Category

Natural World

Photos of La Jolla Brown Pelicans

California, Natural World, Pelicans, Wildlife

See our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

Bird photography seems like a rather sendentary pursuit. Compared to photographing tiger sharks or ocean sunfish, there is not much action during a bird photo shoot; what activity there is consists mostly of fooling with the tripod, applying sunscreen and chatting about equipment, travel, the quality of the light and where to get coffee once the birds have flown. Now that I have insulted a large number of photographers out there, let me add that good bird photography is in reality a hideously difficult pursuit. The masters of bird photography are some of the most skilled photographers around, with the patience of Job. Since I dive with seabirds and often have fine opportunities to observe them in and under the water, photography of seabirds in particular holds a certain appeal and I do pursue it from time to time. However, there is really only one bird that I have been able to photograph well, primarily because it is big, slow and I can get close to it: the pelican. Lately I have been testing the sharpness of a new 500mm lens, and since the surf has been flat the last few weeks my focus has had to shift from waves to seabirds (and elephant seals, more on that soon). In particular, I’ve been out shooting California brown pelicans in La Jolla. These birds are magnificient flyers found in a beautiful setting (La Jolla is the jewel of San Diego), have photogenic details, and honestly acquiring good photos of them is quite simple for any halfway experienced wildlife photographer.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15122
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15123
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15124
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

La Jolla, California is a superb location to observe and photograph the California race of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus). The cliffs above the La Jolla caves, also known as Goldfish Point, are currently an established resting place for brown pelicans. In the 80’s and 90’s when I would visit La Jolla for a morning dive or swim but found the water conditions not to my liking, I would instead pay the pelicans a visit and spend time photographing them. In those days I would be the only person watching them, to the point that if I was patient and moved carefully I would eventually find myself among them, surrounded, with great ops using only an 80-200mm lens. In fact, I never encountered another photographer. These days, however, the word is apparently out on this opportunity among the bird lovers, since it is now typical to find groups of serious bird photographers lined up with huge lenses trained on the birds, some of which appear to be workshops or photography classes. Winter is a particularly good time to photograph brown pelicans as the males assume their breeding plumage: a striking dark brown neck to contrast with white and yellow head feathers and deep red-orange throat pouch below the bill. Mornings work well, since the pelicans can be photographed in flight, arriving from their morning flights to land on the rock, as well as resting and preening on the guano-covered knobs of rock at the top of the cliffs.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15125
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15134
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15128
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelicans inhabit coastal areas of North and South America, frequenting lagoons, sand flats, cliffs, marinas, piers and waterfronts. While they were classified as endangered throughout their range in 1970, the Atlantic coast population status was no longer considered endangered by 1985 (although the other regions are still.) Brown pelicans are rarely seen inland. The brown pelican is a large bird, reaching 4 ft. in length, weighs about 9 lbs. and has a wingspan over 7 ft. It is characterized by an enormous bill, longer than its head. Pelicans are superb divers, plummeting into the sea to grasp mouthfuls of small fish, requiring about 4 lbs. of fish each day to thrive. The skin pouch suspended from the lower bill holds as much as 3 gallons of water, and is used to trap and hold prey until the water can be released through the side of the mouth, at which time the bill is tipped up and the prey is swallowed. (The skin pouch also offers a way for the pelican to thermoregulate, in other words, cool itself during hot spells.) It should be noted that scientific studies show that pelicans do not compete with commercial fishing interests, in fact pelicans pursue species of fish not desired by the commercial fishing industry.

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15139
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican.  This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican. This large seabird has a wingspan over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status, due largely to predation in the early 1900s and to decades of poor reproduction caused by DDT poisoning. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with brown neck, yellow and white head and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15140
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15148
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Socially, brown pelicans roost together (male and female) and fly in dramatic single file or V formations, hunting during the day. Brown pelicans often perform an odd behaviour known as a head-throw, in which they crank their large bill up and backward, stretching out the skin pouch and straightening their neck. It looks quite painful. Brown pelicans create low, broad nests in which the females will lay 2-3 eggs each year. (I have not observed nests atop the La Jolla cliffs, probably due to human presence, but have seen many nests in neighboring islands and coastal areas of Baja California just to the south.) In the 1960’s, brown pelican populations dropped precariously due to DDT and other toxic pesticides that reached the pelicans through coastal runoff that was then absorbed through the food chain by plankton and small teleost fishes. The DDT caused pelican eggs to be so thin that the young would not survive. (Other bird species were affected by DDT in the same way.)

