Springy Lambs and Sneaky Squirrels

With it being spring and Easter, I decided to visit a farm last Wednesday to see if I could see some tiny lambs and chicks. The farm, Amelia’s Trust Farm near Barry, was just a short journey away so we set off with the cameras to see what we could see. There were so many lambs it was hard to keep track of them all although I have to admit, my favourites were two that just couldn’t keep their eyes off a crow and continued to chase it whenever it landed in the field. Sadly there were no little chicks just yet but there’s still time for that! There was however, a cross looking cockerel who was so badly behaved attacking people that it ended up being locked in a hen house. There aren’t many animals I’m not a huge fan of and try to avoid but cockerels are up there and to me this proved why!

On Friday, up in Lancashire, we decided to visit Formby National Trust as I’d been there loads as a child and wanted to catch a glimpse of some red squirrels. I’d heard that a few years ago the population there had been decimated due to a disease brought in by grey squirrels so I wasn’t too hopeful that we would see anything due to them still repopulating but I was pleasantly surprised. There was quite a few of them all scrabbling around on the floor searching for snacks and nuts and trying to sneak them past the nosy wood pigeons also pacing the area. They were also leaping around in the trees which, although was quite hard to photograph, definitely was a challenge and very nice to see and something I want to come back to see very soon. Springy Lambs

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A Walk in the Woods

Yesterday, whilst Cardiff was finally basking in the sun again we decided to go out for a walk in the woods with JJ the Jack Russell who was visiting from Preston. By the end of the walk he was absolutely shattered, had made friends with a couple of horses and had made sure he’d walked in as much mud as possible!

Breaching Whaling Defences: The End of JARPA II

At incredible speed, the harpoon shoots through the air and roughly embeds itself in the thick blubber of a passing minke whale. Still alive and writhing in agony, the whale is dragged through the crimson stained water towards the Yushin Maru where it will soon be delivered to the “mothership” for scientific investigation and the meat distributed throughout Japan . This is Japan’s whaling programme JARPA II and at last it’s coming to an end.  

Minke WhaleOn Monday 31st March 2014, it was announced that, with a vote of 12-4, the UN’s International Court of Justice had revoked Japan’s whaling licenses in the Antarctic ordering them to cease immediately. It was decided that Japan was openly flouting their international obligations by issuing whaling permits for minke, fin and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and that their scientific output, expected from a scientific programme like this, was limited. Whilst it’s technically illegal for nations to whale under the ‘commercial’ flag following the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) 1986 moratorium, some still do either by simply rejecting the proposal or in the case of Japan, establishing a scientific research programme. This has allowed them to kill 3,600 minke whales since 2005 and with barely any results, this is a little suspicious to say the very least.

According to the guidelines of having a scientific permit, it is a requirement for the resulting meat to be used either by selling it or giving it away. Prior to the moratorium, Japan was at the forefront of commercial whaling with the meat considered to be something of a tradition and so it’s hard to believe that they would just cease when told to. However, by sailing under the research flag and trying to convince people that what they have been doing was benefiting the future of the whales, they have been able to continue consuming it without backlash from the IWC. Of course not everybody’s appetite for whale meat has been quashed by the decision; the demand has been in steep decline in recent years with stocks largely unsold and in storage. Perhaps with this in mind, the consumption is not necessarily the driving force at all yet the point still stands- where is the significant research? It’s easy to say that you need to kill whales in order to obtain certain results from life expectancy and toxin exposure to feeding habits and other cetacean characteristics but 10,000 whales later, where is the proof that their deaths have been worth it?

The whalers themselves are regularly seen holding up signs to campaigners stating that they are “weighing Signstomach contents” and “collecting tissue samples” yet in the age of DNA testing, there doesn’t seem to be a place for this method anymore. There is no need to murder whales for the collection of evidence like this- pioneering and harmless methods are being developed and of course there’s no substitute for sighting surveys in terms of tracking and monitoring patterns and behaviour. If scientists suddenly announced that they were going to start culling humans in order to gather information that could be obtained in more humane ways, people would not just allow it. There would be an uprising against them and so why is this not the case for the whales? Yes there are a lot of people who care strongly about the issue and are doing what they can to stop it but there are also a lot of people who remain indifferent. If more people get involved and take a stance, then perhaps there is a chance that pointless whaling will be completely eradicated  once and for all.

