Essays / s /

Spring In My Step

Lots of absolutely challenging weather so far this spring. Content generating has nearly ground to a half but at least I'm a few short weeks away from a move and there's still some time left to see some more beautiful wildlife here in San Diego. I've really been enjoying my time at my current position but I'm looking forward to exploring new territory for the first time since leaving Alaska.

At the beginning of May I will be relocating to Boothbay Harbor, ME to take a naturalist position.  I'm eager to start documenting marine mammals on the east coast and hopefully those of you who keep up with this website will stick around for the ride.  New species to document for the first time in ages hopefully soon!

March Sightings: Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Gray Whales Minke Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin, False Killer Whales.

2021: What Happened to the Blog?

I know, I know. The worst thing you can do with a blog (even one that nobody reads) is fail to update.  So what happened?

In December of 2020 right after my last update I accepted a winter time position at Flagship Cruises in San Diego, CA.  It has been a great experience and this year's Gray Whale season got off to a fantastic start.  Unfortunately less than two weeks after returning I caught COvID-19 and I was sidelined a further two weeks.  A plethora of bad weather made a tough start even tougher.

I have been fortunate to work in a great place and I have some incredible new coworkers I have been thankful to sail with over the past few weeks.  Sadly, the time in San Diego is short as I'll be heading out for a new location later this spring.  Last month I accepted a summertime position as a Whale Watching Naturalist in Maine and I am excited to say it will be my first job on the East Coast!  Many of the whale species will be familiar to me but there are a handful of dolphin species out there I have not yet been fortunate enough to see in my career.  I am hoping I can change that!

I'll miss Alaska dearly, and it really hurts knowing that I probably will not see it again for a long time.  MY time there was incredibly special.

December Sightings:  Gray Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin

January Sightings: Gray Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin

February Sightings: Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin, False Killer Whales.

Alaska Update VI:  Meet "Phoenix"

“Phoenix” is a Humpback Whale first documented near Wrangell, AK back in 2017. In 2019 August of 2019 Phoenix was observed again but this time much closer to Ketchikan. At some point prior to 2020 is when this whale earned its nickname, but the reason for the nickname is unknown to me.

In May of 2020 Phoenix was seen as part of a trio of whales cruising nearby the cruise ship berths left vacant due to the pandemic of 2020. In later October of 2020 Phoenix not only returned to Ketchikan but became a local celebrity as the whale developed a pattern of bubble net feeding right off the cruise ship berths. At the time of this caption Phoenix has graced Ketchikan almost daily for an entire month from just before Halloween all the way up to Thanksgiving and showing no signs of slowing down. 

 Phoenix is far from the first whale to visit the Tongass Narrows but no other local animal has quite captured the imagination of the town the way Phoenix has. Many residents are getting their first up close and detailed looks at a Humpback Whale, while residents with many whale encounters to their credit are seeing a local whale take up a consistent pseudo residency for the first time they can remember. It is possible Phoenix has visited like this before but scientific methods of identifying individuals whales have been critical to this discovery. 

In my own personal experience I can only recall a small number of whales that I ever saw with such frequency.  "Brutus" back in 2014 and the duo of "Wally" and "Wilmer" back in 2016.  "Chompers" the Humpback Whale and two of her calves as well.  All Humpback Whales that spent a long period of time in the same general area, but never quite capturing the imagination of people and never so exact in their pattern.  Either of those animals could be found within a eight to ten mile radius most days but never in the exact same spot the way Phoenix ultimately does.  Perhaps the result of living in narrows and straits as opposed to the open sea?  Phoenix is also set apart by being far out of what we typically consider "the season" for whales and ultimately may help rewrite some of the textbooks about its species. 

 The techniques taught by marine mammal researchers and the technologies developed by organizations such as Happywhale have helped turn a good story into something greater. After the economic fallout of the COvID 19 pandemic Ketchikan has gone through some rough times economically.  As I mentioned, the reason for the nickname "Phoenix" has not been shared with me yet, but I find the name is appropriate.  Phoenix is helping Ketchikan rise from the ashes of 2020 by providing inspiration and wonder.  This whale is a badly needed morale boost for “Alaska’s First City”.

Learn more about "Phoenix" at:  https://happywhale.com/individual/24666

Learn more about identifying whales at: www.happywhale.com

See all of Phoenix's Pictures at: http://dalefrink.com/albums/phoenix/

Species Documented in November: Humpback Whales, Resident Orca (A Pod), Transient Orca, 

Alaska Update V

A few opportunities for wildlife viewing before winter set in made me happy, but I was far more stoked with my first ever viewing of the Northern Lights from my new home up here. The Auroras aren't so common this far South in Alaska and the cloudy rainy weather plays a big role in that. Thankfully things came together for one fantastic night I can't wait to update here on this site. I've also added my trip to Juneau on the "World Tour" page but you can also access any photos with the "Juneau 2020" tag by using this link.

