Adult whale sharks average 32 feet long and 20,000 pounds — the largest noncetacean animals in the world. Fortunately, as filter-feeders, they don’t eat people.

But Kelly McGlothlin of San Diego bravely swam alongside one in July in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and the moment is a highlight of a new video by Eladio Arvelo.

“Kelly [is] a scuba divemaster and fellow San Diego resident that I met during the dive trip,” Arvelo said. “Kelly is 5 feet 10 inches tall, so she provides a good frame of reference for the length of the whale shark that graced us with its company that day.”

Kelly McGlothlin swims with whale shark in Eladio Arvelo video of the Sea of Cortez. Image via
Kelly McGlothlin swims with whale shark in Eladio Arvelo video of the Sea of Cortez. Image via

Arvelo is the Qualcomm engineer whose “Good Morning, San Diego” video, shot with a drone, went viral last spring.

In July, Arvelo took part in a photography/videography workshop by Bluewater Photo aboard the “private luxury yacht” Rocio del Mar to the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez — also known as the Gulf of California.

Some 20 scuba divers, including McGlothlin and Arvelo, spent a week exploring the underwater Eden. All were from the United States, except perhaps one from Germany.

“Voyage to the Sea of Cortez” was shot with a GoPro HERO4 Black Edition camera mounted on a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter with Zenmuse H3-3D 3-axis gimbal, Arvelo says on Vimeo.

Photo taken by Eladio Arvelo's drone shows small boat with him aboard leaving  the Rocio Del Mar on mission to rescue the drone. Photo by Eladio Arvelo
Photo taken by Eladio Arvelo’s drone shows small boat with him aboard leaving the Rocio Del Mar on mission to rescue the drone. Photo by Eladio Arvelo

“All other scenes were shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera with either a 24-70mm wide-angle lens or 15mm fish-eye lens,” he says. “Underwater shots used an Aquatica 5D Mark III housing with a pair of Sola 4000 video lights.”

Background music was “Never Wanna Grow Up” by Katrina Stone.

In an email interview this month, Arvelo also hailed the California Coastal Commission’s recent decision to ban breeding at SeaWorld when it finishes its Blue World expansion of the San Diego park’s killer whale tanks.

“This … reminds me of a satellite image that I saw a while back critiquing the huge surface area of SeaWorld San Diego’s visitor parking lot compared to the surface area of its orca tanks,” Arvelo said.

“After experiencing whale watching in Alaska earlier this year and swimming with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez this summer, I think it’s indisputable that whales, and indeed most animal species, would enjoy a better quality of life living in the wild. Based on that simple observation, increasing the living space of captive animals is certainly an improvement, but eliminating their long-term captivity is definitely better.”

On his July trip, denizens of the deep didn’t stop hearts. But his drone did.

“My aerial videography efforts almost came to an abrupt end on the very first day of the dive trip when I was capturing footage of Rocio Del Mar in motion and suddenly realized that my drone could not fly fast enough to catch up with the ship,” Arvelo says.

But one of the yacht’s skippers took him on an inflatable boat in an effort to rescue the drone, “which was really far away.”

He says they reached the drone’s locale with less than one minute of battery flying time.

“I was very grateful to the crew for saving my drone from drowning!” he says.

Our chat with Arvelo on his video posted two weeks ago:

Times of San Diego: How many hours of footage were shot or processed? Did you edit the video?
Eladio Arvelo: I estimate that I shot between 3 and 4 hours of footage, including underwater footage from a total of 18 dives and aerial footage, too. I edited the video myself and the whole process took around 30 hours of work, including sifting through raw video to select the best scenes, choosing a soundtrack to license, synchronizing scenes to that soundtrack, and post-processing each scene to remove shakiness and correct color (especially in underwater scenes).

Since the final video is almost 5 minutes long, it’s probably fair to say that each minute of the video took roughly 6 hours of editing work!

How much of the video is your footage? Your favorite shot?
The entire video is my footage. I’m really excited that technology has reached the point where an enthusiastic hobbyist like me can capture aerial, surface, and underwater footage on the same trip and put together a video production with a home computer.

Although it was fascinating to see giant jawfish in action as our dive guide used food to entice it out of its hole only to swim back into it in reverse, I have to say that my favorite shots came from the air and underwater while swimming with whale sharks.

This was my first experience with whale sharks and it was simply mesmerizing to have the opportunity to swim eye-to-eye next to such a large animal if only for a few minutes, perhaps seconds, before one would get tired of kicking so hard to keep up with their smooth motion.

Any dangerous or risky moments during the shoot?
Not really. The dive guides on the boat were very knowledgeable about marine wildlife and provided all divers with useful information during their briefs prior to each dive. For instance, they explained the kind of behavior to look for in male sea lions to determine how close we could approach their colonies, and also explained safety guidelines when swimming with whale sharks.

As I learned during the trip, whale sharks are filter feeding fish that feed mainly on plankton, so they are generally considered harmless to humans as long as you avoid colliding with them by intersecting their trajectory.

Are you sharing any commercial rights to video with others who helped make it? Or are other videos being produced from this shoot?
I have not shared any commercial rights to the video, but would be open to license all or part of it in the future, especially since no other videos are being produced from this shoot. So far, all of my video productions on Vimeo have been made for recreational purposes only. I’d like to think that I’ve learned new videography skills with each production though, so perhaps one day it could become a commercial venture.

What are your current or upcoming video projects?
I’m looking for inspiration for my next video project. Practically speaking, the sky is the limit with today’s technology, so it would be great to pursue some epic artistic concept. Hope to find some inspiration soon and share the next production on my Vimeo site whenever it becomes reality.