WET PIXEL FULL FRAME Warren Baverstock: Djibouti whale sharks


Along a small stretch of uninhabitable coastline off the coast of Djibouti lies one of natures treasures which up until now, few have been privileged to witness. During the months of October through to February, large aggregations of young whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) visit the Gulf of Tadjoura to feed on the plankton rich waters within the Gulf of Aden. Little is known about where the sharks come from, but local reports from ecotourism operators suggest that during the months of October to February, large aggregations of mostly juvenile male sharks move around a small area of coastline in search of food. Luckily, during this time of year food is plentiful and at certain times of the day, dense blooms of plankton are brought to the surface, which the whale sharks seem to find.

Plankton is made up of small or microscopic organisms such as fish eggs, tiny fish fry, crustaceans, algae and protozoans. Whale sharks are filter feeders that swim through the water with their mouths wide open to feed. As they gulp at the incoming water they use their gill rakers to filter out the microscopic plankton before exhausting the filtered water over their gills for oxygen transfer. In Djibouti, from around 10.30am through to 6pm, sharks rise to the surface and cruise along the shallow shoreline in search of food.

By late morning as the sun becomes higher in the sky, plankton is attracted to the water’s surface. Additionally, as the wind picks up, currents upwell creating plankton hot spots up and down the coast. Once the cruising sharks track down these blooms of plankton, their swimming patterns will change to either ram or vertical feeding. Ram feeding sharks will swim very fast through the water with their mouths wide open trying to filter as much water as possible. As plankton density increases, the sharks will often start to gulp which will invariably slow their swimming speed. If, left undisturbed a gulping whale shark will often stop swimming and instead rotate itself into an almost vertical position where it will continuously gulp stationary in one area until the food source is depleted. Unlike the large aggregation of whale sharks found off the coast of Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico) where visibilities and water color seems perfect for underwater photography, Djibouti offers slightly more challenging conditions which include plenty of cloud cover and green water.


AHLAN Magazine – Warren Baverstock voted as one of United Arab Emirates Top 100

Unsung Heroes – Warren Baverstock…Operations Manager of the Burj Al Arab Aquarium

He heads the team behind the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project that rescued and rehabilitated more than 200 turtles from our shores in the first few months of 2012 alone.

Tell us about the turtle programme.
When injured or sick turtles are discovered on our beaches, they are brought straight to us at the Burj Al Arab Aquarium. After an intensive care period at our quarantine facilities and a period of rehabilitation in the outdoor pens at the Mina A’ Salam, we give them the green light for release. Last year, in addition to 151 critically endangered juvenile hawksbill sea turtles, we had a number of much larger turtles that we were able to set free. In particular, two very rare and large loggerhead turtles and two large green turtles.

How was the public response to the first release programme on the beach?
There was a massive turnout. Around 150 children each released a turtle. The whole crowd cheered.

What is the biggest marine conservation challenge here in the UAE?Humans littering our shores and the attitude of  ‘someone will clean up after me’. Every day people leave rubbish on the beach and a lot gets washed out to sea, contaminating the marine environments and harming sealife.

When you aren’t shaping the UAE landscape, what do you like to do in your downtime?
I’m a very keen underwater photographer with some of my work published in Time magazine and British tabloids. My goal is to be recognised as Wildlife Photographer of the Year – to date I have only reached the finals… There is still time.


