  I promise the next one will not take so long.

The extraordinary life cycle of the lion’s mane jellyfish

Lion's mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, underwater clearly showing tentacles trailing in many directions. Colin Munro Photography

Jellyfish, or sea jellies as they are now often called (clearly they are not fish) are amongst the most ancient of multi-organ animals.  Fossils of jellyfish (or scyphozoans, to give them their scientific name) are found only rarely as they contain no hard structures within their bodies, which are 95% water.  However, under the right conditions fossils of soft bodied creatures will form; current fossil evidence suggests they first evolved at least 500 million years ago.

Lion's mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, underwater clearly showing tentacles trailing in many directions. Colin Munro Photography

The lion’s mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, is the largest known species. The bell of individuals in colder northern waters can reach two metres across.

The lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) common throughout the North Atlantic, epitomises this image of a large, slowly pulsing, gelatinous bell (or medusa) and long trailing tentacles that pack a powerful sting, but this is in fact only one stage of a complex life cycle.  Lion’s mane medusae begin to appear in April or May in the Northern Atlantic, but are quite tiny at that stage.  These jellies are voracious predators and grow rapidly through the summer.  By August the medusae are commonly one third to half a metre across, with trailing tentacles many metres long.  However there is considerable variability;  large specimens have been reported at over two metres across with tentacles up to 37 metres long, though these generally occur within the more northern parts  of their range.  As they grow large in late summer they will often drift, under the influence of wind and tides, in to sheltered bays where they may aggregate in large numbers. This is when sperm is release and egg fertilisation takes place.  In common with most scyphozoans (the taxonomic group to which jellyfish belong) the sexes are separate; lion’s mane jellies are either male or female.  Sperm is released from the mouth of male jellies and drifts in the current, some reaching female jellies, where the eggs are fertilised. Fertilised eggs are stored in the oral tentacles of the female, where thy develop in to tiny planulae larvae. Once fully developed the planulae larvae detach and, after drifting for a short time, settle on the seabed.  Here they metamorphose into a polyp, not dissimilar to tiny sea anemones or coral polyps (both of which are relatives of jellyfish).  These polyps then grow, taking on a layered appearance until they resemble a stack of wavy-edged pancakes.  Each one of these ‘pancake layers’ will then separate from the parent polyp, once again becoming free living and drifting with the currents.  The ‘pancakes’, more properly ephyra larvae, will grow throughout the summer into the giant lion’s mane jellies and the cycle is complete.  With a lifespan on only one year, during which they can grow to be as long (possibly even longer) than blue whale, lion’s mane jellies need to catch and consume considerable amount of prey.  Each trailing tentacle is packed full of vast numbers of stinging cells, known as nematocysts.  When touched these cells fire out a harpoon-like structure which pumps toxins in to the hapless victim (this is what causes the painful sting from jellyfish).  These toxins incapacitate the prey, which is then drawn up towards the mouth of the jellyfish.  A large lion’s mane may have over 1,000 tentacles trailing far behind them.  Many SCUBA divers in Scotland and Scandinavia have experienced the situation where, having completed their dive on a sunken wreck and returned to the buoy line they planned to ascent to the surface, only to look up and see numerous lion’s mane jellies strung out along the line.  As the current sweeps the jellies along so their tentacles catch on the buoy line, leaving the divers with the unpleasant prospect of ascending through thousands of jellyfish tentacles.

A diver warily watches a large lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) drift past. Isle of Arran, West Scotland.

A diver warily watches a large lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) drift past. Isle of Arran, West Scotland.

Not every creature lives in fear of lion’s mane jellies however.  Leatherback turtles, the only species of marine turtle that can tolerate the cold waters these jellies inhabit, consume them with relish, apparently oblivious to the stinging tentacles.  Lion’s mane jellies can make up 80-100% of a leatherback’s diet.  When you consider that a full grown leatherback weighs up to 800kg and may consume up to its own weight in jellyfish daily (bear in mind jellyfish are 95% water) then that equates to pretty large numbers of jellyfish being eaten.

As summer wanes and autumn approaches the lion’s mane jellies begin to die.  This provides a feeding bonanza for many scavengers.  On the surface seabirds will peck away at the gelatinous bell, whilst those that sink are often torn to shreds by shore crabs (Carcinus meanus) and velvet swimming crabs (Necora puber).

Dying lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) that has sunk to the seabed being eaten by a velvet swimming crab (Necora puber).

Dying lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) that has sunk to the seabed being eaten by a velvet swimming crab (Necora puber).