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. Long exposure shows motion as a blur. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage with dark brown hindneck and bright red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 15136
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight.  The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status.  In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 15126
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 15131
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

There are many web pages about brown pelicans, but I think the Audobon one is good.

The Kelp Forest :: Part V

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

When the goal is simply to swim in and admire a kelp forest, nothing beats the (relatively) warm clear waters of Southern California’s San Clemente Island in late summer. On a good day the panorama at San Clemente is stunning: kelp in all directions reaching from seafloor to surface, summer sun and canopy shadow constantly changing, fish swimming the avenues of the forest and visible over a 100′ away. One is enveloped — literally — by life as far as one can see, an effect I have experienced only a few times, and fleetingly, elsewhere in the ocean. On a day like this I will spend as much time in the water as possible, staying just below the surface to take advantage of the wonderful quality and variety of sunlight in the canopy, waiting for subjects to photograph against a backdrop of kelp. There are always garibaldi, kelp bass, various wrasses and juvenile fish hidden among kelp fronds to photograph year-round. It is September and October — the magical Indian summer months at Clemente — that are my favorite as they have brought torpedo and bat rays, seals and sea lions, huge schools of salema and mackeral and enormous sea bass though the forest in front of my lens: wonderful animals in a spectacular setting to spite my limited ability to capture them on film.

Garibaldi in kelp forest, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Garibaldi in kelp forest.
Image ID: 01055
Species: Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California bat ray in kelp forest, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California bat ray in kelp forest.
Image ID: 00267
Species: California bat ray, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Jack mackerel and kelp, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Jack mackerel and kelp.
Image ID: 00380
Species: Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp fronds.
Image ID: 03423
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

See more kelp forest photos

The Kelp Forest :: Part IV

California, Natural World, Ocean Sunfish, Stories, Underwater Life, Wildlife

Further to the south, Santa Barbara and Catalina Island kelp forests offer somewhat less profuse animal life but warmer and clearer waters. While I don’t dive these two islands often anymore, I do dive kelp originating from these islands throughout the summer: drift kelp. I was introduced to the notion of seeking out floating paddies of kelp by bluewater photographer Mike Johnson and have been hooked ever since. It is a strange pursuit, driving miles of open ocean in search of drifting kelp in the hope of finding something under it. You see, kelp plants that lose their hold on the reef continue to float and grow, drifting with the winds and currents until they are beached or reach warm water. Along the way they gather a variety of passengers including juvenile fish, Medialuna eggs, barnacles and pelagic nudibranchs. Paddies and their passengers further attract a variety of open ocean life: diving birds, bait fish, yellowtail, tuna and marlin, blue and mako sharks. Perhaps the oddest of these visitors is the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which recruits small fishes at paddies to clean it of parasites — a cleaning station for the largest bony fish in the world, miles from shore in deep oceanic water, circling a scrap of drifting seaweed.

Continued…

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 06308
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean, Prionace glauca, San Diego, California

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean.
Image ID: 01006
Species: Blue shark, Prionace glauca
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, San Diego, California

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp.
Image ID: 00043
Species: Pacific white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp, Medialuna californiensis, San Diego, California

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp.
Image ID: 01933
Species: Halfmoon perch, Medialuna californiensis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part III

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

Central and Northern California kelp forests are bathed by cold, nutrient-laden currents. The waters here are generally not clear but are rich with animal life. Invertebrate displays on the rocks below the kelp forest are some of the most profuse and interesting in the world and it is common to see large schools of rockfish and pelagic jellies hovering among the kelp. Kelp forests here breed some of the world’s hardiest divers, those who manage year-round dry suits, beach entries and surface swims, winter swells and the distinct possibility of meeting great white sharks in murky water just to dive in Macrocystis.