The court’s decision has been welcomed by various environmental groups like Sea Shepherd, who have been actively campaigning against the Japanese whaling programme for years. Often seen confronting the whaling fleet in the Antarctic in a bid to stop them harvesting the whales in a designated sanctuary, Sea Shepherd has tirelessly fought against the programme and there is no doubt this news has been welcomed with open arms.

“Though Japan’s unrelenting harpoons have continued to drive many species of whales toward extinction, Sea Shepherd is hopeful that in the wake of the ICJ’s ruling, it is whaling that will be driven into the pages of the history books”

Captain Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd

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Sea Shepherd regularly takes invasive action

Hopefully, this action will send a message to the whalers that this barbaric process will not be tolerated and will discourage them from continuing in the future. They have said that they are “disappointed” by the decision but that they will abide by the ruling but how long that will last is unknown. The passion of the whalers in terms of their defence is clear to see with their response to Sea Shepherd volunteers through the use of an LRAD system, designed to acoustically render people useless. A dangerous piece of equipment that has been even used on a helicopter, the system was used to defend the fleet from intervention and allow them to continue harpooning. This in itself shows the lengths they were willing to go to with out any regard to the lives of the volunteers and so this is perhaps a chance that they won’t accept this decision lying down even if the officials do. Of course what can be guaranteed is that should the whaling begin again, campaigners will be waiting for them.

With all this in mind, the question really is with the decision to stop Japan whaling under their JARPA II programme, will this stop whaling completely? The answer is no. This ban may prevent them hunting in the Antarctic but they are still able to hunt in the northern Pacific, albeit a smaller number of whales. Norway and Iceland also continue to whale on a commercial basis after rejecting the moratorium and this is something Japan could also do at some stage by pulling away from the IWC completely and severing all restrictions and ties. There are also some loopholes that would allow them to continue their scientific whaling if the programme is redesigned but hopefully it won’t come to that and the whales in the sanctuary can avoid that unimaginable pain.

Whaling isn’t just the only issue that faces cetaceans on a daily basis; the low frequencies emitted by ships can cause acoustic masking with not only disorientates the whales but can also mean that they are unable to feed and communicate with each other. There’s no doubt that initially the noise would scare them away but repeated exposure could mean that they think of it more as an annoyance and don’t move away from it. The shipping noise caused by the whaling fleet and, ironically, the campaigners may contribute to the acoustical acceptance; they hear it so often that the don’t move away and are then caught. Of course it’s important to take into consideration that some discomfort is better than brutal murder and so the Sea Shepherd invasive action seems to outweigh this particular con but it’s also important to consider other issues.

Ocean pollution, climate change and accidental by catch are all thing that pose a huge risk to whales and so if these problems are not tackled successfully as well, whales are still going to die a preventable death. The decision to end the JARPA II programme is no doubt a huge step in the protection of cetaceans and a sign that the reception of whaling is changing but with a world where wildlife is constantly under threat, it’s vital that such action is continued.

South Lakes Wild Animal Park: The Ultimate Interactive Experience

After looking back at my posts, I’ve realised that I never actually talked about my filming at ‘South Lakes Wild Animal Park’ back in May 2013 so that’s what this post it about.

I first approached the zoo just before Easter last year after deciding that I desperately needed some more experience in filming animals. If I’m going to film animals in the wild then

having a go at filming animals closer to home seems like a good way to practice and gather some more skills in that particular area. When they got back to me, I was told that the zoo would like a short promotional video about the hand feeding elements and after having visited the zoo in the past, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do what I enjoy and get up close to some of the animals at the same time. The only problem at this stage was the fact that, as the name suggests, the zoo is in the South Lakes in Cumbria whilst I was down in Wales in Cardiff but luckily I was off back home for a bit the next month and so it all seemed to come together quite well.

