Category

Blue Whale

Blue Whale Full Body Photo

Blue Whale, Icons, Underwater Life, Underwater Photography

Blue Whale Full Body Photo

For more, see Blue Whale Photos, Balaenoptera musculus

I made my first underwater photo of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) about 18 years ago, and over the intervening years I have struggled to make a perfect image of an entire blue whale, rostrum to fluke, one with which I am entirely satisfied. This image of an adult blue whale underwater, which I made while out on the water off San Diego with friend and fellow photographer Mike Johnson, is a good example.

Blue whale 80-feet long, full body photograph of an enormous blue whale showing rostrom head to fluke tail, taken at close range with very wide lens, Balaenoptera musculus, San Diego, California

Blue whale 80-feet long, full body photograph of an enormous blue whale showing rostrom head to fluke tail, taken at close range with very wide lens.
Image ID: 27967
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

This photograph illustrates the snake-like proportions of an adult blue whale as well as the curve of the upper lip bone (the largest single bone in the animal kingdom), the thin ridge on top of the rostrum that leads to the splash guard in front of the whale’s blowhole, and the curious skin mottling that characterizes the species. But technically this image has some problems, the sort that drive underwater photographers nuts. I do not exaggerate when I say trying to photograph an 80′ or longer animal underwater in typical California water conditions is a real challenge! The water is often cloudy or hazy, as can be seen in this image by a “glow” or “halo” that surrounds some of the brighter parts of the subject, particularly around the dorsal ridge and caudal area of the whale which are close to the surface and thus reflecting a great deal of light. With film this haloing was at once less objectionable but nearly impossible to deal with in post processing. With today’s digital tools, the computer operator can attempt to suppress the haloing somewhat but at the risk of adding too much artificiality to the image. So my decision is that it remains. Above water our eyes and lenses are accustomed to seeing things clearly in the range of miles. Underwater, our range of vision is crippled tremendously, measured in just feet. This begs the question: How does one photograph a subject whose dimensions are greater than the distance one can even see? For whales, water visibility must be excellent, 60′ or better, or else much of the leviathan is depicted without detail. In this image, note the whitewater at top left: it is the point where the blue whale left the ocean surface and began its underwater glide but, at about 120′ away, it is rendered with no detail at all. The leading 1/3 of the whale is sufficiently near the camera that it is rendered with plenty of detail, but is not so close that it is distorted by the fisheye lens I was using. The open ocean, miles from shore, is normally the best place to find clear and blue water. Recently, though, the ocean off our coast has been a veritable soup of zooplankton. Abundant salps, sea nettles, filamentous and particulate-like critters float about in an explosion of spineless life. This occasional summer phenomenon is very cool to experience, and in the past I have even stopped to photograph these small weightless water-filled wonders. But on the day I shot this photo, such things are effectively obstacles to photographing much grander subjects. The only way to deal with the situation is to shoot as many photos as possible hoping that, upon review later, one is lucky to have some frames in which the jellies do not obscure the whale. Of the 10 frames I shot while the animal passed by me, rolling on its side to look at us with one eye as it did so, this was the only frame that did not have zooplanktons screwing it up. I experimented with using a silver color conversion on this photo to better accentuate the sunlit whale against the dark, bottomless void of ocean below, and I thought this rendition looked pretty appealing. I do not get out on the ocean much anymore. In fact this may be the only photo of a blue whale I take all year! So I consider myself lucky to have seen it and be able to share the experience with you. Thanks for looking, and cheers!