the Wonders of Wakatobi – Scuba Diver Australasia 2012

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I suspect that like me, many serious underwater photographers dread the rigmarole associated with getting their precious, fragile equipment through foreign airports and land transfers. This wasn’t the case, however, during my recent visit to Wakatobi Dive Resort. The resort is located in the remote Tukang Besi island chain on the edge of Indonesia’s Banda Sea. But unlike many other out-of-the-way diving destinations in the region, getting there is easy, because the resort provides direct charter flights from Bali, along with a warm and welcoming staff that is there to help you at every step of the way. As son as I handed my gear over to the Wakatobi team at Bali’s Denpasar International Airport, I felt I was on vacation, even before reaching the island. Arrival and check in at the resort was equally relaxing, and as I prepared for my first dive, the staff once again took care of every detail. Before long, I was finning out over the shallow sea grass beds that lie inside of Wakatobi’s House Reef, catching glimpses of the many tiny creatures that lurk in the shallows. There would be plenty of time to photograph them later, I knew, so I kept swimming toward the edge of the reef. Peering down over the drop off for the first time brought a sense of sheer joy and amazement. The clear water created a panorama of colorful coral gardens populated by lively reef fish. Mesmerized, I followed the reef toward the resort’s jetty, taking in the marine life. When it was finally time to get out of the water, I gazed across the sea towards a small tropical island perched on the horizon, and with the warmth of the setting sun on my face I thought “those blogs were true…Wakatobi is the real deal.” I first learned of Wakatobi by following a link on Facebook. Now, just 12 months later, I felt privileged to be here, walking along the shoreline toward my Villa. I’d just completed one of the most memorable dives of my life, and this was just the first day. With cameras secure and dive equipment taken care of by the dive center, I was free to sit and watch the last rays of light disappear behind the horizon and anticipate what the next day’s adventures would bring.

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Next morning, I find myself looking up at the surface from a depth of 15 meters, with more than 40 meters of reef visible to the left and right. With so much color and life surrounding me, the choices for photography are almost overwhelming. But it doesn’t take me long to settle into a routine. I am accompanied by my personal dive guide, Kaz, who not only leads me to the most interesting subjects, but also carried my second housing! Not wanting to miss out on macro opportunities I brought two housings, and diving with a guide allows me to switch between wide and macro subjects with ease. My primary focus will be to capture Wakatobi’s reefs using a compact close focus wide-angle set up, but I also won’t miss out on opportunities to capture reef scenes. Having the support and assistance of a personal guide does come at a price, but it’s well worth the investment as Wakatobi’s guides are very experienced, and there’s a lot of 5-star customer service thrown in for good measure. Exploring the deeper depths of this dive site, I find large numbers of fan corals sitting on ledges next to the drop off. Complementing these delicate towering structures are colorful forests of whip and soft corals surrounded by swarms of newly hatched fry. For most of the dive I was distracted by the magical array of colors, and by the end I fully understand why the region is considered one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet. When I surface and pass my cameras up to the boat crew, I’m pleased to see that they know just how to handle the equipment. By the time I get onto the boat, both housings are rinsed in freshwater and placed safely under towels. During the surface interval, Kaz and I get to know each other. We will be diving together for the next two weeks, and he wants to learn what I am specifically looking during my stay. With the genuinely friends guides and the boat crew making sure that I have plenty of cake and coffee, we sail gently to our next dive.

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Before I know it, Kaz and I descend down onto our second dive of the day. After another long bottom time (70 minutes plus!) and many more rewarding photo opps, we head for the dive center. With housings safely stowed and batteries charging, I prepare to wash and hang my dive gear, only to find that that our boat crew has already taken care of everything. With these chores handled, I’m soon back at my villa to join my wife, who doesn’t dive, with plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon sun and take a swim. The select villa offers a luxurious sun lounging jetty with a plunge pool overlooking the water. We sit back, enjoy the amazing sunset, and discover another special part of the Wakatobi Experience. On our next morning dive, Kaz already knows the animals I want to photograph, and delivers me to the doorstep of an inquisitive cuttlefish that hovers over a lush area of pink and purple sponges. With no other divers competing for photo opportunities or in the shot, I find myself actually relaxing while taking a series of photos of this patient cephalopod. Gazing up from my subject, I am once more overwhelmed by the pristine topography of the reef; I look for Kaz, who is a few meters ahead pointing at something else he has found. I fin towards him, but am then distracted by a vibrant fan coral surround by fry. Like a candy shop, yellow, pink, purple and orange soft corals compete with each other for space and again I find myself a little confused on which shot I want to take. When I finally catch up with a very patient Kaz, he points at a pair of pygmy seahorses. But the shot is difficult, and with risk of damaging corals we move onwards in search of the other animals on my wish list. Amazingly, in the course of the dive Kaz manages to find the four types of pygmy seahorse native to Wakatobi (H. pontohi, H. severnsi, H. denise and H. bargibanti).There is a lot to be said about not having to share a perfect wilderness with many people. Back on the surface, there is not a single dive boat on the horizon – only the sound of splashing jacks chasing their prey. In such a magnificent setting, you can’t help but be relaxed. Smiling, Kaz says he knows I’ll love the next dive. We enter the water and peer down 18 meters onto an expansive sandy area the size of a football pitch, which is situated on the top of a coral pinnacle. I wonder what he’s been going on about. Touching down on the sandy surface, and feeling a bit like the man on the moon, I can see the reef in the distance. As we approach it, I for the first time feel the pull of a strong current.

