Whale Photography 101

We live in a world of perpetual documentation. Everyone wants to be the person to record every pivotal moment in their lives (or their food, whatever, we’re not here to judge). This has given rise to the idea that everyone is a photographer.

Among the people that lament this fact the most, are wildlife photographers. Actual, real-life, professional, photographers. The investment they have made in their equipment, training, skill, and time is phenomenal, and yet they regularly witness people with a 3-year-old smart phone, taking a photo through a window, hoping to get National Geographic quality shots.

That’s probably not gonna happen.

One of the reasons we humans find wildlife photography so darn stunning, is because it often captures things that we can’t see with our naked eye. Sometimes this is because us non-wildlife-photographers don’t have the time or patience to wait the hours, days (or sometimes weeks/months!) required to get the shot we desire. More often, it’s because human eyes physically can’t see far enough, or process images fast enough, to see the details that make wildlife photography so compelling. Remember when an Australian photographer caught a sea lion riding a whale?

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Seagoing Deer in Orca Waters

Whale-watchers in local waters have become used to the seals and sea lions, the Orcas and humpbacks that delight visitors.

But on Sunday a Victoria-based Zodiac came across a deer buck off East Sooke Park swimming bravely toward Neah Bay while transient Orcas lurked nearby.

Captain Mark Malleson, with five passengers aboard, knew that he had to do more than watch a deadly drama unfold.

He decided to give the deer, by this time half a mile offshore, “a fighting chance.” He used the Zodiac to turn it back to a place on the rocks where it could get out. It clambered up, exhausted.

Malleson, head Zodiac captain with Prince of Whales, says the encounter was the first of its kind in his 20 years on the job.

He spotted the Orca bull on the hunt offshore first, then the rest of the pod swimming parallel with it close to shore. He recognized them as four T-137 transients.

“I saw what looked like a tree in the water, but it was moving, and moving toward the Orca. Then I realized the branches were antlers.”

And he knew that based on occasional anecdotal reports over the last 40 years experts have suspected that transients have been preying on land-based animals as well as marine ones like seals and sea lions.

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Southern Resident Orca Population at its Lowest in Decades

So, the season is winding down, and people are preparing for their winter migration or hibernation; this is normally the time of year when I would write a summary of the summer’s activities and sightings, as well as a prediction for what next year will look like.

But this year I am forced to write something different.

My main job at Prince of Whales is being a naturalist on the boat. That’s right, I’m one of those obnoxiously enthusiastic people spewing an absurd amount of whale facts in-between cheesy porpoise puns and subtle jokes about dolphins’ reproductive tendency towards promiscuity.

But like I do, once a trip, every trip, I must get serious. We have to talk about not only about the grave challenges facing our most perilously endangered species, the southern resident orca, but what you (YES YOU!) can do to help them.

Nothing emphasizes the jeopardy that resident orca are in more than the death of a young reproductive female and her calf. Unfortunately, we had to realize this exact tragedy last month.

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Summer may be gone, but the whales are not!

When you think about the first of October, you probably think about beautiful fall colours, pumpkins, crisp weather, and Thanksgiving and Halloween just around the corner. You probably don’t think about whale watching.

But that’s a mistake! It’s a common misconception that whale watchers stop operating over the winter because the whales leave the area. We hang up our flotation suits for the winter months because there aren’t as many tourists, not because there aren’t any whales! We are so excited to continue to offer three of our most popular whale watching excursions through the end of October. Ocean Magic II will be departing from Victoria on 3-hour whale watching tours daily at 12:15pm (along with year-round zodiacs on demand). On the Vancouver side of things, we are sending our Ocean Magic vessel on half day (4-5 hour) whale watching tours, as well as Sea Vancouver zodiacs doing 45-minute Vancouver harbour tours!

We continue to guarantee sightings year-round,

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We’ve spotted a fin whale…again!

When a whale plays with kelp, it’s called kelping. When a whale swims like a shark, it’s called sharking. When a whale jumps like a porpoise it’s called porposing. And what do you think it’s called when a whale bobs at the surface like a log?

You guessed it! Logging.

Whale people it seems, are not creative people. So it will come as no surprise that when I revealed the proposed name of our latest exotic visitor to my passengers, I was met with groans and eye roles.

You see, we have been very fortunate these last few weeks to be in the company of the second largest species of animal on the planet . . . the fin whale! Fin whales are uncommon in these waters, and other than last year, haven’t been spotted in the Salish Sea in over 20 years. We were blown away seeing a fin whale again this year!