At the other end of the scale these deadly tentacles can provide refuge to some unlikely creatures.  Juvenile whiting (Gadus melangus) have long been known to swim underneath the bell of lion’s mane jellies, apparently unconcerned by the curtain of tentacles they weave between. In fact they have been observed to rush into the mane of tentacles when startled by predators.  A series of fascinating experiments by the Swedish zoologist Erik Dahl in the late 1950s showed that, compared to other fish species, juvenile whiting were able to adapt their movements such that even when surrounded by tentacles they rarely came in to contact with them.  Also, unlike other fish species, when they did brush against them it seemed to cause them little concern. Biopsies of the tissue of whiting where they had contacted tentacles showed that very few if any stinging nematocysts had fired into the fish’s body; this compared to hundreds per square millimetre for other fish species.  We still don’t understand the mechanism behind this protection. So does the lion’s mane get anything in return for the refuge afforded the young whiting?  Well another creature found on lion’s mane jellies is the tiny planktonic amphipod (a type of crustacean) Hyperia galba. Hyperia is, for the jellies, a rather irritating ectoparasite. It lives on the outside of the jellies’ bell, nibbling away at it.  Now whiting don’t appear to like the taste of lion’s mane jellies, instead they are rather partial to planktonic crustaceans; in particular (you’ve guessed this already) Hyperia galba.   It is these elegant little symbiotic collaborations that make nature so beautiful.

These, and many more of my images, can be found at

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Fine art prints and canvas wraps printed in the USA

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland. Colin Munro.

I’ve recently decided to make some of my photographs available as fine art prints and canvas prints through a print vendor based in the US.

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland. Colin Munro.

Fulmars and gannets over stormy seas, St Kilda, West Scotland.

These can now be in a wide range of fine art print sizes, rolled canvas prints and stretched canvas wraps (canvas on wooden frames).  These can be browsed and purchased direct from my website  Printing and delivery is handled by EZ Prints. EZ prints are a large-scale printing facility based out of Norcross, Georgia, USA, whose innovative technology and personalization expertise combine to deliver affordable and easily accessible prints and products.

Hound Tor, Dartmoor, Devon, fine art print

Hound Tor, Dartmoor

All EZ Prints orders are processed in a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant using the latest digital printing components.  This process is fully integrated within my website.

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji. Colin Munro Photography

Sunrise over the Navua River, Viti Levu, Fiji


Printing within the US allows far cheaper shipping costs within the US and Canada. Print sizes from 10″ x 15″ to 24″ x 36″ are available.


Not quite Phileas Fogg

The katuali or flat-tail sea snake (Laticauda schistorhynchus) is a type of sea snake, or more precisely a krait, found only around Nuie Island in the South Pacific. There is some debate as to whether it is a seperate species or a sub-species of the black-banded sea krait (Laticauda semifasciata) also known as the Chinese sea snake. Colin Munro Photography

I have been very lucky recently.  In the past 12 months alone my work has taken me to around 23 countries. Whilst not quite in the slipstream of Phileas Fogg it has nonetheless been something of a wild roller-coaster ride.  This has enabled me to greatly increase the range of my stock images, from orang utans to komodo dragons and Pitcairn Island to St Kilda.  The down side (I know, I know…. I’m not complaining) is that time to sort, edit, key-word and upload this exponentially growing back catalogue has been in short supply.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) lying on a muddy river bank, Tempisque River, Costa Rica.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) lying on a muddy river bank, Tempisque River, Costa Rica.

Often this has been limited to brief spells in cafes or airport departure lounges with sluggish WiFi.  However, the up side of a recent accident and a few weeks enforced recuperation in one country has been  time to sit down and tackle the rather daunting task of sorting through almost a terabyte or raw images.

The katuali or flat-tail sea snake (Laticauda schistorhynchus) is a type of sea snake, or more precisely a krait, found only around Nuie Island in the South Pacific.  There is some debate as to whether it is a seperate species or a sub-species of the black-banded sea krait (Laticauda semifasciata) also known as the Chinese sea snake. Colin Munro Photography

The katuali or flat-tail sea snake (Laticauda schistorhynchus) is a type of sea snake, or more precisely a krait, found only around Nuie Island in the South Pacific.

I am now doggedly sifting through these and uploading to my stoc images website  This is a seachable site, where named galleries can be browsed (e.g. Norway, Cape Verde islands, Fish, Seabirds) or images can be searched by keyword, geographical area and other parameters.  The opening page links to a small number of showcase galleries which I will rotate as I update galleries.