baverstock wakatobi 006 Arriving at the edge of the pinnacle, which plateaus off to depth, I am presented with an incredible selection of marine life. The strong moving water obviously provides a healthy source of nutrients. Swirling fluidly like a river around the coral reef and sponges, shoals of apagons and sweepers swim effortlessly keeping a tight formation for safety from predators. It is as if the entire scene were composed by an artist, and perfectly placed in the middle of all of this life is a large sea anemone, within which a pair of clowns kept watch over their kingdom. The best is yet to come. Kaz lures me away, assuring me with his eyes to trust him, I an come back to this spot later. We move on, and I soon find myself kneeling in front of a giant towering sponge, with a tornado of glassfish swirling around it while several grouper sporadically dart into the cloud of movement. Heading to shallower water takes us over a field of hard corals where a large shoal of batfish and snapper cruise. Sadly I’m now low on air, but surprisingly I find I can spend the remaining 5 minutes of my dive along the shallow shoreline, which has changed from coral reef into a lush sea grass environment. It is a nursery for all things small, and I am blown away by the abundance of life in this area. I watch sea snakes weave in and out of the coralline algae-covered coral blocks, searching for easy food. Kaz signals to reminded me that it’s time to go. As I reluctantly fin toward our boat, I muse on how amazing this place is. And with the dive sites being so close to the resort, I find that I also have plenty of time to enjoy lunch without worrying about a tight deadline for the next dive, and never need miss freshly cooked food at dinner due to a late return. Instead I find myself unwinding in the most relaxing restaurant environment that I could possibly wish for on a small island. In all of the dive resorts I have visited, which includes some 5-star islands in the Maldives, I can’t recall ever having such a choice of well-cooked, top-quality cuisine. With over 20 members to the food and beverage team taking great care of each guest’s culinary requirements, I didn’t have a single grumble during my two-week stay – other than a need to get back to the gym when I’m back home.

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The days begin to merge into a pleasant blur of diving, dining and relaxing. My first week has provided me with some incredible photographic opportunities and memorable vacation experiences. One day, as I watched Kaz draw another of his detailed maps of the next dive site, I am momentarily distracted by thoughts of how many days I have left in Wakatobi. This thought soon passes, and I am quickly drawn back into the moment, and as usual, am excited at what’s in store for the next dive. Upon entering the water, I’m greeted with a magical but now very familiar scene, as morning sun’s rays shimmer over the soft corals that blanket the shallow reef. I can understand why so many snorkelers also visit Wakatobi. As shoals of surgeons, wrasse and butterflies chase each other over the shallow reef, I watch as snorkeling couples follow them effortlessly in the mild current. The profile of this dive site is considerate towards the newcomers that had just arrived on the island, but no less spectacular than some of the deeper sites. At 10 meters, the light creates incredible visibility, and as Kaz explores nearby, searching for large crocodile fish, I find myself composing perfect portraits of clownfish with the lush coral environment as a backdrop. As we navigate the reef, I recognize the familiar behavior of a small shoal of Convict blennies in the distance. I had seen many during my stay but as I approach this group, the behavior of the shoal evolves into something much bigger. Quadrupling in size, and hovering like a swarm of bees over the reef, the shoal begins to morph its shape, changing from a beehive into a teardrop, then a magnificent tornado. With no other photographers waiting eagerly their turn for an image, I capture 20 minutes of this incredible behavior before a large trevally dives into the shoal disbursing them into the safe confines of the coral reef. Back on the boat, there is a buzz of excitement from the snorkelers who have had their first taste of the Wakatobi experience. baverstock wakatobi 005

