Franco Banfi Wildlife Photo Tours

Underwater photography, travel, wildlife

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Isla San Benedicto: a kindergarten for giant mantas

Who among you have heard about the Revillagigedo Archipelago? If you have, then you know what I am talking about. But, perhaps, this name means nothing to you…

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It lies in the Pacific Ocean, off the Mexican coast and, together with the more famous islands of Malpelo, the Cocos and the Galapagos, it skirts the marine area known as the Eastern Pacific Triangle and, thanks to the ocean currents directed by the underwater mountain chains and the water masses converging here, has become the Mecca of the underwater ecosystem.
The insular arch of Revillagigedo is part of an underwater volcanic structure, called Las Montañas de los Matematicos; some peaks even reach the sea surface, like the Islands of Roca Partida, Socorro and San Benedicto.
There are many places in the world that offer dives with mantas: but none compare to what we experienced here. We can affirm without doubt that, in the realm of fish, mantas are the most empathetic of animals. Just in the same way that mammals are, with their natural grace and beauty, flowing movements, somersaults, and looping, a manta is a creature that combines the elegance and the nimbleness of a teenager dancing a classic ballet with the power and strength of an acrobatic jet.

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But the mantas of San Benedicto offer something more. They search for divers; they stop two or three metres above our heads and delight in feeling the touch of the air bubbles expelled from our regulators pop against their belly. They literally “thrill” when the fragile bubbles of air break against them and enjoy the delightful hydro massage. Then, each manta screens the divers and chooses one of us; she licks the elected diver and keeps him apart from the group, offering a performance whereby the “price” to be paid is a light and voluptuous massage, given by the diver barehanded, on the rough skin of its belly.

Whitetip reef sharks, Triaenodon obesus, Roca Partida close to San Benedicto island, Revillagigedo Archipelago Biosphere Reserve (Socorro Islands), Pacific Ocean, Western Mexico

Whitetip reef sharks, Triaenodon obesus, Roca Partida close to San Benedicto island, Revillagigedo Archipelago Biosphere Reserve (Socorro Islands), Pacific Ocean, Western Mexico

With powerful lateral fins they lead the dance, determining the direction and the intensity of the swimming, avoiding contact with other divers and the rocks of the floor. We are so stunned by this reciprocity that we forget about the dive and let ourselves be seduced by the whirls of this dance, entranced by an uncontrollable emotion; forgetful of the time and the air we are wasting to keep pace with our “partner”. But there is nothing to fear: we are only 8-10 metres underwater and 50 metres away from the ship MV Solmar V. We move along the rope that anchors life aboard the vessel, knowing we have the possibility to change the air tank and jump back again into this overpowering passion.

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Just like a Ferrari’s pitstop during a Grand Prix, on the boat all is streamlined and efficient: in few minutes we can rejoin our friends. Believe us, we spent several hours a day in the warm water of San Benedicto – and mantas never missed our appointment!

Festival de l’image sous-marine de Neuchâtel (12 March 2016)

Saturday 12 March I went to visit the Underwater Photo Festival in Neuchâtel to meet some friends and to see the images winning photos and the different photos galleries exposed. Michel Lonfant with its freshwater images, Mimmo Roscigno with images from the Mediterranean Sea and some other images from around the World.

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Here I’m with Laurent Ballesta a marine biologist and research diver. He combines his passion for underwater photography with his skills at diving to extreme depths. We were talking about his last expedition to Antarctica. In association with film director Luc Jaquet and his Wild-Touch Expeditions.  This pioneering exploratory, diving, and photographic mission is part of a wider project initiated by Academy Award winning director Luc Jacquet to explore the impact of global warming in this polar region.

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For the second time the festival organizers have chosen one of my images for the poster of the event. The colors look great.

The underwater words of Franco Banfi (29 February 2016)

Monday 29 February I was honored to present my last works in the hall of the ATM foundation in Milan (Italy).

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Beside some destination like Svalbard and Azores, I showcase some thrilling wildlife encounters with sperm whales and blue whales, inspire the audience a moment of reflection about the marine realm, and hope for protecting the vitality of the world’s oceans.

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I would like to thank the large audience that has expressed interest with the many questions asked at the end of the presentation.

Sperm whales of Dominica – January-February 2016

From the 31 January to the 14 of February we spent our time in Dominica, leading our annual Wildlife Photo Tours to photograph and snorkelling with sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). This year, we had very good company and shared our experiences with Renate, Ursina, Bryan, Konrad, Marcel and Mate.
Like the previous years, also this year was wonderful : we saw and snorkelled with whales every days. Two days we were lucky enough to swim side by side with juvenile sperm whales for forty minutes, face to face, eyes to eyes.

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The sperm whales off Dominica are predominantly groups of females living together in ‘units’ of about 7 animals. The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is truly an animal of extremes. They are the largest of the toothed whales,  among the longest and deepest divers.

