Tag

Whales

Humpback Whale Underwater Bubble Streaming Among Rowdy Groups in Hawaii

Hawaii, Humpback Whale

During the years I worked for Dan Salden and Hawaii Whale Research Foundation studying humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hawaii, we usually looked for surface active groups (“rowdy groups“) when possible, since these groups offered the greatest potential for collecting the social affiliation information that was the focus of Dan’s decades of research on humpback whales. Bubble blasts and bubble streaming were often a part of the rowdy group’s activities, by one or several whales. We would spend time photographing as many fluke IDs as we could, to identify which whales were in the group, as well as noting those animals that would depart or join during the time we were observing them. Eventually, if conditions were right, we would enter the water to observe them below the surface. The goal at this point was to determine the roles that the individual whales had: primary escort, challenging escorts, focal female, peripheral individuals, etc. Often these roles are clear from topside views, but not always, so getting in the water is important. Gradually, over years of observation, we accumulated a lot of interesting, unique video of active groups, including the bubble streaming that would occur in these groups. I had opportunities to shoot still photographs of the bubble streaming too. Below are some of my favorite images of humpback whales from my time in Hawaii. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a mother and calf.  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby male whales interested in the mother, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater near mother and calf. The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a mother and calf. The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby male whales interested in the mother.
Image ID: 05928
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a female (left) during a competitive group.  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other male whales interested in the mother, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.
Image ID: 02828
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Primary escort male humpback whale bubble streaming during competitive group socializing.  This primary escort is swimming behind a female. The bubble curtain may be a form of intimidation towards other male escorts that are interested in the female, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Primary escort male humpback whale bubble streaming during competitive group socializing. This primary escort is swimming behind a female.
Image ID: 04432
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a mother and calf (barely seen in the distance), Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater. The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a mother and calf (barely seen in the distance).
Image ID: 04434
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a female during competitive group activities.  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby male whales interested in the female, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater. The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a female during competitive group activities.
Image ID: 04444
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a mother and calf.  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby male whales interested in the mother, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.
Image ID: 05925
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Male North Pacific humpback whale streams a trail of bubbles.  The primary male escort whale (center) creates a curtain of bubbles underwater as it swims behind a female (right), with other challenging males trailing behind in a competitive group.  The bubbles may be a form of intimidation from the primary escort towards the challenging escorts, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Male North Pacific humpback whale streams a trail of bubbles. The primary male escort whale (center) creates a curtain of bubbles underwater as it swims behind a female (right), with other challenging males trailing behind in a competitive group.
Image ID: 05968
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Adult male north Pacific humpback whale bubble streaming underwater in the midst of a competitive group.   The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims closely behind a female, .  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby males interested in the female, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male north Pacific humpback whale bubble streaming underwater in the midst of a competitive group. The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims closely behind a female.
Image ID: 06001
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Adult male north Pacific humpback whale bubble streaming underwater in the midst of a competitive group.   The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims closely behind a female, .  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other nearby males interested in the female, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male north Pacific humpback whale bubble streaming underwater in the midst of a competitive group.
Image ID: 06037
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.  The male escort humpback whale seen here is emitting a curtain of bubbles as it swims behind a female (left) during a competitive group.  The bubble curtain may be meant as warning or visual obstruction to other male whales interested in the mother, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Adult male humpback whale bubble streaming underwater.
Image ID: 02826
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae

NOTE: These photographs were taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under NOAA/NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.

Seven of my Favorite Images #challengeonnaturephotography

Alaska, Antarctica, Bald Eagle, California, Fiji, Hawaii, Mexico, Ocean Sunfish, Penguin, Surf, Underwater Photography

In December a Facebook “challenge” was making the rounds named #challengeonnaturephotography. One of my favorite underwater photographers, Allison Vitsky Sallmon, nominated me to give it a try, and these are the seven images I plucked from my files to share. Each bears a special place in my personal history of travel, diving and photography, even if they don’t cut any new ground photographically. If you want to connect you can find me on Facebook and Instagram. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish recruiting fish near drift kelp to clean parasites, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 03267
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf, The Wedge, Newport Beach, California

Sunrise breaking wave, dawn surf.
Image ID: 27978
Location: The Wedge, Newport Beach, California, USA

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias, Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago

Dendronephthya soft corals and schooling Anthias fishes, feeding on plankton in strong ocean currents over a pristine coral reef. Fiji is known as the soft coral capitlal of the world.
Image ID: 31378
Species: Dendronephthya Soft Coral, Anthias, Dendronephthya, Pseudanthias
Location: Gau Island, Lomaiviti Archipelago, Fiji