Approaching the end of my second week, I have put many of Wakatobi’s best sites into my logbook, but there is one that I have yet to experience. I had seen the more distance sections of the house reef from the surface on the day that I had arrived, and during daily departures and returns, but had yet to experience it from below. Taking into consideration I had witnessed some pretty incredible marine environments in the past days, I’m unsure if this closer-to-home dive experience will match my expectations. Stepping off the jetty onto the dive boat, our group kits up, and within five minutes we arrive at the entry point. With a fairly strong current, this drift dive on the house reef proves to be one of the best experiences of the trip. Incredibly, the house reef is in great condition, offering large shoals of fish and turtles, topped off by fabulous coral coverage. Prior to entering the water, Kaz and I had agreed that I should get at least a few pygmy seahorses photographs. Knowing the sites extremely well, he’s assured me he’ll have no problem finding a pair of Bargibanti seahorses in an area that will not be difficult to photograph. As always, Kaz did not disappoint, and a few minutes later, with a nice male and female photograph under my belt, we continue with our dive. Incredibly, it just seems to get better and as we approach the resort, the abundance of fish continues to increase. Like all of my dives, the safety stop at five meters offers some special photographic encounters, and a chance to recall all of the wonderful moments I’ve just experienced and captured in photos. It is a fitting finale to an incredible and productive two weeks of diving at a place that truly deserves to be called “a diver’s paradise.”

Emirates Diving Association – Digital On Line Underwater Photography Competition

This year I wanted to be a judge for the Emirates On Line Underwater Photography Competition but the organisers ask me to enter again and so I did. The result was a clean sweep of all three categories (wide angle, macro and fish), coming first on all of them. The good news was that after the competition, the organisers agreed that it would be a great idea for me to be a judge for the 2013 competition which i’m really looking forward to.

Comments by Ibrahim Al Zubi, Executive Director of the Emirates Diving Association: ‘Again, I find myself lucky that I was not a member of the jury panel for our annual Digital Online Underwater Photography Competition.As a matter of fact, I felt sorry for the judges.This year’s was one of the toughest to score with lots of underwater photography gurus participating and sending EDA amazing photos of the varied marine life from all the places our members have dived. If I were to describe in one word the 49 entries we received this year, it will simply be,‘Fascinating’. The Digital Online Award Ceremony at DUCTAC in Mall of the Emirates made a clear point that taking underwater photos is an ART. A photograph always has a story behind it. I want to congratulate all the participants for enriching EDA’s photo library with amazing photos – I am sure you will all agree with me when you see the photos in this issue. I also want to congratulate Mr. Warren Baverstock for being the overall winner of the 2012 competition for the Professional Category, Mr. Jonathan Clayton for winning the Amateur category and Mr. Khaled Sultani for winning the Video Category. Also many thanks to the jury, the sponsors, the EDA team and EDA’s Events Coordinator,Ally Landes for another successful EDA event towards promoting for diving not only in the UAE but in the whole region. ‘

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Say aaaaahhh! How world’s biggest shark (thankfully) finds small fry like humans hard to swallow – The Mail On Line

It’s got jaws that could easily swallow a diver whole – but thankfully humans are definitely not on the menu for this monster of the deep.

The whale shark is the largest shark in the world, growing up to 40ft long with a mouth that’s 4ft 9ins wide. But despite their enormous size, they have no teeth and live almost entirely on microscopic plankton.

