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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Whale Watching

March 15th, 2009 · No Comments

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Today I hunted whales with my camera. About 150 years ago my grandfather hunted them with a harpoon. He emigrated from the Azores to the U.S. on a whaling schooner. When he arrived in Northern California in the 1860s, he worked as a logger in the redwood forests and in the sawmills. We’ve changed.

Today John and I took a whale watching cruise up the coast from Santa Cruz to off the shore at Davenport following pods of gray whales on an appropriately gray day. The whales are at the height of their 7,000 mile annual migration from Mexico to the Arctic. It’s the longest mammal migration in the world.

Gray whales average 45 feet in length and weigh 80,000 pounds each. They probably don’t need to go on the low-carb diets that John and I follow, but they are as heavy as the boat that we took.

Without my new Canon 50D single-lens reflex camera I never could have hunted these creatures of the sea today. While I have often said that my camera is only about 10 percent better than a point-and-shoot camera, today was the 10 percent.

Taking pictures of a moving target from a moving vessel was challenging even for my high-powered camera. Using the full 200mm of my zoom lens and then cropping those photos stretched its capacity to the limit. But using a longer lens wouldn’t have been possible because you would then need a tripod on a steady mount for clarity.

And any point and shoot cameras, like my Panasonic Lumix and Sony, wouldn’t have allowed me to take the many photos in rapid succession that I needed to take today. I set the camera to shoot with what is essentially a motor drive.

Because the day was so dark and everything was moving, I had to set the ISO to 800 and above in order to set the shutter speed fast enough to stop movement. My old point-and-shoot cameras wouldn’t have allowed that.

But I discovered a problem with my camera’s memory card when I was in Santa Barbara. After filling up my first 8GB card, I switched to the other one, only to discover that somehow it would only hold 40 shots in the RAW mode that I use rather than the 356 shots it should hold. So I called the camera store in Boulder where I had bought it. The salesman couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it either, so he volunteered to FedEx me a replacement card at no cost. It arrived here Friday. I was amazed at the service, which permitted me to take the 200 shots that I took on the boat today.

But first we came to a California sea otter playing in the kelp of Santa Cruz Harbor:

California Sea Otter in its Kelp

California Sea Otter in its Kelp

Then at the buoy marking the harbor we found sea lions making good use of it:

Sea Lions on Buoy

Sea Lions on Buoy

The Cutest Sea Lion

The Cutest Sea Lion

After leaving the harbor, our boat slowly followed the whales on their 3 mph migration.

Thar She Blows!

Thar She Blows!

Waterfall!

Waterfall!

Tail Waterfall

Tail Waterfall

After three hours chasing the whales, the 48 passengers aboard the M/V Velocity returned to Santa Cruz Harbor.

John Disembarks from M/V Velocity

John Disembarks from M/V Velocity

Except for walking a few steps to the boat, we didn’t get any exercise. So we capped the day at John’s suggestion with a three-mile walk at dusk through the central, old-growth section of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

The biggest and oldest tree is “The Giant.” It’s now 270 feet tall, but before the top 100 feet snapped off in a windstorm had reached 370, close to that of the tallest tree in the world. The Giant’s circumference is 53 feet at breast height, and it is probably about 1500 years old.

I like to think that if my grandfather were living now, he would have enjoyed the whales and the redwoods in the same way that I have today.

John and \"The Giant\"

John and "The Giant"

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