HECS wetsuits: Kiwi scaly suit wins over crocodiles
Daring documentary makers got up close and personal with saltwater crocodiles thanks to a special scaly Kiwi stealth suit designed to mimic the apex predators.
A sneak peak of United States wildlife biologist Forrest Galante and cameraman Mark Romanov's stunning footage from upcoming documentary Dancing with Dragons has gone viral after the duo came within centimetres of the giant reptiles in South America.
Galante says the experience was "exciting, tranquil and very beautiful", all at once.
"It wasn't terrifying. We had to be alert at all times, but it is what I do for a living," he says.
The wildlife adventurer is an ambassador for HECS wetsuits, produced by Kiwi company Galvani Limited in Glenfield on Auckland's North Shore.
HECS technology, based on the Faraday cage, blocks the electric signal given off by the human heart and major muscles and allows people to get closer to animals, who use the signal to identify threats.
Galante came up with the idea to be the first person to swim with crocodiles and interact with them in a peaceful way in which both he and the animals were comfortable in March.
He was going to use his camo HECS wetsuit to get up close with the reptiles without spooking them.
But when Galvani founder Warren Bird, who is responsible for weaving the HECS technology into fabric, heard Galante's plans, he offered to build him a crocodile pattern wetsuit, to give him even more of an edge.
In just three months the wetsuit arrived ready for the July filming.
"Whether it actually played a significant part is hard to say, as it is not often done. But I feel it helped a lot.
"It was absolutely fantastic being able to interact with an apex predator.
"I was comfortable and the crocodiles were comfortable. We came inches away from each other," Galante says.
Crocodiles are hierarchical and smaller creatures would take off as larger ones approached.
But at one point six similarly colossal sized crocs surrounded the pair, giving them a chance to interact with a group.
Galante is keeping the location of the filming strictly under wraps so no one tries to copycat the deed and put themself in danger.
"Wild animals deserve and need to be respected," he says.
He also wants to keep the crocodiles safe as if someone puts themselves in a situation where they get attacked the animal could be put down and it would go against the whole reason he and Romanov set out on their mission.
He says crocodiles, like sharks, get a bum rap.
"Twenty years ago sharks got a bad rap and were hunted and endangered."
But once people swam with sharks, eco-tourism took hold and brought better education and conservation.
"Mark and I are at the forefront for bringing the same understanding for crocodiles.
"They are not just noxious killing machines.
Galante and the crocodile suit will feature on the HECS stand next month at this year's DEMA (Diving Equipment & Marketing Association) Expo in Las Vegas with excerpts from the Dancing with Dragons documentary, alongside other big names in the marine world who use the tecnology.
Warren Bird says since he put the technology in wetsuits for the spearfishing market in 2011, it has taken off.
"HECS started off being a spearfishing suit that allowed spearfisherman to get closer to prey.
"Now HECS is becoming a tool or piece of equipment that enables underwater photographers, researchers and scientists to get closer to marine life," he says.
Two major production companies have now picked up the technology for their cameramen.
From next year Los Angeles based Gurney Productions, who make programmes for the Discovery and Animal Planet channels, and British based Silverback Films, who make content for Netflix, Disney, the BBC and David Attenborough, will be using HECS wetsuits.
The Dancing with Dragons documentary is still in the production phase and will be released in 2017.
For more info on the upcoming film follow along at facebook.com/forrestgalante.