Gallery of Underwater Photographs from Cuba

Gallery of Underwater Photographs from Cuba

Gallery of Underwater Photographs from Cuba

Cuba is such an intriguing country. Thanks to its economic situation, Cuban reefs are exposed to less environmental stress than others in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, active protection of some of the marine reserves ensures an abundance of large species unseen else in the Caribbean.

I can’t wait to visit Cuba again in March 2020!

Check the planned trips in my blog.

Join me on one of my trips and bring back your own photos!

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Gallery of Underwater Photographs from the Galapagos

Gallery of Underwater Photographs from the Galapagos

Gallery of Underwater Photographs from the Galapagos

I look forward to going to the enchanted archipelago again in the next few days, hoping for extraordinary encounters with the spectacular fauna of Galapagos.

Watch this space, new imagery coming soon!

In the meantime, check the stories from the islands in my blog.

Join me on one of my trips and bring back your own photos!

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What Does David Beckham Know About Whisky?

What Does David Beckham Know About Whisky?

What Does David Beckham Know About Whisky?

In 2014, the world-famous football striker lent his fame to whisky in a blue square bottle. Arguably an overpriced product seemed to be the vehicle for attracting new customers by shattering the perception of whisky as an old fashioned drink.

The Scotch Whisky Association reported yet another record-breaking year. In 2018, over two million people visited Scotch Whisky distilleries, and forty-one bottles were shipped overseas each second. Mr Beckham was onto something.

Wee Witchie, the smallest spirit still in the Mortlach Distillery

Wee Witchie. The smallest still in the Mortlach Distillery.

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

Abandoned spaces…
We often visit abandoned or disused industrial spaces in the distilleries that are usually unavailable to the public.

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

So many people told me about their underwhelming experience with whisky. However, Scotch comes in many different styles and qualities. Some say there is whisky for everyone; one only needs to find it. Add the authentic heritage, craftsmanship, passion in whisky-making and here is a recipe for life-long enjoyment.

I hardly ever appreciated spirits as a drink and whisky was no exception. My own journey of acquired taste started ten years ago when I tried a smoky single malt distilled on the Isle of Islay. I stumbled onto the “my” whisky by pure coincidence. Over the years, I was lucky and privileged to help others to find their favourite style and appreciate Scotch Whisky in its diversity.

Some whiskies are smooth and smell after flowers, some are smoky and medicinal. Why is that? Best to find out directly from the makers!

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
— Mark Twain

Laphroaig Distillery

An evening at the Laphroaig Distillery. Taken from a hired boat on the way from Isle of Jura to Port Ellen.

Photograph © 2015 Josef Litt

bottles of Scotch are shipped overseas each second

In the first half of this year, I took two groups of people to some of the distilleries in Scotland. The itinerary of the trips reflected the attendees’ knowledge and previous experience. With the group keen to learn the basics, we explored the differences in styles of whisky, we talked about the production process and how it affects the liquid in the bottle. We tasted a carefully selected variety of whiskies of the highest quality from all corners of Scotland before moving to the Isle of Islay for a couple of days of pure indulgence. There we enjoyed whiskies one cannot buy in shops, often straight from the casks in the distillery cellars.

We learnt about malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. We found out how much the different barrels influenced the whisky inside, and we filled our own bottle with whisky of our choice comparing the liquid matured in various woods. Weather was lovely, and we had loads of fun.

 

A flying Scotsman in April weather

A flying Scotsman in April weather. Sudden weather change surprised us at the Glenfarclas distillery. Some attempted to fly off to a warmer place.

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

Tasting the “beer”.

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

With the other group, we went straight to the deep end of the annual Speyside Whisky Festival. On specialist tastings, we compared styles of whiskies from a single distillery produced in different decades. Some of the bottles carried a price tag worth tens of thousands of pounds. Distillery managers took us to distilleries usually inaccessible to the public and allowed us into areas mothballed due to modernisation but still containing the old machinery. We lived an enthusiast’s dream.

I would add that the same is true for knowledge, joy and laughter. We did not have the opportunity to taste Mr Beckham’s whisky from the square blue bottle, but we came out of the trip well-equipped to assess its quality and value.

Get in touch if you are interested in joining me on one of the future trips.

Whale Sharks, A-bombs and the Hubble Space Telescope

Whale Sharks, A-bombs and the Hubble Space Telescope

Whale Sharks, A-bombs and the Hubble Space Telescope

Pregnant whale shark female at Darwin Island in the Galapagos. In 2014, members of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project reported sightings of 27 whale sharks, all females, all but one pregnant around Darwin Island in the Galapagos archipelago.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

We know very little about the biggest bony fish in the oceans, the whale shark.

Whale sharks are the world’s most giant fish, growing up to twenty metres in length – more than a bowling lane and almost as long as a passenger train coach. We don’t know how fast they grow and what is their maximum age. The best estimates are that the big ones may be more than one hundred years old.

The Atomic Bomb Method

Scientists determine the age of sharks by counting growth rings in their vertebrae. This method seems to provide reliable results for younger animals. However, one needs an atomic bomb to make the reading more precise in case of the older sharks. The nuclear tests performed in the 1950s and 1960s increased the amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere. The radioactive material entered the oceans and imprinted a timestamp in the whale sharks vertebrae. Today, this timestamp helps to establish the age of older individuals.

Juvenile whale shark, Darwin Island, Galapagos

Juvenile whale shark. We encountered this juvenile on top of the shallow platform underneath the Darwin Island in the Galapagos.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

On the way to Darwin Island in the Galapagos
The world is round…
The expectation and anxiety grow on the way to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin in the Galapagos.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

The Hubble Space Telescope Method

To paraphrase Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Whale sharks are big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big they are.’

