A Whale of a Story

I have been out practicing my mountain photography, as some of you might remember, on the beauties across the Strait of Georgia from our lovely Mayne Island. Such is the case on this Saturday January 14, 2012. We didn’t have snow but Vancouver had been gifted with a good dusting as we can see on the  coastal mountains.

Such nice a crisp bite to the air and the sea is rolling black gray. There are large thunderous snow clouds moving in billowing mounds overhead.

It is about 3:30 pm and maybe an hour before sunset. I look at the clouds and I look at the mountains and I start to wonder. Could we possibly get a pink sunset and maybe a pink glow on those mountains? I muse for a bit and decide to go over to light house at Georgina Point  right at the entrance to Active Pass. This is the best spot to try and set up a tripod and get a good view of the mountains. I get all ready just as the colours start to change. A couple walking their dog come along and visits for a short while. They wanted me to settle an discussion they were having about what I might be photographing. I diplomatically said “a little of everything.” They then wandered off with the dog leaping a head. I went back to watching for the pink to appear on the mountains. David joins me.

Not more than minute goes by when I hear the woman yell “whales!”

Now, if you have ever been anywhere on a B.C. Ferries or on the Gulf Islands when someone yells “whales” you know it gets your attention – no matter how pink the mountains might be about to get. I look down from the coastal giants across the Strait and start scanning the water.

I have never switched the settings on my camera so fast!

Killer Whales or Orcinus orcas – or Orcas for short, seem to be phantoms, smoothly surfacing and disappearing almost as fast as our eyes blink. Catching them in a photograph on the surface when they are traveling is not easy.

I had dreamed and imagined a moment like this but to have it be real – standing there with my camera ready, on the tripod, level, with remote cable shutter release attached. All I had to do was relax and see if I could get the timing down for moving underwater targets that were going to surface some place ahead of where they had just been. That was all. Breathe, Terrill breathe… shoulders down. Look. Relax. Look again. Okay. There. Right there! Got’em!

The whales  are relatively close to shore but still a slight reach for my canon Zoom 70-200 mm 1:2.8 L IS II USM lens. I am going to have to trust its clarity and hope for the best. It seemed there was going to be no playing around either. This pod was relaxed and traveling with a purpose. In mid January there wasn’t a whale watching boat in sight. I liked that. Things are all natural and easy. The sea, the whales and David and me.

Oh look here is a cow and calf…

You can see how close they are to the far sandstone reef…

Then they are gone. David and I looked at each other and smile. Chilled but excited. What a moment. Pure magic.

I say “You know they are travelling towards Saturna Island. If we go back to Reef Bay maybe I can catch them in the evening light there.”

David seems slightly more resigned than excited about this idea. But he humours me. Such is love married to a photographer. Off we go.

I was pretty sure they will travel farther off shore and it might be too dark… and I might not see them at all. But it was worth the chance. David decides to wait in the truck and warm up. I am going to have to hand hold the camera as there is no time and limited space to put up the tripod on the reef with the current tide level. Well let’s see what we can do. Are you ready?

There is a fishing boat coming across the Strait.

The light is exquisite. I scan the waters looking from north to south – hoping.

Ah, I catch sight of the first one…

Then the three…

I love when they seem to roll up to the surface like this one…

Then a flip of a tail as if to say good-bye and they are gone to far to capture in a photograph.

I had forgotten all about waiting for a pink sky

and pink mountains…

Now I notice that I am cold, even with my down jacket. My hands are stiff and my arms tired from the weight of hand holding the lens for so long. It is time to go.

One last shot from Oyster Bay and we call it a day.

SPROUT: If you could have a conversation with an Orca what would you say?

SEED: Now I have to tell you the whole story. Orcas or Killer Whales are not really whales. They are the largest of the dolphin family. There are 3 different kinds of orcas: resident, transient, and offshore. I think these might be one of the resident pods but I am not sure as I know so little about them.

© 2012 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Purchase photography at http://www.redbubble.com/people/terrillwelch

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

Terrill Welch online Gallery at http://terrillwelchartist.com

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20 thoughts on “A Whale of a Story

  1. One of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had is whale-watching far off the Massachusetts coast. To see these magnificent animals is to be humbled. The day I was out a mother and her baby, accompanied by a pod of dolphin, came alongside the boat. The captain had to tell everyone to not all rush to the side at once. The animals went with us for quite a while. Beautiful!

  2. If I had a conversation with an Orca Whale I would probably let him know how his species inspired the wonderful film WHALE RIDER and induced animal activist groups to take concrete steps to save the species from extinction. I’d also probably ask him if he ever heard any scuttlebutt about the time when one of his distant relatives experienced having Pinocchio and old man Gepetto over within his insides for a short while. I would also ask him what he thought of that reprehensible chapter in Melville’s MOBY DICK which cocerned ‘whaling.’