The last week of October has also been great because one of our local whales from May has made a return appearance.  "Phoenix" spent the final week of October engaging the the bubble netting behavior that is a trademark of Alaskan Humpback Whales.  I can't wait to share these photos with you soon.  It's also provided me a huge opportunity to share Happywhale with so many local whale enthusiasts up here and I am hopeful to see more people contributing data to that project!

Phoenix's Happywhale Profile

 Species Documented in October: Humpback Whales,  Dall's Porpoise. (I missed the Transient Orca that swam by town but they are still here!)

Alaska Update IV

Some great looks at Bubble Net feeding this month but not much to report. I'm taking a break from the water to get some training in at the University of Alaska Southeast.  Wish me luck!

Species Documented in September: Humpback Whales, Harbor Porpoise, Dall's Porpoise

Alaska Update III

It was a productive mont in August as I was able to document not only some beautiful wildlife, but also some incredible natural scenery. I revisited several state parks in Ketchikan plus the Misty Fjords National Monument.  I was also lucky enough to visit the city of Juneau where I documented the wildlife in Glacier Bay National Park, the Tracy Arm Fjords, Admiralty Island and Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary, and stand atop the Herbert Glacier.  

While there were a lot of amazing marine mammal and bear sightings, my first ever sightings of wild wolves in Alaska was truly special.  I have to admit Juneau is a spectacular place that I would highly recommend anyone to visit.

Species Documented in August: Humpback Whales, Transient Orca, Unidentified Orca (possible Resident)

Alaska Update II

I'd apologize for neglecting the site, but until recently content has been very difficult to come by. Working hard to get some fresh content on here and I've updated the front page to reflect images taken from March through June.  July got off to a fast start but did slow down, however the scenery documented and the increase in bear sightings around town has provided some opportunity for me to use my camera a bit.

I can truly say that along with the incredible marine life here the local bear species of Southeast Alaska are amazing and they can be seen in both urban and natural environments.  They are incredibly versatile animals worthy of our respect.  That being said, don't treat them like guests or pets...KEEP THEM WILD!

Species Documented in June & July: Humpback Whales, Northern Resident Orca (A, B, and I pods), Dall's Porpoise.

Alaska Update

The weird year gets weirder as the 2020 tourist season has been all but lost for most parts of Alaska. However I'm making it work to the best of my ability. Thankful in Southeast Alaska whale watching is an activity that can take place on shore, even if you are only on foot.  The Northern Resident Orca have moved in to feed on abundant King Salmon while the Humpbacks engage in bubble netting to collect the herring.  Although there have been confirmed reports of Risso's Dolphins up here since I arrived this area does not typically see the smaller dolphin species and whale watchers rely on the Dall's Porpoise for their fix of smaller cetaceans.

The scenery up is is as majestic as anywhere on the planet, and hopefully I can work out some issues with uploading photos to the website soon so that I can start sharing more of them.

Species Documented in April:  Humpback Whales, Northern Resident Orca (A Pod)

Species Documented in May:  Humpback Whales, Northern Resident Orca (A Pod), Dall's Porpoise

April Doesn't Update Much

Due to circumstance beyond my control related to COVID-19, the online shop is being shut down. No need for it at the moment.  I've also edited a few parts of March's blog post no longer relevant.

I remain in a strange holding pattern between Orange County and Alaska where I have a mailing address back in California but I need to keep looking for work in Southeast Alaska with the hope that tours will resume again.  There isn't a lot of work right now for photographers or boat deckhands until more of this crisis passes by.  

I know we all have our nightmares and horror stories from this, and I've seen a lot of greatness to give me hope and a lot of stupidity from my former hometown giving me pause.  Stay safe and hopefully there will be better updates in May.

Escape to Ketchikan

Words can't express how indebted I am to so many of you for your support during these tough times. Obviously there are people in the world suffering more than I have, but trying to move from Southern California to Southeast Alaska in the midst of this pandemic has been more than a mere challenge.

My old place of work shut down on St. Patrick's Day on a day I had actually been called in after what should have been my last day there.  The shutdown of whale watching tours in Orange County affected the part time gig I had on the smaller whale watching boats, where I was only a backup at that point due to my moving.  \

My new job, due to its dependence not just on tourism but from tourism on Cruise Ships was very proactive and did the right thing letting everyone know in advance the season would be delayed.  Because of how well I have been treated even without having worked a day there yet I am choosing to double down on Ketchikan as my new home in hopes of better days to come.  The city is beautiful and deserves better than to lose most of its revenue for the year, but the Alaskan people are as resilient as they are gracious.

