Updated: Nov 26, 2019
I've been a scuba diver since I was 16 years old, and that's too many years for me to say. In fact, I have over 3500 dives and have been on numerous boats and seen lots of whales. But I've never been able to photograph one breaching. This was my one goal, for the last two years ever since I missed the perfect opportunity. The boat I was in had just seen a spout in the distance and it whirled around and then all of a sudden right in front of us a whale breached,... WOW, I pull my camera to my eye, and have the whale right in focus, I press down the shutter button and "NOTHING" ... OH NO! I had just turned off my camera thinking we were heading back to the harbor. Well I fumbled to turn on the camera and tried to get the shot.
Well I got a wonderful splash but no whale. Yes we all have those "dumb" moments. This has haunted me for two years so I had to go back. Well, I got lucky the first day watching from my balcony of my hotel room and having my new 500mm PF on my tripod. But this is not the same as from a zodiac nearby the whale.
All the whale watching trips were booked up the first two days, as two cruise ships came into port each day. Finally I was able to book two trips with options for more. Each whale watching trip begins with a trip past "land's end" and the famous arch. There you see pelicans and sea lions and other tourists.
Passing "Lands end", the skipper has a choice of heading to the Sea of Cortez or to the Pacific ocean. Basically he uses his local knowledge to decide where the best opportunity maybe to see whales. You proceed out, but are constantly on the look out over the ocean hoping to see spouts or other signs of whales.
Once one is sighted the zodiac quickly maneuvers to get close, and you can get shots of the back and dorsal fin, but more times than not the whale decides to dive down and you end up a tail shot.
Some times you get lucky and there is some sort of a different composition. In this case we had a whale heading right for us and just before it reached us it dove down and swam below our little boat. But it was thrill watching this Goliath heading right towards you!
If you're lucky the whale will stay on the surface for a while, and if she has a calf they might stay for minutes.
It is really cool, to be up close to a mother whale and her calf, but its still not the same as seeing a breach. This trip had some time left and as we were waiting, scanning the sea, large splashes are seen aways off, along with a banging sound. Time is running short but our captain puts the boat into full speed and we go investigate.
Its two whales "waving" at each other, raising their fins into the air and slapping them down hard on the water.
One gets real fancy, and does a "double". This dance continues for a few minutes but there are NO breaches.
That's now two trips and all I really have to show is a splash and two fins. I'm getting worried, and start to investigate other trip options. I don't want to have another year thinking about the one that got away. I have one more zodiac trip booked, but, if I don't get a breach on that one, I have to find other options before I fly home. I decide to take the next zodiac and then found two options for my last day if that doesn't succeed. My fingers are crossed. Once again we proceed out past Land's End, but this time the seas are calm and we head out to the Pacific side.
Early on we see a few whales and get the obligatory tail shot.
But then way off on the horizon.... SPLASHES! Our captain speeds away. Now I hope you've never had to take an important photo from a zodiac at top speed in the Pacific, no matter how calm. We are bouncing and its like riding a bucking bronco... But we see a whale breaching a long way out. I have my new Nikkor 500mm PF lens but everything is moving and shaking. I fire several bursts of shots, just hoping and praying maybe? Well I get a lot of sky and ocean shots but then there is one out of focus shot.
We keep skimming along bouncing on every wave top... but soon we slow. Will the whales breach again?
We get so close that my 500mm is too much lens and I can hardly get the entire whales's body in the image.
Being close to such a large animal leaves you awestruck, but then being that close and having the 50-60 tons being thrown skyward and then coming down in a mighty splash... I don't have the words for how wonderful that felt.