Thursday, December 20, 2007

Silky Gold Silky Shark

Continued from: False Killer Whales Gang Hunting Lone Yellowfin Tuna...

Besides these killer whales, there was another rare species in the vicinity, a lone silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformis. This shark species is fairly rare to see regularly in Hawaiian waters. I think they’re one of the most beautiful shark species.

The shark has a slender but beautifully streamlined body with pointy snout. I think the species is relatively aggressive, but I always have fun photographing it.

This shark was fairly large, and for a moment, I was distracted by the shark sneaking up from my back or the bottom to check me out while I was shooting the false killer whale hunting event.

The shark looked splendid lit up by glowing golden sunset light. Unlike the false killer whales, it seemed more interested in me than anything else. Luckily it circled nearby, and I was able to snap some shots.


Silky Shark, Carcharhinus falciformis, off Kohala Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

As the sun was setting, we thought we saw the false killer whales again in the distance, but they turned out to be short-finned pilot whales, Globicephala macrorhynchus. It was a large pod - maybe hundreds of them - spread out for miles.

We all traveled together riding large offshore swells for a while, and tried to photograph the pilot whales rocketing out of large swells like in the emergency surfacing scene of the Navy submarine from a Sean Connery movie, The Hunt for Red October.

Believe me, it was very hard to capture the scene at sunset because the whales were quick and totally unpredictable as to where they were going to appear. Besides, the boat was rocking pretty bad, and in the end, neither of us got a decent shot. Despite that, it was a great day for marine photography! We’ll catch the pilot whales and the whale sharks another day!

False Killer Whales Gang Hunting Lone Yellowfin Tuna

Continued from the previous post: Tasty Kona Kampachi of Kona Blue Water Farms...

After a couple of "buoy hopping," we arrived at one of the most productive FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) in Kona. We did some fishing and caught a pair of good yellowfin tunas, Thunnus albacares, for dinner. It was getting late and we were about 15 miles offshore and about to call it a day, when we noticed something going on in the water.

We first thought they were wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncus, but as we got closer, we noticed their blacker, larger bodies and discovered they were something more rare and exciting: false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens! Three of them!


As their latin name indicates, they share characteristics with more popular orca or killer whales, Orcinus orca. False killer whales are large marine mammals that grow to about 20 feet in length with a body shape somewhat like the killer whale, but more slender and without the distinctive black and white pattern. Like the orca, they are known to attack and kill other cetaceans such as dolphins and whales.


false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens, blowing bubbles to startle a tuna hiding under the FAD (Fish Aggregation Device), off Kohala Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

False killer whales live around the Hawaiian Islands, but range widely. They are generally difficult to see up close, as they are rare to find in the first place and tend to shy away from boats. This time, they seemed preoccupied with something at the buoy. They appeared to be blowing bubbles toward the buoy again and again. It could be dangerous to photograph such "Killer Whales" up close, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to capture the moment if they allowed me to get close by.

The condition was very difficult to photograph them underwater as the ocean current was ripping and the sun was setting (getting dark). Besides I didn't want to disrupt their activity whatever they were doing.

It turned out the whales were trying to hunt a lone yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, which was trapped under the buoy, using the buoy as a shield against the whales! What a smart fish!


A lone yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, using FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) as a shield to dodge relentless attacks by its predators, false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens, note rake marks left by the whales, off Kohala Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

I was kicking hard and trying to stay parallel with the buoy and whales in the strong current. I was barely able to keep myself positioned far enough from the buoy not to affect the activity of the animals, but close enough to watch and photograph this rare event. The false killer whales occasionally looked straight at me, but they seemed unconcerned about my presence. Apparently the tuna looked a lot more appetizing to them than I did.


false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens, hunting for a lone yellowfin Tuna, Thunnus albacares, which is taking refuge under the FAD (Fish Aggregation Device), off Kohala Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

As the whales continued to focus on the tuna, they blew big bubbles underwater with a loud noise. It seemed like they were trying to startle the tuna away from the buoy and snatch it as it tried to escape.

Two relatively smaller whales tried this technique again and again, but at the last moment, the tuna was able to swim to the other side of the buoy, escaping the sharp teeth of killer whales. As this behavior was kept going on, the largest false killer whale of about 19 feet rushed into the scene from nowhere. The big one swam right under my legs and joined the rest of the whales.

Now three bubble blowing whales with open mouths ganged up on this lone poor, frightened tuna. Can you imagine if you were that tuna dodging these huge black monsters?


three false killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens, ganging up on a lone yellowfin Tuna, Thunnus albacares, which is taking refuge under the FAD (Fish Aggregation Device), off Kohala Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Three whales persistently attacked the tuna but only in vain. After maybe an hour or so, the false killer whales finally gave up on the idea of eating the tuna, and faded into the dark blue one by one. Yes, the tuna prevailed and went on to live another day!

To be continued to: Silky Gold Silky Shark...

Tasty Kona Kampachi of Kona Blue Water Farms

Continued from the post: NELHA - Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority...

