Since I’ve been living in the Pacific Northwest, I have been crucially aware of the marine mammal population that migrates and cruises around Puget Sound. We have the migrating grey whales that grace the coastal waters around this time of year, through about May or June. Several resident pods of Orca are seen in these waters, fascinating visitors and residents alike. It isn’t unusual to spot a variety of small pilot whales or porpoise while riding the ferries or fishing off the beach. During salmon season, Sea Lions appear, often transiting in a long shore fashion to different feeding sights.
While I was in college taking an Environmental Science course, I chose for my quarter project and final oral presentation to study the mysterious beaching of grey whales. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, grey whales were turning up dead on the beaches of Whidbey Island! They raised quite the stink (pun intended) and I wanted to get to the bottom of why it was happening.
I met with the local Marine Biologist on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, who had a grey whale skeleton he was assembling at the time (it is now on display at the Coupeville Wharf). I talked with NOAA and a variety of University of Washington scientists. In the end, we concluded that the whales were dying of starvation because their species had reached “carrying capacity” in the region which means there were too many whales for the amount of available food in the area. The carcasses were not diseased or loaded with toxins. They were females, either pregnant or had recently birthed calves. It was the females and young calves washing up on the shore, emaciated. I was also able to take my class to see the skeleton that was being assembled! Out of that project I acquired a rib bone from a 48 foot female to keep.
The sea fascinates me this way. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. My life took another track and I didn’t get there but I have remained very close to the sea and continue my own personal education.
Now that I am older and retired from working, I have latitude to study the activity around in these waters at leisure! Last year, I went sailing with friends every Monday for a while, taking my cameras with me in hopes of seeing a pod of whales. It never happened.
When I’m out on local shoots, I’m always scanning the waters for whales to shoot. Last week, thanks to one of my friends, I was able to learn about a pod of Orca making their way around Whidbey Island. I was looking at my news feed in Face Book and saw this post “Orca in Penn Cove….Arrgh!” My friend trains out of the Coupeville/Penn Cove area on Long Boats. While the whales are in the area, she can’t be out on the water! She was waiting for them to clear.
In the meantime, I get dressed and grab my camera bag. I told my husband I was heading to Penn Cove to see if I can get a shot or few of those whales. He comes along. We followed them along Penn Cove and into Coupeville. I ran out to the end of the wharf where several folks with fancy cameras and zoom lenses are out there trying to capture their shots of the whales.
The whales were pretty far away! I saw a dorsal fin, which is about all you are going to see, at this point, way off by some rocks across the channel. They are heading north around a point. My little Nikon Coolpix P510 has an amazing 42 times zoom with its fixed lens. It’s light weight but gets good long distance shots nonetheless! I follow, zoom into focus and bang! Got my first capture of an Orca whale! The image at the beginning of this post is that image. That’s a tall, stately dorsal fin of a male Orca.
Now, I follow them on the Whale Network. I hope to bring more images of these beautiful animals.