29 June 2014

Inuit girls in Western Greenland

These Inuit girls in Western Greenland have painted their faces in traditional style to get money from tourists. Their community gets visited by an ever growing number of small adventure cruise ships and as global warming bites and their traditional way of  life begins to change rapidly it represents another income for them.

It's only when you talk to the Inuit/Greenlandic people that you realise how much of the ice has vanished in the past few years. Even the Greeland Sled Dog  may well  vanish as the ice gets ever thinner.

12 June 2014

The Magic of Dolphins

Don't get me wrong, I love photographing surfing but the surf competition at Maitlands River Mouth on the Indian Ocean near Port Elizabeth in South Africa was really special. Why? Well things change continually in the oceans and for a while the dolphins have been absent. Like any creature that can, they roam in search of food.

Looking past the surfers from my perch on the cliff-side I could see Cape Gannets diving into the sea in their characteristic way. This was interesting as they too had been absent for a while. Rather worrying was the number of dead birds on the beach. I later heard that they had mostly starved and had very heavy parasite loads, all signs of not finding sufficient food. To cut a long story short it does seem as though the annual Sardine run along our coast is starting again and that the seabirds and sea creatures are going to be present and active along our coast again.

Then I noticed several groups of dolphins fairly close to the shore, in-between the breakers. They were just hanging around, which is frustrating as they sometimes stay in an area for a while and just do nothing. They can do this for hours. Be that as it may, armed with several jackets (it was cold) and sun blocker (a paradox but having melanomas removed is not fun and best avoided) I sat for some five hours and was rewarded with lots of dolphin pictures and a few pictures of the surfers (sorry guys). Sometimes it is just great being a photographer!

4 February 2014

Clean up Svalbard

Adventure cruise tourists take part in a beach clean up on Spitzbergen in Svalbard as part of the Clean Up Svalbrd campaign. Detritus from fishing fleets and other shipping gets washed up on shore and can become a danger to wildlife.
The Svalbard reindeer, smaller than their mainland cousins, in particular can get their antlers caught in ropes and plastic.  

26 March 2013

Rock Dassie aggression

The Rock Dassie or Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) is a common widespread small mammal living in Southern Africa. It is mostly seen sitting in the warm sun on a rock somewhere. There are no rocks for them to sit on where I live but they have adapted well to sunning themselves when perched on a tree or in shrubbery.

Most people don't know it but the Dassie is the closest living relative to the African Elephant. When an elephant gets aggressive the only sensible reaction is to retreat quickly and just get away. Well the closest living relative to an elephant got a bit upset and suddely started "barking" and making this aggressive face. The sudden bark gave me a bit of a fright and by the second one I was laughing a bit too much to have a steady camera and take a picture. Luckily it carried on with its barking and this is what an angry Dassie looks like. I am glad it was not its cousin the elephant.

31 January 2013


Funny but as photographers we tend to only photograph pretty things and if we photograph something ugly or unpleasant we do not show the picture. It is a pity because one can learn from ugly images.

The large male Cape Fur Seal washed up in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve on the Indian Ocean in South Africa. It was very dead, eyes bulging, bloated and the fur was coming off. Very worrying was that this seal had no flippers; they had seemingly been torn off. My first thought was that people had done this, that the poor seal had got entangled in a fishing net and to get it loose the fishermen had simply cut off the flippers and let it drown, similar to the way sharks are finned and dumped alive to drown.

When I got home I searched for a possible explanation with Google and I was glad that I was unable to find any record of any such practice similar to shark finning in seals. While Googling deeper, to my horror, I found a recipe for Flipper Pie. It seems that in Eastern Canada there is a traditional dish made out of the flippers of young Harp Seals. Luckily it is not a practice in my part of the world. I basically drew a blank and could not find any explanation for the missing flippers.

I got the answer on the next day, one of the first people I met was an expert in marine mammals and he suggested that the seal died at sea, probably of natural causes. While the fur seal was floating dead in the sea it probably attracted the attention of small sharks, smaller sharks would be unable to bite the seal in half (the Great White must have been away) and they would grab a flipper and try to wrench off the flippers. Eventually they succeeded in doing so. It sounded plausible to me and in a strange twist one of the next people I met was also a marine biologist whose field of expertise is sharks! He agreed with the theory and that it fitted well with the behaviour of small scavenging sharks. He also added that if humans had done it there would be visible knife cuts on the seal’s body. I went back to look at the pictures and there were no signs of knife cuts.

When I took the images I thought I was exposing some or other atrocity that people had carried out, as it turns out this was not the case and I learnt something about how sharks scavenge and feed.

15 December 2012

Musing about Giraffes

I had a lovely morning at the Kragga Kama Game Park near Port Elizabeth in South Africa and spent some time with a group of Giraffes. They must be one of the strangest animals on the planet. This one had a fly that was irritating it around the eyes and what is an animal supposed to do when the face is some 16 feet away from your feet? It takes a lot of effort to reach the face with the feet and it probably cannot be done. The giraffe’s tail can be useful for a job like this (that is a reason why it is there) but unfortunately it is not 12 feet long and also cannot reach the face. In any case if you move your head to within reach of the tail the fly will probably take off and you won’t have the satisfaction of killing it. Well if your tongue is up to 18 inches long you whack the fly with that! (I know very little about giraffes, Google did not help and this is a pure guesswork!)