We cruised past the open water fish farm operated by Kona Blue Water Farms. They have huge submersible net enclosures out in this area where the ocean current rips past.

I dove under their nets for an assignment in the past, so I know how bad the current is under there. One day I had to cancel the shoot because the current was just too strong to even swim in. On the other day, I did about three tank dives in a row. The current was still ripping on that day but I had to shoot some pictures of their nets and fish for them. The job was one of the toughest ones I've ever done in my career, but the resulting pictures were very interesting as well as rewarding.


scuba diving worker and 3,000-cubic-meter submersible fish pen installed in open ocean just off Kona Coast to raise Kona Kampachi, Hawaiian yellowtail, aka almaco jack or kahala, Seriola rivoliana, Kona Blue Water Farms, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

They raise very tasty and now famous Kona Kampachi, also known as almaco jack, Hawaiian yellowtail, or kahala, Seriola rivoliana. Ironically, farm raised amberjack is arguably healthier than the natural variety. The fish farming operation produces fish that are free from ciguatera, the reef toxin that is common to this species when they live in the natural environment. The fish are fed pellets, so they don’t ingest any reef toxins.


juvenile Kona Kampachi, Hawaiian yellowtail, aka almaco jack or kahala, Seriola rivoliana, inside open ocean fish pen, Kona Blue Water Farms, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Kahala in Hawaii is notorious. Usually the fish Kahala means a big amberjack very likely carrying cigatera toxin, in addition, their meats are usually infested with gross parasitic worms. So they came up with the idea of marketing the fish as "Kona Kampachi."

Kampachi is a Japanese word and actually means the greater amberjack, Seriola dumerili, in Japan. So I guess their naming is not that far off.

I grew up eating Kampachi in Japan. Definitely it is my favorite fish to eat in raw, "sashimi." It tastes very fatty but not as heavy as the raw meat of a yellowtail amberjack, Seriola lalandi, which most likely causes you a heartburn later on when you eat too much.

If you ever visit Hawaii, make sure to try it out. You won't regret. Any major decent restaurant carry this fish on their menu.

To be continued to: False Killer Whales Gang Hunting Lone Yellowfin Tuna.

NELHA - Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority

With a bit of hope of seeing a whale shark, Rhincodon typus, as they often appear in this area in December, we launched our boat from Honokohau harbor to go north. There were reports of some sightings north of the harbor.

We took some pictures of the lighthouse and the deep sea water pipes at Keahole Point. These pipes suck up cold sea water from a few thousand feet deep and pump it to over 30 enterprises in the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA). Some companies use the cold, clear sea water for aquaculture, including the raising of main lobsters, abalones, flounders, seahorses, algae, and more. Other companies produce desalinated mineral-rich drinking water.


Lighthouse and deep seawater supply pipe of NELHA (National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) at Keahole Point, the 1m (40") in diameter, 6,284 foot long pipeline caters 6ºC (43ºF) cold deep seawater from 2,000-foot depths to over 30 thriving enterprises in the industrial park, off Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

We recently read in the local newspaper, West Hawaii Today, that the pipe had some damage to it and would require extensive repairs.

The Keahole Point is perhaps the most turbulent, rough spot around west coast of the Big Island. The south of the point is really deep. It quickly drops off to thousands of feet in a few miles. On the other hand, the north of the point is a shallow shelf of 300-400 feet and gradually slopes down. This shallow shelf is where humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are coming back for calving in every winter.

Usually the deep ocean current hits the wall of the shelf, and is pushed upward creating turbulent water along the shelf wall. This movement also disperse nutrient rich water toward the surface gathering many bait fish. This place is called, "The Ground," spanning out miles from the point to north west, and is the best place to fish for all kinds of game fish around Kona.

To be continued to: Tasty Kona Kampachi of Kona Blue Water Farms.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Returnig to the Ocean - James D. Watt Memorial Service

In order to make his wish come true, Jim Watt's close friends and family members took a boat ride out of Keauhou harbor, and scattered his ashes into the ocean in the morning on Sunday, July 22nd, 2007.

Jim Watt returned to the ocean where he belonged.


close friends and families scattering ashes of marine wildlife photographer James D. Watt, who died of lung cancer on July 19th, 2007, from 46' sailing catamaran, Hokuhele, James D. Watt Funeral held on July 22nd, 2007, off Keauhou, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean, Model Not Released - No MR

Many familiar faces were there to see him off. We tried to keep our faces smiley to celebrate his glorious life throughout the event, but we all burst into tears soon after we started to pay tribute to his life while grabbing each other's hands in a circle. It was an emotional ride for everybody, and all of us cried out loud when his ashes finally went into the ocean.

We threw many Hawaiian flowers with prayers and tears as the boat circled him several times. I brought a bottle of rum and poured it into the ocean along with my tears. Rum & Coke was his favorite drink, and we spent much time over that brown cocktail talking about our next adventures and marine wildlife photography.

It will be very strange and perhaps awkward not to see him physically off Kona Coast any longer, but the time may eventually resolve such awkwardness, and I know that he lives forever in my heart and that of others whose lives were also touched by him.

