Where the Currents Take Them

Underwater Photographers Tell the Ocean's Stories
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2019 / June

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Scott Williams


People say that cat lovers have different personalities from dog lovers. Does the same principle apply to people who love cetaceans versus those who love sea turtles?

Innumerable creatures inhabit the waters around islands. The surrounding seas support the island, interact with it, and enable its survival, but the beauty that lies hidden beneath the waves is a mystery to most islanders. Fortunately, there are a few who explore the depths and bring back photos to share with the rest of us.


We arrive in Hualien amid the cottony threads of a light rain, but the weather early the next morning is bright and clear. Ray Chin, our volunteer guide, stands aboard a whale-watching boat docked in the harbor and waits for today’s guests to arrive.

When we spot dolphins just a few minutes after setting out, Chin calmly explains their behavior, while also snapping his own photos of them through his telephoto lens.

Summer in Hualien

There’s power in silence. Narrative photography eschews words to go right to the heart of the matter.

Chin’s photos of cetaceans have been widely viewed, but few people who’ve seen them know who the photo­grapher was. Taiwan’s first professional undersea photo­grapher, Chin’s dynamic, poetic photos of undersea life recall Luc Besson’s classic film on free diving, The Big Blue.

Nowadays, Chin spends about one-third of his year overseas in locations ranging from Sri Lanka, Japan, and Tonga to Norway and Argentina. For all that he’s visited pretty much everywhere in the world known for good whale-watching, the big man with the gentle voice says, “I spend every summer in Taiwan without fail.”

Chin looks forward to the June‡August period of ­every year with cautious optimism: the midsummer calm of the seas makes it peak whale-watching season.

He says that photographing cetaceans off Taiwan’s coast is particularly challenging.

Whenever the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation’s network sends word of cetaceans in the area and the weather permits, Chin contacts boatmen he knows and goes “hunting” for whales.

But even if they happen to spot their quarry, Chin doesn’t leap straight into the water. Instead, he first tries to predict whether the whales will flee or sound by observing the speed at which they are swimming and their general demeanor. “You can’t outswim a whale. A sperm whale, for example, can stay underwater for more than 100 minutes, and once it sounds there’s no telling where it will resurface.”

Once in the water, every second counts. The two or three snaps you may get over a few brief moments might end up being the total catch from a year’s work.

His home and starting point

Given the difficulty of photographing cetaceans underwater, perhaps the relative paucity of such pictures is less an indication that few people want to take them, than that few have succeeded in doing so.

Chin’s experience taking photos abroad made him realize that one reason why photographing cetaceans around Taiwan is so difficult is that most of them are just passing by and moving very quickly.

Like humans, cetaceans are mammals that nurse their young for roughly the first year and a half of their lives. This has implications for photographing them. For example, humpback whales spend a great deal of time near ­Tonga birthing and nurturing their young. This not only means that the whales stay in the area of ­Tonga for an extended period, but also that they swim relatively slowly while there so their young can keep up.

So if taking undersea pictures of cetaceans near Taiwan is such a high-risk, low-reward endeavor, why does Chin persist?

He responds without a moment’s hesitation: “Because Taiwan is home, and it’s where I began this work.”

Xiaoliuqiu’s sea turtles

Chin’s attachment to home brings sea turtles to mind.

Sea turtles, which live roughly as long as people, are said to have a remarkable ability to remember the place of their birth. In fact, they always return there to breed, no matter how far they roam in the rest of their lives. Chin has similarly traveled to virtually every corner of the globe, yet retains a powerful connection to Taiwan.

“Haven’t you ever heard that different kinds of people are drawn to certain kinds of animals?” asks diving instructor Su Huai, who calls himself a “fool for sea turtles.” We’re near Xiao­liu­qiu Island in the seas off Dong­gang, where he’s snorkeling and shooting “portraits” of sea turtles.

These sea turtles, which surface and submerge with the tides, called to Su just as cetaceans called to Chin.

Perhaps it’s that Su can relate to these seemingly independent inveterate travelers, which wander the world but always remember the way home. Su himself spent years drifting through Australia and Southeast Asia. But he never felt at completely “at home” while traveling and was eventually drawn back to this in­compar­able “sea turtle island” for good.

