Adventure Travel

Amy Ippoliti Poses Underwater to Save Whale Sharks

On a quest to save ocean wildlife, one couple goes below the surface. Check out these beautiful photos of their journey.

On a quest to save ocean wildlife, one couple goes below the surface.

Amy in Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose) with a whale shark. These gentle giants (which can weight up to 21 tons and reach 40 feet) are threatened by loss of prey, marine pollution, and demand for their meat, fins, and oil.

“There’s a Sanskrit word, adbhuta, which means ‘wonderful,’ ” Amy says. “When you see something awe inspiring, you’re more likely to share it and be moved to action.”

Photographer and friend Shawn Heinrichs captures Taro filming Amy in the presence of a whale shark and manta ray.

The best part of the experience? “The honor of being so close to such beautiful, magnificent creatures and the imagery we came home with, which makes me remember that this actually happened!” Amy says.

Taro gets a close up of a whale shark.

In order to get the right shots, Amy had to free dive in open water, and hold her breath for up to a minute.

Training for the shoot, which took place over 5 days, including 8 months of daily pranayama, lap swimming in a variety of water conditions, cardio-building bike rides, and practicing keeping her eyes open and smiling underwater!

To get familiar with the terrain (and the creatures!) Amy practiced first with diving gear. Building the endurance to be out in open water and underwater for hours a day were the biggest challenges, she says.

Amy and Taro spent up to 7 hours a day in the water to get the images they wanted, with other time in the boat looking for the best places to dive. “In the span of a 9 hour day out on the water, I remember being wet far more than being dry!” Amy says.

The team spent five days following and photographing the slow-moving whale sharks. “Capturing these images took a lot of patience,” Taro says. “You’ve got the swell, the current, the wind, the light. For every good picture, we took 100 that didn’t work out.”

“I was like a kid in a candyshop,” Amy says of the experience. “It was so exciting for me to jump into the water with these magnificent creatures. The abundance was just overwhelming.”

The pair plans future underwater art projects to continue to raise awareness. “We may not have the tools to make effective change right here, right now,” says Taro. “But hopefully we can catch people’s attention for a moment in this very busy world and start the wheels turning on making a difference.”