Since we saw a fin whale…again,

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Weekly Sightings Report June 2-9

June is off to a killer start (pun intended)!

As the unofficial start to our peak season, everyone has high expectations for the beginning of June, and 2016 did not disappoint.

The steady increase of transient orca over the past years has not abated; sightings that used to feel like a rare treat, or an unpredictable bonus, are rapidly becoming a staple in our shoulder seasons. Unsurprisingly, given their name, transient orca are constantly moving, rarely staying in one place for more than a few days, but as their numbers rise, when one family leaves an area, more often than not it seems, another one appears!

In addition to T’s, we have had to joy of hosting the first humpbacks of the season. While a rare and stunning sighting keeps us guessing in the winter months, the humpbacks don’t typically arrive in large numbers until summer is in full swing. This year however they are already making their presence known in the spring, and we’re not complaining. Big Mama,

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“A DAM GOOD IDEA”

Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) Applauds Decision Today to Remove Antiquated Dams Along Klamath River, Restoring Major Salmon Source for Southern Resident Orcas

The Obama administration and California officials announced a landmark agreement today to remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River, bypassing an inactive Congress and beginning the largest river restoration in U.S. history – and rebuilding a major food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association thinks it’s a dam good idea.

The announcement came in a news conference today at the Yurok Reservation in Klamath with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, NOAA Fisheries Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, and Stefan Bird, CEO of Pacific Power, a division of PacifiCorp, owner of the dams. The project, once completed in 2020, will open up an estimated 500 miles of steelhead habitat and about 420 miles for salmon.

“This historic agreement means that the third-largest salmon-producing river system within the Critical Habitat of these endangered orcas is now back in play,” explains Jeff Friedman, U.S. President of PWWA, which represents 36 operators in Washington and British Columbia. “In just a few years we hope to have healthy runs of salmon including Chinook awaiting these whales at a crucial halfway point between the Columbia and Sacramento Rivers.

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2016 Sightings So Far

Ah 2016; off to an exciting, windy, and cold start as always, but we’ve got a spring in our step with spring in our sites.

Winter whale and wildlife watching (in addition to allowing admirable alliteration) is not for the faint of heart. Charging out into the great unknown with a 30-50% chance of finding whales and a much higher percentage of less than ideal weather, is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for those that take the plunge, (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, it gets really wet out there…), the rewards to be reaped are resplendent.

It comes as a surprise to most people that the species of whale seen most often in the winter months is the killer whale! Many locals and travellers alike assume that once the fair-weather vacationers disappear, so do the orcas; but unlike tourists, orcas are actually non-migratory.

It’s no secret that whale sightings are less common in the winter.

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Baby Boooooooom!

It seems cliché to start a post with “WOW,” but sometimes even those of us with a preclusion to prose are left speechless by the circumstances. How do you summarize a year in 600 words? Most of the time you can’t, and you just shouldn’t even try, but 2015 was so spectacular, so uplifting and heart-healing that we need to talk about it.

I’m talking, of course, about the baby boom.

It actually started in December of 2014, when J50 aka Scarlet appeared. She was the first new (surviving) calf since 2012 and everyone was cautiously thrilled. The birth was sensational in more ways than one, as her early life was unusual: she was seen wandering off on her own, it was unclear who her mother was, and she was covered in rake marks (scratches from whale teeth). Researchers eventually put together a hypothesis that she became stuck in the birth canal and her sister (J36/Alki) assisted her mother (J16/Slick) during the birth by pulling her out. This is the first known case of orca midwifery!

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Sightings Report July 19-25

What a week of wild weather! Wind to start, rain the finish, and whales in between.

This week started out with some crazy wind that caused the cancellation of a few afternoon trips, as well as several Harbour Air flights. We soaked a few boatloads of passengers, but no one was worse for wear, just rocking some trendy “sea spray” hair! Later in the week brought much needed rain to the island, which we are thrilled about! And of course we don’t cancel trips due to rain, cause the whales don’t dare; they are already wet!

The residents continued to make regular appearances in some of their favourite spots, and often we had humpbacks nearby enough to make many trips in to multi-species excursions!

This week we also had the unique experience of our Vancouver boat seeing different whales than our Victoria boats. Ocean Magic comes down from Vancouver every day on the Ultimate Day Tour, and several day this week, the J2’s (Granny’s matriline) as well as sub-group of K-pod were spotted hanging out very close to Vancouver. Meanwhile, the two other groups of K-pod were being watched by boats closer to Victoria or the San Juan Islands.

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