Howard and Michele Hall are considered among the top underwater filmmakers in
the world. They have won seven Emmys and numerous awards in the wildlife film
business. Together they have decades worth of scuba diving, photography, and
film experience between them, all of which they have brought to bear on the
upcoming NOVAMAX large-format film "Island of the Sharks." NOVA asked them to
talk about their work at Costa Rica's legendary Cocos Island.
NOVA: What's it like to see 400 hammerhead sharks swimming around you at
Howard Hall: It's a great feeling. It's interesting to see animals that are so
numerous and so alien at the same time. Ironically, the last emotion you feel
when you see a school of 400 hammerhead sharks is fear. Hammerheads are very
sensitive to noise, so they're wary of divers and very difficult to get close
to. You only worry about getting close enough to get the picture.
NOVA: Do they get used to you after a while?
Howard Hall: Most animals will react to divers in one way or another.
Hammerheads don't. They seem to be in a very inactive mode when they're at the
island. The big schools are moving around, but they're not feeding on anything.
Even though they're constantly moving, they're probably doing what we would
call sleeping. They don't seem to notice you until they stumble across you, and
then they wake up and bolt away.
NOVA: Have you had any surprises while filming at Cocos?
Michele Hall: We discovered a spectacular crustacean called a mantis
shrimp, which nobody who had been out to the island
before us had ever seen before. It's about 12 or 14 inches long and
lives in a burrow. As fish swim overhead it leaps out of the burrow and catches
them with a big sickle-like claw.
Howard Hall: Probably the most spectacular behavior we discovered at the island
is what we call bait-ball activity. What happens is large predators—blacktip sharks, silky sharks, dolphins, tuna or a combination of different
species—herd a group of fish into a very tight ball. The fish start to spin
very rapidly, almost like an underwater whirlwind, each fish trying to get to
the center of the ball so it's not attacked. The predators feed on the ball,
right down to the last fish.
The Undersea Hunter in
Chatham Bay, with ultralight used for aerial photography.
NOVA: Why did you choose Cocos Island to make a film about sharks?
Howard Hall: For a couple of reasons. Cocos probably has the world's highest
concentration of large marine predators, including more sharks per cubic meter
of water than anyplace else on the planet. The island is only 15 square miles
in size, and the nearest land is 300 miles away. So it's very small and very
isolated, and it's the only place in a huge vast area of ocean where large
predators can go and find a reef or a place to hide out or feed. It also
offered a good logistical system. The Undersea Hunter is an excellent
boat capable of handling an IMAX production. So it was a combination of good
logistics and really spectacular marine life.
Howard Hall filming Weston Bay from Isla Manuelita.
NOVA: Why did you choose the IMAX format for this particular film?
Howard Hall: Well, Michele and I have produced six or seven television
specials. Television's wonderful: it's a great way to get out there and show
people what the environment is like. But after doing my first IMAX film, which
was a 3-D film called "Into The Deep," I just found the big screen so much more
exciting and satisfying. It's easy to get hooked on seeing an image you've
captured displayed on a screen that's 80 feet high. Having done that once, it
was hard to go back to seeing my films projected on a 20-inch box.