Night Stalkers Episode Details

Ammonite's Night Stalkers series is being screened worldwide, here is an episode guide:

Night Stalkers: Jaguar Ambush
An expert team of night-filming specialists go into the jungles of Costa Rica on the hunt for Central Americas big cats. Pumas, ocelots and the elusive jaguar all live in the dense tropical forest, but filming them is far from an easy task. Starlight, thermal and infrared cameras are deployed throughout the forest, together with remotely operated cameras suspended above and on the forest floor.

Night Stalkers: Crocodile War
This episode exposes the real nature and behavior of crocodiles, we discover that,
far from being simple killing machines, there's a sophisticated side to these fascinating reptiles.

Night Stalkers: Leopard Battleground
In Yala National Park on the small island of Sri Lanka lives one of the highest leopard populations in the world. Ammonite's unique equipment, follow these secretive solitary creatures in the complete darkness of the Sri Lankan jungle and observes them leading surprisingly social lives.

Night Stalkers: Hyena Gangs

Thousands of wildebeest and zebra migrate through Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve every year, the hyenas team up to hunt them cooperatively. Using specially developed cameras the playful and sensitive nature of this intelligent animal is revealed.


Brilliant Bioluminescence

This is a repost from earlier this year but now we have this Youtube clip from Ammonite's latest film Hunt For The Giant Squid it seems like a good idea to remind you of that magical filming expedition.

We are in Belize filming bioluminescent marine creatures. The bit of Belize where we are doing this is an hour’s bumpy ride on a boat from Dangriga to South Water Caye, an island which measures about the size of a cruise ship. The lodge where we are staying and working is also a marine biology study centre. Professor Jim Morin is working with us and has set up a laboratory there so we can film the work that he is doing with bioluminescent animals.

One especially astonishing creature that he is studying is a bioluminescent Ostracod, an animal the size of a sesame seed which has the capacity to set itself ablaze in blue light in order to attract a girlfriend.

Every night after a full moon an extraordinary spectacle takes place; one night Jim took us to the marine mating grounds where we waited in the boat until sunset, then we slipped into the water and waited for the light show.

The beautiful prelude to ostracod action is the dance of the female marine worms who rise to the water’s surface spraying out their eggs in a mass of green light attracting hundreds of males who rush over to fertilise them, the water fizzes with action, it's like watching hundreds of tiny catherine wheels going off all over the water.

Ten minutes after the worms have got going, the ostracods start swimming upwards, slowly at first, we just see the odd line of vertical lights coming up among the corals and seaweeds, moving gently in the current. Each male ostracod gives off four dots to signal their presence to any females who might be around, then the lights become more and more until the water is pulsating with wavy lines of vertical blue dots all moving upwards.

Just when the water seems already full of light, the horizontal swimmers start, their trails of blue light spots fan out laterally, soon the ocean becomes an intense trippy matrix, it's mesmerising. Finally the lights fade away and we come up out of the water to make our way home, the night sky is indigo and massed with stars, we sit quietly in the boat on the way home because we can’t quite believe what we saw.

If you click on the Facebook button on the right you'll find an album of photos from Belize.


Ammonite Celebrates Squid Delivery

Rob Morgan who worked at Ammonite across the Night Stalkers series and The Hunt For The Giant Squid shares his donuts with Alf the fox.

The Ammonite crew are elated and exhausted, FIVE films have been delivered to National Geographic this year, on Monday our incredible Giant Squid film arrived in its final state on the Nat Geo desk and we can now start celebrating our achievements.

The celebrations are tinged with sadness however, because we are saying farewell to some wonderful people who have worked with us over the last months; Alice Marlow, Rob Morgan and John Ruthven have now gone on to other projects - we have no doubts we'll be seeing more of them at Ammonite in the future

More photos can be found on our Facebook page


Giant Squid In Post

Ammonite's film about the Giant Squid is now in the last stages of post-production and will be delivered to National Geographic in time to be show as part of Expedition Week this autumn.

