Since retiring, Andrew Verreydt prefers to spend his holidays underwater, taking spectacular photos of his encounters with ocean life…
Watching Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries in the 70s and seeing the undersea encounters with whales, sharks and other marine animals formed my lifelong love of the ocean and the creatures within it. In 1997, I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos Islands where I had my first underwater encounters with sharks, sea lions and penguins.
I was freediving offshore in Colombia in 2002 when a humpback mother and calf surfaced next to me. As I dived downwards with them I shared a moment with the calf as we looked into each other’s eyes. It’s difficult to express my feelings, but it felt like a communion of sorts. I found myself silently apologising to this pair of whales for all the suffering and destruction that mankind has inflicted not just on their species but all other cetaceans.
Encounters with whales and dolphins always tend to be at a more spiritual level; perhaps part of this is because of our unwitting tendency to anthropomorphise certain animals, much as we might do with a dog. Encounters with sharks or rays or other megafauna, meanwhile, while no less special, tend to take on a different perspective. It’s more a sense of awe, being able to witness the beauty of their perfect predatory design and how elegantly they move underwater.
I’m collaborating with a company called Picture Adventure who offer small group travel to remote locations that don’t have a lot of tourists but do have a high probability of ocean encounters. The importance of not disrupting normal animal migratory, feeding or mating behaviour is paramount. In most cases exploratory trips are made before any thought of offering the experience to other clients. Next May, a friend and I will be scouting out a location in the Sea of Cortes to free dive with large aggregations of mobula rays, which could be offered to customers in 2023.
The remote nature of many of the expedition locations means that accommodation can occasionally be a little rustic, though not always, and Wi-Fi can be haphazard. Most people bring their own wetsuit, fins, masks, snorkels and camera gear, although dry suits are often hired for the Arctic Circle. Depending on the location, side trips might include canoeing along jungle rivers in Sri Lanka, watching turtle hatchlings emerge in the Comoros, bat watching or viewing the Northern Lights.
Provided travel restrictions are relaxed, the next scheduled expeditions are two humpback whale trips to the Comoros in September, followed by orca encounters in Arctic Norway and whale sharks in Djibouti towards the end of this year. The team at Picture Adventure hopes that 2022 will see a full inventory of expeditions, beginning with encounters with sperm whales in Dominica in February and blue whales in Sri Lanka in March 2022. Others may be added depending on the results of other research/exploratory expeditions.
Aside from air fares, which obviously vary according to the destination and
time of year, a trip to a trip to Norway to snorkel with orcas starts at around £4500, but a trip to Dominica where a luxury yacht is used as a base to search for sperm whales costs considerably more. Prices include accommodation but generally exclude dining out. There are no more than four clients, plus one or two guides on any trip.