Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whale-watching on the equinox

Yesterday was the vernal equinox. It also happened to be the first time I went out on a whalewatch trip as a naturalist this season. The northbound gray whale migration is now well underway. According to the whale census-takers at Point Vicente there were 19 whales seen yesterday, all of them northbound.

I got an e-mail that there were a number of open spots to be filled by naturalists for several whalewatch trips. So I volunteered to take the afternoon trip as one of two naturalists aboard. As it turned out, we ended up with four. Sherry (the other naturalist) and I walked up and down the decks talking to the passengers about what they might see during the cruise.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and we hoped to see whales out in open waters. Instead, we got a call telling us that three whale calves were spotted in the kelp beds near Rocky Point. So we steered in that direction and soon spotted one whale on our port side. We hove-to just outside the kelp beds and watched as what turned out to be a pair of whales slowly swam in and out of the kelp.


I was so preoccupied with getting a shot of the whale that I didn't even notice until I had downloaded the photo that a harbor seal had surfaced with a fish in its mouth (the seal is the dark gray object closer to the camera than the lighter-grayish, elongated shape of the whale's rostrum).

Then the whale turned around and headed away from shore:


Only to turn around again and head back towards shore:


At this point we realized we were looking at two different whales. We were still dead in the water, engines idling, and it seemed that the whales appeared to be slowly getting closer to us. But then a motor yacht sped through the kelp beds and, I'm sure, spooked the whales.

We moved on to Point Vicente and were told of a fin whale nearby. We saw its blow several times before it dove and then reappeared north of us. In the meantime we were escorted by a small pod of common dolphin, which are always fun to photograph:




It was then time to head back. Overall I'd say it was a decent day of whale-watching.

(Shot with the Nikon D300 using the 18-200mm zoom; shutter-priority, with shutter speeds varying from 1/500 to 1/1250 second; camera chose various apertures at ISO 400; auto white balance; matrix-metered; normal JPG.)


  1. You got some beautiful shots! I envy you living in such a pretty place! I love how blue and luminous the water looks in the top shots.

  2. i add a little black to my photos in lightroom. i look at the histogram and then add enough black to get the curve to almost touch the left side (which represents black pixels). i also used the Burn adjustment brush on the whale itself, because it was overexposed due to being surrounded by the darker water.

    i'm glad the dolphins made an appearance because most people love watching them pace the boat.

    1. Duly noted! I will have to try that myself! The adding black part, not the seeing dolphins part! ;)