December 13, 2012


The recently published photograph by Octavio Aburto, titled “David and Goliath” has been widely shared over the last few weeks. Mission Blue recently caught up with the photographer to get an inside look at the photo that visually showcases the sheer size of fish aggregations in perspective with a human and captures a once and future ocean: abundant with life. Watch a short video on capturing the image and read Aburto’s Q & A with Mission Blue’s Managing Editor Mera McGrew below.

Scroll to the end of the Q & A to see other photographs taken by Octavio Aburto in the same area he captured the amazing “David and Goliath” image.

You are first and foremost a scientist, can you talk about how your research influences your photography.

I think my background affects what I seek to capture through my camera lens.  For example, this “David and Goliath” image is speaking to the courtship behavior of one particular species of Jack fish. I wanted to share this behavior with others and photography is one way to do that.

Many people say that a single image is worth a thousand words, but a single image can also represent thousands of data points and countless statistical analyses. One image, or a small series of images can tell a complicated story in a very simple way.

I have been trying to portray the research and the work being done in Cabo Pulmo, where the “David and Goliath” photo was taken, in a way that is accessible to the public and in such a way that it can be easily shared. Through this photo and other photos I hope to tell the success story of marine protection in Cabo Pulmo where I conduct my scientific research.

How long did it take to capture this image?

The picture you see was taken November 1st, 2012. But this picture has been in my mind for three years — I have been trying to capture this image ever since I saw the behavior of these fish and witnessed the incredible tornado that they form during courtship. So, I guess you could say this image took almost three years.

Who is the man in the photo?

That is my good friend David Castro. He is one of the young men living in the community that is helping to ensure proper enforcement within the Cabo Pulmo National Park. He is a divemaster at the Cabo Pulmo Divers shop and is one of the young activists working tirelessly to protect Cabo Pulmo. With his family and friends David is trying to preserve the marine life and show the rest of the world that marine reserves can be a good model for sustainable coastal development.

What allowed you to capture this amazing photo after 3 years of envisioning it?

The conditions were right — the water was very calm and the visibility was great. David and I actually had to stay in the water for almost an hour before we started photographing. We ended up swimming all over the place following the fish and waiting for them to start performing the courtship behavior. When the fish formed the tornado, David happened to be in this position filming this spectacular event.

What kind of response have you gotten from people who have seen your photo?

As people have seen this image, I have been getting a lot of messages in my inbox and phone calls asking me “is this photo real?”  And “how did you congregate all these fish in one place to take the photo?”

My response to these questions has been this — of course it is real. Fish, as is the case with many other animals, have certain behaviors that they perform when they reproduce. For example, when monarch butterflies mate they travel hundreds of thousands of kilometers, crossing from Canada down through Mexico to form unbelievable congregations. Sea turtles also have unique reproduction behavior —some travel the entire Pacific just to return to the beaches where they originally hatched. Birds fly hundreds of kilometers to certain areas to nest as well. These behaviors are well known within terrestrial animals and within the scientific community we have also known of these behaviors with fish and other marine creatures for many years. In Cabo Pulmo for example, blacktip reef sharks and mobula rays also congregate in large numbers to mate during the winter season.

Even after I explain this unique behavior and the spectacular spawning aggregations of fish that occur naturally, some people don’t believe this image is real.

Why do you think people are so skeptical about this being an unaltered photograph?

One reason that the average person may not know about these fish spawning aggregations is simply that these creatures live underwater. People can’t see the fish participating in these behaviors, and those who do witness these behaviors via scuba or snorkel are very rarely able to capture it in an image. The other major problem is that it has become increasingly more rare to see these types of spawning aggregations because overfishing has left fish stocks so depleted.

In some ways I think this photo, and others like it, force people to think about the environment and more specifically in this case the ocean, dwindling fish populations the health of marine ecosystems worldwide and our role in it all.

What’s next?

I have two tasks for myself. My first task is to continue doing research in Cabo Pulmo, where I have been working for over 15 years, and use my underwater photography to raise awareness about what is happening in this beautiful National Marine Park as well as bring attention to other successful marine reserves, especially in Latin America. The second task is to work with coastal communities and initiatives like Mission Blue, to replicate successful marine protection stories. With the help of key people, such as well renowned Mission Blue founder Sylvia Earle, we can show that marine reserves are better options for coastal development. Basically, we need more Cabo Pulmos! Along the Mexican coasts and around the world!

Related posts:

An Ocean Miracle: Discovering the Hidden Jewel off the Coast of Baja California 

Photo of the Day: David and Goliath 

Photo of the Day: Rush Hour on the Reef


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