Essays / s /

Two Causes I Support

Dale Frink Photography has managed to make modest contributions this year to Ocean Defenders Alliance and to the Whaleman Foundation.  These two organizations are very near and dear to my heart because they provide very tangible benefits to marine life conservation in two equally important ways.

Ocean Defenders Alliance (www.oceandefenders.org) works tirelessly to remove harmful debris of all sizes from the ocean, from the larger and ship threatening ghost nets down to the simple plastic garbage left on the beach.  This organization gets the word out about humanity's footprint in the water and not only undertakes the labor to remove it but promotes ways to reduce our impact in advance.

The Whaleman Foundation (www.whaleman.org) is one of the most effective conservation groups that intervenes at the federal level of government worldwide.  This organization was born out of the fight to protect San Ignacio Lagoon from Mitsubishi Corporation's attempts to build an industrial salt mining facility in a critical habitat home not only to a wide variety of Mexican desert fauna, but also home to one of the key breeding lagoons of the Gray Whale.  Through a combination of lobbying, filmmaking, and ecotourism, Whaleman founder Jeff Pantukhoff and a roster of passionate ambassadors advocate directly to those in power to effect meaningful change.

Do you have to support these organizations?  I wish you would and I hope you will!  The thing I encourage most strongly is that you find an environmental cause that suits YOUR passion and use that to make a difference.  Altruism and kindness are found in nature, and for a human to exercise such qualities is not unnatural.  Respect for living beings comes in many shapes and forms and I feel very strongly that the deep sense of satisfaction from making a true difference comes with no price tag!

Mid June Update

Nice update here in the middle of June highlighting the run of Fin and Blue Whales that flooded our zone for the first two weeks of the month. Not to be outdone we have just begun a recent run of Humpback Whales as well!  We shall see which of the three species of titans ends up dominating our summertime sightings, but we seem to win either way.

Use the following link and save a few bucks on your next Orange County whale watching experience:

http://www.newportwhales.com/dolphin-12-special.html

June Gloom? No Problem!

May 2017 was easily one of the most difficult months of whale watching I have ever had in Newport Beach. After returning from my Monterey trip I was only fortunate enough to have whale sightings on four of the remaining days of the month.  Poor weather in the early half of the month contributed to this greatly.  We were lucky enough to have multiple days with the world famous PATCHES the Bottlenose Dolphin as well as a very late pair of Cow/Calf Gray Whales.  

The June Gloom weather kicked in fast but a consistent week and a half of Blue and Fin Whales is a much welcome beginning to the month.  Here's hoping for more!  Very light on the Humpbacks this year, I wonder what is going on there?

Site Update 5/18/2017

I just put up some new photos up from the last couple of weeks. Not the most productive time of sightings we have had here in Southern California but in my experience anything is possible right now as we move from springtime to summertime.  A very nice Blue Whale has been making the rounds and the rumors of Brydes Whales and Humpbacks are certainly abound.  

Monterey Recap Part One

I recently got to spend two days in the Monterey Bay Area to do some serious whale watching, I ended up seeing more than even I had bargained for. There were two days with two very contrasting encounters. Read about the first one at the following link:

http://www.dalefrink.com/pages/the-great-escape-orcas-vs-gray-whales/

Site Issues Resolved

The issues bothering the website have been fixed and we are back up and running again like normal. The fix required that we change the home page so that only the most recent photos are shown.  To scroll through the archives it is recommend to use the "species" page or a specific album denoted in the footer.

In Support of Balloons Blow

I had a plan for this post to be about the delay of Gray Whales departing their feeding grounds and the tangible effects of a warming arctic on their behavior. It's a topic I consider important but i'm shelving it for the time being to address something even more pressing.

Twice since the calendar rolled over I have been confronted with situations where families have been doing balloon releases to commemorate lost loved ones, something which is actually illegal in the state of California already. The damage done by these releases, intentional or not, is devastating to marine life both directly and indirectly. It is tough to confront someone when they are in mourning, but it is also aggrivating to see people "honor" the departed's love of the ocean with such a contradictory act. To that end I want to use this blog post to promote Balloons Blow, which I believe is the organization doing the most in the United States to discourage the pollution balloons cause. 

Claims that these balloons are biodegradeable are irrelevant if they do damage to the environment before breaking down, and even then those claims are dubious. When a balloon lands either on land or in the ocean animals encounter the trash long before it breaks down with many organisms confusing the debris for food. The balloon is consumed and never digests, creating a blockage in the animal's stomach which can be fatal. 

 So to quote this great organization I want to continue supporting: Balloons blow...don't let them go! Learn more at www.balloonsblow.org and support marine life locally and globally!

Evidence to My Point

Back in December of 2016 I was quoted in an article for my take on some jet ski operators who were buzzing dangerously close to a pod of Offshore Orcas.  I admit that I still have very strong feelings on the matter stemming from previous incidents where I have witnessed boaters operate their vessels very egregiously around whales.  For one thing I know what can happen even when boat operators follow the good guidelines, but I hold the animals' safety in equal regard.