That was until I checked the weather reports. Oh dear. It had been quite nice leading up to the filming; all the pre-production planning was done and I was looking forward to getting back out and doing some filming but the weather didn’t think so. It was going to rain. I worried quite a bit beforehand as my camera isn’t very waterproof and my cover can get in the way but there was no point worrying about it; it’s always best to just get on with things instead of dwelling too much on what could go wrong. So we set off hoping for the best and looking forward to the day’s filming.

The filming itself went well and it was nice to get up close to and take part in some of the hand feeding with the animals as well. The giraffes in particular were a highlight as their inquisitiveness led to some good shots along with the curiosity of the lemurs who made sure that there was definitely an entertainment aspect to the film! Likewise, the penguins wereScreen Shot 2014-03-17 at 17.34.08also incredibly entertaining and one in particular to a shine to my camera and tried to have a little nibble before wandering off to be fed some more fish along with his friends. It was definitely nice to be able to see such well looked after animals and see other people learning so much about the conservation projects needed to save so many of the species.

During the day, as expected, it did rain quite a bit so it was a case of getting all the outside shots sorted in the odd dry patch and pretty much fitting in around the weather. It was a bit annoying at times as I needed to get shots of the visitors walking around the park which was a little bit hard when people were running for cover every 10 minutes but I think we got there in the end! Filming isn’t always straight forward and if it is, expect something to go wrong in post-production!

Overall, I have to say that although it was challenging at times, this particular promotional film has to be one of my favourite projects. Being able to interact with the animals whilst also maintaining professionalism was a valuable lesson and one that I know will be incredible useful in the future. I have heard a lot of people talking about zoos and saying that they are cruel places and yes I agree that some of they are but this one definitely isn’t. The animals are free to wander in huge enclosures and with the expansion of the park, even bigger spaces to roam around and they aren’t forced into the hand feeding activities; they can come and go as they wish. If they were herded in and forced to interact with the visitors then I wouldn’t have filmed there but that really wasn’t the case. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to have taken some more photographs as well as filming, the big cats were the perfect subjects, but I suppose that’s for another visit!

Here is the final promotional film:

https://vimeo.com/75713308

Stray Cats in the Sunshine

Friday was the first properly sunny day I’ve seen so far this year and so I made sure that I got to see some of it. Where we live, there isn’t a little garden or anything as there are garages behind the house instead so it’s more of a car park but it was still nice to sit outside and make the most of it. I had intended to take a few pictures of the stray cats that live around here (there’s around 8 of them) and so I took my camera down with me to see what I could see. To begin with, I focused upon photographing the magpies who seemed to have gathered in the trees and were cackling at each other loudly along with the seagulls who perched on top of the chimney pots, glaring down at the other birds. At this time there had only been one cat out and he had wandered off somewhere I couldn’t see so I just had to be patient. Eventually he wandered back over and when noticing we were looking at him, came running over meowing loudly expecting a tasty treat as I usually take them some biscuits and treats down for them all. Unfortunately, he managed to eat most of the ones I had quite quickly and so I thought he was going to leave but instead he hung around sunbathing and waiting for more snacks. This cat in particular was quite helpful although slightly jumpy if anyone left the house but another of the cats I previously photographed, I nicknamed her ‘Chunky’, wasn’t so sure and didn’t stick around for long until the treats returned.  I managed to get quite a few shots of this one, I’m going to call him Bob, even if he kept turning his back on me and I have to say, I think I prefer cat photography to dog photography. Not because I prefer them as an animal but because I like their attitude towards people; they either want to cooperate or won’t even bother and will do their utmost to make sure that they do as much as they can to challenge you. Pet photography is definitely something I am interested in continuing and these cats have made me consider feline photography in particular a lot more. It’s challenging and fun but the end results are definitely worth the patience.