Species Documented in March:  Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin.

What Happened to the Front Page?

Just a spur of the moment site update today. I changed up the front page to reflect as much animal and scenic diversity as possible with many of those photos hailing from what I consider the "best of my best".  There is a lot of difficulty generating new content right now, so I wanted there to be a nice representation on the front page instead of the newest material staying stagnant.  The albums still work as they always have.

I am consistently updating and attempting to streamline my new shop at dalefrink.darkroom.tech and I'm open to suggestions and special requests regarding that site.  I am running a promotion for the duration of the economic shutdown where if you purchase anything off of that shop totaling $20 or more you will receive a free 2021 www.dalefrink.com calendar when those go to print later this year.

In the meantime, stay safe at home and wash your hands.  To all of my fellow members of the service industry, I miss all of you all over the world and I look forward to being back out there.  #BrokeTogether

Retail Therapy

I've started a new online shop to help offset the amount of downtime I have coming up (I'll address that in a future post.) Visit the following page to purchase prints of my work and help support a small business as it goes through the economic trials we are facing this spring and summer:

dalefrink.darkroom.tech

I am keeping the prices as low as the website will allow me to set them for the time being.  All purchases support a small business that has been forced to shutter its physical operations for the time being.  I plan on adding some incentives too, including this fall's 5th anniversary edition of the dalefrink.com calendar, as a way to encourage a little retail therapy as we battle COVID-19. 

Ultimately human beings will triumph, of that I am certain.  However the epidemic has caused me to shutter the physical presence of my photography business, has prematurely ended one of my boat jobs, and has drastically delayed my next boat job.  Thus far I have been fortunate that economic issues are the only ones I am facing right now, hopefully we will get through all of this sooner than later.

Marching North

By now some of you have heard but I think it is time to make this official. I am moving! The California sunshine has been good to me but my newest adventures will be based out of Ketchikan, Alaska for some time. There were a lot of reasons for me to make this change but there will still be opportunities for me in California again at some point.  I look forward to sharing with your some treasures of the North.

Speaking of the Frozen North, I really enjoyed my time in Iceland and can't wait for a second opportunity to visit that beautiful country.  The people were equally spectacular with their knowledge and kindnesses. It was the first photography trip I have taken where marine mammals were not the top priority and despite some tough luck with weather and cloud I managed one spectacular evening with the Northern Lights!

Species seen in February: Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Bottlenose Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin, and Harbor Porpoise (in Reykjavik, Iceland).

Off to Iceland!

Dale Frink Photography will make its first foray across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland for a wintery week to kick off February. I'll be documenting the trip on this website prior to the restoration of my social media in March when my new project begins.  

It's already February but the Gray Whales have finally started to become a more consistent sighting.  This was probably the latest I have ever seen the migration take to get to that stage where multiple whales are being seen on a daily basis.  On the plus side, we have been documenting Bottlenose, Common, and Pacific White Sided Dolphins frequently enough that many tours are actually seeing three species in one go!  Silver linings I guess...

Species seen in January:  Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Bottlenose Dolphin, Common Dolphin, and Pacific White Sided Dolphin.

2020 Visions

The year began strong and ended with a relative whimper. Gray Whale season is off to a slow start and my fall sightings were tough to come by.  

I'm not going to use this platform to sugar coat things.  I am ready for 2020 to begin and not a moment too soon.  A special project of mine is set to begin this spring and I look forward to sharing it with you soon.

Species seen in December:  Gray Whales, Minke Whales, Common Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, and Bottlenose Dolphin (Including PATCHES!).

Year's Ending, Season's Beginning

We're off to a very slow start to Gray Whale season here in Southern California this year. Not much to report out at sea. On top of that the weather has cut into the trips I've been able to make it out.  But I do have some exciting plans for 2020 I hope to be sharing, including a couple of projects I have been slowly developing over the last two months.  

One thing worth noting is that for the second or third consecutive year the Gray Whales seem to be starting late again compared to year's past.  It is too much of a coincidence that this happens at the same time their population appears to be decreasing and the bering Sea is not freezing over as it has in the past.  I am hopeful these resilient animals continue to survive the ongoing effects of climate change.

Cetacean Species Documented in October: Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Bottlenose Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin, and Risso's Dolphin eating squid!

Finally, it's Science Time!

There's been a nice run of Humpback Whales here in Orange County this November, and it has allowed me to make a nice handful of contributions to Happywhale.com and the extensive catalog there.  If you haven't yet looked at this website I strongly recommend it.  The data being collected by this website is a major effort towards understanding the movements of Humpback Whales from year to year and makes sorting through the mountains of data far easier.