I was dismissed by many for a number of reasons.  While there aren't too many people who defend the credibility of Facebook comments, it just goes to show you that everyone has an opinion regardless of their qualifications.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but what happens when the evidence suggests that I might be right?  I probably won't hear much then.  Sadly, I would rather have been wrong than have come across the following articles in the past few weeks.

The selfie that could cost up to 250k

This article is about the damage being done to Orcas by recreational boaters in New Zealand.  New Zealand as a nation has a very rich and diverse cetacean population and my personal opinion is that the people there hold these animals in high regard.  However, sometimes that beauty and allure leads to risky and questionable behaviors.

RIP Doublestuf

This article is terribly heartbreaking.  Prior to the declaration of the death of J2 "Granny" another member of the J Pod of Southern Resident Orcas was found deceased.  J34 "Doublestuf" (an Orca I personally documented back in September of 2015) was found dead and the initial findings point to a small vessel strike as the cause of death.  This death is extremely painful for the pod as he was a young male entering prime reproductive years.  A devastating loss for a family of animals that now numbers fewer than 80 once more as the gains from the previous year's "baby boom" have been reversed.

Not that many of my critics would ever be willing to admit that I have a point...

Hello 2017

It has been a big week in Orca news lately, punctuated with a visit by the ETP Orcas to Southern California. The passing of Tilikum at Sea World Orlando was bound to provoke the most discussion. But I was heartened to see that an outpouring of affection for J2 Granny, gone after over 100 years on this planet, made headlines as well.

The thing about Granny? According to unmanned aerial surveys from NOAA (https://swfsc.noaa.gov/news.aspx?ParentMenuId=147&id=22348), Granny was getting skinny. We know that Orcas in menopause remain in leadership roles and that their wisdom and experience guides the pod through lean times. J2 Granny had been observed prior to her disappearance feeding and nurturing one of the younger members of her pod. This despite her once thick frame losing weight at an unhealthy pace. 

I think of my grandparents a lot. I am lucky to still have one of my grandfathers and I miss my other grandparents terribly. I know they have all provided for me at some point, and that the life I lead today is thanks to them in no small part. To read these stories of Granny, a wild animal in a family facing hardship, actually sacrifice herself for her grandchildren is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. These animals may yet be able to make a comeback, but the decimation of the Chinook Salmon as a result of human activity is not something that can be overcome through wisdom alone. 

Human action to make amends for ecologically damaging mistakes we have made will be necessary as well. 

Today with the ETP Orcas there was a very young calf, I am reminded of the other Orca calves I have seen in the past two months. It is a major task to become the apex predator of the Ocean, and a strong family will be required for these little ones to inherit that mantle. It adds a completely new dimension to these animals I feel more people should consider.

Adios 2016

Well this past year has been...eventful.

Without getting into politics, personal business, or going off the topic of conservation I like to promote, I will say that 2016 was not my favorite year ever on the calendar and leave it at that. Even just within the scope I do cover, there is more to talk about that one of these simple posts really allows.

The "baby boom" enjoyed by the Southern Resident Orcas was short lived and their populations is back down below 80 individuals.  Two of the noteworthy losses were adults that passed from circumstances directly caused by humans, while the supply of life giving Chinook Salmon remains at risk.  I remain an advocate for breaching the dams that are creating these situations, and for the SRKWs in general.  A protection zone has been proposed that would put greater restrictions on vessels observing them, and while this would make it tougher to watch these animals as a whale watcher I think personal enjoyment is a small price to pay for their continued existence.

Southern California enjoyed rare sightings again.  Pilot Whale, False Killer Whales, Offshore Killer Whales, Sperm Whales, Brydes Whales, and Striped Dolphin made a spate of appearances.  The influx of Humpback Whales, a trend which started in 2014, continued in a big way.  I don't know the official numbers but I can almost guarantee that we had a record number of Humpback Sightings by whale watching between Los Angeles and San Diego this year.  Blue Whale sightings decreased but that does not seem to be the trend with their population thankfully.

I missed my annual visit to Washington this year but made trips to Monterey Bay and Baja that were very productive.  I am hoping to visit more locations in 2017 and hopefully at least one I have never visited before. 

Photography remains what it has always been to me.  I do not consider myself the best in the business or any sort of elite photographer, but this is the primary mechanism I have chosen to convey a message to the world.  "We need healthy oceans!"

Enjoy the next 359 days until Xmas everyone.  Don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Where are the Whales?

I have a confession to make, as someone who works with dolphins and whales on a very regular basis I have difficulty sometimes when the folks I accompany to see the wildlife have little reverence for what we are fortunate to see. This is especially true when, in the midst of a massive pod of dolphins, someone inevitably makes a crack about "not wanting to see just dolphins" or "I paid to see a whale". 