5 November 2012

Wine Cultivation in Single Bushes

Wine cultivation doesn't have to be in row upon row of terraces that cover a hillside. On the volcanic island of Fogo in the Cape Verde Islands vines are grown individually as bushes in the lava soil mixed with animal dung. They produce a very good white and red too!
No chemicals or sprays here, just purely natural wine.

10 September 2012

A Cultural Practice and Blue Flag Beaches

Cultural practices in Africa are often not understood and we often do not know what is going on. Sometimes though it all comes together and works. I often photograph things that don’t make me smile but these flying plastic water containers on a Blue Flag beach amused me. There is a tradition in Africa that sea water is drunk and it functions as a purgative. You often see people on the beach collecting sea water in plastic containers. It is particularly prevalent amongst those living inland and when they come to the sea collecting some sea water in a container, with a bit of sand thrown in, is important to them. They then transport it back to their homes in the hinterland and it is consumed when it is needed. South Africa is proud of its Blue Flag beaches and it is great swimming there because you know the water is clean and free from industrial and sewerage discharges that may affect the quality of water and that you won’t get sick if you accidentally swallow a mouthful of sea water. Blue Flag beaches are also great for those who use sea water for medicinal purposes as at least there is some guarantee that the water is free of pollutants. Blue Flag beaches also have lifesavers on duty and this is important for those who collect sea water as medicine as many of them cannot swim. A while ago I had to rinse out my sinuses with salt water and without thinking I obtained a pressurised container of seawater from a pharmacy. It was guaranteed to be pure seawater from the North Atlantic. Thinking about it I would rather have had a guarantee that it came from a Blue Flag beach as part of the criteria for Blue Flag status is of course regular water purity checks. Why did I buy sea water - it is stupid as I live 50 meters from the sea. I am not sure why but surely the Indian Ocean is cleaner than the North Atlantic Ocean? In any case it is ridiculous that North Atlantic seawater is available for sale in Africa. The one thing a Blue Flag Beach cannot guarantee of course is that there won’t be any wind on the day that you collect sea water – that is why these gentlemen are chasing empty containers along the Blue Flag Beach at Hobie Beach in Port Elizabeth South Africa.

29 August 2012

The Problem with Rock and Surf Anglers

I have been walking along beaches most of my life and enjoy what I find and see. Last week I had to think for a while before I could work out what the dead thing was.

Fishing with bait on a line has several disadvantages. In the first place you don’t really know what you are going to catch. If you are an ethical angler and you catch something you do not want you simply unhook the fish or shark and release it back in the sea. If the creature was not too injured or stressed it should survive.

If you are an idiot angler and are scared of what you catch or just lazy you simply cut the line and leave the creature to its own devices and you do not care whether it lives or dies. It is difficult to work out what happened to this large stingray. The hook and bait were still down its throat but the wings were removed. I guess the lazy angler hacked off the wings and threw the body back into the sea. I hope the skate was dead as this is sounding more and more like shark finning where the fins are hacked off the shark and the shark is thrown overboard to drown slowly.

There are many aspects of this that irritate me but I always come back to the hazards of fishing line and fish hooks. If you look to the sides of the cadaver you will see many footprints of the seagulls that were scavenging off the skate. There is a good chance that one will reach the baited hook and impale itself trying to get at the bait. If it does not do that it can entangle itself in the fishing line – this also normally has fatal consequences.

Another possibility is that you come along the beach walking on your bare feet enjoying the texture of the sand when you suddenly encounter the sharpness of the hook in your foot. The consequences are painful and sometimes it is really difficult to remove the hook. Sometimes you have to draw the hook backwards to get it out. Trying to cut off the shank of a hook stuck in your foot with a pair of pliers (if you are luckily enough to have pliers with you) is very painful. Another exciting way for this to improve your day is that your dog will find the baited hook and swallow it. It is never easy to remove a hook from a dog’s mouth and if it goes any further into the dog’s digestive system you will have massive veterinarian bills to pay.

Perhaps the most disruptive way of finding a hook like this is if I child walks on it. Apart from the trauma, pain and possible infection you have to get the crying child to a general practitioner. There are many wonderful ways to ruin an outing to the beach and finding a discarded fish hook really irritates me. But the person who caught the skate has also allowed another painful end to a day at the beach come into play – by discarding the ray in this way you have to bonus of being able to step onto the venomous spines. While I have not experienced this myself I have seen what pain it causes. Interestingly the best way to alleviate the pain is by placing the wound in hot water as this breaks down the toxins.

Funny how fishing and its equipment remains primitive and that the behaviour of the fishermen with the disposal of fish hooks, fishing line and their catch has remained despicable.