Check our Facebook page and Twitter feeds for updates and get ready for an updated website later this year.


Ammonite Gets a Double First In Japan

Ammonite has won the Technical Achievement Award at the Japan Wildlife Film Festival TWICE!!

Night of the Lion tied for fist place with City of Ants (the film formally titled Antzilla which won the prize at Missoula for best Scientific Content)

The sound of champagne corks popping continues in Ammonite HQ


Meeting With A Mola Mola

The open ocean is blue and clear. It is vast. Rick Rosenthal has spent most of his life trying to discover its secrets and it was amazing to free dive with him into the abyss. As part of the ‘squid team’ in the Azores Rick was charged with filming sperm whales. They are the ‘witness’ in our story because they, unlike humans, have seen giant squid in their natural habitat. In the Azores about an 1/8th of the sperm whale diet by mass is estimated to be giant squid. In the days of whaling, before 1986, cut up sperm whales revealed their stomach contents and sometimes had giant squid inside. Rick set out to learn what the sperm whales knew.

Every day on the sea is different. As Rick has often told me, 'the sea has a switch and sometimes it is on, and sometimes it is off'. Days, costly days, can be spent finding nothing, 'you have to pay your dues,' says Rick. He did. In just a few days the weather cleared and we had series of amazing encounters.

One evening, about 25 miles out, we were just about to go back. Rick suggested I should use his kayak and go and see what we could find. Mario, Rick’s Azorean teammate, propelled the amazing craft, by a bicycle-like mechanism, which flaps rowing blades below. Soon we were jetting over the sea, a slight swell raising and lowering our vision of a whale as we silently (and most importantly without distress for the animal) came closer. But at over a hundred yards away we saw its tail (the 'fluke’) raise into the air – the sign that the game was up – it had dived and disappeared, perhaps a mile below. It was then that we saw the gigantic fin above the surface. Could it be a shark ? This was probably not the time to remember that the world record for the king of all sharks, a 41.2 foot great white, comes from exactly this spot.

Tentatively I held the camera over the side of the kayak – a good compromise between getting the shot and not getting eaten. Then there were shouts from Rick on the main boat that I didn’t understand at first, 'John, John, it’s a mola mola, get in, get in!' A mola mola or sunfish is an entirely peaceful creature and is found in all the world’s seas. It is a gigantic ocean traveler and often comes to the surface where it rolls around for a while in the sun, I presume. Time slowed down, now I was in the water inches away from one of the largest fishes in the sea, perhaps even the largest bony fish on Earth. This was a beautiful monster, weighing over a ton, quite a bit longer than me, and the world record is about 9 feet. It seemed to blink as its eye swiveled to spot me going past. I blinked back; who wouldn’t at meeting such a giant?

Rick, nearly twenty years my senior and twenty times as fit had dived off the boat and was beside me. He swam for a while by the gentle giant and filmed it as it quietly turned and plummeted into the dark below, to go who knows where?

Now we know we are in the right place, an ocean crossroads where the giants come. And we are paying our dues to see a giant squid.

This film will be showing during Expedition Week on National Geographic Channel in November this year watch it to see what other amazing encounters the crew have in the Azores

John Ruthven producer for the giant squid-hunting film, pictured above in our Azorean production office


Rick Rosenthal Filming For Ammonite

Rick Rosenthal has just gone back to the US, he was with us in the Azores for two weeks and the experience was incredible.

Rick is an oceanographer and a legendary cinematogragrapher. Enthusiasm radiates from him as he talks about the life he has witnessed in the ocean. It is clear that the more he sees the more incredible and mysterious this underwater world is. Ammonite is concerned with filming the natural, uninhibited behaviour of animals and Rick has developed a way of filming that gets closer to marine life than most other people.

Using a motor boat to get far out to sea, Nounou the skipper lets down a microphone on a long underwater cable to listen in to the activity going on all around us, Nounou differentiates between the dolphins and whales and then works out how fast the whales are moving and in which direction. We are looking for large groups of whales including full grown males, these are the ones that will dive deep and swallow massive amounts of whatever is living down there – including quantities of giant squid.