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle spreads its wings to land amid a large group of bald eagles.
Image ID: 22669
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer.
Image ID: 25015
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place, Eschrichtius robustus, San Clemente

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place.
Image ID: 29029
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Humpback whale (male) singing, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale (male) singing.
Image ID: 02813
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Paradise in February: San Diego

San Diego

President’s Weekend was nice here. The rest of the country is freezing, yup that’s pretty bad. Southern California is in the midst of a bad drought and our Sierra Nevada is missing its usual snowpack which is going to hurt in the coming months, but at least the warm winter makes for clear skies and very nice temps. Here are a couple photos from President’s Day’s weekend, all depicting a few of my favorite scenes and all including the Pacific Ocean which was flat calm and glassy much of the time. Cheers and thanks for looking.

Broken Hill and view to La Jolla, panoramic photograph, from Torrey Pines State Reserve, sunrise, San Diego, California

Broken Hill and view to La Jolla, panoramic photograph, from Torrey Pines State Reserve, sunrise
Image ID: 30469
Location: Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, California, USA

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja, Eschrichtius robustus, San Diego, California

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja.
Image ID: 30463
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja, Eschrichtius robustus, San Diego, California

Gray whale raising fluke before diving, on southern migration to calving lagoons in Baja.
Image ID: 30464
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Diego, California, USA

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy. Note the winter mating plumage, olive and red throat, yellow head, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy. Note the winter mating plumage, olive and red throat, yellow head.
Image ID: 30449
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Surf and spray during Santa Ana offshore winds, San Diego, California

Surf and spray during Santa Ana offshore winds
Image ID: 30461
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Killer Whales (Orca) attacking California Sea Lion

Marine Life, Sea Lion

I saw Wild Kingdom in action yesterday: killer whales preying upon California sea lions. Classified as Biggs transient orcas, these individuals are well known (CA51) for terrorizing other marine mammals along the Southern California coast. “Biggs transients” are one of four distinct populations (some insist they are species) of killer whales, characterized by predating upon marine mammals and occasionally sea birds as opposed to ground fish or salmon as do other coastal orcas. Coming upon the five killer whales as they finished toying with and consuming one predation (likely a sea lion), we watched them proceed to take at least two more sea lions over the next hour. In each of the following photos there is a sea lion although in some it is hard to find. The first image depicts the first hit that one of the adult orcas put upon the sea lion. I knew it was coming but still nearly did not get the lens on the sea lion in time. Several other hits took place and the sea lion was clearly panicky and stunned. In the third image, one of the females passes by the sea lion but what is not obvious is that there are two other orcas just below and in front of the sea lion, the pinniped is literally surrounded. There were two subadult orca in the group and it may have been a case of the adults allowing the subadults to learn how to hunt; in practical terms the pack was toying with its doomed prey. In the fifth photo you can see how close to shore this took place. In the final three images, the sea lion is 1) barely able to avoid being pushed under by one of the females, 2) hammered sideways by one of the adults, and 3) gasps for breath before being finally pulled under for the last time and consumed. I don’t photograph killer whales often, but have photographed other whale species including humpback whales and blue whales and some dolphins: Cetacean Photos. For my diving buddies who might be wondering: this was purely a topside trip. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30428
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30429
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30427
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30430
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30431
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30432
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30433
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30425
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

Killer whale attacking sea lion.  Biggs transient orca and California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus, Palos Verdes

Killer whale attacking sea lion. Biggs transient orca and California sea lion.
Image ID: 30426
Species: Killer whale, California sea lion, Orcinus orca, Zalophus californianus
Location: Palos Verdes, California, USA

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!

Whales at the Coronado Islands, Mexico

Islas Coronado, Mexico, Underwater Life

Whales visit the Coronado Islands in Mexico throughout the year. During winter months, gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) pass by the islands, first southbound and a few months later traveling north, during their annual migration between Baja California and the Bering Sea. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) may be found at the Coronados year-round but spring and summer months are the best times to see them in the islands, especially if there is the presence of krill which does occur from time to time. All of the photos below were taken at the Coronado Islands.

