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“You are alive, at sea. You are with good friends and you are healthy. What else do you need to be happy? What does it take to be the best day of your life? “

Early Morning

It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and the alarm goes off as it does every day, and just like every other day, I press snooze. I slip back into limbo, thinking of all the places I have been to just in the last 6 months and all the beautiful creatures I have been lucky enough to see in the wild. Amazon basin, Norwegian fjords, South African Karoo. Freshwater dolphins, sea lions, humpback whales. The alarm goes off again, today I wake up in Australia, and I am already late. My friends are waiting for me.
Despite the bad forecast from the day before, we decided to give it a go anyway. I quickly pick up Ele and we gather at Albert’s place, we secure the boat trailer to the car, and we hit the road. 

The ocean, once again, is calling.
A great little boat, good enough to bring us to the outer reef, where the powerful oceanic streams bring food from the depth and fuel the food chain. Little do we know at this stage that we are about to bare witness to that very food chain.
We sail with a specific goal in mind to spend some good quality time at sea, laugh, not get burnt and swim in the crystal-clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. That’s it, everything else is a plus. You are alive, at sea. You are with good friends, and you are healthy.

What else do you need to be happy?
What does it take to be the best day of your life? 

IMAGE ABOVE:  A sea turtle swimming in the clear waters of the Ningaloo Reef.
© Federico Facchin

The Ningaloo Reef

When I was a kid, I saw a documentary about the remote town of Exmouth that rises from the colorful corals of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. I have been dreaming about this place for as long as I can remember.  Finally, I can call Exmouth and now the Ningaloo Reef is my office. 
We launch the boat from the jetty and we immediately have a good feeling about the day ahead. For once the forecast is not accurate: glassy sea, calm winds, beautiful weather, even a Sea turtle comes to surface next to us.

It all happened very quickly. Time flies when you are having a good time, and before we know it, we are a few miles from shore, and we follow the birds. I learned this trick in Iceland when I was working as a whale watching guide. Seabirds always gather around food, and chances are if birds are feeding from the air, something bigger is lurking from below. 
Bingo! There it is, a huge flock of birds, bomb diving and screaming above the surface. If you couldn’t see it, you would definitely hear it. We gear up and slip into the unknown waters below.

IMAGE LEFT: Baitfish gather in great numbers to confuse their predators.
© Federico Facchin

IMAGE CENTER:  Safety comes in number.
© Federico Facchin

IMAGE RIGHT: Seabirds diving underwater to grab a bite.
© Federico Facchin

The Bait Ball

As soon as I put my head underwater, I realize that something special is about to happen right in front of my eyes. During the Arctic winter I worked as a guide for the orca snorkeling expeditions in Norway. Orcas are incredible and unpredictable animals, but what I have learned is that you need to stay close to the bait ball, stay close to the food, and they will come to you. What I have in front of my eyes I have only seen in the most prestigious documentaries, and never I would have hoped to witness this with my own eyes. Hundreds of thousands of bait fish swimming in circles in a defensive strategy meant to confuse predators.
Like an oasis in the desert, a bait ball attracts a number of bigger and hungry fishes such as tunas, Giant trevallies, barracudas and of course sharks. Dozens of sharks. No cage-diving nor wildlife feeding, not something you can buy. Just a once in a lifetime experience with the Ocean.
Trying to capture such a hectic event is not easy. It starts very slowly, but before you know it, more sharks join the buffet, and it is hard to decide in which direction to point the camera. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this event is the surreal silence that surrounds this brutal hunt.

“We saw this massive flock of birds and I pointed the boat in that direction. Fede and Albert quickly grabbed their cameras and with no hesitation despite the shark’s fins skimming the surface, they jumped in! I was so excited to see sharks so close to our little boat and at the same time, I was so focused on the guys. I know they are experts and confident in the water, but with nature you cannot joke. As the skipper of the day, I felt the responsibility on me, and I was constantly checking on them. I could only see the surface and I did not know what was going on underwater. Seeing the sharks breaching right next to their snorkels was not reassuring, but I could see the guys constantly turning their heads around to keep an eye on everything.

When they got back on board to change the camera’s batteries, they were so thrilled they could barely speak! They both asked me repeatedly if I wanted to go and despite one side of me wanting to dive into this amazing blue world, my gut feeling told me that I was not ready yet.

I am super proud of my friends and happy for this wonderful day we spent together.”

Elena Gialdi
M.Sc. Marine Biology

“It is all about being on the right place at the right time, and we were there!

I have been living for a couple years here on the Ningaloo coast and sometimes you get to see what it looks like a bait ball from the surface, then you gently slide into the water and swim towards it, but either the bait ball has moved or there is no big fish around. But this time was different. The bait ball was big and compact. All the tiny bait fish stayed close to the surface, pushed by the predators. At a point, it literally surrounded our boat on the look for help.

Then the fun time started and after a couple of hours, both Fede and I run out of space in our memory cards.

I shared the footage with some locals, and they said they had never seen anything like this around here! It absolutely was the best experience I ever had in the ocean so far.”

