Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - Displaying items by tag: SSI
Monday, 08 October 2018 15:49

The Beluga Whale That Spoke

When we think about the loudest creatures on the planet, most minds will go to the trumpet of an elephant, the howl of a wolf or the screech of a woman scorned. In reality, the creatures that make the loudest noises by far are the whales that inhabit our oceans all around the world: the loudest apparently being the sperm whale, which can raise its voice to a crazy 230 decibels underwater – it doesn’t sound that impressive until you consider a 10-ton bomb gives off 210 decibels and a space shuttle launch generates around 170 decibels of noise!

 

So what the hell are these gobby gargantuans going on about anyway?

 

We know that whales make noise to communicate, locate and tell others about food sources, and to find each other. The tend to speak in clicks, whistles and pulsed calls which can travel hundreds of miles underwater, and it’s actually thought the sperm whales’ calls can reach half way around the world…although it would take a few hours.  One of the most talkative whales out there is the beluga, which is where this curious tale begins…

  

The year is 1984, and here I should insert some inane Big Brother pun but I’ve leave that to you lot. The National Marine Mammal Foundation were studying and training dolphins and whales for ‘Cold Ops’ (otherwise called top secret naval stuff) and had a number of belugas undergoing constant training. It was during a normal session when researchers reported hearing what sounded like a muffled conversation, which they described as sounding like someone talking loudly in an adjacent room. It was then that one of the divers (and co-founder of the foundation), Sam Ridgeway, climbed out of the whale enclosure and asked his colleagues ‘Who told me to get out?’

Noc’ was a beluga whale that had been living in the research centre for 7 years, and was very familiar with trainers and the language they used every day with him. It appears that unbeknownst to the staff at the foundation Noc had been working on communicating with his human friends, and had managed to produce a pretty damn good impression of them too, which you can hear for yourself right here:

 

https://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2021739480/2041549424/mmc2.mp3

 

Pretty remarkable eh? It’s like he’s been listening to them and decided that the English language is simply humans going ‘duh duh duh, doo doo doo’ over and over again, suspiciously like the Swedish language as a matter of fact.

 

To teach him a lesson in showing off and to remind him just who was the boss around there, the researchers immediately inserted tubes into his nasal cavity to try and find out just how he’d managed to produce this kazoo-like sound and discovered he was manipulating pressure in his nasal tract which caused this bizarre noise. The reason why remains a mystery, though Michelle Jeffries, one of Noc’s early trainers, described in an interview:

 “He was very easy-going. He wanted people’s attention. He wanted you to stay around and interact with him and rub him. He didn’t try to bullshit you like some of the dolphins did”

We should take a moment to enjoy that incredible statement about the bullshit from dolphins.

Michelle continued, presumably after taking out her obvious frustrations by kicking a dolphin and eating a tin of cheap tuna:

“He was just glad for your time, and he was very patient. Plus being the younger one, he was a little bit more reactive, eager. Noc was the kid who was willing to try. I think that was part of the thing behind him mimicking speech. He liked watching people. He liked being around people…He wanted to make a connection.”

Noc spoke in this way both underwater and above, responded to his trainers or would spontaneously start chatting away but only if there was a human present or he was alone – strangely he would never talk in this was around the other whales.

So what happened to this genius beluga whale, the first animal (or maybe second after that dog that says ‘sausages’?) to manage a passable attempt at the English language?

 

Dead.

 

 

 

Published in October
Friday, 05 October 2018 16:42

Freediving on Koh Tao

 

When I was a child my family and I would take yearly trips to see my Italian family in Sicily, during which my father would take my ten-year old self and my brothers out spearfishing. The thrill of being in the ocean wielding my very own weapon (a ferocious trident that was my absolute pride and joy) at an age when I was barely allowed to cross the street alone was incredible, and then to go on the hunt for elusive octopus, delicious passing snapper, aggressive eels and basically anything else that looked reasonably edible was something I’ll never forget to this day.

What really had me fascinated was when my father would spend a bit of time breathing quite deeply on the surface for a minute or so, take what seemed like a gargantuan breath and effortlessly disappear beneath the waves to impossible depths for a child to imagine – how did he do it? How could he hold his breath for so long? Why weren’t the fish scared away by him? I had so many questions, and that’s when freediving first piqued my curiosity.