Eye To Eye: Animal Encounters at the Zoo

As I’ve mentioned before, many people think that photography at zoos is an “easy” way of photographing exotic and interesting animal species and yet when it comes to it, it’s really not easy at all. Like in the wild, the animals movements can be unpredictable and smears on glass and fine wire fences can prove to be a real problem at times, especially when there are a lot of visitors eager to get up close to themselves. However, it is also a very satisfying experience and the perfect way to practice animal photography on a smaller scale.  People may judge the very nature of the genre yet if natural history filmmakers use zoos to obtain difficult shots or sequences they couldn’t in the wild, why can’t photographers? For me, zoo photography allows me to get up close to animals I couldn’t normally see without paying a fortune to travel the world and so providing that the animals are well cared for and there are conservation programmes in place, zoos are a photography paradise.

The following gallery was created to showcase the connection made between the person and the animal, through a long stare or fleeting glance. In my opinion, the inquisitiveness of each one highlights the individual personalities and really illustrates the idea that humans are just a single part of a huge, interwoven and global natural web.

 

Through The Eyes Of A Dog

It’s not often you look at things from the perspective of a dog; after all, all they seem to want is food, sleep, walks and hugs but I thought I would have a go anyway. As I was looking through some of my pet photos, I noticed that you could see the reflections of what they were looking at in their eyes and it got me thinking about seeing from a dog’s eye perspective. It’s only a small gallery but by highlighting their eyes I think it’s an interesting way of looking at your pet and makes you think a little bit about what it’s like to be a woof (even if it is a little bit strange!).

 

Photography At The Zoo: Take 2

Bitten by the bug of zoo photography (again!), last week we headed to Bristol Zoo to have another go. With such a wide variety of animals and a completely different way of showing them, it was a lot of fun trying to capture them in the best way possible. The glass, at times, proved to be a bit of an issue as it was a very sunny day and so there tended to quite a lot of reflection but the animals were all active and playful which made it all the more interesting. The lions in particular were some of my favourites as I’d visited last year when they were only tiny so it was nice to see them growing up and still so much trouble!

After last week’s post, I’ve had a few people commenting and saying that zoo photography really isn’t an achievement because you know where the animals are and so the mystery is taken out of it. Whilst I do agree with this, I think that as with anything it is important to improve your skills and practicing to get better and so for exotic wild animals there is no better place than a zoo or safari park to do so when it’s hard to travel abroad. As long as the animals are cared for well and there aren’t any welfare issues then zoos can be the perfect place to prepare yourself and learn more about your own style of photography.

Capturing Captivity

After being provided with a couple of tickets to Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol in exchange for some marketing photographs, we headed back there on Thursday to try and obtain some better shots of the lions. It was a particularly chilly day so armed with hats and gloves we set off towards the big cats to have a little look at them first and to prepare a bit. Straight away one of the females walked over and seemed to know we needed to take photos of her, slowly walking to her sister, yawning and turning to face us. I had thought it would take a lot longer to get such good images and so I was pleased that we were then able to have a look around at the other animals as well including my favourites, the giraffes, and the magnificent tigers.

A lot of people have been saying that zoo photography is a cheating version of wildlife photography but I couldn’t disagree more. Yes the animals may be easier to spot but the majority of the time you have to be very patient and work around a number of obstacles in order to get a vaguely decent image. It’s a perfect opportunity to ‘rehearse’ your photography skills on wild animals that you wouldn’t normally be able to see and whilst I strongly oppose zoos where the animals are kept in terrible conditions and are quite clearly miserable, I find them extremely useful places for photography and expanding my knowledge and skills. Whilst researching this particular genre, I also came across a number of articles that pretty much said that unless you are able to make it look like the animal is in it’s natural environment, then you are taking an amateur approach. I think whilst this can be the case, showing some of the background can add a lot to a photograph like the cage and a big cat- it adds a lot to the mood and contrasting ideologies present in the images. I’ve chosen to use this method as well as trying to eliminate it too as I am very interested in showing the truth through my work as well as the contrasting ideas of freedom combined with captivity.