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The adult males are average 16 metres in length but can reach up to 20.5 metres, and weight up to 57,000 kilograms. Their head represent up to one-third of the animal’s length. They feed primarily on squid, plunging up to  2000 metres

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This year we have a unexpected experience, not so common in the water of Dominica : we snorkelled with a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) that swim with us for a while before to dive deep into the open ocean.

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Booking for the saison 2017 is already open : if you are interested don’t wait too long to contact us at info@banfi.ch

EOS 5DS: 50.6 Megapixel picture power in a DSLR package

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Recently as a Canon Explorer I had the chance to test the new Canon EOS 5DS with 50.6 Megapixel underwater in my Seacam housing. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the files this camera can produce and I like the fact that the camera is almost the same like the one I use; a 5DKIII, all the controls are on the same place and they almost do the same things. I was even more impressed when I open the files in camera Raw and I could appreciated the dynamic range of these pictures.

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You ca read the full interview on the cpn canon-europe webpage: http://cpn.canon europe.com/content/education/technical/franco_banfi_taking_the_eos_5ds_to_new_depths.do

Wildlife Photo Tours Sri Lanka (March 2015)

I’m back home after 12 days spent in Sri Lanka with the aim to photograph the blue whales under and over the sea surface. I leaded two groups, each of 4 people counting even myself. For these activities I think “the lesser the better” , and in fact everybody was able to see and photograph the whales underwater.

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Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus is the largest animal ever known to have existed. During the 20th century, the species were valued preys in the whaling industry and the blue whale was nearly exterminated before receiving worldwide protection in 1967. Although commercial whaling no longer represents a threat, nowadays the global climate change and its impact on ocean euphausiids (krill – shrimp-like crustaceans), that are the blue whales’ major source of food, makes this cetacean particularly vulnerable.

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During the two weeks we’ve been in Sri Lanka, we navigated for 6 to 7 hours a day, looking to encounter the whales. Sometimes we were more of 20 nautical miles from shore : no bare eyes sight of land or coasts from that distance.
We experienced days with excellent sea conditions but also few days with raft sea; only one day we had to come back to the harbour because of the bad weather conditions.

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Some days we saw many whales, few days only one. Some whales were more cooperative than others : they swam slow and remained longer close to the surface; other whales dived before we were able to approach them. Every day was different, but I’m more then satisfy for what we have seen and photographed.
The blue whales dives for a period of 10 – 20 minutes each time, and usually feed at depths of 100 m. or less. Average travel speed is around 22 km/hr, although they may swim as fast as 48 km/hr if they perceive a danger.

Blue whales are believed to have excellent hearing, especially at low frequencies, which is a must in the dark ocean environment.

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During summer months, blue whale populations migrate towards the poles, looking for their food that lives in cooler waters. During the winter months, they migrate back towards the equator and the warmer waters, for breeding. Because the seasons are opposite in the northern and southern hemispheres, the net result of these movements is that the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere stocks of whales does not mix. Like many other baleen whales, it feeds in cool waters at high latitudes, and generally migrates to warmer temperate and tropical waters to breed and give birth.

It seems that in Sri Lanka the species may be resident year-round.

Blue whale distribution map.
The blue whale is found mostly in cold and temperate waters and it prefers deeper ocean waters instead of coastal waters.
The largest recorded length of a blue whale is 33.5 m, but sizes tend to be in the range of 25-30 meters. Females are up to 10 m longer than males. A 33m blue whale would weigh more or less 200 tons.

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Write me at info@banfi.ch if you want information on the next year WPT to Sri Lanka.

Sperm whales of Dominica – January-February 2015

From the 22 January to the 6 of February I was in Dominica for the annual Wildlife Photo Trip to photograph sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus).
I share the time out at sea with Sabrina, Monica, Gerald, Patrick, Toby and Willy. On the ten days we have been out at see we encountered sperm whales almost every day, some days were more calm but some day were exceptional going in and out from the water all day to swim with several animals.

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We meet the resident group of seven, the best studied social unit of sperm whales in the world.
1532326Sperm whales live in family groups, with several generations of females living together with their young. They communicate using specific combinations of clicking sounds.
1532859We had also some interesting non-sperm whale visitors. A big group of Fraser’s dolphins, (Lagenodelphis hosei). These dolphins can be identified by their stocky body and short beak, the back is brownish-grey, the lower sides of the body cream-coloured, and the belly is white or pink.
1578831Happy whales photo’s hunters groups.
1579248Below is a map that shows were we meet the sperm whales around the island, of course we don’t go to the Atlantic side, but I think also the sperm whales prefer to stay on the west side where is more protected.

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We are already taking booking for the saison 2016, if you are interested don’t wait to long to write me at info@banfi.ch if you don’t want to miss your chance to swim and take pictures of these jants.

Highly Commended in Global Arctic Awards 2014

It is a great pleasure to share that my image of a swimming walrus achieved a Highly Commended Award (Ribbon RPS) in Global Arctic Awards Competition 2014.

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The image was taken on the Wildlife Photo Tour to Svalbard, I organized last summer 2014. Have a look at the next Wildlife Photo Tour to Svalbard made for nature and wildlife photographers.