 

It wasn’t till years later that I learnt that what we were doing (in a very amateurish fashion) was called ‘freediving’, and was becoming a very popular pastime for those wanting a little more from their diving. The 1988 Luc Besson movie ‘The Big Blue’ we’re named after then showed me just what freediving could offer with some training and what seemed like a lot of effort, and I was hooked.

 

Surely for people to dive to such depths on just one breath you have to be some sort of super healthy, non-smoking, yoga loving athlete, right?

Wrong!

Freediving is something that everyone (regardless of shape, size, or fitness levels) can try and be successful at – as log as there’s no serious ear problems. In fact, the first man to freedive more 100 metres was 65 years old when he did it!

It starts with learning about the mammalian dive reflex, and controlling the urge to breathe (those contractions you feel in your diaphragm) which we all feel when we’ve held our breath underwater for a while. You learn relaxation procedures to help not just hold your breath for a minute or so but to really push the limits of your body and mind away from their comfort zones, control the feeling that you need to breather and before long enter into the realms of proper freediving – to be able to breath-hold for 2 minutes plus whilst gliding silently around the reefs, without a care in the world.

It’s not so much physical exercise, but more about knowing your body, mastering the psychological effects felt and strengthening our mind’s ability to live the moment peacefully, whilst in full control of the situation. 

 

 

So what are the benefits of learning how to freedive?

The freedom felt whilst underwater without the heavy scuba equipment is really quite exhilarating. Scuba diving is wonderful when you want to spend a long time underwater exploring every nook and cranny, but with freediving the beauty is in its simplicity and silence. 

 

When freediving the marine life you encounter aren’t as skittish as when you’re scuba diving – bubbles from scuba regulators are noisy, and there isn’t that much sound underwater other than the communication of the different creatures down there so it inevitably disturbs everything. Freedivers, on the other hand, appear to be less of a threat, so the creatures down there let you get closer to them, and they also come closer to you – after all you appear to them to be just a new, big fish so they’re also very curious. Of course, you are always limited in the time you can stay down there interacting, but it opens up so many places for exploration where it just isn’t feasible to go scuba diving - maybe there’s no dive centre to rent equipment or get your tanks filled, but with freediving all you need is to don your mask, grab some weight and a buddy and you’re good to go!

 

What’s next?

Easy; all you have to do is set aside at least 2 days of your life to visit us on Koh Tao, and the SSI Level 1 freediver licence can be yours for the rest of your life. To book your courses, or for a little more information take a look here!

 

 

“The scuba diver dives to look around. The freediver dives to look inside.

 

Umberto Pelizzari, world champion freediver.

 

 

 

Published in October
Friday, 28 September 2018 17:30

Top 5 Coolest Sharks

Goblin Shark

The ugliest shark on this list, the goblin shark is found in the deep, deep waters where looks don’t get you far but having an evil pointy snout and weird extendable jaw makes you the King of the oceans.  Found off the Australian coast (I presume it looks more handsome when surrounded by all those awful Aussie bogans) this shark looks like it could eat an apple through a letter box with its very English teeth, which are literally like regular teeth after a hand grenade went off in your mouth.

Said to eat other bloody sharks, it has translucent skin so the about-to-be-eaten sharks can see exactly where they’re going as they get devoured by this deep-dwelling monster.

Megamouth Shark

A very well-named shark pays homage to this creatures’ unique feature – it’s terrifyingly massive mouth that puts even my ex-wife to shame. It’s also a wearer of a particularly weird expression, which always reminds me of someone who’s just farted a real stinker and is now waiting for everyone else to notice. Again, memories of the ex-wife…

Despite having a mouth you could park a car in, this planktivorous filter feeder (like the whale sharks we have around Koh Tao) eats mostly plankton, which doesn’t seem to have any bearing on its size – they reach 4-5 metres in length and weigh around 1200 kg!

They were discovered around 40 years ago by and since then there’s been less than 100 sightings, making it one of the most mysterious sharks out there.

