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.

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

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