Fearless Devon photographer Warren Baverstock captured these amazing images while working with a scientific survey team in the Indian Ocean, just north of Somalia……….click to see mail on line

Shaving the Sigma 15mm Fisheye down for the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port

So with the new Zen 4″/100mm fisheye mini dome port on my desk all the way from Backscatter, its time to get shaving. Shaving what? – well to get the Sigma 15mm full frame fisheye lens behind the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port I first have to cut off an amount of the shade off the lens. Obviously taking a saw and cutting up a brand new $600 lens needs a little research first and after finding a lot of web sites with some even offering to do it for you, I believe I have picked the best bits of advice and come up with the following.

Tools for the job:

  • Not one site suggested using a Dremel Multi-tool and so I used one – why? because i’m not patient enough to use a handsaw, the handsaw blade had to be a special type (straight teeth or something), it would take up to 30 minutes to cut off just one shade and the finish can be a bit untidy. Instead I opted for a steel cutting disc attachment and a steel sanding attachment for the final finish.
  • Of course a dremel can be a little untidy if you go mad or it gets out of control so the next thing I needed to have was a perfect guide – a large Jubilee Clip
  • A Pencil to mark where I needed to cut.
  • An Air Blower – I used a hand blower so I could remove the fine metal shavings that got everywhere while I was cutting.
  • Something to Protect the Lens while cutting. This had to be something rigid/sturdy and that fitted perfectly inside the shade. I chose a Sea & Sea YS250 PRO strobe cap – I had one damaged that was hanging around. What better use for something that was responsible for the flooding of one of my strobes.
  • Black paint.

My secret to success during this whole procedure was taking my time. The Dremel is a great tool for the job but its easy to put it on full power and go crazy!
Because the shade to the Sigma is made of metal I needed the right cutter – I found this to be perfect.
Preparing the lens was very easy. First I established just how much I had to shave off and once calculated, marked with a pencil. The next stage was to carefully fix the jubilee clip which was to act as a perfect guide for the Dremel cutter. I made sure that the screwing section was away from the area that I would be cutting. The next thing I had to find was something that would protect the lens from the tiny fragments during the cutting process and just in case I slipped with the Dremel. Amazingly an old strobe cap fitted perfectly behind the shade. The next stage was to go to a well lit area away from camera housings etc. and start cutting.
The whole cutting process was so easy. I put the Dremel on a nice speed and let the tool do the work, keeping it flush up against the jubilee clip. I was very much aware that at certain points while cutting through the shade I was also cutting through the plastic cap. However, with the cap having a thickness of about 3mm, this did not matter. Once both shades were cut off I then used the blower to remove as much of the metal shavings as possible. Eventually once satisfied that it was pretty much clear of filings I removed the old strobe cap/lens protector from the lens and again blew the remaining filings away (at no point did i use a cloth to polish the lens). I had perfectly shaved off an amount of the shade without trashing my brand new lens. The final stage was to very carefully sand down the cut surface which was quite sharp in places. I did this using the Dremel on a very slow setting.
Placing the lens onto the camera and into the housing I put a small amount of toothpaste on all four corners of the shade and slowly placed the Zen port into place making sure that I had cut off enough of the shade. The trick with the tooth paste was that I found it tricky judge whether I had shaved enough of the shade off. With fear of scratching the inside of the port, the tooth paste would act as an early warning just in case I had not. With the port securely fitted the next thing was to check if the shade touched the inside of the port during focusing. Again, its tricky to see so the tooth paste is a perfect guide.
The end result – with a nice perfect finish and a lick of paint, I have managed to get a full frame fisheye lens behind the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port……..sorted! 😮

Wakatobi….here I come….

the following photographs are © protected by Wakatobi Dive Resort – www.wakatobi.comSeveral months ago I accidently clicked an advert on facebook, while not paying attention to what I was doing – chatting to my wife on the phone. While talking and deciding about what I wanted for supper, I became distracted by what I was seeing on my mac. Of course my wife would say, “nothing new there then”, but that’s not true, I always listen to what she is says…..I can multi task.  Anyway, back to the mac and with a new web browser window opened, I slowly watched as stunning aerial images of a perfect reef environment uploaded onto the screen. Scrolling down and there were photographs of beautiful corals as far as the eye could see with flocks of color hovering just above them in perfect visibility. It looked idyllic, it looked perfect….