The boat stops a considerable distance from some whales that are close to the ocean’s surface. Rick then lowers an inflatable kayak into the water and paddles over towards the animals, they see the kayak but the approach is quiet and non-threatening and the animal usually stays around, unbothered. When he is very close, if Rick feels that his presence is of no concern, he will get in the water, the animal might choose to swim away but often it simply continues to do whatever it was doing.

The footage from these trips is magical, we’ve seen a lot of whales but we’ve seen plenty of other interesting things too. At one point our producer John Ruthven was scared out of his skin when a large fin sticking out of the water looking remarkably like a large shark came very close to the kayak. On investigation this turned out to be the biggest Mola Mola (ocean sunfish) anybody had ever seen, these are deep sea creatures and comparatively rare. Rick and John got in the water and shot some fantastic footage of the strange animal as it swam around surveying them.

We’ve also discovered quite a lot of debris that has floated up from the depths, the remains of a whale’s dinner that has come to the surface, giving us a tantalising glimpse of what we might find when the Giant Cable is lowered down to 500 metres tonight.


The Guppster: More Modifications

After the first dip in the water we realised that a wooden cradle that could hold the Guppster out of the water would make life a lot easier than trying to get it in and out of the boat.

We also realised that we had made this beast far too strong, it was pulling the boat down when in the water. So we have clipped it's wings, making it lighter and less powerful. The latest test went really well, now all we have to do is sort out the camera electronics.

More pics of the Guppster and crew are on Ammonite Film's Facebook page

Guppster Gets A Tattoo

Luis Roque is an Azorean diver, boatman and an artist, he is working with Ammonite on our giant squid challenge and has given the Guppster a proper ocean-going tattoo.


The Guppster Gets Wet

The Guppster has been through several incarnations, this is MK5 going into the water for the first time we needed to know several things;

would it stay upright?

could it withstand the current?

is the winding mechanism on the boat strong enough to support it?

The only problem we encountered was with the last question, the winding mechanism needed another day in the workshop and the whole system has been modified.

Tomorrow we will try the test again...

Photos of our first week in the Azores have been published on our Facebook page if you want to see more


The Giant Cable Arrives ...

... and then what?

After several nail-biting days when the Giant Cable* appeared to be lost in transit, a lorry turned up and dumped it on our driveway.

The next problem was how to shift it somewhere useful, here's how we managed it.

*The Giant Cable is the lynchpin of our efforts to find the Giant Squid - without it we might as well go home.


Where Are We?

We are in the Atlantic Ocean, on a volcanic pinnacle rising 3000 metres out of the Atlantic Ridge.

Apparently we are a long away, but it doesn't feel so, it's the sort of place that feels very familiar. Here on Faial potatoes, bananas and pineapples thrive,blue hydrangeas bloom abundantly in hedgerows and every sort of weather is a daily occurrence. Strange - but in a good way


Ammonite's Night Shift

This was the scene at 4am last Friday morning at Heathrow airport.

We have now arrived in the Azores, the 500 metre cable that got lost has finally been delivered and we are in the process of adapting our boat, the Maikira.

News Flashes and photos are posted on our Facebook page.


This is the big one

Dual colour camera sees dolphins on a dark night, lit only by their bioluminescent wakes

Now we’re off to find a giant squid. We’ve been planning and building for almost a year, dreaming for a decade. Are we ready?

Gupster 5 has been designed on the basis of the shortcomings of the previous 4. The cameras have been evolving for years, and the new dual colour system has proved it’s worth in Belize and Mexico - to film things no one has ever filmed before. Now we want it to show us things no one has seen before.

The underwater housings have been depth tested, the deep sea cable communicates with the recording computers. Our boat, the Makaira is waiting in the harbour for us to start rigging the cable support system. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.


How Many Filmmakers Fit In A Cupboard?

