Friday, June 24, 2011

Whale tales...err...tails

Last Tuesday I took two friends of ours from the UK for a whalewatch cruise aboard the catamaran Condor Express (located in Santa Barbara, CA). They had already been on the speedy boat last September when they last visited California and enjoyed it tremendously.

The seas off Santa Barbara have been flat and calm for some time this month; the skies had been sunny. While the seas remained calm on the day of our cruise, the skies went overcast during the night and on into the morning, as they usually do in southern California at this time of year. This makes for very flat lighting and little contrast between the sky, sea, and whales.

Within 45 minutes of leaving the harbor we were intercepted by hundreds of common dolphin:

Long-beaked common dolphin
Short-beaked common dolphin

Our first whale sightings occurred near the Painted Cave of Santa Cruz island:


followed by a sighting of a blue whale cow/calf pair:


Then, a humpback cow/calf pair showed up:

We trailed this pair for some minutes, but when they vanished we sailed west to the channel between Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands. Soon we were seeing blows and tail flukes from a number of whales to the west. Eventually we could see blows and flukes at all points of the compass -- we couldn't decide which whales to watch:

After an amazing two hours or so of watching these whales it was time to head back to Santa Barbara. We certainly got our money's worth.

As far as my camera settings go, I decided I wanted a shutter speed fast enough to prevent blurring because I was standing on the observation deck behind the wheelhouse (I eventually settled on 1/1250 sec.). I also added +0.7 exposure compensation because the whales were going to be too dark in such flat lighting. And I also switched my white balance to "cloudy" because with the overcast the pictures stood a good chance of being bluish. Even then, when I started post-processing these pictures in Lightroom I added more black to stretch out the histogram.


  1. Isn't it just the most amazing experience:) I've been whale watching once and we were lucky enough to see a few as it wasn't the best time of year for them to be around. My photos weren't as good as yours though:) The dolphins are wonderful too. You post brought back memories for me!

  2. What an awesome experience! I've never been lucky enough to go whale watching, but I think it would be so much fun!