Fin whale dorsal fin.  The fin whale is named for its tall, falcate dorsal fin.  Mariners often refer to them as finback whales.  Coronado Islands, Mexico (northern Baja California, near San Diego), Balaenoptera physalus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Fin whale dorsal fin. The fin whale is named for its tall, falcate dorsal fin. Mariners often refer to them as finback whales. Coronado Islands, Mexico (northern Baja California, near San Diego).
Image ID: 12769
Species: Fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

A blue whale blows (exhales, spouts) as it rests at the surface between dives.  A blue whales blow can reach 30 feet in the air and can be heard for miles.  The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds.  North Coronado Island is in the background, Balaenoptera musculus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

A blue whale blows (exhales, spouts) as it rests at the surface between dives. A blue whales blow can reach 30 feet in the air and can be heard for miles. The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds. North Coronado Island is in the background.
Image ID: 09497
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

A blue whale raises its fluke before diving in search of food.  The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds.  North Coronado Island is in the background, Balaenoptera musculus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

A blue whale raises its fluke before diving in search of food. The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds. North Coronado Island is in the background.
Image ID: 09484
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration.  The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California, Eschrichtius robustus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration. The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California.
Image ID: 29049
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Blue whale rounding out at surface, North Coronado island in background, Balaenoptera musculus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Blue whale rounding out at surface, North Coronado island in background.
Image ID: 02224
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

A blue whale blows (exhales, spouts) as it rests at the surface between dives.  A blue whales blow can reach 30 feet in the air and can be heard for miles.  The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds.  South Coronado Island is in the background, Balaenoptera musculus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

A blue whale blows (exhales, spouts) as it rests at the surface between dives. A blue whales blow can reach 30 feet in the air and can be heard for miles. The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, reaching 80 feet in length and weighing as much as 300,000 pounds. South Coronado Island is in the background.
Image ID: 09498
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Gray Whale Aerial Photos, Eschrichtius robustus, California

Aerial Photography

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate from the Bering Sea in Alaska down the west coast of the United States to the “calving lagoons” of Baja California. (A small number of grays whales also live in the extreme western Pacific.) This migration is considered the longest of any mammal. Calves are typically, but not always, born in or very near the Baja California lagoons but are sometimes born north of there, during the southern migration. I have encountered one gray whale mother and newborn gray whale calf well to the north, in the cold gray waters of Big Sur, about 20 years ago. I recently had another special opportunity to photograph gray whales during their southern migration, this time from the air. Southern California had experienced a high pressure weather system that cleared out the air and laid the seas down flat. The best time to fly in such conditions is in the last days of the high pressure, before it breaks. We had clear skies, flat oceans, great visibility, and did see a few whales. These photos are tagged with their exact GPS locations (sometimes I get requests for info from cetacean researchers). Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place, Eschrichtius robustus, San Clemente

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place.
Image ID: 29001
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Gray whale blowing at the ocean surface, exhaling and breathing as it prepares to dive underwater, Eschrichtius robustus, Encinitas, California

Gray whale blowing at the ocean surface, exhaling and breathing as it prepares to dive underwater.
Image ID: 29045
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Encinitas, California, USA

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place, Eschrichtius robustus, San Clemente

Aerial photo of gray whale calf and mother. This baby gray whale was born during the southern migration, far to the north of the Mexican lagoons of Baja California where most gray whale births take place.
Image ID: 29031
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: San Clemente, California, USA

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration.  The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California, Eschrichtius robustus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Gray whales traveling south to Mexico during their winter migration. The annual migration of the California gray whale is the longest known migration of any mammal, 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to Baja California.
Image ID: 29048
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Gray whale diving below the ocean surface, leaving a footprint in its wake.  Aerial photo, Eschrichtius robustus, Encinitas, California

Gray whale diving below the ocean surface, leaving a footprint in its wake. Aerial photo.
Image ID: 29037
Species: Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus
Location: Encinitas, California, USA

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

Humpback Whale Breaching Near San Diego

Humpback Whale

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are found throughout the worlds oceans, but seeing them near San Diego is somewhat unusual. Conventional wisdom has it that humpback whales in California are most often seen in the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara, as well as the central coast near Monterey Bay. However, if you put in enough time on the ocean anywhere in California, you will eventually see a humpback whale. Friend and fellow photographer Mike Johnson and I had a rare treat recently: a young humpback whale that was surface active for about an hour. It breached repeatedly, including performing head slaps, one peduncle throw, quite a bit of pectoral fin slapping and occasional trumpeting (deep rumbling sounds made while the whale is exhaling, or blowing, while at the surface between dives). You will notice live barnacles hanging from the whales chin when it breaches. These barnacles will die off when the whale reaches warm winter waters, and be reacquired when it returns to colder northern climes. Here are some fun photos from that hour.