Açoriano Oriental
Documentary unveils whale shark visits to Santa Maria

Documentary “A Ilha dos Gigantes” (The Island of Giants) describes the visits of groups of whale sharks to the island of Santa Maria and reports some of the scientific discoveries made during this period

Autor: Ana Carvalho Melo

In this documentary, underwater cameraman Nuno Sá and researcher Jorge Fontes joined efforts to unravel one of the greatest secrets about the marine life of the Atlantic Ocean.
Filmed over an 11 year-period, the documentary accompanies scientific expeditions and fishermen in order to uncover the reason why a large number of whale sharks visit the island of Santa Maria surrounded by thousands of tuna, as well as how their presence affects the island's entire social and economic fabric.

“Fishermen talked about the "pintado" and knew that, when they saw a very large dark spot with dots on the back, they could catch a large amount of tuna. And even though I suspected they were whale sharks, that day, when I entered the water, a whale shark stopped three feet from me, surrounded by thousands of tunas. This was a boost in my decision to become a full-time underwater photographer”, said Nuno Sá.

In the meantime, the photographer met the investigator and from there came a relationship that culminated in this documentary.

“It was only natural to combine our research work with Nuno Sá's artistic work”, says Okeanos researcher Jorge Fontes, recalling: “On my first expedition to Santa Maria I was alone and still not quite sure what I was going to find. Nuno was also on his own, and we ended up getting together”.

There and then they decided to unravel the secrets of the largest fish in the world. The path was full of setbacks, which are reported throughout the documentary, but it also allowed them to find out more about these creatures.

“We realized that each whale shark carries a tuna escort and that, when it encounters shoals of small fish, the tuna come out from underneath it and surround them. Then, when the fish ball is trapped near the surface, the whale shark feeds in it”, said Nuno Sá.

Researcher Jorge Fontes points out that "the documentary is the most visible part, to the general public, of this research", stating that there are already some scientific publications on these visits, due to the great team with which he worked on this project.

"I'm just giving voice to this team, composed of many people with different skills who contributed to this work," he said.

Jorge Fontes also highlighted the importance of making the research carried out in the Region known to the general public.

“Our priority is research, understanding how ecosystems and this iconic species work, but of course there is another very important part of our work: its dissemination, so that the public understands the importance of what we do and the wealth of our seas”, he said.

Nuno Sá and Jorge Fontes also highlighted the important contribution of the entire population of Santa Maria, stressing that the presence of whale sharks "moves the entire social and economic fabric of the island".

"This documentary is dedicated to tuna fishermen on the island of Santa Maria. We were cherished by the entire population of the island and it was thanks to their help, who called us every day when they were at sea and saw whale sharks, that we managed to carry out this project,” they revealed.

"A Ilha dos Gigantes", directed by Nuno Sá, was produced by Atlantic Ridge Productions in partnership with Blue Azores for RTP1.

The documentary is already a success, having been presented at Cinema São Jorge in Lisbon and in Santa Maria, as well as at RTP1 and RTP Açores. Now the goal is to distribute it internationally in order to make this Atlantic secret known to more people. Next year it will be available on Netflix.

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