Wildlife film making is unpredictable to say the least, simply because it is a very uncontrollable environment and often your actors haven't read the script! We knew this when we undertook our project to be the first to make a film on the Humpback whales migration in Kenya, hoping to capture the first underwater sequences of them. We had factored in that the weather and water conditions may not be ideal, especially as the whales visit between July and October which is during 'Kusi' when the Southern Trade wind blows strong and churns up the ocean. Our plan was to film closer to the end of their migration season, in October, hoping the wind would have started to turn and the water to calm and clear.
The Indian Ocean Dipole
This year however the conditions were very unseasonal, There was a lot of uncharacteristic rain fall and the change in the wind was very late resulting in murky waters until early December! This was a result of warmer waters off our coast in the Western Indian Ocean, and the Eastern Indian Ocean was much colder than normal. Due to this all the moisture was sucked over to Eastern Africa, producing heavy rain as it hit land. This is known as the 'Indian Ocean Dipole'
Where Are The Whales?
In 2019 Humpback whale sightings off Kenya hit a record low, since recording began in in 2011. In October 2018 you could sit on the beach in Watamu and watch whales breaching almost everyday. So when we planned to make a film about the Humpbacks we knew there would be challenges but we never thought finding whales would be one of them! In 2019 there was a total of 57 recorded sightings in Kenya, that is the recorded sightings of July alone in 2019. With warmer waters the whales didn't need to travel this far north even Tanzania and Northern Mozambique had much fewer sightings than previous years. They all stayed around South African and Southern Mozambique. There are a few theories floating around at the moment, some related to the Dipole and other related to diminished krill production in the Southern Oceans, but nothing definitive or conclusive we can share at this point.
Through our research for the Call of the Humpbacks we interviewed Hassan Mzee, a very respected fishermen from the Lamu Archipelago, he shared incredible stories with us, not only about Humpback whales, but also about his adventures on the ocean and how he has seen it change in his life time. This made us realise that our film could have a far greater impact than what we had initially planned. We had always wanted to narrate the film in Swahili, focusing on the whales and showing coastal communities footage of animals very few had seen a glimpse of. Through these stories, and not wanting to call it quits on this film, we realised there is a far broader story to be told! It is not only the whales that have not been seen, but barely any of the underwater world off our coast, and that is something that must be shared! So the scope of our film has grown and we have interviewed more fishermen from the area to hear different points of view and their stories and a new film was born "Bahari Yetu". This new film will be made with a slightly broader focus; the story of ocean change through the eyes of an old Swahili fisherman over his lifetime, rekindling local knowledge on what we need to do to save and protect our ocean so that man and nature can both benefit.
Recently Jahawi visited the National Geographic Story Tellers Summit in Washington DC to share our trailer and speak about Two Sides of the Same Ocean with Malaika Vaz.
While there he shared the first screening of the 'Bahari Yetu Trailer' (click to check it out!)