A PIVOTAL TURNING POINT IN MY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
From Discourse 20
In 2003, I was introduced to kite aerial photography (KAP) by Ali Fujino and the Drachen Foundation. It was a pivotal turning point in my life and my career, as it widened my perception and understanding of planet earth to a much broader and more objective perspective from above.
By this time, I had been studying whales for a decade. As an oceanologist, I realized I could use KAP to document whale behavior and interaction around my boat from an external perspective that was clearly not subjective.
From this external and objective view, I had the opportunity to document the human/ whale relationship and how whales react to the maneuvering of boats during whale- watching activities – either tourist or during research and data collection. Putting this into experimentation, I was able to grasp a higher understanding of human impact on the environment and have thus become far more respectful in the work that I do on a daily basis.
Using KAP to document Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) in their breeding grounds of Mexico, I discovered a new way to study how they react and integrate boating activities into their environment. I tested KAP to document Gray whales in San Ignacio Lagoon and Humpback whales in Banderas Bay, Mexico. These are two very different environments with contrasting conditions. However, the research fieldwork on both areas has proven that KAP is a successful non-intrusive technique to document marine megafauna with a geographical and scale reference.
Since 2006, developing applications of KAP has been an ongoing learning process that has led me to creatively document diverse coastal marine environments and endangered species in the Mexican Pacific and the Mexican Caribbean.
I have continued to work on transitioning from the use of analog technologies of the past to keep up with the new standards and advantages of modern digital technologies as they evolve. With my colleagues, we have also applied kite aerial videography (KAV) to our work and successfully documented Gray whales interacting with humans. This work has been documented and shared by Discovery Channel around the world. You can find a small clip of this experiment online at: www.deepblueconservancy.org/Programs/programs.html.
Coastal and offshore environments usually have seasonal wind patterns that are strong and consistent enough so that we can use a kite to elevate our cameras and document human effects on beaches, islands, mangroves, whales, birds, and other natural resources. The aesthetics and the diversity of colors, landscapes, and wildlife that are present in the coastal and offshore marine environments are very attractive for KAP applications.
On the other hand, the fact that it is the wind force which elevates our cameras, makes KAP an environmentally-friendly way to document and study natural resources without creating physical or acoustical disturbances that can impact your subject of study. This is precisely what makes KAP the ultimate resource for collecting valuable data for scientific research from an aerial perspective at a low cost and with a high efficiency.
To use KAP from a moving 28- to 30-foot outboard motorboat can be a titanic endeavor. However, the methodology to use this technique can be simplified and customized to meet the specific conditions of each location and the nature of the subject being documented.
Since 2004, KAP has proven to be useful to document marine megafauna such as Humpback whales in Banderas Bay, Gray whales in San Ignacio Lagoon and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) in the Yucatan Canal, Mexico.
Further experimentation verified that KAP is also useful to document a variety of fragile coastal and offshore marine environments such as mangroves, estuaries, coastal lagoons, sand barrier islands, unstable beaches, and offshore islands.
After 12 years of experimenting with kite aerial photography, I deeply understand its nonintrusive nature and the outstanding versatility that it offers to document natural resources and the human activities that affect them. This understanding is what drives me to continue developing KAP applications as it relates to scientific research, so that future generations can use it to document, study, and preserve marine environments.
As a scientist and member of our non-profit organization Deep Blue Conservancy, I am looking forward to applying in the near future KAP and KAV techniques to document Humpback whales in their feeding grounds of Monterey Bay, California and have a better understanding of how they integrate human activities into their environment.
Following you will find a selection of images captured along my KAPing journey in Mexico. Enjoy the views!
My special gratitude to the Drachen Foundation for believing in me and for providing me with the equipment and training needed to apply KAP to the documentation of whales in Mexico. I am especially grateful to Ali Fujino for opening her home and a whole new world to me, for her dedication, friendship, and unconditional support during my learning and experimentation process with KAP.
Thanks to Brooks Leffler for his help in the design of the first big rig used in this project and for providing me with special inspiration. A very special thanks to Peter Bults for his dedication in designing state- of-the-art technology to rig, elevate, and control my high resolution SLR digital cameras in rough ocean conditions.
A special acknowledgement to Mike Jones for designing and donating the rokkaku kites specifically built for the environmental and work conditions where I have used KAP in Mexico. My rigs have never been more stable. Thank you, Mike.
A special thanks to Giovanni Macedo, Manuel Gardea, Captain Lucio Leon, Captain Tony Macedo, Captain Maximo Perez, and Captain Juan Avila for providing the boat operations in Banderas Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, and the Caribbean. I am grateful for sharing their passion for the ocean and their unconditional support, dedication, and patience during long hours of navigation.
I am very grateful to Fredo Velazquez for inspiring me constantly, for sharing his passion for photography, and for sharing unconditional love.
Very special thanks to Jorge Guzman and Keith May for their close friendship, constant assistance, and unique dedication to explore and study marine environments along my KAPing journey in Mexico.
I want to thank the Environment and Natural Resources Agency of Mexico for providing the authorizations to undertake scientific research activities and the use of KAP to document Humpback whales, Gray whales and whale sharks in Mexico since 2005. ◆