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Whale Watching, San Juan Islands, WA

Discussion in 'Birds' started by Retief, Aug 30, 2005.

  1. We had a gorgeous week weather wise last week, right up through Saturday, and then a front decides to show up for our trip on Sunday. I went on both the morning trip, where we got some sun, and the afternoon trip, where we got lot's of rain. You can easily see the difference. Have to do this again next month, for the elusive Spy-Hop, Breach and hopefully a Humpback or two. This was also my first sojourn with the 200-400 AFS-VR, what a sweet lens, wish it were mine.

    Here are a few of mine, the rest can be seen here:

    A Whale?????
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    OK, so it isn't a whale, but it was hand-held with the Nikon 200-400 f4 AFS-VR on a moving boat. And is indicative of the nice sun break we got on the morning trip.

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    I think we all got good shots of this whale fluking. This whale had been "kelping", traveling through the kelp, possibly feeding, and had picked up this piece of kelp along the way. It must have been caught pretty good, as we saw the whale travel quite a distance.

    Gray Whale Fluking
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    This whale has been hanging around not far from the Marina since Father's Day. We must have watched it 6 or 8 times as it circled, blew, and then dove for food. The birds hang around for "leftovers". I'll be adding full sequences of the birds "running away" to the web page.

    Cassin's Aucklet
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    As we were waiting for folks to board for the PM trip, this little guy came floating by. They are not uncommon in the open ocean up here, but it is quite uncommon to see them in a marina. Cute little bugger, eh?

    Strange sea-life
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    Two jet-skiers were near the channel exit past the Marina and had fun jumping the boats wake. Look at the ISO, I was shooting Auto-ISO, and you can see how the light had changed.

    Young Orca rolling
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    Often when the Orca's are born they show signs of jaundice, giving the white patches a yellow/orange cast. This young whale still exhibits some of this. This is about the best I saw that was close in the way of a whale coming out of the water. We saw some breaches, but they were a long way away.

    Bow Wave
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    Pushing lots of water.
  2. Great stuff handheld, btw tried to PM you regarding my findings with the 20-400 but your account wont accept any more PM's until you clean it out.
  3. Hi Bill,

    I really like the whale photos. I assume both are Grey Whales. It seems odd that they did not go farther North for the summer, their usual summer feeding grounds are in the Beiring Sea off Alaska. In the first whale photo, that looks to me more like an anchor line for a fish net or trap than kelp.

    Two times (1992 and 1997) we have gone to Baja California to see them in their winter grounds in the Pacific Bays of Mexico. That is a great trip that I need to write up for "Places to shoot". You are out looking a the Grey Whales in 12 foot long zodiacs right at eye level with them, sometimes only a yard away!
    EDIT: The information on our Baja trips is now up in "Places to Shoot" here

    Bob & Nan
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  4. Baywing


    Feb 22, 2005
    CT USA
    Weather issues are typical of whale watching, so is the nature of the whales. Last Thurs and Fri, there were 12 humpbacks hanging around the east side of Stellwagen bank, about 30 miles out of Plymouth, MA. By Sat am, they had moved some 5+ miles farther east, almost beyond the range of where we can go on a 4 hour trip. As we were travelling out, reports started coming in that they were moving West, towards us. We ended up seeing 7 humpbacks, 3 finners and several minkes. You just never know.
    I really understand about the differences between sunny shots on the water and cloudy shots. Even if the WB is perfect, the sunny shots look so much better.
    I have yet to see either Orcas or Grey whales, they don't get here often, if at all, so I will have to go to them. You have done well with the conditions you had, it's not easy. In fact, if you've never tried to photograph a whale, you don't know how hard it can be!
    I'd be interested in your impressions of the 200-400 for this type of work. I use the 80-200 AFS and find at times, I can't get wide enough, others, I can't get close enough. Changing lenses isn't an option out there, so far, the F5 has filled the hole for the wider angle shots. Also depends on how close the whales get to the boat....
    Good luck with your next trip, hope you get to meet up with some Mns! (Ooops, Mn= humpback)
  5. Hi Bill, must have been lots of fun to watch these huge creatures close up like this. Good captures.
  6. Thanks, Mike, got my "nastygram" from the new Admin bits this morning, so went and did a "late spring cleaning" :wink:

    I am not quite sure why this lens seems easy to handhold, in fact I had the monopod on at the time but due to angles I just picked the whole thing up and pointed. I'll post some test shots in the Lens forum in next couple of days at much lower shutter speeds, quite a nice lens.
  7. The only Grey here is the second photo, although I will add some more to my page, I have a number of "blows" that show the heart-shape nicely. This particular whale has been hanging at this spot since Father's day, no one really knows why, it ought to be getting it's butt up North, but I guess it is happy with the food here. It is sitting in about 30 feet of water, and put on a nice show for both the AM and PM trip. I used to live in SoCal and fished constantly. Was sitting in an 18 foot aluminum boat North of Malibu one day and had a Grey surface just a few feet away. Truely awesome. I'd like to do the trip down in Baja one day, that is an amazing site to see.