It was around this time I was looking for the next special dive destination. Fed up with the Maldives and the real lack of love for solo underwater photographers, I had recently discovered Indonesia and with two seasons of critter photography under my belt at the very special Kungkungan Bay Resort in Manado, I was finding myself wanting more of the critters but with a bit of reef and nice visibility thrown in for good measure. The other thing that I was increasingly aware of was being an annual vacation; it was paramount that I kept my wife happy (unhappy wife means no camera upgrades so its all about give and take). With this in mind I had already been advised during our second trip to KBR that next time, it would be advisable if I searched for something a little bit more 5 star for the non-diving partner. Of course there is nothing wrong with KBR, but my wife deserves the best and so I recognized that I really had to come up with something special if I was going to get to this neck of the woods again. That’s when I came up with Raja Amput and the Misool Eco Resort. It looked idyllic and I had heard so many good things about the diving.

Well, that was until I bumped into this unknown paradise. Hanging up the phone I was able to divert the rest of my attention to what was unfolding/uploading in front of my eyes, the resorts name – Wakatobi. I had previously heard about this place before but had put it out of my mind as being a slightly expensive place to get to from Dubai (but hey, when you see a set of photographs like I was seeing, well it really put things into perspective). Navigating around the resorts website and I really got the feeling that this place was the real thing, with endorsements from the likes of Berkley White of Backscatter, a great feedback section finished off with a great slideshow of the resorts best photographs, I was convinced…this is where I wanted to go and see in 2011…Wakatobi Dive Resort..
Funnily, when mentioning Wakatobi to my wife, she seemed quite interested. With the temptation of a stop in Bali before hand she had pretty much given me the green light although there were conditions. Agreeing to no corners being cut with the accommodation at Wakatobi, I found myself paying the deposit on one of the resorts new Select Villa’s (Villa no.1). Of course you can get cheaper rooms at Wakatobi, but with my wife islandlocked while I was doing three to four dives a day, it made perfect sense that she was catered for in every way. The resorts web description is as follows: The closest villa to the heart of the resort (restaurant and longhouse). With it’s own corner of the Northern Beach complete with its own Bale or “love shack”. This villa offers secluded privacy in an intimate setting. Enjoy a relaxing massage in your beachfront Bale. I mean who wouldn’t be sold by that….with the deposit paid, it was time to start saving.

I wont go into how special the island is now as I have not actually been there yet but you can find out more on www.wakatobi.com. Of course later on I will be blogging and writing an article about my 13-day adventure at the Wakatobi Dive Resort and just what it is about Wakatobi that makes them an award winning luxury eco resort that boasts a world-class reef on its doorstep. For the time being though, you can check out other people’s feedback from Trip Advisor.

Subal ND3s underwater housing for the Nikon D3s has finally arrived..

At last…the new Subal ND3s housing has arrived from Backscatter and it looks and feels great. Obviously with any new camera housing, it always pay to double check for leaks and so this morning I jumped into one of my tanks and took it down to 5 metres. Once down at 5 metres I did a thorough check on all of the controls and once satisfied ended the dive. One of my main concerns was a button repair I had to do on the housing. Sadly when the parcel arrived it looked like a custom official either in the US or in the UAE had everything out of the box for inspection and low and behold, look what they managed to do:

God knows how and what they did but there is no impact damage and the simple button repair has been done – it all seems fine. The only comment that I would say is, any company sending out very expensive camera housings and ports etc. etc. should consider investing in some instructional warning stickers just to help the custom officials when they are un-wrapping and inspecting the items. I can’t complain about Backscatter, they were very supportive and shipped me the replacement button plus a few extras bits within 5 days.

