Whale you needn’t

A few weeks ago, Cobalt and I went whale watching with my classmate, whom we will call Mercury on this blog, in the Monterey Bay, courtesy of Sanctuary Cruises.

It was definitely an adventure. First of all, we were supposed to go watch whales on Saturday but we drove all the way out there and they canceled the trip because it was too windy. We made a quick call to get on the Sunday whale adventure and then then we went to brunch with the Sanctuary Cruises boat captain and naturalist. The food was delicious and we had a really neat conversation.

On Sunday, we tried again. The winds had died down so we headed out to the bay in search of whales. Although the Monterey Bay pretty much always has some sort of whale-related activity going on, we went at sort of an awkward time. The humpbacks that spend their spring, summer, and fall feeding in the bay were on their way south for the winter and the gray whales that pass through the bay in early winter were just starting to arrive. We hoped to see some straggler humpbacks or earlybird gray whales and we were not disappointed (as my picture at the top hints).

Not long after getting into the bay, we saw humpback spouts! They were huge. Humpbacks take a few breaths of air before diving deep into the ocean for about 5 minutes. Then they surface and start the whole process over again. Our whale-watching trip turned into a waiting game. When the whales were up, we took a bunch of pictures, hoping to get shots of the spouts or the tails (like the one at the top). Then the whales would dive and we sat around, letting the waves rock the boat back and forth (note: not a great feeling) until the whales decided to surface again.

Once when we found the whales, they were surrounded by hundreds of long-beaked common dolphins. Seriously, the ocean was suddenly churning with dolphins everywhere. They swam toward us and played around the boat. So fun and such a new version of photography.

Photographing dolphins is one of those “shoot first, look later” types of experiences. Just set up your camera to have a pretty fast shutter speed, make sure it is on continuous shooting mode, and then go. Click click click click click click click click. The more pictures you take, the more likely you had a shot of a dolphin above the water. I think I took at least 1,000 pictures while on the boat (a feat normally reserved for weddings). Something else I struggled with: Do I use the zoom lens zoomed in or not? Zooming in meant that I got a fairly high resolution picture of a dolphin but it also decreased the likelihood of actually having a dolphin swim in the field of view when I took the picture. I kind of did a combination: zoom in… no dolphins… zoom out… ALL THE DOLPHINS…zoom in…

Baby dolphin! :D

Mercury and Cobalt tried other approaches. Cobalt recorded videos, both with our GoPro and with his cell phone, and Mercury had a point and shoot camera and her iPhone. I think they both got some pretty nice shots/videos at the end of the day. Basically I think the lesson here is take a lot of pictures/really long videos with whatever device you have and plan to do some editing later. :)

Taking pictures of humpbacks was a bit easier because there were only two of them and they hung out together. As soon as we saw the spouts, we knew to point our cameras in their direction and take a bunch of pictures in a row with the hope that they would flip their tails at us when they headed back down into the water. At one point, both whales dove together and gave us a beautiful view of the two tails diving in sync and I am pretty sure almost everyone on the boat missed the shot (whyyyyyyy) because we were just recovering after the dolphin extravaganza and hadn’t quite gotten back into humpback mode. There was a collective sigh of amazement/exasperation as the tails disappeared beneath the water together.

All in all it was a fun adventure, though after multiple attempts at taking pictures of humpbacks, drifting aimlessly for 5-10 minutes, then taking more pictures of humpbacks, etc, we all started to get a little seasick. But it was still a rewarding experience and I can’t wait to go out in the spring when maybe we can see some other whales (and maybe orcas?!?!??).

Here are some more fun pictures below:

Hey! How’d this bird get in here?! Though it’s kind of a cool shot… The birds were having a field day with the dolphins. I think they were hoping to get a snack of whatever the dolphins were eating.
The benefit of having a fast shutter speed: even if you miss the dolphin (see the stripes underwater at the bottom right?), you still get cool splash photos.
We saw a lot of sea lions out there too but I liked this picture the best. I just love the sea lion in the water next to the buoy: “Uh guys? Is there room on there for one more?”

One last note about the pictures: if you’re going to go whale watching, don’t spend the whole time behind your camera of choice. Look up every once in a while and really notice how neat these animals are. It’s a pretty cool experience. :)

On the school front: whew. I can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks since I wrote in here. It feels like it’s been a year. This is one intense program. I learned a lot about writing through my classes and my newspaper internship. I also learned a lot about photography at the internship. I even learned how to use Canon DSLRs! I still prefer my Nikon, mainly because my fingers know exactly what to do to change all my settings.

If you’re interested in seeing what I was working on for the past 10 weeks, feel free to check out my writing portfolio. There are a few assignments that are still to come but whew. I did a lot! :)

I know I say this in almost every post but I really miss this blog and I really miss photography when I get too stressed out to go exploring. I’m really going to try to make more time for pictures during the next quarter. I’ll try to post more on here too, maybe with less words when I’m especially stressed.

What have you been up to?

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2 thoughts on “Whale you needn’t

  1. Holy crap. I didn’t think anything in the world could ever make me want to visit CA (we have an ugly history together and I acknowledge an unfair bias there), but this.., this sounds like SO. MUCH. FUN.

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