I also saw my first Gray Whale of the season on October 30th!  Early, but not alarmingly early, the slow trickle has begun but I don't expect consistent sightings for the 2019/2020 migration until mid to late December.

It has been a very long year, and though I've not found much time to travel in the second half of 2019 I still endeavor to make this year as productive as possible on the water.  The 2020 Calendars are more than halfway gone and I expect to be out before January 1st!  If you haven't gotten yours yet email me at dalefrink@gmail.com for more information.  Price is $20 per calendar, $5 for shipping and free shipping on three or more calendars anywhere in the United States.  

In the meantime I just want to revisit one phrase that has been very important to me since early in my career and grows in in importance with each passing year.  The phrase in the original Hawaiian is "Hanau ka palaoa noho I kai" and it comes from the Kumulipo Chant, which is the Hawaiian tale of creation.  The phrase translates to "Born is the whale, living in the ocean."  

I strongly encourage anyone reading this page to check out the following link:  https://www.moolelo.com/kohola.html*

The page is part of the site of the late Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a website I discovered when researching Humpback Whales as part of Hawaiian lore.  I came across this story years ago and it still freezes me in place when I read it.  I think about these things when I ponder why it is human beings seem to have this deep connection with the dolphins and whales that are simultaneously so much like us, yet so amazingly different.  As my career moved on I learned that more cultures had similar deep connections and experiences I have had on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have had greater meaning as a result.

Hopefully in 30 days when I'm ready to write the next monthly installment I'll have more to report.

*Credit and gratitude to www.moolelo.com for sharing this page and the story contained within.

Cetacean Species Documented in October: Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, and the first Gray Whales and Pacific White Sided Dolphin of the 2019/2020 Winter Season!

It's Definitely October

Trips weren't frequent for me this month, and it was definitely a far more lackluster month than this time last year. However there were two absolutely epic encounters that would stand out in any year.  Another productive trip with my friends in Moss Landing allowed me to briefly document a Great White Shark along with Southern Sea Otters and some of the best lunge feeding I've ever documented up that way.  I was also very fortunate to be part of an encounter with a pair of Bryde's Whales that leapt in a spectacular series of breaches.  To my knowledge it was the first documentation of breaching adult Bryde's Whales in California.

Hopefully the rest of the fall is more eventful, especially with the 2020 Dale Frink Calendar going to print as we speak!  I'll tell you more about it in the next post.  If you are interested in a calendar this year I am doing a preorder special.  All preorder calendars are 10% off (normal price $20) and shipping for three or more is free (normal S&H $5). Email me at dalefrink@gmail.com with PREORDER2020 in the subject line to secure yours.  It's a limited run this year due to some time off I am taking this winter so get yours while they are available.

Cetacean Species Documented in September: An extremely rare Sei Whale, Humpback Whales, Bryde's Whales (including breaching), Minke Whales along with Bottlenose Dolphin and Common Dolphin.  A short trip to Monterey produced Humpback Whale sightings along with Harbor Porpoise.

2019 Summer to Fall Transition

It's been a long and difficult year with high highs and low lows, certainly not the worst year any of us have had but I am eager to move out of the busier season and get on the road again. There will be a cetacean related trip or too but my newfound desire to see more of America's National Parks will also play a role in my travels. I'll tell you more about it when it happens, there will probably be some whale watching also.  Safest bet there is!

Species Documented in August:  Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, and Risso's Dolphin!

Megafauna and Freeways

One of the things that makes Southern California such a strange place to whale watch is the fact that we reconcile some of the world's largest and most prominent megafauna with congested freeways, thick population density, and the uniqueness of American culture. Case in point, I was recently documenting this blue whale and during the editing process I noticed the very clear sign of Bloomingdale's department store from the local shopping mall visible in the background.

Where else are you going to see this?  

My first reaction was humorous, my second was visceral.  What are we doing trying to enjoy nature in a place like this?  What appreciation was possible in a place where the smartphone is as ubiquitous as the sunshine and sand at the beach?

Thankfully rationality kicked in.  The battle to protect nature needs to be fought on all fronts, if people aren't listening to the message then the presentation needs work.  Do I defend nature passively or do I fight on behalf of it?  A lot of questions that definitely need answering.

Also, let's see if I can start a new feature of this blog and just do a quick list of animals recently documented?  If this doesn't stick feel free to call me out on it.

July Documented Species:  Blue Whales (including Kinko), a single Humpback Whale (Felix), cow/calf Bryde's Whales, Minke Whales, a lone northbound Gray Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin (including Patches), Common Dolphins, and Orca (ETP)