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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Zodiac Wildlife Adventure April 18 2011

Our guests from England, Oklahoma, Ottawa and Victoria were given a glimpse into the best that the west coast has to offer on this sunny afternoon in April. The 2pm zodiac with skipper Mark ‘Mallard ‘at the controls headed us due south east to where Transient Orca were reported. The ocean was flat calm, and the sunshine bathed this picturesque coastal region so we could view the Olympic mountains and the Canadian and USA islands. When conditions are right and the sun shines, all is perfect for spotting wildlife. Our keen eyed skipper soon located the marine mammal eating Killer Whales, ‘Orca ‘ off the south end of Hein Bank. This group consisted of 8-9 whales, the T49’s and the T75’s. They were very active and foraging for their main prey item, the Harbour Seal, which is an abundant species in these waters. There appeared to be two very young baby Orca within this group, as they were still quite peach coloured where it should be white patches on their bodies. We watched these stealth hunters, mothers with their babies, churning the water while chasing their prey. It was an awesome encounter and soon we saw the clean up gulls,

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Feb 13

There’s nothing like seeing wild marine mammals in our cold, but nutrient rich waters. Victoria sees an abundance of variety of wildlife when ever the Prince of Whales Zodiacs head out of the harbour, at this time of year. Sunday, was no exception, when Skipper Mark took us west of the harbour to ‘Albert Head ‘ ,where we had reports of inbound Orca. It wasn’t long before our knowledgeable skipper was able to identify who these Killer Whales were. It was apparent that this group consisted of mothers and their young, the family sub group, J17’s, members of our Southern Resident clan, JPod. This group have three youngsters, that were busy chasing fish and generally having a good time together. J 27, and J 34 , two males were seen as well as the J 22 family group. We left them doing what these wild animals like to do best, forage for fish in unpredictable patterns. We headed toward the Chain Islets at Oak Bay Flats, and saw several Harbour Seals, Harlequin Ducks, a pair of Bald Eagles and even a small fishing boat flying an oversized Canadian Flag. Upon our return to the harbour two young Long-tailed Ducks were seen.

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Feb 11

The Prince of Whales 12.30pm Zodiac left the harbour on Friday afternoon with international guests from Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Although it was overcast there was very little wind or chop on the water. Snug in our survival suits, Skipper Mark, headed us south and east to hopefully encounter some Orca. We search diligently and then had a call from one of our friends on shore, who had seen a few black dorsal fins 2 miles south of Victoria, through his spotting scope. This was great news! We found the four Transient Killer Whales, identified as the T30 family group, travelling in from the west. The big male T30A, split from the rest of the group to go forage on his own. The three others soon were seen chasing a Harbour Porpoise, that surface periodically while trying to flee. The churning sea water soon indicated the hapless animal had been dispatched by these apex hunters. The clean up crew of assorted gulls soon flew in to claim their share. We later found the big male Transient Orca foraging with a prey item, a possible Harbour Seal. A quick look for other wildlife led us to Trail Island where,

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Tour Jan 8

A little wind in the air and some chop on the water set the scene for our Prince of Whales Winter Wildlife adventure. Mark, ‘Mallard’, our 12.30pm skipper headed the yellow zodiac out of the harbour and turned east. There were some heavy winds and seas developing out west this afternoon so our knowledgeable skipper took us to the southern tip of San Juan Island, east from Victoria, where at Whale Rock we had great encounters with the large Steller Sea Lions and Cormorants on the algae covered rocks. We had plenty of sunshine in this area and traveled north along the shoreline of this scenic island were we found three large Bald Eagles nests and one adult and one immature eagle high above in the trees. Our trip then took us across Haro Strait where the water was flat calm and several Dall’s Porpoise were seen. They were very illusive, but a female and her little one close beside her, were photographed. The scenery was spectacular. We then visited Chain Islets off Oak Bay, and viewed some Harbour Seals sunning themselves on rocks close to the water’s edge. As we entered the harbour our guests from New Zealand,

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Tour Jan 3

And what an exquisite day to start 2011 off with. Our three hour wildlife adventure took us just south of Victoria. The weather gave us great conditions with flat calm water and plenty of sunshine. It even felt relatively warm simply because there was no wind for a change.! Our skipper ‘Rush’ headed us south of the harbour in search of Orca. A report had just come in to say Orca had been sighted off the westcoast at Sooke much earlier and they were inbound. Great excitement was anticipated by our international visitors, from Hawaii, Germany and Brazil. It wasn’t long before we could see the black dorsal fins rising from the surface in the distance with their misty exhalations, ‘blows’. It seemed there were whales spread right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As far as the eye could see in these ideal conditions, there were whales. They were busy foraging, chasing after Salmon, and changing direction all the time. One never knew where they would pop up. J2, ‘Granny ‘ the oldest female of the Southern Resident clan of fish eating Orca, and J8, ‘Spieden’, were traveling together and churning the water as they porpoised after fish.