So, whats next?…well primarily i’m going to use this camera for wide angle photography (the incentive to buy was filming whale sharks in Djibouti where the low light makes getting good results tricky – but more about that next year), while still using the Subal ND2/Nikon D2Xs for macro. I’m especially excited about experimenting CFWA on this full frame high performer with the Zen 100mm dome port using the Sigma 15mm and there will be a separate blog about my experiences of trimming down the 15mm Sigma shade to get it to fit behind the 100mm Zen. Sadly there is little information available about the 4″ Zen on a full frame camera other than reports of soft corners, but positive feedback from Backscatter’s Berkley White has given me hope.

Alex Mustard has done some great articles about CFWA, Close Focus Wide Angle photography – click Alex Mustard CFWA Report. Sadly it does not go into too much detail about what I want to do, but its a very handy report for anyone looking into investing in new kit for CFWA photography.

TIME Lightbox: Underwater Giants: The Magnificent Manta Rays of the Maldives

Swooping gracefully through the water like giant bats, these huge manta rays gather to feed on microscopic plankton. These amazing pictures were taken by British photographer Warren Baverstock, who spent nine days on the Maldives to capture these beautiful creatures. Up to 200 mantas gather in Hanifaru Bay, which is just the size of a football pitch, to feed and be cleaned of parasites by smaller fish.

Baverstock, 42, from Plymouth,  England, said, ”I slowly approached a three metre wide manta. I floated mesmerized by its graceful swimming pattern. Snapping out of my daze, I began to photograph the manta as it circled just under the surface whilst deeper down more mantas fed.” Baverstock, who works in the public aquarium industry and is based in the Middle East, added: ”Another manta ray glided alongside the small reef to be cleaned. Moments later two more arrived and as the density of plankton increased, so did the manta activity. Waiting patiently I peered down at the cleaning station, wondering what would happen next. I did not have to wait long and before I knew it, several mantas suddenly started to circle towards the surface, feeding on the soup of plankton all around me. The experience was incredible and as the the group synchronized so that they could all feed together, I watched with amazement as 25 large manta rays circled and barrel-rolled with mouths wide open less than a metre away from my camera. I had never felt so overwhelmed about such an amazing animal encounter.”

Manta rays are the world’s largest ray and have the biggest brain to body weight ratio of their cousins the skates and sharks. They feed on plankton and fish larvae either on the ocean floor or in open water. They filter their food from the water passing through their gills as they swim. Mantas frequently visit cleaning stations where small fish such as wrasse, remora, and angelfish swim in their gills.

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The Daily Mail: Open … wide: The astonishing gathering of manta rays to feast on plankton…

Swooping gracefully through the water like giant bats, these huge manta rays gather to feed on microscopic plankton. These amazing pictures were taken by British photographer Warren Baverstock who spent nine days on the Maldives to capture these beautiful creatures. Up to 200 mantas gather in Hanifaru Bay which is just the size of a football pitch to feed and be cleaned of parasites by smaller fish.

Mr Baverstock, 42, from Plymouth, Devon, said: ‘I slowly approached a 10ft-wide manta. I floated mesmerised by its graceful swimming pattern. ‘Snapping out of my daze, I began to photograph the manta as it circled just under the surface whilst deeper down more mantas fed.’

Mr Baverstock added: ‘Another manta ray glided alongside the small reef to be cleaned. ‘Moments later two more arrived and as the density of plankton increased, so did the manta activity. ‘Waiting patiently I peered down at the cleaning station, wondering what would happen next. ‘I did not have to wait long and before I knew it, several mantas suddenly started to circle towards the surface, feeding on the soup of plankton all around me. ‘The experience was incredible and as the the group synchronised so that they could all feed together, I watched with amazement as 25 large manta rays circled and barrel-rolled with mouths wide open less than a metre away from my camera.

I had never felt so overwhelmed about such an amazing animal encounter.’ Manta rays are the world’s largest ray and have the biggest brain to body weight ratio of their cousins the skates and sharks. They feed on plankton and fish larvae either on the ocean floor or in open water. They filter their food from the water passing through their gills as they swim. Mantas frequently visit cleaning stations where small fish such as wrasse, remora, and angelfish swim in their gills and over their skin to feed. This rids it of parasites and dead tissue. Their main predator are large sharks and very occasionally, killer whales.

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