Big Predator Expedition, Florida
In January 2019, I headed to Florida for 3 weeks with wildlife presenter & author, Sarah Roberts. Our aim was to film and learn as much as we could about various wildlife stories around Florida, most of which include some level of controversy with humans.
Sarah's presenting style is very much 'get in amongst it', so the filming style was always going to be a 'run and gun' feel.
Within a couple of hours of stepping off the plane, we were on a beach meeting scientist Hannah Rutzen, and several sport fishermen targeting hammerheads. Our plan was to film what goes on, with Sarah being as close to the action as possible. The only problem was, for around 4 days, there was no action, just long cold nights on a beach.
On day 6 however, the fishermen caught their first hammerhead shark since we had been with them, and at 3am, we filmed them bringing it in, Hannah tagging it, and the release. All in all it was a fairly difficult thing to witness, as a huge shark fan, and much preferring seeing them in the water, and it was certainly a case of the cameraman in me taking the lead.
Day 8, and we head to the Everglades Outpost, to meet up with Chris Gillette, a leading expert on reptiles. After a few hours of looking round the sanctuary, we spent some time in the water with a number of female, and this male American alligator. I will let the finished videos explain more about what we were doing there, and the whole alligator situation, but from a filming side of things, this was one of my favourite days.
I had met Casper a year before, and knew what to expect, but this time with the challenge of filming Sarah (who was understandably nervous!) being in the same space as him. Casper is a very chilled and tolerant alligator, which allows you to almost be able to set up your shots with him, in particular where he will glide past my camera towards Sarah, allowing me to fill the frame with alligator, while focusing on Sarah watching him approach. Ideal.
That night, we joined some young reptile experts, and traveled around the area filming them carefully removing snakes off the road, to save them from being run over. Other than almost running out of fuel in the middle of no where, and being bitten 100000 times by mosquitoes, it was a great night.
Day 11, and I got my first look at the world famous blacktip shark migration, which happens every year. Thousands of blacktip sharks move down the coast from North Carolina towards Miami, following warmer waters.
The only drone I took with me was the tiny DJI Spark, but it handled it's self pretty well in the windy conditions, and the sharks weren't far off shore.
Day 13 was a shark dive, we headed off the Jupiter coast with Florida Shark Diving, around that time of year they mostly see Lemon sharks inshore, or bulls further offshore. We went offshore. Within a few minutes of arriving at the dive site, the bulls started turning up. Again, I will let the videos do the talking about the controversial topics, and what we were doing there etc, and focus on the filming side...
Personally, I love bull sharks. They're feisty, confident, and keep you on your toes, which is everything I want from a shark. When filming them, I would usually keep my head on a swivel, once I knew I had my shot lined up correctly. 8 or 9 bull sharks around you is a great situation to stay relaxed in, they pick up on someone feeling stressed or nervous. The visibility that day really helped, 50meters +, which meant you could keep an eye on most of the sharks in the area.
We wanted to capture images of the sharks, the sharks with Sarah, and Sarah at the surface giving dialogue to camera, so Sarah would film with the GoPro5, and then when I wanted to get some reaction from her, we'd go to the surface, I'd take the GoPro from her, and ask her how she was feeling. With my camera being inside a housing, there is no option for audio.
Day 16, we get up around 4am, and drive to the opposite side of Florida, rent a small boat, and head off down Crystal River, known for its manatees.
After filming sharks, alligators, snakes, fast paced fishermen in the dark, and other such things, manatees felt quite easy to capture well. Very slow moving (if moving at all), and not phased by people being in their way.
The main challenge here was to try and keep all the other tourists out of the shot, and create a more intimate feeling between manatee and Sarah. There were a few times where I felt I was too close, but the manatees kept on coming, and swimming right past my dome port.
The last few days were spent meeting another scientist who studies the blacktip sharks, I was able to share with him some of my footage of the sharks jumping which I'd filmed from shore, including rays jumping at the same time, which he'd never actually seen before in that area.
There are a lot of controversial wildlife issues around Florida, and hopefully we have been able to capture them as honestly as possible. Where ever wildlife and humans meet, there will always be conflict, disagreements and motives. Don't forget to check out Sarahs Youtube channel to see the finished videos, being posted throughout July 2019. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ0XWHPo9nPhBlXW5Tghvdg