  8. Thanks for the comments, and you sure have THIS right. Coupled with the "never-the-same" weather up here, a true challenge. This is the first time I have tried to photograph whales, but it sure won't be the last. The Humpbacks start showing next month, close enough to reach, and I will be out again. Our resident Orca's are here year-round, but after October the weather is too iffy, so they take a couple of months off.

    As to the difficulties involved, let's see, moving boat, roll of the seas, people in the way, moving whales that are mostly underwater, guessing where the heck they will pop up, often a long way away, now whatever would make you call that "difficult" ???? Yeah, I am not totally unhappy with the day, it was superb practice. I'm hoping the next is even better. As with anything, you have to get out enough to start figuring out aspects of behavior.

    The 200-400 was great, I shot with the TC-14E attached most of the time, and only had one or two instances where the whales were too close. I had my 70-200 on the D70 for this, but when they got that close it was "swoosh" and under the boat. A friend of mine was using my Sigma 120-300 f2.8 with great success. I am not sure if I will rent the 200-400 again, or just use my 120-300, which may be an even better range. Oh, so many choices.

    If you ever get out this way, please drop me a line and I'll be sure to set up a trip for Orca's. We have about 90 or so resident whales in 3 pods here, it is rare to not find at least a couple.

    Thanks for the kind comments, now I just have to get out enough to get it figured out.
  9. Thanks, Gordon, it truly is fun. I have been blessed to have done a lot of growing up in Southern California and having been able to be very close to Grey Whales. But I can tell you that no matter how often Isee these animals, their majesty just truly amazes me. As well as the gentle nature and curiosity they exhibit.

    If you ever get the chance, don't pass it by.
  10. Baywing


    Feb 22, 2005
    CT USA
    I don't know if you've had the "pleasure" of the ultimate whale watching frustration yet, the breach. Someone on the boat yells breach, you spin around, see the whale almost all out of the water, your cat-like reflexes already bringing your camera up to your eye, you aim, and push shutter down, holding it there. You chimp, looking to see what you got. Your stomach sinks, you see a big splash and air that used to be filled with whale. Optomistic, you stand poised for the encore.........well, where is it??? Don't they usually breach more than once, you say??? Not today........
    Been there, done that!
    Likewise, if you ever find yourself in Eastern MA, be sure to look me up. I've found Sept to be about the best time for humpbacks around here and you can get some really nice weather, too. (You can also get fog and cr@p, but it usually only lasts a few days before good weather returns!)
  11. Bill, great series of shots. Wished I could have made the trip. It must have been amazing to see these beautiful creatures so close up. It looks like the 200-400VR worked well for you.

  13. I am thinking of going out again in September, I'll keep you informed on the date. Not sure I will rent the 200-400 again, but you never know. It is one sweet lens, and the range is quite nice as well.

  14. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    Great job.
    These are marvelous images. Boy would I love to have seen Shamu in the wild where he belongs..

  15. Thanks, Gale. I always thought that birds would be the toughest thing to shoot, but when you add in the boat movement as well as the fact that the subject is "hidden" so much of the time, as Baywing points out, it ain't easy. I'm hoping to get much better light, and better activity from the whales, on the next trip out. Problem is, just like with those d&$%#d birds, once you start, you can't stop :biggrin: . Like those darned old potato(e) chips, don't you know.......

    As to Shamu in the wild, even when you are on a 65' foot boat the Orca's are impressive when they swim up to and pass under the boat. And then when the hydrophone is down and you can hear them "talking" as well, it really is amazing, and a bit humbling.

  16. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    Did you know tha Whale is actually of a dolphin species :>)))))
  17. Baywing


    Feb 22, 2005
    CT USA
    Actually, the other way around, a dolphin is a member of the toothed whale family. All toothed whales have a single blow hole, while the baleen whales have two. Baleen whales also lack the sonar capabilities of the toothed whales.
  18. Well, actually, Taxonomy of Whales is very well described on this page.

    For those who are either too lazy :wink: , or uninterested, to read, here is the short version.

    There are 2 suborders to the order Cetacea, these are Mysticeti (Baleen Whales) and Odontoceti (Toothed Whales). Orca's, Dophins, Porpoises all belong to suborder Odontoceti. So, when you talk of "species" you are actually a couple of steps further down the taxonomy chain, so while Orca's and dolphin are of the same Order/Suborder, they are most certainly not of the same species.

    Now, of course, just to help confuse matters further, there are a fair number of sources which state that any member of the Cetacean family that is generally longer than 12 feet is a Whale, the shorter ones being either Porpoise or Dolphin. Confusing? You betcha', keeps the riff-raff at bay :smile: .

    Sorry for the long-windedness, but being that this is a fair part of my background, and still an avocation (you have to wonder why I have never gotten around to photographing them before, eh?), just want the record to be completely straight.

    Oh, while on the subject, here is one other tidbit for you. We have Resident and Transient Orca's here in Puget Sound. It used to be that the terms really meant what they say, the Transients were "just passing through", but over time more of them have stayed. What is interesting is that the Transients tend to be more aggressive and feed on Marine Mammals, seals and such, while the Residents are mellow souls who chow-down on Salmon. That is something that I just learned this past weekend, proving once again that even old geezers like me have a thing or three to learn even now :cool: 
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