In November, I continued my journey down the Californian coast.
First, I stopped in Monterey to seek videography advice from the underwater imaging experts at Backscatter Photo and Video. Luckily, they even took me (and my camera set-up) on my first ever dive in a giant kelp forest at the Monterey Wharf, where dozens of sea lions playfully joined us on our dive!
The following day, I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and joined their volunteer dive team on a dive in their giant kelp forest exhibit. It was amazing to follow their educational program from inside the exhibit as a tethered diver in a dive helmet. I could even answer questions from the Aquarium's patrons, who watched from the outside of the window in realtime! The day after, I was able to follow the Aquarium´s veterinarian, Dr. Michael Murray, on a round of health exams of the leopard sharks that I had dove with just the day before. The examination involved putting the sharks under anesthesia, followed by the endoscopy of their gills to check for parasites, an ultrasound of their thyroid glands to check for signs of a lack of iodine in their diets, and a blood draw to check for several other health parameters. As expected, all sharks were in perfect health and condition. I also learned about the aquarium´s unique and world-leading sea otter rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation program, which involves the pairing of rescued otter pups with one of the exhibits female otters. This way, the otters have minimal exposure to humans to prevent the pups from getting too habituated to humans while at the same time learning all-important natural behaviors from their surrogate mums.
Photo by Peter Lightowler
Next, I further followed my interest in underwater videography by flying to San Diego to participate in a workshop at the Gates Underwater Housings headquarters. In this workshop, I learned how to set-up, test and operate different Gates housings for RED cinematography cameras. Not having known much about RED Cameras, raw video formats or the specifics of settings in videography compared to photography, I was a little nervous. Luckily I was quickly taken under the wings of the other workshop participants who all already had experience in underwater filming. I experienced a steep learning curve and had a whole lot of fun handling the huge housings! The STO course was followed by a workshop in editing and color grading underwater video footage with Davinci Resolve, which was taught by Peter Lightowler from Downunder Aquatic Imaging.
Photo by Peter Lightowler
The next stop on the itinerary was my first ever DEMA show in Orlando. It was a great opportunity to meet sponsors and OWUSS supporters in person, as well as a way to reconnect with people again whom I have crossed paths with in the past scholarship months. At the OWUSS DEMA breakfast hosts, supporters, sponsors, and many members of the Board of Directors of the OWUSS all gathered together to watch Neha, Joanna and I all share our experiences of the first half of our scholarship years in the videos that we had been working on for many weeks in preparation for DEMA.
After DEMA, I realized a big goal of mine: I took the next step on the ladder of diving certifications and became a PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Instructor in an Instructor Development Course taught by Luke Inman from Cortez Expeditions in La Paz, Mexico. The course involved ten full days of learning about PADI´s teaching philosophy and brushing up on underwater skill demonstrations and knowledge development presentational skills, and it was particularly fun acting as a struggling open water student again to give every instructor candidate the chance to practice their problem-solving skills. The course was then followed by 2 intense examination days and in the end, we all got to call ourselves freshly-certified Padi Dive Instructors!
Following the course, I then couldn´t wait to jump into the Sea of Cortez at Isla Los Islotes to experience the adorable sea lions there. Such interactive and photogenic animals!
As the last experience in Mexico, I got the chance to accompany the shark and ray research NGO Pelagios Kakunja on their bull shark surveys in the Cabo Pulmo marine protected area. The researchers come here every weekend to monitor the abundance and population structure of the shark species through in-water and aerial surveys. Cabo Pulmo is indeed a great example of a thriving marine ecosystem!