Grey-headed kingfisher(Halcyon leucocephala) Cape Verde Islands, West Africa. Colin Munro Photography

Grey-headed kingfisher(Halcyon leucocephala) Cape Verde Islands, West Africa

So if you haven’t checked out yet why not give it a few minutes during your next coffee break.  If you have, then come back again next week and hopefully there will be updates since last time.  Either way, if you have any comments or requests then please get in touch


Tony Garnett, Cathy Come Home and British Film Institute talk

Tony Garnett, Cathy Come Home and British Film Institute talk

Should anyone be in London tomorrow with time on their hands tomorrow evening, I’d recommend a trip to the British Film Institute Southbank.   Film and Television producer Tony Garnett will be discussing his work.  For those unfamiliar, this includes such ground-breaking dramas as Cathy come home, the Play for Today television production that lead to debates in Parliament and the setting up of Crisis, Kes, Cardiac Arrest and This life.

I was nine when Cathy come home was first broadcast.  A quarter of the UK’s population watched it (a play; a social commentary, one cannot imagine such a thing happening now) including our household.  Despite my youth it was simply electrifying.  Shot on hand held 16mm cameras, mostly on location and often using members of the public, a naturalistic style that typifies director Ken Loach’s films.  I year or so back I bought the DVD of Cathy come home.  At first I was reluctant to watch it, fearing that the passage of time and the antiquated technology used to shoot and record it would deaden the impact.  I was wrong.  It is still electrifying 46 years on.  Not only that, it would be surprising for such an overtly political play to be allowed on a mainstream tv channel today; one only has to look at the way political documentary makers such as John Pilger, long broadcast on British television, are now independently producing documentaries for cinema and web broadcast instead.  Up the junction is another of Tony Garnett and Ken Loach’s controversial collaborations likely to be discussed, this one dealing with back street abortions.  Later made in to a film, it was Garnett and Loach’s television play that was the inspiration behind Chris Difford’s lyrics for the Squeeze song of the same name.  If you haven’t yet seen Cathy come home, check it out at Ken Loach’s YouTube channel.

We live in an age where the technology rather than the content is given pre-eminence.  One only has to spend a short time online looking at blogs or Facebook to see the myriad images and comments posted praising or decrying the latest iPhone/Nikon/Canon quadzillion pixel camera/smartphone with apps for everything from when you should take a picture of your cat to how many images of your cat you should force others to look at.  Like the images of Salgado, Nick Ut and Thessiger, these dramas clearly demonstrate the converse is true; it is the content not the camera.

 Footnote:  It is said that the final scene in Cathy come home was shot on location, London Underground, as her baby was forcibly taken from the arms of a screening Cathy by the authorities, unsuspecting members of the public  formed the background.  No-one intervened.  I guess little has changed.

Porbeagle populations in the N.E. Atlantic critically endangered.

Porbeagle shark, Lamna nasus, caught as bycatch, on the deck of a fishing vessel, Irish Sea, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Porbeagle shark, Lamna nasus, caught as bycatch, on the deck of a fishing vessel, Irish Sea, UK. Colin Munro Photography

Porbeagle shark, Lamna nasus, caught as bycatch, on the deck of a fishing vessel, Irish Sea, UK.

Porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus) are a temperate water species of shark belong to the mackerel shark family (Lamnidae), the same family as salmon sharks, makos and great whites. Adults are around 2.5 metres long and and weigh about 140kg. They are considered vulnerable throughout their range. The population around UK shores (NE Atlantic) is considered critically endangered (IUCN). The International Committee for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) advises that the NE Atlantic stocks may be close to collapse. A quota system for porbeagles was introduced in 2008. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was reduced to 436 tonnes in 2009. In UK waters a total ban on targetted fishing by commercial fishermen has been in place since 2010, with release of accidental bycatch whenever possible. ICES has called for a zero TAC since 2006; there are now proposals to bring this in to effect throughout the EU.

There is a still a problem in that porbeagles, are fast swimming predators that feed on squid and fish. Freuqently the species that fishermen are also targetting. Porbeagles may end up as accidental bycatch in trawls or in set nets. Like other mackerel sharks, porbeagles’ gills work by obligate ram ventilation. This means they need a constant flow of water past their gills in order to oxygenate their blood. Trapped in nets they quickly drown. As set nets are often deployed on the seabed then hauled 12 or 24 hours later, even if the fishermen would like to release them alive it will be too late. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) is currently conducting a DEFRA commissioned study in to the threats posed by accidental bycatch to porbeagle in UK waters. Hopefully this will result in guidance for fishermen as to the best ways to minimise the risk of accidentally catching porbeagles.