The ocean environment plays by a very different set of rules as the terrestrial environment we live on as humans.  Static landmarks and resources give way to an ever changing environment at the mercy of ocean currents and temperatures subject to change.  We have a very productive environment locally and on 9 out of every 10 days at sea we see at least one baleen whale.  That statistic has actually slightly increased in the last 3 or 4 years as late season Humpback Whales have extended the summer/fall sightings and closed the gap that occurs prior to the first arriving Gray Whales.

That's not good enough for everyone, and it's a fact of little comfort for folks that show up on the rare poor trip that is almost unheard of during supposedly more productive months.  I definitely need to find a more comforting way of reminding people that the Ocean does not respond to wants and expectations.  We have different animals at different times of year, and anything out of the ordinary is possible! 

I'll keep working and doing my best to find the answer to my dilemma, and i'll report back to you all when I find it here on this blog.

Frequenting Felix

On September 8th, 2016 Newport Beach whale watchers were fortunate to document a number of Humpback Whales that remained in the vicinity for several days, but only one of these whales stuck around for the entire month and also through the entire month of October thus far!

Felix was given his moniker based on a social dynamic observers witnessed during the first portion of his Orange County tenure. Felix was frequently accompanied by another whale who possessed a more gregarious personality and for almost three weeks the two whales appeared to feed and travel together, never being more than a couple of miles apart on each sighting.  Named for the popular title characters of the television show/movie/stage hit "The Odd Couple", Felix was shyer and more reserved than Oscar, who would mug boats and fluke frequently.  (Disclaimer, if Felix turns out to be a female then the name reverts to "Florence", which was one of the title characters in the gender-swapped stage version.)

The two have since parted ways and Oscar has been seen up further up the coast towards Long Beach while Felix has stayed to feed on anchovies found closer to Orange County.   I highly encourage anyone who has been lucky enough to see this whale to follow its progress on www.Happywhale.com!  

Felix's profile on Happywhale

Celebrating Tejon

We have a new local hero! A Young Humpback Whale known as "Tejon" has emerged as one of the new most popular whales this season. Filling a void left by Wally and Wilma, Tejon is showing that even the younger whales can have a big personality!

With so many breaches, peduncle throws, pec slaps, and muggings to its name, this whale has captivated the hearts and minds of thousands of whale watchers!  Named for the arc and cross shaped scar that resembles the symbol for Tejon Ranch (north of Los Angeles), this Oceanic Ambassador will hopefully inspire those who witness its majesty into good deeds for the ocean!

Intro to Tejon IIThis is one of the first fluke sequences documented for the young Humpback Whale who would become known as Tejon. Named for the arc and cross shaped scar that resembles the symbol of Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles.

R.I.P "Wally"

Back in June of 2016 I took what is perhaps one of the best three photos I have ever taken, and certain my favorite ever shot of a Humpback Whale. We dubbed this whale "Wally" because why not? After seeing this whale every day for a week we felt a need to have a name for it when talking to passengers, and while I generally don't care much for whale "nicknames" when you have a whale as personable as this one was...you just have to smile and give in.

Wally passed away and washed ashore on June 30th, 2016.  Just over a year after my first encounter with her.  We learned she was female for the first time during the post-mortem examination and although the name didn't conform to human gender-standards it certainly stuck well enough for national media outlets around the world to use the name in their articles and broadcasts.

The first encounter with Wally saw her  engage in multiple breaches, tail throws, along with pectoral slaps and mugging.  She breached so close to the boat that the people got wet!  We would see this whale almost daily from June 19th all the way through August 1st in 2015.

Wally the Humpback Whale was the most amazing Humpback Whale I have ever had the privilege of being around. I consider whale watching to be at its best when whales grace us with their presence, but Wally went above and beyond that. If you were respectful when boating Wally would frequently swim underneath you and roll to the side to look up. Wally lifted up a massive pair of flukes, but not every time, and on certain instances the lifting of the tail would be prelude to an incredible breach. 

I first encountered Wally on board the Patriot during a late day whale watch that took us from Newport Beach down to Laguna Beach. She executed a series of incredible breach in stunning light with an amazing backdrop. This touched off a series of almost daily encounters that would last all the way to the beginning of August. During her time in Newport Beach this whale befriended another whale we called Wilma/Wilmer. For about two weeks these whales were close companions, devouring a shared meal of anchovies until the supply diminished and the two moved on. Wally was last seen by us on August 1st, 2015. Wilma was last seen August 2nd. 

Wally was the first herald of the greatest Humpback Whale season in the history Orange County Whale Watching. Before Wally, few of these Humpbacks were ever seen on such a consistent basis. This whale will hold a place in history, but more importantly she will hold a place in the heart and memories of thousands of people who visited Newport Beach to witness the majesty of the Humpback Whale.