When I was first asked if I would be interested
in doing a coffee table book on pearls, my first thought,
to be honest, was "how booooring". Little did I know that
the decision to do the book would lead to one of my most exciting
diving encounters ever. Aside from encountering box jellyfish,
hundreds of sea snakes and the prehistoric looking horseshoe
crab; the saltwater crocodile would prove to be the most memorable.
To give a bit of background on pearl farms,
they are situated in some of the most remote and pristine
aquatic environments in the Philippines. Pearl divers I talked
to told stories of encountering dugongs, hammerhead sharks,
manta rays and whale sharks, animals rarely seen today in
the waters around the Philippines. Due to the protective efforts
of pearl farmers, their farms have become a magnet for marine
Getting to these farms is not easy and they
are not open to the general public. I went to a remote farm
in the southern Philippines to shoot general pearl farming
activities. Some of the workers mentioned the unique marine
animals found there. They mentioned horseshoe crabs, which
I had never seen before in Philippine waters, and some rare
Nudibranchs. I had then asked about some of the bigger stuff
found around the farm and they mentioned that sometimes at
night they see "Buwaya," which is Filipino for crocodile.
I asked how big and they said anywhere from one to five meters.
Well, the rational part of my brain said, "no way was I going
to snorkel around in brackish, murky water at night to get
a chance to photograph them. Chances are they would see me
first and that would probably be my last snorkel, ever!"
I was scheduled to be there for seven days
and decided that everyday, after a day of shooting, I would
try my luck by cruising the mangrove areas in a dingy. I prepared
three cameras with me on the boat, a Nikonos RS with a 13mm
lens and a strobe, a Nikon F4 in a housing with a 16mm fisheye
and a Nikon F90 in a housing with a 20mm lens and over/under
attachment. I wanted to cover all bases in case I got that
'once in a lifetime' chance to get into the water with a saltwater
Not much is known about swimming, diving or
snorkelling with salties, most people who have done so, unfortunately,
aren't around to give advice. After some research on the Internet
all I could gather was that when a saltie is sighted in the
water one is supposed to get out immediately! Well, I did
not have the luxury of having a remote camera to shoot from
the safety of the boat; hell I didn't even have someone willing
to get in the water with me. I figured if I have someone else
in the water my chances of being attacked would drop by 50
percent. So, armed only with my camera and an inept knowledge
of salties, I set off to find the elusive predator. Oh, and
a pair of disposable diapers under my wetsuit… just in case.
I don't know if it was luck or that there
are a hell of a lot of crocodiles there, but on the third
day I ran into a six foot/two meter juvenile (thank god, not
a mature fifteen foot/five meter animal). As I slipped into
the shallow water on snorkel with my camera, the crocodile's
first instinct was flight. To my amazement it took off for
deeper water in a quick burst of speed and I almost lost sight
of it. I chased after it, which is something I always try
to avoid when photographing underwater, but a chance like
this called for a change in my tactics. I soon caught up to
it as it lay on the bottom; this time it looked like that
it had spent most of its energy and was ready to be photographed.
Up until this point, except for the initial adrenaline rush,
I had begun to feel quite comfortable with the croc in the
water. That was until, from out of nowhere, the croc stopped
and snapped its jaws at me, just inches from my camera lens.
This is when I realized "what the hell am I doing chasing
a saltwater crocodile with razor sharp teeth, hundreds of
miles away from the nearest hospital?" Just one bite from
the croc would for sure require a massive amount of stitches,
if you could even get the animal to pry its jaws off your
arm. A situation like this could get out of hand quickly,
so I backed off and put some distance between us. At times
it would even go straight for me with its mouth closed and
I would dodge it like an incoming missile. I now know how
fast I can snorkel backwards which I am sure will come in
handy one day again. It would then sink to the bottom and
play dead, until I got my lens inches from its nose. Again,
it would take off for the surface where it would stay for
a few minutes before continuing on.
I was able to finish all three rolls of film
without incident except for a few teeth marks on the lens
hood. I had had my way with the crocodile and was fully satisfied
that I had gotten more shots of it than I had ever imagined.
Before the encounter I told myself that I would be happy with
one shot, to come out of it with three rolls was really a
super bonus. I didn't bother going back to look for more.
Having spent a good part of an hour with the croc was enough
to last me a few years.
Saltwater / Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus
Photographs by Scott
Saltwater Crocodile Facts:
Scientific name - Crocodylus porosus
Distribution - Southeast Asia and Northern Australia
Habitat - Brackish water around coastal areas and rivers /
sometimes seen in open ocean
Size - max. Six to seven meters (eighteen to twenty
- Female's lay about forty to sixty eggs. If eggs are incubated
at 31.6 degrees Celsius juveniles will hatch male, hotter
or colder they will become females.
- Considered endangered in the Philippines and other parts
of Southeast Asia.
This short article
was written by Scott Tuason
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