I can "feel" him everyday when I see the ocean, smell the sea breeze, and taste the salt water... fortunately for me those are daily events in Kona, Hawaii.


marine wildlife photographer, James D. Watt, photographing pygmy killer whale, Feresa attenuata, Kona, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean, Model Released - MR#: 000044

I am extremely lucky to have met him. It was a great honor and a privilege to have spent nine years of my life with such inspiring photographer like Jim Watt in this paradise-like place.

As we were approaching the harbor with our heads down after we were emotionally drained offshore, something magical happened. Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins suddenly showed up by our boat and escorted us to the Keauhou Harbor. We all felt that it was Jim cheering us up and saying final goodbye to us.

Thanks for the great memories, Jim. I'll see you out there, buddy.

Masa Ushioda

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Eulogy for James D. Watt the Marine Wildelife Photographer

Marine wildlife photographer, James D. Watt, passed away peacefully at around 9:00 am in the morning of July 19th, 2007, surrounded by his family and friends. If you didn't' know, he had been battling with lung cancer for about a year. Very fortunately I was able to see him, kiss his forehead and say goodbye to him last week just before he entered into the ICU.


wildlife photographer James D. Watt photographing friendly humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, Pacific Ocean, Model Released - MR#: 000044

I've known Jim Watt ever since I arrived in Kona, the Big Island of Hawaii in the summer of 1997. Doug Perrine (another professional marine wildlife photographer, a good friend of his, my photography mentor and my former boss) took me to his house at the slope of Hualalai volcanic mountain to meet up with Jim and his family.

I still remember the first time I met him at his house. He told me to remove my shoes. A Japanese style... and I thought it's kinda funny because an American man told me (a Japanese) to do so. Later I learned that it was customary to do so at any Hawaiian house - the custom was inherited from Japanse immigrants and spreaded all over the State of Hawaii.

Since then, we never stopped talking about marine wildlife photography. We knew immediately that we were connected through our common interests: diving, fishing, photography, boating, marine life and the love of the ocean.

For these nine years in Hawaii, Jim and I went out on the ocean together for countless times. For those who knows me very well perhaps heard me saying all the time, "I did this and that with Jim," or "Jim said this and that"... again and again...


wildlife photographer James D. Watt and manta ray, Manta birostris, at night, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean, Model Released - MR#: 000007

We both had our own boats. Sometimes we went out on my boat, but most of the time I went on his because he likes to be the captain. I handled all the "stinky" baits (he calls it) for him when we go fishing or shark diving.

When the water is too chilly in the winter, Jim made me jump in the water first to see if animals are friendly enough to photograph or not (although 90% of the time I was able to get better shots by doing that, ha ha). One time we fished so many tunas until we broke our rods in half. A few time we ran into the storm and fought our way back to the harbor on my 17 foot boat...

I have so many good and exciting memories and eposodes with him, but there is only one truth about them. We never had a bad time when we were together. Even when nothing happened out on the ocean, we talked for hours about our next big adventures, next big Apple gadgets, next good food & drinks... and you know, all other guy things... We only had great time together perhaps because of his great personality. He was always positive and funny, and seemed to have no downtime. I totally admire him on that and wanted to be like him, too.

I learned a lot from Jim. Without a question, I wouldn't be who I am today if I didn't meet him. He took me under his wing and taught me how to get closer to various marine animals, how to fish around Kona, how to drive a boat in a rough sea, where to dive... etc. etc. I seem to have an endless list of things that I learned from him... I will miss him, my friend, mentor, the greatest inspiration of my photography.

On February 26, 2007 at Puako, Big Island, Jim was able to attend my wedding ceremony despite his worsening condition. My wife and I, as well as many guests who knew his condition, were so happy to see him having a good time there. He ate a lot and laughed a lot on that day, and even took some great wedding pictures for us. We had a great time together on that special day of my life.

Thanks for the great memories, Jim. I love you, buddy, and I know you will be with me forever out there in the ocean. Aloha, Jim.

Masa Ushioda

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve - A Fragile Treasure of Hawaii

Hanauma Bay is definitely one of the most spectacular natural resources in the world. The bay has been designated as an official Nature Preserve, and under the strict control of the use, the coral reef of the bay is moving toward re-establishing its pristine marine ecosystem.


coral reef and white sand beach, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Recognizing the damage done by years of neglect and abuse by allowing some three million visitors annually, the City and County of Honolulu in 1990 laid out a plan to restore Hanauma Bay to a clean, healthy state by limiting the number of visitors, establishing an education program, and instituting supportive restrictions.


coral reef and white sand beach, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

The City of Honolulu did a great job here. The upper and lower bay facility has been improved significantly. Their award-winning Marine Education Center was opened in August of 2002. Hanauma Bay now has a site where its education program flourishes.

A short video usually welcomes residents and visitors at the entrance, encouraging them to join staff and volunteers to help protecting this precious but very fragile treasure of the world - the living coral reef environment.