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Gray Whale Diving

Gray Whale Diving
Photo Information
Copyright: James Parker (Jamesp) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2008-05-26
Categories: Mammals
Camera: Canon EOS 1Ds MkII, Canon EF 300mm f2.8 USM IS
Exposure: f/6.3, 1/640 seconds
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Theme(s): under and above the seas and lakes [view contributor(s)]
Date Submitted: 2008-06-08 8:54
Viewed: 7405
Points: 44
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
I have just returned from the Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland. I spent yesterday on two of the islands photographing seabirds - and have a sunburnt neck!!

I took this from a moving boat with my 300mm 2.8 + 1.4x converter. It is handheld - but it was a solid boat not a zodiac this time.

The Gray Whale or Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a whale that travels between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of about 16 meters (52 ft), a weight of 36 tons and an age of 5060 years. Gray Whales were once called Devil Fish because of their fighting behavior when hunted. The Gray Whale is the sole species in the genus Eschrichtius, which in turn is the sole genus in the family Eschrichtiidae. This animal is descended from the filter-feeding whales that developed at the beginning of the Oligocene, over 30 million years before the present.

Two Pacific Ocean populations of Gray Whales exist: one of not more than 300 individuals whose migratory route is unknown, but presumed to be between the Sea of Okhotsk and southern Korea, and a larger one with a population between 20,000 and 22,000 individuals in the Eastern Pacific travelling between the waters off Alaska and the Baja California.

The Gray Whale was thought to have become extinct in the North Atlantic in the 17th century. Radiocarbon dating of subfossil remains has confirmed this, with whaling the possible cause.

In the fall, the Eastern Pacific, or California, Gray Whale starts a 23 month, 8,00011,000 km trip south along the west coast of Canada, the United States and Mexico. The animals travel in small groups. The destinations of the whales are the coastal waters of Baja California and the southern Gulf of California, where they breed and the young are born. The breeding behavior is complex and often involves three or more animals. The gestation period is about one year, and females have calves every other year. The calf is born tail first and measures about 4 meters in length. It is believed that the shallow waters in the lagoons there protect the newborn from sharks.

After several weeks, the return trip starts. This round trip of 16,00022,000 km, at an average speed of 5 km/h, is believed to be the longest yearly migration of any mammal. A whale watching industry provides ecotourists and marine mammal enthusiasts the opportunity to see groups of Gray Whales as they pass by on their migration.

The migration route of the Eastern Pacific, or California, Gray Whale is often described as the longest known mammal migration. Beginning in the Bering and Chukchi seas and ending in the warm-water lagoons of Mexico's Baja peninsula, their round trip journey moves them through 12,500 miles of coastline.

This journey begins each October as the northern ice pushes southward. Travelling both night and day, Gray whales average approximately 120 km (80 miles) per day. By mid-December to early January, the majority of the Gray whales are usually found between Monterey and San Diego, where they are often seen from shore.

By late December to early January, the first of the Gray Whales begin to arrive the calving lagoons of Baja. These first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to give birth to their calves, along with single females seeking out male companions in order to mate. By mid-February to mid-March the bulk of the Gray Whales have arrived the lagoons. It is at this time that the lagoons are filled to capacity with nursing, calving and mating Gray Whales.

The three primary lagoons that the whales seek in Baja California are Scamnon's (named after a notorious whale hunter in the 1850s who discovered the lagoons and later became one of the first protectors of the Greys), San Ignacio and Magdalena. As noted, the Greys were called the devil fish until the early 1970s when a fisherman in the Laguna San Ignacio named Pachico Mayoral (although terrified to death) reached out and touched a Grey mother that kept approaching his boat. Today the whales in Laguna San Ignacio are protected but it is possible to visit a whale camp there and have the same experience that Pachico had.

Throughout February and March, the first Gray Whales to leave the lagoons are the males and single females. Once they have mated, they will begin the trek back north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborn calves are the last to leave the lagoons. They leave only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April. Often there are still a few lingering Gray Whale mothers with their young calves in the lagoons well into May.

A population of about 2,000 gray whales stay along the Oregon coast throughout the summer, not making the farther trip to Alaska waters.

vanderschelden, SelenE, nglen, cataclysta, jaycee, gracious, Dis. Ac., eqshannon, Royaldevon, dB_grafix, NinaM, nkasot, Evelynn, Ingrid1 has marked this note useful
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Critiques [Translate]

Well done, James.
Good sharpness and compo.
Interesting and useful content.