Su has taken in a lot of amazing sights in his travels, and argues that Taiwan’s maritime resources are on par with the best in the world. He says the only problem is that they aren’t managed or valued. He and his friend Polly Chen have formed Island Divers to make Taiwanese more aware of our maritime treasures. 

Su holds a rare sea turtle specialty diver certificate from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), an international diver accreditation body, and has gradually transitioned his focus from diving instruction to photography.

The transition was driven by a desire to make Taiwan’s public more aware of the beauty and ecological richness of Taiwan’s seas, and the startling amount of plastic trash on its seafloor. “Teaching people to dive was too slow. Not to mention, there are so many diving instructors that it made no difference whether or not I taught.” So he decided to pick up a camera and make Xiao­liu­qiu’s delightful and ubiquitous sea turtles the subjects of his photos.

Swirling seas, beautiful island

Chin says, “If you ask me or Su Huai about Taiwan’s seas, we’ll tell you they are truly amazing!” He explains that roughly a third of the world’s nearly 90 species of cetaceans have been seen in Taiwan’s waters, a figure that stands in stark contrast to the limited number of species visible in most of the world’s other whale-watching destinations. Travelers boarding a whale-watching vessel out of Hua­lien’s harbor often see more than ten cetacean species. These include the deep-water-dwelling Risso’s dolphin, which swims rela­tively close to shore in Taiwan’s waters because of the steep slope of the seafloor off our east coast.

Taiwan also offers opportunities to see five of the world’s seven extant sea turtle species, including the endangered green sea turtle, which is the most common turtle around Xiao­liu­qiu, and the critically endangered hawks­bill sea turtle. Chin says that visitors to the island have a 90% chance of seeing one, and quips: “This is the only place in the world where you might step on a sea turtle.”

Their undersea photos have not only brought them success, but, more importantly, have also introduced others to an ocean they didn’t know.

People don’t feel a sense of loss for things they don’t see or know about. “But cetaceans often become en­tangled in nets,” says Chin. “And when fishermen operating illegally are involved, they just cut off the ensnared flippers and leave the cetaceans to die.”

When no one watches for these kinds of tragedies, the general public remains unaware that they are occurring.

But not knowing about something doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Su screens an underwater film of a sea turtle that is skittish around people. Having mistakenly eaten marine debris, it excretes a plastic bag. The turtle was in deplorable condition, but luck brought it to Su, who was able to provide it with a new lease on life.

Problems like the proliferation of plastic in the ocean are urgent, but Chin and Su are not as preachy as some environmentalists. Instead, they use their photographs to directly educate people about an environment that cannot speak for itself.                          

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逐海浮光

為海敘事的水下攝影師

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱

天空中隱藏的祕密讓島嶼上空的風雲徘迴不去,山林的祕辛,交由草樹間穿梭的大小生命來一一敘說。每條魚的來去游蹤,譜寫島嶼海域的過往今昔。

當海島居民可以訴說、可以敘寫自己的故事時,這座孤島將再次揚動,重新啟航。

──廖鴻基《大島小島》

聽說,喜歡貓和喜歡狗的人,代表了兩種截然不同的性格。那麼,喜歡鯨豚,與喜歡海龜的人呢?

為海托起的島嶼,周遭難以計數的水下生物,依海生存,與島相遇,然而,牠們的美麗不為人所知,唯有熟識水性、執掌鏡頭的海職人所帶回的一幀幀影像,可供指認。

 

 


 

彷彿老天賞臉,初抵時雨絲緜緜的花蓮,卻在翌日放晴,晴光溫煦的大清早,擔任解說志工的金磊站在港口的賞鯨船上,等待著遊客魚貫登船。

小船離港,出海不消十分鐘,便傳來鯨豚的消息,只見結隊游行的牠們朝船靠近,乘著船頭帶來的水流借力使力地往前,偶爾還有幾隻從水面飛旋跳躍,惹得遊客陣陣驚呼。

站在船頂的金磊不疾不徐地解說,同時不忘在空暇時舉起長鏡單眼,按下快門。

飛旋海豚、花紋海豚、熱帶斑海豚……一趟2小時的航程,前前後後邂逅了這些擁有流線身形的美麗生物,襯托著背景無盡的碧海青空,彷彿也懂得了,為何會有人如此著迷於這種生物,並甘願為追逐牠們到天涯海角。