Whale Triple Header: Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Del Mar, California

Blue Whale, Humpback Whale

GREAT WHALE TRIPLEHEADER. What’s that you say? Read on…

This is a photograph of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) performing a peduncle throw (or “tail throw”, or “tail lob”). The man who taught me most of what I know about whales, friend and whale researcher Dr. Dan Salden, often referred to this behavior as a “peduncle throw” and that is the term I prefer to use but whale watching captains will call it all sorts of names. The whale pivots around its long pectoral fins, dips its rostrum (head) down and violently catapults its peduncle and fluke high out the water, throwing a mighty cascade of spray throughout the air. What a sight! I remember my first season working with Dan’s whale research team, seeing this behavior for the first time, and having him explain to me what he thought might be going on underwater that would motivate the whale to do such a thing. In this case the whale was apparently alone and had been doing it for some time. We saw the splashing from over a mile away and drove over to take a closer look. I never did see any other animals in the vicinity of this whale and could not figure out why it was breaching, peduncle throwing and tail slapping.

A humpback whale raises it fluke out of the water, the coast of Del Mar and La Jolla is visible in the distance, Megaptera novaeangliae

A humpback whale raises it fluke out of the water, the coast of Del Mar and La Jolla is visible in the distance.
Image ID: 27142
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

The campus of UCSD is seen high on the bluffs in the distance. When I was in college I would to gaze out the windows of those building during class, staring at the ocean and hang gliders that would fly past. The humpback remained surface active for a while, and later transitioned to fluke slapping and inverted tail lobs:

A humpback whale raises it fluke out of the water, the coast of Del Mar and La Jolla is visible in the distance, Megaptera novaeangliae

A humpback whale raises it fluke out of the water, the coast of Del Mar and La Jolla is visible in the distance.
Image ID: 27130
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Del Mar, California, USA

This humpback was just part of a rare GREAT WHALE TRIPLEHEADER, in which we shot photographs underwater of three different species of great whales: blue whales, humpback whales and fin whales.

It was quite a day to say the least. Here are a few of the non-humpbacks we saw that day. Check out the fin whale, his buddy can be seen in the distance just beyond him, identifiable by the lightly colored lower right side jaw that is characteristic of fin whales. Also check out the bizarre fluke on this blue whale, with the bluffs of Del Mar in the distance.

Fin whale underwater. The fin whale is the second longest and sixth most massive animal ever, reaching lengths of 88 feet, Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale underwater. The fin whale is the second longest and sixth most massive animal ever, reaching lengths of 88 feet.
Image ID: 27597
Species: Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill, La Jolla, California

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill.
Image ID: 27119
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill, La Jolla, California

Blue whale fluking up (raising its tail) before a dive to forage for krill.
Image ID: 27122
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Fin whale underwater. The fin whale is the second longest and sixth most massive animal ever, reaching lengths of 88 feet, Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale underwater. The fin whale is the second longest and sixth most massive animal ever, reaching lengths of 88 feet.
Image ID: 27594
Species: Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus

We finished the day with a great sunset of Mount Soledad on our way back to Mission Bay. One of those “top 10 days”.

Panorama of La Jolla, with Mount Soledad aglow at sunset, viewed from the Pacific Ocean offshore of San Diego

Panorama of La Jolla, with Mount Soledad aglow at sunset, viewed from the Pacific Ocean offshore of San Diego.
Image ID: 27086
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Blue Whale Aerial Photos

Aerial Photography, Blue Whale, California, GeoBlog

Blue whale aerial photos

This blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) was photographed from the air as it surfaced off the coast of Redondo Beach (near Los Angeles, California) to exhale and take a new breath, before diving underwater to feed on krill.

Blue whale, exhaling as it surfaces from a dive, aerial photo.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100' in length and 200 tons in weight, Balaenoptera musculus, Redondo Beach, California

Blue whale, exhaling as it surfaces from a dive, aerial photo. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100′ in length and 200 tons in weight.
Image ID: 25953
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Redondo Beach, California, USA

Blue whale swims at the surface of the ocean in this aerial photograph.  The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100' in length and 200 tons in weight, Balaenoptera musculus, Redondo Beach, California

Blue whale swims at the surface of the ocean in this aerial photograph. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, exceeding 100′ in length and 200 tons in weight.
Image ID: 25952
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Redondo Beach, California, USA

I recorded the GPS position (latitude, longitude) each time I took a photo of a blue whale. Curiously, the blue whales remained in a small area directly over the submarine canyon that lies offshore of Redondo Beach, as seen in the below screen shot from Google Earth. My hunch is that the krill upon which the blue whales were presumably feeding was gathered in, or near, the canyon. You can click the image below to bring up the Google Earth display, showing the images superimposed where they were photographed above the Redondo Beach submarine canyon.