Last week the Southampton Oceanographic Centre appeared to be trying to enter the record books for the amount of people it could squeeze into one of it's small research labs; apart from all the tanks and microscopes in the cupboard-sized space, there were three camera people and a producer plus Charlotte Marcinko (pictured above) and Martha Valiadi who are working on aspects of bioluminescence in plankton at the Oceanographic Centre.

Charlotte and Martha have been extremely patient and helpful over the last few months while we have been trying to set this shoot up. Cultivating the plankton (Pyrocystis fusiformis)is a skilled feat, these animals are difficult to cultivate in the quantities that we need for filming.

We got the light show and an important sequence in our story of how important bioluminescence is to a marine ecosystem.

We will now make a giant step to the next phase of filming as we head for the Azores in our grand quest to find and film a giant squid.


Ammonite - An Endless Tea Party?

James Wright is a budding cameraman(he's the one holding all the mugs in the photo); he offered his services to Ammonite for a few weeks in order to get some relevant work experience before setting off on an awfully big adventure. Before he leaves us at the end of this week, we thought we'd find out what he thinks are the worst things about working at Ammonite.

1 Making endless teas and coffees everyone wants something different.
2 Soldering after a few hours you’ll have a headache and hand cramp.
3 The walk to the post office
4 The commute in to Ammonite from Bath it can sometimes take an hour and a half.
5 Being on the outskirts of the action knowing you are involved but wishing you could be more so.

'Despite all of the above, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve been asked to do in the last 3 weeks and I wish the crew every bit of luck in the Azores.'

(Good luck to you too James, happy travels - ed.)


Why Are We So Interested In Bioluminescence?

When Martin Dohrn first observed Bioluminescence he knew that he wanted to record and explore this amazing natural phenomenon. Thus began the story of Ammonite's incredible Starlight Cameras.

Early results were impressive but commissioners were far more interested in capturing the night life of land animals - until last year Ammonite's low-light camera stayed in the dry.

Last year National Geographic Channel laid down the challenge for us to find the Giant Squid, it was the opportunity we have been waiting for and we leapt at it.

To date, most of the deep sea exploration has been made using trawlers dragging nets or using noisy ROV's these haven't really yielded great results.

We knew that Ammonite's cameras could be the secret weapon in this search for the animal that has eluded all other expeditions. There have been so many difficulties; we have had to work out how to overcome the logistical problems of getting our camera deep enough into the ocean, how to keep it steady in the water and we needed to understand where and how to look for the giant squid. We have had enormous help from many scientists who have already spent their working lifetime trying to enrich our knowledge of life in the ocean, one of these scientific giants is Edie Widder, her TED talk is a great introduction to the wonders of bioluminescence and gives some idea of what we are trying to build on:


The Giant Cable

The cable we took to Mexico last month was a baby compared to the one going to the Azores, this super-hi-tech beast weighs more than a pair of beefy men.

In order for this monster to travel safely Florian Bailhache made a special box on a pallet. The Giant Cable started it's journey to the Azores today where we will be lowering it into the deep ocean to help us look for the Giant Squid


Lynch For Lunch

We have nearly finished another two films in our 'Nightstalkers' series.

John Lynch has arrived to record the narration, he whizzed in from London in time for lunch at Ammonite HQ - he is the one wearing a hat. Sitting next to John is Charlie who is spending the week doing work experience with us and Nisha who has joined us as an intern as part of her MA at Imperial College London.

That chap in the white t-shirt is Will, one of our digital maestros. The man behind Will (the one with eyebrows impressive enough to compete with John's) is Robbie, our editor on the bioluminescent film


From Oceans to Droplets

The crew arrived back from Mexico, exhausted and thrilled by the sight of dolphin pods 'lit up like fireworks as they surfed through the bioluminescent ocean'.

We are now preparing to go to the other extreme, the mighty Sinclair Stammers is in our workshop putting together a combination of macro kit and the ammonite red/blue camera system to see if we can work out an effective way to film bioluminescent dinoflagellates in a south coast university next month.


Is No News Good News?