在花蓮,等待每一年夏天的出航

無聲勝有聲,影像敘事不需冗詞贅言,就能擁有直指人心的能量。

或許,有不少人雖不曉得金磊,卻早已看過由他拍攝的鯨豚影像。作為台灣第一位專門拍攝水下鯨豚的攝影師,那些尺度超凡的海中生物,在他的鏡頭下一一定格,充滿詩意與張力的畫面,令人想起了盧貝松以知名潛水運動員與海豚為題的經典電影《碧海藍天》。

如今,一年平均有1/3的時間都在國外的他,足跡踏遍世界各地,斯里蘭卡、日本、東加王國、挪威、阿根廷等地……只要是賞鯨勝地,都有他的足跡,「但每一年的夏天,我都一定會在台灣。」個頭高大、講話溫厚的他篤定地說。

來到每年6~8月,海象平穩的盛夏,每年一度的賞鯨旺季,也是他最審慎以待的季節。

金磊說,在台灣拍攝鯨豚,就像闖關遊戲,關關難過關關過。幸而擁有超過20年海上經驗的他,逐步累積下豐富的鯨豚知識與人脈,俱已成為攝影工作的強大後盾。

每當從黑潮海洋文教基金會的人際網絡傳來外海有鯨豚出沒的消息,若天候狀況許可,他旋即聯絡熟識且空暇的船家,出海搜尋。

然而,就算千里迢迢,終於發現「獵物」的蹤跡,也不能即刻下水,得先觀察鯨豚的游速、狀況,是否會躲避、下潛,「畢竟,人也不可能游過牠,而像抹香鯨,可以下潛超過100分鐘,等到再出現,也不曉得在哪裡。」金磊說。

那分秒必爭、「喀擦喀擦」的短短幾秒,得到的兩、三張照片,往往就代表了一整年的全部收穫。

台灣是家,也是開始的地方

可想而知,拍攝水下鯨豚並不容易,也許不是沒有人想做,只是成功者少矣。

那是因為,「在台灣的鯨豚,大多是路過,移動速度非常快。」比較過在國外拍攝的經驗後,金磊有所領悟。

由於和人類一樣是哺乳類,鯨豚寶寶在出生後,還有長達1年半左右的育幼期,好比特地到東加王國生產、哺育下一代的大翅鯨,因著居住時間拉長,不僅狀況較穩定,也為了配合小鯨魚的速度,游速緩慢了下來。

時間回到2010年,彼時在水面上拍攝鯨豚已逾十年的他,才剛花費了2年,完成了台灣首部鯨豚紀錄片《海豚的圈圈》,然而屢屢受制於環境,必須從水上拍攝水下生物,難免像隔靴搔癢,不夠痛快。

看著國外精彩的水下作品,心癢難耐的他,憑著土法煉鋼地摸索,結果卻不盡人意,這才讓他痛下決心,索性直接砸重金買了裝備,飛到南太平洋上的島國──東加,參與國外的水下攝影師所開設的工作坊,直接觀摩學習。

而倘若問金磊,台灣鯨豚水下攝影如此高風險、低報酬,為什麼還如此地堅持?

他不作他想:「因為台灣是家,也是開始的地方。」

因為海龜,留在小琉球

金磊的執著,令人想起了海龜。

聽說,海龜是具有一種神奇能力的生物,與人類壽命近似的牠們,不管長大以後遷居到哪,總會記得回到出生地產卵,繁衍下一代。這種對家鄉念茲在茲的生物,正像極了走遍世界,卻對台灣戀戀不忘的海人。

「你沒有聽說過,什麼樣的人,就會喜歡什麼樣的生物嗎?」潛水教練蘇淮這樣說。稱自己是「海龜痴漢」的他,目前以東港外海的離島──小琉球作為據點,在浮潛之餘,不忘提起相機為海龜拍下一張張寫真。