    Anyway, this is a truly spectacular post in concept and execution, with some of the most awe-inspiring shots ever posted at this site! Magnificent!

    • Sam thank you for all of the great whale conversation! Love it! I just knew you would appreciate this post (imagine me grinning). Someday I may get another chance and maybe get more dramatic captures of their playful nature but it will probably never match this first whale photographing experience in emotional intensity.

  3. Oh, Terrill. This brought tears. You almost put me right there, breathless and excited as you were! What a wonderful story and photo shoot. The Orca sighting was awe inspiring in itself, but those sunset shots — amazing!

    What would I say to an Orca? I’d say how deeply sorry I am that we have places like Sea World.

    • Martha I am thrilled that you enjoyed your time with on this photo shoot. I did my very best to place you at my shoulder so it was a first hand experience – well almost 🙂 I can image the Orca nodding with a sad tear for its companions as you say these words.

  4. Terrill – If you could see me right now you’d be hard-pressed not to notice that I’m GREEEEEEEN with envy. What a tremendous blessing to have gotten to witness this migration first-hand. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    If you’ve not read the book “Fluke” by Christopher Moore, you may want to give it a read. It’s an older book, but your library may have it.

    SPROUT: If you could have a conversation with an Orca what would you say?

    May I please have a ride?

    • Hum, I hope your colour improves as you enjoy the post Laurie. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for an envy attack 😉 Laurie I can just see you sidling up for a ride 🙂 I would expect nothing less! Best of today to you my friend and good luck with the writing!

  5. I’ve been on whale watching cruises and we didn’t see anything that amazing – what a gift to see them and catch them on film. My photos of them, well, let’s just say that people have to be told what the little things in the water are since they can’t see what they are. Your photos – top notch!

    • Thank you Carolyn! What a kind thing to say… I am going to have to wait for a chance to catch them at play which is the most dramatic time to capture them. Still I am happy with what I have. Part of why you can see these so well is my lens. It was able to pull them in closer. I could have given you close up shots but I like of like having some natural environment around them.

  6. I used to love it when the whales would come into Puget Sound, now we just seem to get salmon and Harbor Seals….and river otters.

    Just fabulous photography and I so wished I could have a good camera, steady hand, and ability to capture the stunning pink and Mountain sunsets we had last week.
    Today the snow is still quite pretty and still coming down with sunbreaks…I wonder if I will be able to get to book group tomorrow night and off the hill and to the sea level house…then to my much anticipated viewing of Melancholia on WED. nite at the film society.

    When we were in Alaska and out in smaller rubber boats for a dozen people, we were exploring icebergs and algae in turquoise waters, the 3 year old was prompted to touch her tongue to the iceberg and as she was lifted over, us ballast folks had our boots and my pants filled with freezing water….It was the main picture my husband took of me…we did not return to our ship right away because a pod of Orcas came right over to check us out….and bob the boat.
    Later that night we were eating dinner in the main boat and we could watch the huge whales bubble feeding right outside the dining room windows….Wow did cameras come out for that event…the ferries and the cruise ships could not even get close enough to see it…..we had to move our boat because we were too close….I will never forget that experience.

    I love the water and being out on sailboats and seeing the Orcas…it is such a part of my childhood. Knowing what was on the beach. My partner is a mountain person and does not much care for the ferry rides even.
    Ah what a post….Awareness is our theme at book group this month…I think the camera teaches you awareness!
    Oh the Martin Luther King event for this afternoon was just cancelled -too much snow! Another unusually siting!

    • What a wonderful story Patricia and I am so glad you decided to share it as part of this post. I waited a long while to have a lens that could do what I managed to capture in these photographs. They are so expensive – but worth it if a person is out almost everyday taking photographs. Stay cozy in your snow.

  7. Hello Terrill – or should I say Fellow Virgo?! – This is my first visit to your blog, but it won’t be my last! Thanks for visiting mine and for your lovely comment.

    What a magnificent set of photos! The scenery alone would have been a real treat, but the Orcas too. Brilliant! You mentioned in your comment your interest as an impressionist painter in capturing the emotion of light. I see that interest here too in your photography. I too, as a photographer, strive for the perfect capture of light. Sometimes I get it, sometimes not – but it’s the light in these photos that stands out for me.

    Your capture of Vancouver across the water and the pink mountains are beautiful. It’s a part of the world I’ve always wanted to visit.

    • I very much enjoyed coming to your blog home and visiting Janice 🙂 Yes it is the light and the emotion and energy of light that keeps me engage in my visual world. Thank you for your kind words about my work. If you ever get to these parts do come to Mayne Island and visit my home studio. In the meantime, I often provide a window into our natural world here so you are welcome to come by anytime and see what you can see.

  8. Stunning pictures!
    What an amazing experience to capture on film.
    I have wanted to travel to Canada for a long time (I’m from the UK) and this just reminds me why… So beautiful!

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