Save our Seas is working with the Marine Institute in Ireland to satellite tag porbeagles. This should help us understand portbeagle migration and possibly identify nursey areas. This has so far shown that porbeagles tagged off northern coast of Ireland have resurfaced off Lisbon, Portugal. Details of the study can be seen here.

Interesting fact: All fish are cold blooded right? Not quite. Recent studies have found that most mackerel sharks (salmon sharks, great whites, shortfin mako and porbeagles) are able to maintain their body temperature above that of the surrounding water, as marine mammals do. They acheive this by passing deoxygenated blood, heated by muscle activity and biochemical reactions, past a network of cold, oxygenated blood travelling through a network of fine arteries (the rete mirable, literally ‘wonderful net’) thus transferring heat to the arterial blood rather than simly losing it to the external environment. Salmon sharks (Lamna ditropis) sharks have been found to maintain their core temperature up to 21 degrees C above that of the surrounding water (Goldman et al, 2004)

Porbeagles are endangered throughout the Atlantic. The EU has now voted to ban commercial porbeagle fishing. Currently only Canada allows a commercial fishery, although the Canadian Government are coming under considerable pressure from conservationists within and outside Canada. More more information on this read the Friends of Hector article here.

Goldman, K.J., Anderson, S.D., Latour, R.J. and Musick, j.A., 2004. Homeothermy in adult salmon sharks, Lamna ditropis. Environmental Biology of Fishes 71 (4): 403–411.

Filming over-under shots at sea: the pros and cons of high-end video versus DSLR

An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive. Colin Munro Photography
An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive. Colin Munro Photography

An over-under shot of a diver waiting to be picked up at the end of a dive.

I recently completed a short shoot requiring over-under shots at sea; shots of a boat passing by and of a girl who had ‘fallen’ in to the sea. This was UK waters in late September, so conditions were – shall we say – not mirror smooth and crystal clear. If fact we ended up shooting about an hour and a half before sunset with the water darkening and a noticeable sou’westerly breeze creating a bit of a swell; so on the positive side the look was realistic. The shots had been planned for a Sony Alexa, but housing availability and cost considerations pushed the shoot to a DSLR; a Canon 5D MkII to be precise. At first consideration shooting video on a DSLR may seem a big step down from the 2K Alexa, but that’s not necessarily so. The shoot brought a number of these points to mind, so I thought I’d write a short blog on the pros and cons of dedicated high-end video cameras versus DSLRs for shooting over-under or surface shots in open sea. I’m not going to consider or compare camera image quality here; there are plenty of websites reviewing and out there doing just that. Instead I’m going to look purely at usability in this rather problematic situation. Producing good images is not simply a question of image resolution; factors such camera steadiness, ability to focus and frame accurately and freedom from water splash droplets need to be taken in to account also. I’ve randomly selected some well known manufacturers to as examples. This is not to imply the are particularly better or worse than others, simply that they are brands many will be familiar with and the data for them is readily available (and sometimes because I have used them and so have experience and images). Equally, any implied criticism is merely to point out that in this very specific type of shot certain types of equipment have inherent problems. In general, for underwater shoots (which is what they are designed for) they perform excellently.

A key consideration is the overall weight of the rig. Now of course well designed housing-camera combinations are near neutral buoyancy below the surface as the air spaces inside the housing providing positive buoyancy and so compensating for the weight of the metal, glass and perspex of the housing and the camera itself. Close to the surface a large housing with plenty of mass is also a distinct advantage. Swell and surface chop will buffet both cameraman and camera, tending to make the image jump about. A large system with plenty of mass will resist such buffeting and moves more slowly than a little lightweight system, in much the same way as a small rowing boat is tossed about by wave action that has no effect at all on a naval destroyer.

Colin Munro setting up a Sony EX1 in a Gates Underwater housing on the surface prior to a dive. (C) Holly Latham.ll size video housing above the surface

Holding a full size video system partially out of the water requires the strength of Arnie Swarzenegger, even with a trailing line to hang on to. Picture by Holly Latham.