To see more blue whale aerial photos, or stock photos of Balaenoptera musculus, click on the links or use the search box at upper left.

Keywords: blue whale, aerial photo, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue Whale Photo in National Geographic Magazine

Blue Whale

I am very fortunate to have one of my blue whale photos (Balaenoptera musculus) appear in the March 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It is an image of a whale’s dorsal ridge and fluke, taken underwater, in the “Inside Geographic” section near the end of the magazine which describes an upcoming NG television special about blue whales and the researchers who study them. It is related to the excellent article on blue whales appearing earlier in the same issue, written by Kenneth Brower and beautifully photographed by the world’s foremost whale photographer, Flip Nicklin.

Blue whale dorsal ridge and fluke, underwater, National Geographic Magazine, March 2009, copyright Phillip Colla

Blue whale, National Geographic Magazine, March 2009, copyright Phillip Colla

Blue Whale Aerial Photograph

Aerial Photography, Blue Whale, California, Wildlife

I had a chance to go flying with a pilot friend whom I had not seen in a few years, and jumped at the opportunity. Flying in small planes is a lot of fun, and it allows us to see the ocean in ways one cannot from the coast or on a boat. The plan was to fly over the Nine Mile Bank and around the Coronado Islands. We saw hundreds of Risso’s dolphins, and two huge herds of what appeared to be short-beaked common dolphins (it was difficult to be sure from altitude but they were one of the smaller dolphin species). Mola mola (ocean sunfish) were sunning themselves on the surface, we saw about a dozen of them without really even looking very hard. And we found at least four, perhaps five, blue whales above the submarine trench off La Jolla. The only times I have ever truly seen an entire blue whale, clearly and for more than a few moments, is from the air. When observed from a boat, only about 10-20% of a blue whale is visible at a time. When seen underwater, which is quite rare, the entire blue whale may be briefly visible if the water is clear enough but it is nonetheless difficult to truly appreciate the detail and sleek lines that a blue whale has in such a fleeting moment.

Blue whale, swimming through the open ocean, Balaenoptera musculus, La Jolla, California

Blue whale, swimming through the open ocean.
Image ID: 21248
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

I was glad to have a new Nikon D3 with me since we had less than optimal photography weather and the camera has great performance in low light. The skies were mostly cloudy this day, so the lighting on the whales was flat and without contrast. The low light levels also meant I was fighting for enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the whales against the shaking of the camera in my hands as I tried to keep it steady shooting out the small plane. I jacked up the ISO to 1600 and even 2000 for some of the shots, and the results were amazing: the color was intact with plenty of detail in the shadow areas and very little noise. I’ve shot film on these animals before in ideal conditions and even then it was difficult to obtain sharp appealing images. Shooting good images with film on this day would have been impossible, and was difficult even with my Canon bodies (1DsII and 5D). But the Nikon D3 recorded so much detail at high ISO that with the usual raw conversion steps (white balance, curves, levels) I was able to glean some real keepers.

Blue Whale Photo in BBC Wildlife

Aerial Photography, Blue Whale, Wildlife

BBC Wildlife is the finest wildlife magazine in the UK and Europe, and one in which I have enjoyed seeing my images occasionally appear. The November 2006 issue has a nice article about blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), authored by Anna McKibbin, leading with a two-page spread of a shot I took some years ago while flying over the ocean in a small plane.

See also:

blue whale photos, Balaenoptera musculus photos, blue whale aerial photos.