 

 Hammerhead Shark

Diving with hammerhead sharks is a dream for every single scuba diver out there, I’d wager. One of the more well-known sharks out there, I spent a lot of my childhood dreaming of these bizarre looking creatures, and wondering just why they had such a ridiculously shaped-head (called a cephalofoil) that seemed to defy all rules of what a shark looks like. Now it’s widely believed that the shape improves the vision of the shark, making them capable of seeing both what’s above and below them at the same time, giving them what is essentially 360-degree vision! Unfortunately, that advantage comes at a cost: since their eyes are so far apart, hammerheads suffer from a large blindspot right at the tip of their snouts.

 Cookiecutter Shark

The cookiecutter shark has a name that doesn’t exactly fill you with fear, and as they reach a size of just 50 cm it’s one that I initially thought I could defeat easily in an arm-wrestle…however with a little research I’ve now decided that this shark is one vicious little predator you would not want to mess with!

This nasty piece of work preys on just about every large and medium-sized creature it can find, and is known to eat whales, sharks, dolphins, seals, rays, dugongs and more, yet still won’t even entertain the notion of eating a durian. It eats by latching onto its prey with its upper teeth, which anchor into place and then the lower teeth start munching away, cutting out a round cookie-shaped chunk of flesh – hence the name!

Though rarely encountered by humans, a handful of attacks were reportedly caused by cookiecutter sharks, as well as significant damage to many US Navy submarines. Like I said, not to be messed with! Luckily, they spend most of their time in the very deep parts of the oceans (thought to be 1000s of metres down) and then vertically migrate at night to feed. Night dive anyone?

Bull Shark

They may not get all the headlines (we can thank the ‘Jaws’ movies for that) but the bull shark is THE most dangerous shark in all of the oceans in the world, with more recorded attacks on humans than any other shark known to man. Known to swim in both salt and fresh water, one was even recorded 1100 km from the sea up the Mississippi river - there’s just no escaping these hungry monsters!

Of the thousands of dives I’ve been lucky enough to experience, the ones that I remember more than any other are no doubt those we had with the bull sharks at Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock (close to Koh Tao/Koh Phangan) a few years ago…and hopefully again soon! Being surrounded by 20-30 sharks almost three-metres long, with each weighing around 100kg is certainly not a dive you’ll forget anytime soon. Luckily for all of us here on Koh Tao there was never a single recorded incident when sharing our dives with these sharks – it’s thought the amount of delicious fish available for them to eat meant they were never hungry enough to mess with us divers!

Published in September
Friday, 28 September 2018 08:40

Praise be to Simon.

Simon is living the life of a high society celebrity right now. He has been summoned by the head honchos at SSI to a conference in Croatia where Simo will be probably displayed on a podium in a bullet proof glass encasing, as the demonstrative model of what true SSI perfection really looks like. Coming on for 20 years as a Scuba Diving professional, and more than a 1000 recreational certifications under his belt, and nearing half that many again certified by Simon as either a Divemaster, an Instructor in some capacity or other, or even Instructor Trainers, and Instructor Examiners, Simon is THE most experienced SSI Trainer in the world. So in retrospect maybe it’s not really a conference but more of a call to worship Simon. The SSI equivalent to the Muslims annual pilgrimage to Mecca!

Published in September
Monday, 24 September 2018 15:23

Meet your Instructor

Out of a complete lack of anything to write about today I thought we could discuss SJ.

A recent addition as a Full time member of our Scuba Diving SSI Instructor Team, SJ has been on Koh Tao about 3 years. Actually his nose arrived about a year before him so I guess he’s been here 4 years already! He’s the only man I’ve ever met who can smoke a cigarette in the rain with his hands in his pockets and has to get planning permission every time he picks it! Born in Holland, Schpeeks Englisch & Dutch, SJ has been welcomed, abused and insulted by the rest of us for many things including the size of his hooter since the day we met him. He’s a great guy, great sense of humour, excellent Instructor but do be careful when you meet him, and just make sure you duck, when he turns round!
Can anyone help us with any SJ stories? We're looking for more to add to his Tinder profile!

Published in September
Page 1 of 7