On the surface however, other factors come in to play. That positive buoyancy that balances the weight of the system disappears, and the downward force of the weight of the proportion of the camera and housing above the surface is counteracted only by the upward force applied on the grip handles by the cameraman’s arms. That is damn hard work! As an example, a Gates housing for the Red Epic or Scarlet, in air, weighs in at about 43lbs (19.5kg) including camera. That’s roughly the weigh of a six year old child. It is true that not all of that weight will be felt as not all of the housing will be above the surface; but even if it is only 20lbs for those half and half shots you are going to need pretty impressive biceps and shoulder muscles to hold it up and hold it steady whilst getting that 3rd take of that key shot. You are also going to be finning like hell to counteract the toppling forward effect of the unbalanced weight of the housing held in front of you. Comparing this with a suitable DSLR for video, a 5D MkII in an Aquatica housing (again, given as a representative example) weighs in at around 9lbs (4kg). This is still not much fun in a choppy sea but you don’t have to be built like Arnie to be capable of doing it.

Essentially the weight distribution combined with the overall length of the rig. Again, a DSLR wins hands down in the category. A Gates housing for the Sony EX1 is around 17 inches (44cm) long; an Amphibico housing for the Sony EX3 squeezes in at a tad over 20 inches (52cm). For over-under shots one will almost certainly need to be working with a wide angle lens and a big dome port (if you don’t understand why, read the last paragraph). This can mean having something like the exceedingly beautiful and optically wonderful, but extraordinarily heavy Fathom superwide port fitted to the far end of your housing. This will produce stunning images but cause vein-popping strain on your upper body as you attempt to lever this half out of the water. Big glass ports on DSLRs are also heavy (e.g. the fantastic Zen DP-230 9 inch superdome, weighs in at 3.9lbs, 1.8kg) but due to the much shorter length of DSLR housings they are mounted only a couple of inches in front of the grip handles. There is still a forward tilting effect, but it is much less pronounced.

Colin Munro leak testing a Hugyfot housing for a Canon 5D MkII DSLR, during setup prior to filming.

As can be seen in this pic of leak testing a Hugyfot, the dome port is only fractionally in front of the grips handles.

A final consideration is focussing and viewing. Most housings for professional video systems do allow viewing of the camera’s viewfinder, but this is generally small and tricky to use through a housing even in easy conditions. So instead most come equipped with a larger external monitor that can be mounted on top of the housing. This is perfect for underwater, but at the air-water interface simply adds additional weight above the water’s surface, pushing the camera further down. External monitors are also available for DSLR housings, and again they are extremely useful beneath the surface but not at the surface. DSLRs do have the advantage of having a large LCD screen that is much easier to view at the surface of a choppy sea; many housings will also take a 45 degree enlarged viewfinder that can make focussing and framing through the viewfinder a much more practical proposition when floating on the surface.

Why do we need to use wide-angle lenses and large dome ports?
This is a brief summary of quite a complicated subject. We need to use large dome ports when taking over-under shots for two reasons. The main reason is because light travels at a different speed through air than water. If flat ports are used with wide angle lenses then considerable bending occurs to light rays passing through the port other than those passing through perdicular, significantly distorting all except the central part of the image. However, this change in wave velocity of light passing through the dome (effectively a curved water-air interface) causes the dome to act as a powerful diverging lens below the water surface making objects at infinity appear to be at a distance of slightly less than 4 x dome radius. This is known as the virtual image. Thus using a small dome port, with a small radius, will bring the virtual image very close to the lens entrance pupil. For example, a 4 inch dome port will result in a virtual image approximately 5.5 inches in front of the port. Above the surface, with air on either side of the dome, this effect does not happen and the lens must focus on the actual image to produce sharp images. Consequently a lens with a large depth of field (DoF), i.e. a wide-angle lens, is required. However 5.5 inches to infinity is too great a DoF for almost any lens, thus a larger dome is required, moving the virtual image further away from the front of the dome and so decreasing the required DoF for both underwater and above surface images to be in focus simultaneously. An 8 inch diameter dome is generally considered the minimum necessary to allow simultaneous focussing above and below the surface (a more detailed technical explanation, with calculations and downloadable formulae has been produced by Dave Knight of Cameras Underwater. This can be read here. The example figures I give here also came from Dave’s page). The second consideration is that, if working in a pool with a mirror calm surface, then we can precisely line up the water surface with the middle of the lens even on a tiny dome or flat port. It’s not like that in the sea though; if you are lucky you’ll be working with just a few ripples or maybe a lazy swell passing through, if not you may have 18inch waves slopping through (if you have more than this, give up and go home). A bigger dome gives you more surface area to play with when lining up the camera. It also means that small waves or splashes are less likely to cover the upper half of the dome, leaves droplets visible on the surface. Whilst on the point of droplets and splashes, the biggest curse of trying to shoot half in-half out, although heavier and more expensive, glass domes do have the advantage of shedding water more easily that their acrylic counterparts.