  • Great 
  • SelenE Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2249 W: 65 N: 4205] (13972)
  • [2008-06-08 10:10]

Hello dear James,
Sorry I've missed your latest postings and the things you've written. I'm very delighted to see you're still here, and I'm happy that you have such a strong personality and feeling better.
This is a very nice photo. TFS
All the best,

  • Great 
  • nglen Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2883 W: 30 N: 9683] (36145)
  • [2008-06-08 10:15]

Hi James. Once again a good picture taken hand held and from a boat. A great shot with good timing. well done TFS. Interesting notes too.

  • Great 
  • jaycee Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2454 W: 10 N: 8044] (25460)
  • [2008-06-08 10:59]

Hi James,

Wow! You caught the dive perfectly - great great timing. He made quite a splash - I love the dripping water. Fine details, wonderful action, and a great composition.


Hello James,
Very sharp with perfect moment to the the splash from the tail! even hand held!
many thanks for the useful notes about them!
best regards

Hello James,

everyday i look to your pictures.
You have ben seen many animals and posted a lot, they all were beautiful also this one.


  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2008-06-08 12:10]

Wow!! Awesome capture, James!
Really well exposurd and great timing to capture this perfect moment.
Pin-sharp and very crisp.
Excellent composition.
Very well done!


Hi James, wonderful capture of the horizontal caudal fin of a Gray Whale my friend. Splendid shot in all aspects! Your notes are great as usual. TFS.


I am very familiar James..not only with the geography but the whales of course which I was used to seeing EVERY day on my 20 plus years of the California Coast...there is hardly a species I did not see, eat, pick, fish or anything but shoot...some with camera and I have just found videos from the day..so maybe I shall be doing that soon...but until then I shall have to look at your fine whale tail and leave it at that.

Wow James, this is what I have only seen on the television! What an experience to see it in reality!
Great shot for one that was hand held on a boat!

Glad you're still posting!

Kind regards,
Bev :-)

hello James

excellent shot of the Gray Whale on diving action,
fine POV, amd DOF, i love the waves around the whale
and teh water coming down from his taill, TFS


Hello James,
Great shot, fantastic composition and point of view, excellent timing, wonderful sharpness, good depth of field, very nice natural colors and superb details, i love the splash of the water from the tail.TFS

This is a shot I must try for one day. Being so close to this,yet never getting out to see them.
The droplets coming from the tail worked well James.That's good for handheld.
This is the point of view you would also want to see on a very calm early morning.

Hi James
I like that kind of shots. I have seen humback wales in Antarctica but I dont have any good photo. Beautiful almost BW shot with good sharpness and nice composition
I like it very much
Best wishes

Hi James
Well seen and captured. You have lovely sharpness on his tail and that water looks oh so cold!

  • Great 
  • NinaM Gold Star Critiquer [C: 773 W: 3 N: 1157] (4077)
  • [2008-06-09 6:02]

Hooo, lucky you to have witnessed those sea beauties! A perfect picture for a perfect creature, out of this world yet so close to us. Thank you!


  • Great 
  • Mana Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1772 W: 36 N: 5597] (18598)
  • [2008-06-09 8:51]

Hi James,
Nice to see you back. Wonderful shot and you have great timing here. I have seen the Gray Whale diving on national Geographic and you have portrayed it with equal skill. I like your choice of B/W, it gives a nice feel. Excellent DOF, POV and composition. Kudos.

  • Great 
  • arfer Gold Star Critiquer [C: 2731 W: 0 N: 0] (0)
  • [2008-06-09 9:49]

Hello James

Well you certainly had a bountiful trip to Canada.
This is a wonderful capture of a rarity here on TN.
The focus is sharp and you have managed some lovely water detail.
Well composed.



Your eyes have seen more than any one person could ever dream to glimpse. Expert timing to catch the swoop of the tail, in my mind the slap of the tail is making me grin. Thank you James as your shots always make me smile when I feel a little under.


Superb capture of this whale caudal part. TFS. Greetings,

I remember "Tofino" (Did you mean Tofino?). We've had several boats and we boated around there... but before we were into photography. Almost met Neptune himself during a storm there. I actually was not too sad to put the boating era of our life behind us... but we did see some beautiful scenery around Van. Island and in the fjords of western BC mainland. We've boated along with orcas and minky whales but never close to a gray. We've seen them sometimes from shore during the migration. They sometimes come into a cove along the Oregon coast and you can stand right above them and count the barnacles and look them in the eye!

It is always special to see the tail. I've never managed a photo of one though. My timing is not so good... and back then the shutter delay was so bad that it was next to impossible. I'm still impressed with the shots you get handheld from a moving deck.

Evelynn : )

Dear James
I just found this image, a perfect candidate for my new theme " under and above the seas"

You caught the tail fin at a great moment. When we were in Antarctica the on board scientist was looking for this type of photo to set up a database trekking the whales (every tail is different!)

Thanks for sharing
Warm Greetings, have a happy week,

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