Continued…

Kelp canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp canopy.
Image ID: 06119
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Giant kelpfish in kelp, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Giant kelpfish in kelp.
Image ID: 05141
Species: Giant kelpfish, Heterostichus rostratus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Northern kelp crab crawls amidst kelp blades and stipes, midway in the water column (below the surface, above the ocean bottom) in a giant kelp forest, Pugettia producta, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Nicholas Island

Northern kelp crab crawls amidst kelp blades and stipes, midway in the water column (below the surface, above the ocean bottom) in a giant kelp forest.
Image ID: 10215
Species: Northern kelp crab, Pugettia producta, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Nicholas Island, California, USA

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 04675
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part II

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

It is my spirited opinion, one that I enjoy defending over a beer after a long day on the water, that diving amidst giant kelp is the most magnificent diving in the world. I am fortunate enough to have had some amazing experiences underwater — watching swarms of hammerheads soar overhead, riding the broad back of an accommodating manta, being eyeballed by an inquisitive whale. However, the diving I consider most dear is that found in the splendid kelp forests along the coast and offshore islands of California. Vast beds of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) line the shore, rising from rocky reefs nearly 100ft deep to reach the surface before spreading out to form a thick floating canopy. Underneath this canopy, the sensation of swimming amid the columns of kelp plants is akin to flying through a terrestrial forest. Corridors between kelp stalks lead to wide openings in the forest in which schools of fish hover. Shafts of light filtered by the canopy above fall across kelp to the reef below. When the current shifts and bends the kelp stalks in a new direction the topology of the forest changes, creating new avenues and rooms to explore.

Continued…

Kelp canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp canopy.
Image ID: 02118
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 02409
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp bed. Giant macrocystis kelp is anchored on the ocean floor and grows to reach the ocean surface, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp bed. Giant macrocystis kelp is anchored on the ocean floor and grows to reach the ocean surface.
Image ID: 02502
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Divers and kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Divers and kelp forest.
Image ID: 02988
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Kelp Forest :: Part I

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

My first experience with seaweed was as a kid combing the shores of Newport Beach where I grew up. After storms my brother and I would find clumps of the brown stuff pushed up the beach. We would pick through them to pop the small bubbles attached to the leaves. If the seaweed was fresh and still had its rootball attached, we would break it apart to reveal a mix of tiny animals: brittle stars, baby octopus, urchins, crabs, little shells and worms. The glimpses of marine life that seaweed brought to our shore triggered a childhood curiosity in the ocean and its inhabitants. Yet it was not until I began diving in kelp that I gained a fuller appreciation of the ocean world.

Continued…

Kelp forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp forest.
Image ID: 04651
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Jack mackerel schooling amid kelp forest, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Jack mackerel schooling amid kelp forest.
Image ID: 00256
Species: Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp plants growing toward surface and spreading to form a canopy, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp plants growing toward surface and spreading to form a canopy.
Image ID: 01293
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds and forest, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp fronds and forest.
Image ID: 01497
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html

The Blue Whale, Largest Animal On Earth

Blue Whale, Natural World, Underwater Life

The blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. Depending on which expert is cited, blue whales once attained lengths of 100 to 120 feet (32 meters) and have weighed up to 160 tons (145 metric tonnes). Blue whales are found throughout the worlds oceans. Estimates put their worldwide population at approximately 10% that of prewhaling size, and blue whales are listed as endangered throughout their range. The population of blue whales in the Southern Ocean was hunted especially hard.

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth, Balaenoptera musculus

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this underwater photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth.
Image ID: 03027
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03332
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, adult and juvenile (likely mother and calf), swimming together side by side underwater in the open ocean, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, adult and juvenile (likely mother and calf), swimming together side by side underwater in the open ocean.
Image ID: 01964
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Two blue whales, a mother and her calf, swim through the open ocean in this aerial photograph.  The calf is blowing (spouting, exhaling) with a powerful column of spray.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

Two blue whales, a mother and her calf, swim through the open ocean in this aerial photograph. The calf is blowing (spouting, exhaling) with a powerful column of spray. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth.
Image ID: 02304
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this aerial photograph.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth, Balaenoptera musculus

A huge blue whale swims through the open ocean in this aerial photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on Earth.
Image ID: 02169
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Adult blue whale surfacing,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Adult blue whale surfacing, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03380
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Two of the images above show blue whale pairs likely composed of a mother with calf/subadult. Blue whale calves will accompany their mothers for approximately a year before being weaned. Female blue whales are larger than males, an adaptation enabling a mother to cope with the physical demands of calving and nursing.