From that slightly facetious perspective, it is no surprise that the scientists use the Hubble Space Telescope to identify individual whale sharks. The spots behind their gills form an ornament as unique as a fingerprint. Jason Holmberg, the co-founder of WildMe.org, adapted an algorithm used by NASA with the telescope to recognise and compare the patterns. Thanks to that anybody who photographed a whale shark anywhere in the world can upload their images to the Wildbook for Whale Sharks. Almost 8,000 people identified more than 10,000 whale sharks during close to 60,000 sightings. The data give scientists information about the distribution and movement of the gentle giants, hopefully leading to their adequate protection.

‘Whale sharks are big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big they are.’

The boats anchored in the San Cristobal marina.
An evening at San Cristóbal marina, Galapagos The crews are preparing for their journeys to Darwin and Wolf islands.

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

million US$ a year

The Value of a Whale Shark

Since 2016, IUCN describes the whale sharks on its Red List as Endangered. The reason is the demand for shark fins in Asia and the nature of whale shark meat, often referred to as ‘tofu shark’. Infuriatingly, despite their size, they also end up as bycatch. Since early 2017, whale sharks enjoy protection as migratory species in more than 125 countries. A number originating from research in 2004 estimates their value to tourism at over USD 47.5 million a year – an amount that is indisputably higher today. Hopefully, governments will realise the species’ importance and enforce the protection they committed to.

Darwin's Arch, Galapagos
Darwin’s Arch a mile away from the Darwin Island. The deep sea surrounding Darwin Island may serve as a breeding ground for whale sharks.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

Magic sunset in the Galapagos
Magic sunset in the Galapagos

Photograph © 2011 Josef Litt

The Whale Sharks’ Birthplace

Members of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project in 2014 reported sightings of 27 whale sharks, all females, all but one pregnant around Darwin Island in the Galapagos archipelago – this seems to be a typical situation confirmed by tourists’ observations. Jonathan R. Green, the leader of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, explores a hypothesis that the deep sea surrounding Darwin Island serves as a breeding ground for whale sharks. However, nobody has ever seen a whale shark to give birth or breed.

I heard a fisherman speculate about the reason why the whale shark males avoid the Galápagos. Their little cousins, the silky sharks, frequent the islands waters in search of food. Remoras belong to their favourite staple. An attacked remora would hide among the whale sharks’ claspers to protect itself. The ferocious silky shark will hardly differentiate between a remora and a clasper. The poor male whale sharks are afraid that they may get hurt in such a sensitive place, so they avoid Galápagos at all cost. I wonder whether there is a scientific base to this speculation.

Claspers of an adult male whale shark are formed from the rear end of their pelvic fin. They channel semen into the female’s cloaca during mating.

Photograph Simon Pierce https://www.simonjpierce.com.

Galapagos Front Cover

Buy GALÁPAGOS on Amazon now.

Ending with a Hairy Story

Whale sharks were never seen feeding at Galapagos, which gives the following story* a whiff of a fairy tale.

‘As with any other animal on the Galápagos, and it should be a good practice anywhere in the world, touching whale sharks is strictly forbidden. This was not a well-observed custom some time ago, perhaps ten or twenty years back when, according to a local legend, one of the naturalist guides nicknamed Zorro Plateado, or Silver Fox, used to ride the whale sharks holding on to their dorsal fin. As if this was not enough, he supposedly dragged himself from the dorsal fin and then plunged headfirst over the animal’s upper lip into its gaping mouth. Disappearing into the poor whale shark’s maw, he was gushed out after a moment in a shroud of his bubbles, in slight disarray, but unharmed. The animal seemed to be unperturbed, it turned slowly and swam away. The diver’s equipment could have easily injured the whale shark, and I indeed believe that such acts would not be tolerated today.’

I was pleased to be contacted by the family of Zorro Plateado in reaction to this story. I welcome first-hand information rather than an unconfirmed narration by somebody else. Zorro declines the story featuring him and a whale shark as untrue. The truth is that he was honoured with a plaque from the Charles Darwin Foundation for his constant efforts in teaching the children the importance of conservation. He also plays an important part in CDF’s Shark Ambassador Program.

I hope I will have a chance to meet Zorro in person soon.

*A spoiler citation from Litt, Josef. GALÁPAGOS. Mostly Underwater Books. The United Kingdom, 2018.
A similar story was also mentioned in Bantin, John. Amazing Diving Stories. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012.

Whale shark in the Galapagos
A diver, small camera and a whale shark. Touching whale sharks is strictly forbidden.

Photograph © 2017 Ivan Jiskra

Gallery of Palau Photographs

Gallery of Palau Photographs

Gallery of Palau Photographs

Healthy coral growth is one of the hallmarks of Palawian diving.
Photograph © 2018 Josef Litt

Diving Palau, the archipelago full of mushroom-like islets covered with lush vegetation above the water and stunning coral reef underwater, was on my bucket list since I started to dive. Finally, we made the dream came true with All4Dive, our favourite dive club from Prague in the Czech Republic.

As a preparation, I made a list of animals I’d like to encounter and places I’d want to visit. Mantas, sharks, nautilus, aeroplane wrecks, the Chandelier cave and the Jellyfish lake, belong to the unmissable attractions. The chains of islands itself are a spectacular view, best enjoyed from the air.

I could have hardly seen all this beauty during one week of liveaboard diving. Also, the weather was not the best during our trip and caused some lousy visibility at the beginning of the journey. We saw mantas, but I did not have a good enough photographic opportunity to capture their majesty.

Despite the weather, we had a great time aboard Ocean Hunter III, and I was able to bring back some images. There are so many aspects of Palau we did not explore. We will be back and report.

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures from the last trip.

Join me on one of my trips and bring back your own photos!

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