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Winter Wildlife Adventure Tour Dec 28

Our experienced and knowledgeable skipper, Mark took the yellow zodiac out of the Victoria Harbour and headed us south west in search of some of the wildlife that can be seen in these rich, cold waters. It wasn’t long before we found several Harbour Porpoise foraging in the currents of the ebb tide. Several bait balls were evident as many gulls congregated around them. Unfortunately it was a grey afternoon and there was a fair size chop on the water in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, so our skipper headed us in shore where we found calmer water. Here we were able to marvel at the scenic and rugged coast line and its variety of vegetation, bird and animal life. There were Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Bufflehead Ducks and other sea birds. A stop over at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve gave us looks at a Bald Eagle, Cormorants on rocks and a host of big blonde Steller Sea Lions. As we headed back into the harbour we observed a Canadian coast guard vessel docking. Our visitors from Russia, Australia, Mexico, South Dakota and Victoria enjoyed their wildlife adventure with Prince of Whales.

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Zodiac Adventure Oct 29 12pm

It was one of those days where the clouds above gave way to some much needed sunshine on the west coast. It was a great day too, to see some of the incredible wildlife found in these waters off Victoria. We had guests from Austria, Holland, Germany, Italy, and Victoria. Our very knowledgeable and keen-eyed Skipper ‘Mark’, headed the yellow Zodiac out of the harbour and almost immediately saw the big, bushy blows of two Humpback Whales in the distance. We motored over and watched a mother and her calf take several breaths at the surface and then saw them take deep dives that lasted 5-10 mins. It was awesome to witness their immense size and noisy blows. South of us and closer to the west, we saw another two ‘teenage’ Humpback whales traveling together. These two were identified by Mark to be 4 year olds that have returned each year to these waters. Their behaviour indicated that they were just traveling rather than foraging. A visit to Race Rocks Ecological Reserve gave us great looks at Elephant and Harbour Seals. Barking California Sea Lions, and growling Steller, were seen jockeying for position on favourite rocks. A cruise along the rugged west coast shoreline showed our guests what a magnificent area of the world we live in.

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Zodiac Wildlife Adventure Oct 3 1pm

With Skipper James at the controls, the 1pm Zodiac this Sunday afternoon decided to go for the long haul and headed east and then north up Haro Strait where reports of Southern Resident Orca were in bound from East Point at Saturna Island. It was a beautifully calm trip with sightings of Dall’s Porpoise along our route. A pretty spinnaker sailboat caught our attention as we passed the picturesque scenery of the Gulf Islands.We were thrilled to find members of J and K Pods traveling the choppy waters of Boundary Pass. They were frolicking together with many tactile behaviours. We were able to identify, J 27 and J 26 as well as K 25, K21 and K 40. One even breached for us. Although we didn’t see the sunshine until once back in the harbour, our trip was full of exciting looks at these magical creatures as well as the Ferry, ‘COHO’ that travels to Port Angeles, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship,moored at the harbour for the last time this season. It was another awesome trip in these rich, cold waters of the west coast .
Marie, Orca-Magic.

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Zodiac Wildlife Adventure Sept 29 3pm

Zodiac Wildlife Adventure

We set off at 3 pm with Radar at the helm on what felt like a perfect summer day! Conditions were perfect for a zodiac adventure and I was long over due. On today’s trip we headed east to Henry Island where members of Lpod were widely spread across Haro Strait. Guests had their breaths taken away by one of the largest males – Mega L41 who’s own breath and dorsal fin cut through the water so perfectly. Breaths were all around us. A bit further into the distance, we caught glimpses of two orca playing; either mother and calf or a calf and another older orca (who I was unable to identify as today I was shooting HD video only and didn’t use my telephoto lens so didn’t catch a decent ID). The two clearly were having a blast, and treated us to a double breach! Spyhops, rolls, silly tail slapping and more fun social behavior. Upon reviewing the video footage, you can clearly see the older orca spitting water over the calfs head. This is the first time I have ever seen such behavior, not that it doesn’t happen but it was my first time and what a treat to see such playful silly behavior between orcas.

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