Spectacular Sharks, Turtles, Crocodiles and Gannets

On the 16th July 2020 the Todmorden U3A ‘Zoomed’ again for its monthly meeting in the company of wildlife and underwater photographer, David Keep, who showed us some of his often hair-raising journeys to obtain some amazing sea-life photographs and videos.

David had been scuba diving for 25 years, but never tried underwater photography until December 2016. Having done so, he often found himself in situations that were challengingly frightening, choosing to get into water with life-threatening creatures.

For the technically-minded, David uses a standard camera, a Canon 5DSR, which he has put into a fairly bulky waterproof casing, with 2 strobe lights attached. These restore the correct colour to underwater scenes which would otherwise appear a mélange of murky blues and greens.

David had always wanted to film hammerhead sharks, the world’s second largest shark, growing up to 6 metres and weighing up to 400kgs. They have eyes at each end of their hammer-shaped heads so they have an excellent visual field, and are very agile which makes them good hunters.

In March 2019 he went to Tiger Beach, a 15 metre deep plateau 25 miles off the Florida coast. The dive boat goes out there 3-4 times a week when they hand feed the sharks which, accustomed to an easy meal, seem to pose no threat to the team.

With the boat in position, David and his fellow diver-photographers entered the water and positioned themselves on either side of the crew member with the feeding box. David was next to the crew member, so he could get good still photographs and video footage. His close ups of the dentally unchallengeable shark mouths were stunning. He said you had to expect the occasional head-butt or tail-flick, but if you kept still and calm the sharks wouldn’t harm you – you aren’t their natural prey.

His next visit was to Bunaken Island in Indonesia, an underwater paradise on every scuba diver’s “to see” list. His photos of coral, multi-coloured fish and 1 metre loggerhead turtles, with human sized, steely blue eyes, were breathtakingly vivid.

On his way back to the beach camp, David took us on an underwater video-tour of the mangrove swamps. He showed us interesting photos half above and half below the water, and a sequence of the surreal world of the subaqueous spikes and roots of the mangroves which he took while keeping an eye open for saltwater crocodiles and venomous sea-snakes.

On returning to his camp, his guide said ‘No crocs here, but snakes, yes.’

Keen, nevertheless, to see salt-water crocodiles, in August 2019, David went to Jardines de la Reine, 40 miles south of Cuba, to photograph these 5 metre Jurassic survivors.

When the dive boat eventually found a suitable sized crocodile, the guide and David got into the shallow water where all went well until David’s foot slipped and sent up a puff of mud. Lightning-fast, the croc butted him in the side and surprised him again as he was mounting the boat’s ladder.

David said he was scared most of the time he was in the water, and would not do it again. But he’d got his photographs.

The last trip he highlighted was one to Shetland to record gannets feeding. Gannets have specialized vertebrae in their necks so they do not break their necks as they hit the water at 60 mph to catch fish.

David had arranged a trip with Richard Shucksmith who uses a technique that creates good underwater action. Richard’s boat has a special feeding tube at the stern to deliver the mackerel 1 metre below the surface, to ensure the gannets have to dive for their meal.

After being in the water for 30 minutes, David was confident the gannets weren’t going to bomb him, and, roped to the boat, he moved away from it to take some awe-inspiring pictures.

This was an excellent talk with wonderful photographs and video footage, which kept the audience entranced for over an hour. David spoke fluently, and with his technical knowledge, photographic skill is a fine example of retirement enterprise.

Fiona Ryland