就像鯨豚彷彿在呼喚著金磊,一派悠緩,隨著潮汐載浮載沉的海龜,也深深吸引著蘇淮。

這也許是因著,像極了旅行家的海龜,看似獨來獨往,在世界各地漫遊,心裡卻始終惦記著回家的航道,恰如他一般。長年在澳洲、東南亞各地浪遊,走過千山萬水,卻總覺他鄉非故鄉的蘇淮,最後,這個全世界獨一無二的海龜島,吸引了他返鄉落腳。

看過不少的奇絕風景,蘇淮認為,台灣的海洋資源並不比國外差,只是疏於管理,也未被重視,他與朋友陳芃諭成立「島人海洋文化工作室」,想以一己之力,喚醒國人的海洋意識。

擁有相當稀有、國際潛水PADI系統「海龜專長潛水證」的他,先從潛水教練的工作起步,近年則逐步轉移重心到影像工作。

台灣海域的美麗,生態的豐富多樣,海底塑膠垃圾的怵目驚心……該如何讓更多人知道?「靠著教潛水,太慢了,況且教潛水的人那麼多,也不差我有一個。」因此他選擇拿起相機,小琉球隨處可見、格外討喜的海龜,自然而然成為了鏡頭下的主角。

婆娑之洋,美麗之島

曾與蘇淮一同在澳洲打工度假的陳芃諭回憶著,澳洲的生態保育不僅是全球典範,但令兩人印象最深刻的,是當地人對海洋抱持的開放態度。

「他們相當歡迎人們下海,但海域哪邊安全、哪邊危險,可以做哪些活動,又有哪些規範,在告示牌上都寫得清清楚楚。」陳芃諭說。

相較於台灣,雖然四面環海,也許加上過去戒嚴時期,由於岸邊不少軍事重地,限禁民眾靠近,導致多數人對於大海總是戒慎恐懼,也常見只要溺斃事故發生,鄰近海域便全面禁止下水。

就如同你我一般,在這樣的環境成長下的他們,也不是天生親水。

北部都會出生長大的金磊,「以前去海邊,聞到海水、藻類被烤乾在岩石上的味道,就忍不住想吐。」在台南安南區長大的蘇淮,頂多是在海邊烤肉的記憶,「那時候,長輩通常都會叫你不要靠近海邊,因為很危險。」

然而,親近了、認識了,才曉得美麗何在。金磊說:「如果問我和蘇淮對於台灣海洋的想法,那就是,台灣真的很厲害!」他進一步解說:「世界各地的賞鯨勝地,通常去了都只為了看那特定的1種。」但全世界近90種鯨豚,據紀錄,台灣海域就曾經直擊1/3的品種,遊客搭一趟由花蓮港出海的賞鯨船,常見的種類動輒超過10種,其中又好比生活在深水海域,相當罕見的花紋海豚,受惠於東岸的陡降地形,目擊率也相當高。

至於海龜,目前統計共有7種,台灣有機會目擊到其中5種,小琉球除了最常見、列為瀕危物種的綠蠵龜,另有列為極危物種的玳瑁,高達9成的目擊率,套句金磊的玩笑話,「全世界沒有一個地方可以像這樣,隨便都可以踩到海龜。」

因此,那一張張水底造像,除了為作為攝影師的他們帶來成就,更重要的是,可以藉此傳遞出一般人所不知的海洋。

固然看不到、不知道,對人類來說並沒有額外損失,「但常發生鯨豚纏網的問題,還是有少數不守法的漁民,直接把鰭割掉,讓牠們直接陳屍海底。」金磊說。

這些問題,若非有人關注,那麼鯨豚斷鰭的浩劫,同樣沉寂無聲,不予人知。

但不知道,並不等於不存在。蘇淮則show出了一段水下錄影,一隻畏人的海龜,誤食海洋廢棄物的牠,居然拉出了塑膠袋的糞便,情況苦不堪言,幸而他出手相助,重獲新生。

海洋保育、海洋塑化等問題,誠然迫在眉睫,但他們並沒有像許多自詡正義的環保人士,咄咄逼人,影像是最直接也最貼近真實的方式,蘊藏著善意,想要你我都從中上一堂無聲的環境教育課。                      

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