A blue whale spouts at sunset.  The blow, or spout, of a blue whale can reach 30 feet into the air.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on earth, Balaenoptera musculus

A blue whale spouts at sunset. The blow, or spout, of a blue whale can reach 30 feet into the air. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to live on earth.
Image ID: 02217
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale surfacing, Isla Coronado del Norte in background,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Blue whale surfacing, Isla Coronado del Norte in background, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03342
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Adult blue whale surfacing,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Adult blue whale surfacing, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03381
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit earth, swims through the open ocean, underwater view, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit earth, swims through the open ocean, underwater view.
Image ID: 01902
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluke, powerful tail that propels the huge whale through the open ocean, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluke, powerful tail that propels the huge whale through the open ocean.
Image ID: 01911
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, blowhole open, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, blowhole open.
Image ID: 02179
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit earth, swims through the open ocean, raising fluke (tail) before making a deep dive, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit earth, swims through the open ocean, raising fluke (tail) before making a deep dive.
Image ID: 02226
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, lifting fluke before diving, Baja California, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, lifting fluke before diving, Baja California.
Image ID: 03043
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluking up before a dive,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluking up before a dive, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03337
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, caudal stem, fluke with median notch, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, caudal stem, fluke with median notch.
Image ID: 02220
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

An enormous blue whale raises its fluke (tail) high out of the water before diving.  Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

An enormous blue whale raises its fluke (tail) high out of the water before diving. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07519
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue whale fluke,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale fluke, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03339
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales can swim fast, with bursts up to 20 knots. Long and streamlined, they are capable of sustaining speeds of 5 to 10 knots while traveling or foraging for food. Enormous muscles in a blue whale´s caudal flanks and peduncle power its wide flukes up and down.

Blue whale, dorsal aspect of caudal stem,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, dorsal aspect of caudal stem, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03330
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, dorsal aspect of caudal stem,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, dorsal aspect of caudal stem, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03340
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale surfacing, dorsal fin,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale surfacing, dorsal fin, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03344
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, exhaling, note splashguard foreward of blowholes, Baja California, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, exhaling, note splashguard foreward of blowholes, Baja California.
Image ID: 03045
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

The splashguard of this approaching blue whale pushes water aside so that it can open its blowholes  (which are just behind the splashguard) to breathe.  Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

The splashguard of this approaching blue whale pushes water aside so that it can open its blowholes (which are just behind the splashguard) to breathe. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07520
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

An enormous blue whale rounds out (hunches up its back) before diving.  Note the distinctive mottled skin pattern and small, falcate dorsal fin. Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

An enormous blue whale rounds out (hunches up its back) before diving. Note the distinctive mottled skin pattern and small, falcate dorsal fin. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07527
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Blue whales are most easily identified by their huge size, tall blows (up to 30 feet high), blue/gray mottled skin color, and typically rounded (falcate) dorsal fin. Skin pigment patterns along the dorsal ridge, near the dorsal fin, are photographed by scientists in order to identify individual whales. The tips of a blue whale’s fluke are rather pointed, and the trailing edge of the fluke is usually smooth and straight with a median notch. Blue whales are closely related to fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), which are also huge, but the body of a blue whale is mottled and lighter in color and its dorsal fin is not as tall and pronounced as that of the fin whale. Also, the right lip and baleen plate of the fin whale is light colored and the underside of its body is white. (Blue and fin whales are thought to occasionally interbreed (Calambokidis)). Seen from a distance, blue whales resting or swimming just below the surface appear to be large sandbars.

