It was an interesting experience whale watching in Cape Cod, arguably the most popular whale watching destination on the US East Coast. I did see some new birds and while I didn't see any new species of cetaceans I was privileged to see Minke, Fin, and Humpback Whales including some friendly animals. The boats I travelled on were two of the largest whale watching boats I had ever seen and the Asteria out of Boston Harbor is enormous! I look forward to trying out new destinations.
Also of big importance to me are the first pictures of Great White Sharks I am able to post to this page. Nothing too mind blowing but it is nice to feature such an amazing animal on this site.
It was arguably the toughest stretch of whale watching I have ever worked in my career. Technically it is still ongoing but for the sake of this article let’s just talk about the summer season. In the whale watching business here in the US it is Memorial Day through Labor Day that is the crunch time.
May was really difficult, with a very low number of whales sighting. A quartet of Humpbacks and a handful of other animals made June very exciting but July and August fell quite flat from usual. I blame the warmer waters we had locally which kept the krill elsewhere but I would be lying if I said that was the only possible reason. There are so many factors we may never know.
The upsides to this summer were nice however. My first documented Sei Whale sighting, a plethora of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin sightings (with PATCHES too!), a rare pod of Southern California Risso’s, and some of the best dolphin calf photography I have ever experienced made it so that I will still have plenty of fond memories for the season.
I can’t stress enough though that when sightings are tough, it is just as tough on the captains and crew of a fleet as it is for passengers who might be disappointed when nature doesn’t live up to their expectations. Along with happy passengers being important for a successful season the people who work on the boats genuinely want to see these ocean spectacles just as much, if not MORE, than the folks who book passage. I admit that there are things that wore on me, even grated me to the point where I had moments where I did not want to be at sea any more.
“Why don’t they just call it dolphin watching?”
“When is the best time?”
“Do you ever see whales?”
It is so frustrating to hear this because when times are good I will still hear:
"Why didn't the whale breach?"
"I wanted to see (different species) instead."
"One time in (Alaska/Hawaii/Monterey/South Africa/Australia etc...) we saw a billion whales."
Seeing things in nature is a gift and my frustration makes it difficult for me to understand that not everyone realizes that it can take a lifetime to see some of the things with our own eyes that we see on TV.
Marine life isn’t there to perform on command like in marine parks, and those marine parks are approaching their twilight in the United States as more people begin to understand the difficulties captive cetaceans face.
As more vacationers poured in and more people unaware of good boat etiquette came through I found myself with another frustration, the frustration of waking up and wondering WHY I was doing what I do? There is nothing worse than self doubt of this kind for me right now. I feel like this career of mine is at a critical juncture where I can start making a greater difference, but standing up for personal principles and virtue requires a self confidence born from knowing that the path one walks is right for them.
I know I still possess that spark somewhere. I know because I heard someone say the other day that it doesn’t matter to them anymore if certain animals suffer extinction and I had an extreme feeling of revulsion wash over me.
From that realization that deep down I still cared, a little bit of emotional oxygen fed that little spark.
I don’t consider myself terribly courageous or insightful to admit these deep rooted flaws in my conviction or weaknesses in my psyche. But I’ll be damned if anyone ever accuses me of not caring. I’ll use the upcoming downtime to rest and recharge and resume my role in the battle to protect the planet with improved vigor and a renewed sense of purpose.
Hopefully the next post of this blog is a little more cheerful.
With sightings of a juvenile Sei Whale on July 11th, July 25th, and August 3rd I have now completed one of my life goals! I have now seen every rorqual whale that occurs in the state of California. The rorquals I have not seen are the Dwarf and Antarctic Minke, the Omura's Whale, and the Eden's Head Whale (the latter two only have been recognized as species in the past decade) . It will take many thousands of hours of traveling and searching in farther flung parts of the world in order to ever have even a whiff of encountering those animals!
Add the Gray Whale to that total and I have seen every Baleen Whale that occurs in North American Pacific except for the Northern Pacific Right Whales which are dramatically few. A sighting on one of those rare animals in La Jolla this winter gives me some hope. There are also the Bowhead Whales of Alaska I dream to see one day.
Of the toothed whales that occur in California, the only ones I have not been fortunate enough to see largely fall into the Beaked Whale and Sperm Whale categories with the sole exception being the Rough Toothed Dolphin. It is my understand that Rough Toothed Dolphin occur in California only in 3000 ft of depth or greater!
In September I will be traveling to Plymouth, Massachusetts for a special all day trip that will more than likely bring some additional Humpback sightings, but also slim opportunities for North Atlantic Right Whales, Long Finned Pilot Whales, White Beaked Dolphin, and Atlantic White Sided Dolphin. Adding a new species to the list of those I have seen is quite possibly the biggest thrill I feel I can experience in the world as it is and I am hopeful that more opportunities will present themselves in the years to come.
The "Search By Species" page has been updated to reflect the newest species addition to this site...the Sei Whale!
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!
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:
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?
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.
I just posted my second recap of the events that transpired a couple of weeks ago up in Monterey Bay. I hope you enjoy reading about it.
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:
She has passed away. The article I have previously written has been updated, with more of my thoughts to come later when I am less emotional.
New developments at the Vancouver Aquarium have inspired me to write another short article regarding the situation up there. Read more at the following link:
Use the header at the top of the page or the following link to see my photos from San Ignacio in 2017:
You can read my 2017 recap at the following link:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Scarlet the Humpback Whale has been re-sighted several times in Orange County! You can read the now updated article I wrote on her story at the following link:
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.