Our Mexican shoot was a difficult one to get off, lots of last-minute engineering and wrestling with cables. Packing took a whole week went on until four hours before setting off to the airport.

There will always be issues with US customs, in Detroit the crew had several hours interrogation resulting in missing the onward connection. Just to make sure we weren't hiding Bin Laden (or his body) the big cable was all pulled out and the cable ties cut so an untidy mass greeted the crew in Mexico, on top of the delayed flight we had to take a day to test the cable and make sure nothing had been damaged.

The crew are now happy settled in Cap'n Ron's boat, filming in the Sea of Cortez. Now they're afloat we have no communications available so we'll have to wait until the crew return before we can post any more about this one.

We have heard that the visibility hasn't been great, reports of dolphins swimming through the luminescent water sound amazing. There should be Humboldt Squid and Lantern Fish which we are hoping we can film using the new equipment.


Meet The Guppster

This is the mechanism that we are using in the ocean to carry our cameras as steadily as possible while we try and film underwater at depth. Many prototypes have been made and tested. You might remember this post when John Ruthven made a model from a children's construction kit. Since then there has been a half-sized aluminium version which we tested in Belize and now we have our full size steel Guppycam or 'The Guppster' as it has become affectionately known.

The Guppster will be tried out in Mexico over the next few days where we hope to find some Lantern fish and then we hope any final modifications will be made to enable it to be used in the Atlantic over the summer.


Weight Loss

A single piece of baggage, airline weight restriction = 30kg.

A specially commissioned cable full of fibre optics has just arrived.

On it's wooden spool it weighs 38kg.

John has been trying to lose some weight.


Caught Catnapping

The man who wins this weeks prize for Most-All-Round-Brilliant-Person currently working at Ammonite is Howard Bourne who discovered this snoozing puma yesterday afternoon while trying out one of his latest camera-on-a-dolly combinations


The Dome Has Landed

Excuse us swerving away from Costa Rica so suddenly but we are very excited about the latest arrival in our workshop.

This is a device that will help us find bioluminescent marine animals. It doesn't look very dom-ey but the dome at the end of this glass housing is so highly polished it has become vitually invisible. This item has been specially made for us and will contain a camera and withstand being put deep down into the ocean.


More Pumas

Great news from the field in Costa Rica - the cable is now working really well and among the fantastic material that we are getting from our night cameras is more from the puma. We'll try to get more stills to show you soon.


Traps and Remotes

Luckily, we have a plethora of cameras at our disposal, so while the repair work is being done on the cable dolly we are busy with trap cameras and remote-controlled cameras as well as using the starlight and thermal cameras in a more conventional way.

The trap cameras have given us some great results, and we've seen a huge variety of animals,agoutis are particularly star-struck and spend a lot of time in front of the cameras but the puma pictured here likes to strut her stuff in front of the lens too.


Everything Was Going So Well ...

... then disaster struck.

After two nights of everything working smoothly, night cameras gliding above the forest on the cables, maybe we relaxed a little.

At 4am this morning the night crew came back to base needing help to rescue the starlight camera, the electronics had ceased working and the whole camera/dolly caboodle were stuck in a tree at the far end of the cable. We had to get to it and turn it off before dawn or the intensifiers would be damaged.

The turning off was achieved but untangling the mess of wires and machinery was a whole other business involving 6 hours. The pieces have been brought back for fixing and a post-mortem.


Drying Out

Temperatures are climbing, the forest is drying out and the leaves are falling from the trees giving us a clear view down to the forest floor. Finally we have got the camera operating on the cable dolly

Here is Jim Campbell-Spickler, a rope and climbing specialist from California, checking our cables before the launch.

Howard Finds Fans

Our electronics problems have been partially due to overheating. Today, the amazing Howard Bourne* cannibalised some redundant computers that he found in the Santa Rosa National Park Offices (they really didn't need them any more did they? - ed) and re-installing the ex-computer fans in the camera casing.

*Howard is powered by pineapple, he ate his way through 10 while solving the fan problem