An enormous blue whale swims in front of whale watchers on a private yacht.  Only a small portion of the whale, which dwarfs the boat and may be 70 feet or more in length, can be seen. Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

An enormous blue whale swims in front of whale watchers on a private yacht. Only a small portion of the whale, which dwarfs the boat and may be 70 feet or more in length, can be seen. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07541
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

An enormous blue whale is stretched out at the surface, resting, breathing and slowly swimming, during a break between feeding dives. Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

An enormous blue whale is stretched out at the surface, resting, breathing and slowly swimming, during a break between feeding dives. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07534
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

A blue whale blows (spouts) just as it surfaces after spending time at depth in search of food.  Open ocean offshore of San Diego, Balaenoptera musculus

A blue whale blows (spouts) just as it surfaces after spending time at depth in search of food. Open ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 07544
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pelagic red tuna crab, open ocean, Pleuroncodes planipes, San Diego, California

Pelagic red tuna crab, open ocean.
Image ID: 02247
Species: Pelagic red crab, Pleuroncodes planipes
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pelagic red tuna crabs, Coronado Islands, Pleuroncodes planipes, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Pelagic red tuna crabs, Coronado Islands.
Image ID: 02353
Species: Pelagic red crab, Pleuroncodes planipes
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Krill, Baja California (Pacific Ocean), Thysanoessa spinifera

Krill, Baja California (Pacific Ocean).
Image ID: 03117
Species: Krill, Thysanoessa spinifera

What does a huge blue whale eat? Tons (literally) of tiny euphasiid krill, such as Thysanoessa spinifera (center). Blue whales are also known to feed on aggregations of pelagic red crabs Pleuroncodes planipes (left and right).

Blue whale, the large animal ever to live on earth, underwater view in the open ocean, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, the large animal ever to live on earth, underwater view in the open ocean.
Image ID: 05814
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales surfacing,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales surfacing, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03348
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Scientists estimate that the largest blue ever to have lived probably weighed more than 200 tons — 400,000 pounds — and was more massive than an entire herd of thirty African elephants. A truly impressive beast, indeed. Blue whales dwarf even the largest dinosaurs, being nearly twice the size of the largest prehistoric land dweller Brachiosaurus. A small child could crawl through the chambers of a blue whale’s immense heart, or out one of its twin blowholes. Scientific accounts cite individual blue whales nearly 100 feet in length while less reliable whaling records reported giants up to 110 feet long. The largest subspecies of blue whale, intermedia, inhabits Antarctic regions while the slightly smaller musculus is found in northern hemisphere oceans.

Blue whale dorsal flank and remora, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale dorsal flank and remora.
Image ID: 01907
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Dorsal flank showing characteristic mottled skin patterns. This particular blue whale, observed in northern Mexico, also has a few dozen remora probably acquired in warmer waters to the south.

Blue whales: mother/calf pair w/ adult,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales: mother/calf pair w/ adult, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03354
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Four blue whales (including calf) socializing,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Four blue whales (including calf) socializing, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03357
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales: mother/calf pair w/ adult,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales: mother/calf pair w/ adult, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03369
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Do blue whales socialize? Of course! But how they find one another across miles of ocean, what brings them together, and what they do when in one another´s company is still largely a mystery. Researchers around the world are gradually coming to understand the life of this greatest of whales through direct observation, remote sensing with satellite tags, and by eavesdropping on whale vocalizations with sophisticated hydrophones.

Adult blue whale surfacing, rounding out prior to dive,  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Adult blue whale surfacing, rounding out prior to dive, Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03379
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale.
Image ID: 01899
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales: adult pair (upper left), mother/calf pair (lower right),  Baja California (Mexico), Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whales: adult pair (upper left), mother/calf pair (lower right), Baja California (Mexico).
Image ID: 03351
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus

All of the above photographs are of blue whales in the eastern North Pacific stock, a population that ranges from Baja California to at least as north as Oregon. Whales from this stock are often seen migrating north along the Pacific coast in spring and summer, typically stopping near Point Conception or the Farallon Islands to feed on aggregations of krill in August and September. For more information about blue whales, read Blue Whales by John Calambokidis and Gretchen Steiger, Voyageur Press; ISBN: 0896583384.

Keywords: blue whale, photo, underwater, picture, Balaenoptera musculus, aeria