Albert Sasplugas
B.Sc. Marine Biology

IMAGE ABOVE:  Elena Gialdi keeping an eye both on the boat and on what is happening under the sea surface.
© Federico Facchin

Evolutionary Success

I have always considered sharks dumb creatures.
Don’t get me wrong, they are faultless machines and magnificent predators, perfectly adapted to be on top of the food chain. The earliest fossil evidence of the shark’s ancestors can be dated back to over 450 million years ago (that is before there were even trees on the prehistoric continents), but since then, they haven’t evolved much.  They represent an outstanding evolutionary success. But I have always seen sharks as powerful animals, relying on their raw power, biting whatever they can without much thinking or strategy. Yet here they are, taking turns and coordinating their attacks into the bait ball right in front of my eyes, in a way that left me almost disorientated, definitely speechless.
When it comes to nature, you never stop learning, do you?
The water during this season has a pleasant temperature of 27/30°C. Good enough to swim without a wetsuit but together with the weight belt and the long fins, after an hour of swimming right in the middle of the most hectic hunt I have ever witnessed, cramps are biting my legs and I start to become fatigued.

But Poseidon is not done yet, he has another surprise for us.

IMAGE ABOVE:  Sharks feeding from below, while seabird are taking their share from the air.
© Federico Facchin

GALLERY ABOVE:  Sharks feeding and pushing the bait ball to the surface where seabirds are waiting for their turns.
© Federico Facchin

A Gift from Poseidon

Literally out of the blue, here it comes, joining the “buffet”, it’s big, it’s slow, it’s hungry. It’s a Whale shark, and it’s beautiful! 

With its friendly face and fashionable dotted suit, these gentle giants have become a symbol of Exmouth, with many people traveling every year to this remote corner of Australia to see them in their natural environment. They are extremely common in the Ningaloo, but to find one feeding on a bait ball is not common at all.

IMAGE ABOVE: Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) emerging from the bait ball.
© Federico Facchin

Once again, theory and practice are not matching.
I have always read that whale sharks are filter feeders, and they cruise the oceans looking for plankton. Here in the Ningaloo Reef we had two coral spawning events in the last couple of weeks and that is exactly what they are looking for! It is a juvenile, just about 6 meters long but they can grow twice as much. A young Whale shark like this can eat up to 45 pounds (about 20kg) of plankton every day. The whale shark, the biggest fish in the world, starts taking his bites, fully engulfed in the thousands of fish, and then popping out on the other side of the bait ball. He would then turn around like a jumbo jet and go for it again, and again and again.
And for the second time in a few hours, the ocean proved me wrong, and I had to quickly update my knowledge of these animals as well.

The salt water washed away the tears of emotions. Not only for the epic encounter but from the long journey as a marine biologist, diver and photographer that brought me to the right place at the right time. Swimming with this gentle giant has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I must say I have never been particularly interested in sharks in general (I am more of a whale guy) but this encounter might have changed that.

IMAGE LEFT: Size comparison between a juvenile Whale shark and a Dusky shark.
© Federico Facchin

IMAGE RIGHT: The Whale shark disappears into the bait ball.
© Federico Facchin

GALLERY ABOVE:  The Whale shark slowly approaches the bait ball to grab a mouthful of fish before coming out on the other side.
© Federico Facchin

With the huge Whale shark around, it seems like all the other predators, including the Bull sharks, are fearful and happy to queue behind him.  But a good hour later, when the bait ball has shrunk and the Whale shark disappears in the deep blue where it came from, the hustle and bustle increases again, as everyone wants to grab as much as possible.
At the end of the day, when the flock of birds has dispersed, the bait ball has shrunk to the size of a watermelon, and the last sharks have disappeared in the blue, we get back on the boat. Not before diving one last time, at 10 meters under the surface, to take one more photo of the survivors getting attacked by the last tunas.

IMAGE ABOVE:  Tunas feeding on what is left of the bait ball.
© Federico Facchin

Are Sharks Dangerous?

If you live in Exmouth, snorkeling in coral reefs and swimming in the ocean is as popular as going for a hike if you live in the Italian Dolomites. But when we get home and we show the raw footage to all our friends, looking at the expressions on their faces we realize we saw something special, something unique.
One question raised higher than the other: “Aren’t you scared? Isn’t it dangerous?”. I personally never felt in danger while swimming in the water next to this magnificent creature, but once again I am not a shark expert, and it might have been a bit bold to simply jump in.
The truth is sharks seemed more scared than we were. Every time a shark came toward us to check us out, he turned away quickly. They looked afraid of the human intruders. And for good reasons.

According to the latest data, humans kill around 100 million sharks per year. That is about 190 sharks a minute, meanwhile there has been only a total of 57 confirmed worldwide shark incidents in 2022. Unfortunately, regardless of these numbers, most people are still scared of sharks.

They are among the apex predators of the oceans, their presence regulates the whole food chain, from pelagic species to grazers all the way down to algae, and they have a massive impact on the whole ecosystem.  Yes, they can be dangerous, and with some species being more aggressive than others you need to pay them respect, but as I always like to say, the oceans would be more dangerous without sharks.

Federico Facchin
Exmouth, Western Australia

IMAGE ABOVE:  The Whale shark is the biggest fish on Earth.
© Federico Facchin

Fine Art Collection


Would you like a piece of art that brings nature back into your house? Tired of the urban environment of your city? Or do you simply love the outdoors and your heart is longing for the next adventure?

Decorate your wall space with the Oceans collection, now available in a limited edition.

This limited edition print comes signed, numbered, with a certificate of authentication, and always with Passepartout.

Bait Ball
from € 85.00
View the collection
from € 85.00
View the collection

Watch the trailer



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