An astonishing image of a humpback whale feeding on krill near Hout Bay has won well-known Cape Town photographer Jean Tresfon the runner-up prize in the Behaviour category at the prestigious Underwater Photographers of 2017 competition.
For the Constantia resident, Hout Bay has always been home to amazing wildlife, including the Cape fur seals of Duiker Island, numerous dolphin species “especially the charismatic Dusky Dolphin”, humpback whales and a myriad fish species, but even he could not have anticipated what lay in store just offshore from Oudeschip.
“Several hundred humpback whales had gathered in a massive feeding aggregation to consume the huge pockets of krill that were present in the nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic Seaboard. I was part of a film crew team that had a permit to document this incredible behaviour. It was quite simply terrifying,” he said.
“As I swam down into the ball of krill, the visibility was reduced to just a few metres and the water was dark and icy cold. Out of the gloom these massive mammals appeared just metres away with their cavernous mouths wide open as they sieved the water for the krill. I grabbed shots where I could, but had to look everywhere so I did not end up as a modern-day Jonah.”
Mr Tresfon said the experience of being in the water with the feeding humpbacks ranked “right up there in terms of the most amazing dives I have ever done”.
“The photo itself is one of my better images but will not really resonate with most people as they have no idea of what they are really looking at.”
Mr Tresfon regularly shoots off Hout Bay, where, he said, the underwater topography was “very special” with huge granite boulders covered in colourful cold-water corals and basket starfish, underwater caves and swim-throughs.
“Although the water is generally cold, it harbours a pristine marine environment that is really very special,” he said, adding that ideal conditions for underwater photography were a calm surface, sunny skies to allow maximum light penetration and “obviously clean blue water!”
“Then, of course, you need some relaxed and playful creatures to share the water with.”
Mr Tresfon said he worked as a marine-conservation photographer to show the beauty of the underwater environment and to let people know why it needs protecting.
“We have some of the most diverse and pristine marine environments in the world, but they are under serious threat from poaching and illegal fishing. We protect only what we love, we love only what we know, and we know only what we are taught.”
While the Underwater Photographers of 2017 award will undoubtedly rank among his top achievements, Mr Tresfon is no stranger to accolades, and in 2007 he won the Getaway Photographer of the Year competition.
The married father of three started diving in 1989 and first started taking pictures underwater in 2001 with an old Nikonos V amphibious camera.
“I was very lucky to have Hout Bay local vet and prize-winning underwater photographer Geoff Spiby as a photographic mentor during my early years. I gradually came to see the urgent need to conserve our underwater environment and made the transition to becoming a conservation photographer.
“My initial foray into underwater photography was a natural extension of my many years spent diving and the frustration experienced in trying to explain the wonders of the underwater world to my surface dwelling acquaintances. It is my belief that the official lack of protection for many of our underwater ecosystems stems from their very inaccessibility and an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. Now I hope that my images will inspire more people to both visit and conserve these beautiful places and their inhabitants.”
As a qualified pilot, he has found that flying and diving share a common trait in that they both allow a different and unusual perspective and viewpoint.
“I have more recently started building a collection of aerial images to showcase the magnificence of the Western Cape,” he said.