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Whale of a Tail

Whale of a Tail
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: 2007-12-27
Categories: Mammals
Camera: Canon EOS 1Ds MkII, Canon EF 300mm f2.8 USM IS
Exposure: f/5.0, 1/400 seconds
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Date Submitted: 2008-02-27 8:44
Viewed: 6368
Points: 48
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
I took this shot of a diving Sperm Whale on my trip to New Zealand at Christmas. It was hand-held using my 300mm 2.8 + 1.4x converter.

The sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is the largest of all toothed whales and is the largest toothed animal alive, with adult males measuring up to 20.5 m (67 ft) long. The whale was named after the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in its head and originally mistaken for sperm. The sperm whale's enormous head and distinctive shape, as well as its central role in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, have led many to describe it as the archetypal whale. Partly because of Melville, the sperm whale is commonly associated with the Leviathan of the Bible. The fearsome reputation perpetuated by Melville was based on bull whales ability to fiercely defend themselves from attacks by early whalers, sometimes resulting in the destruction of the whaling ships.

Historically the sperm whale has also been known as the common cachalot. The word cachalot is originally Portuguese (cachalote), probably coming from cachola, a colloquial term for head. Sperm whales were hunted until recently in the Portuguese Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. The sperm whale is also the state animal of Connecticut.

The sperm whale is exceptional for its very large head, particularly in males, which is typically one-third of the animal's length. Indeed, the species name macrocephalus is derived from the Greek for "big head". In contrast to the smooth skin of most other large whales, the skin on the back of the sperm whale is usually knobbly and has been likened to a prune by whale-watching enthusiasts. They are uniformly grey in colour, though they may appear brown in sunlight; white albino whales have also been reported. The brain of the sperm whale is the largest and heaviest known of any modern or extinct animal (weighing on average 7 kg (15 lb) in a grown male. However, the brain is not large relative to body size.

The blowhole is situated very close to the front of the head and shifted to the whale's left. This gives rise to a distinctive bushy blow angled forward. The sperm whale has no true dorsal fin, instead a series of ridges are present on the caudal third of the back. The largest was called the 'hump' by whalers and is commonly mistaken for a dorsal fin because of its shape.

Sperm whales are a prime example of a species that has been K-selected, a reproductive strategy associated with very stable environmental conditions that is characterized by a low birth rate, significant parental aid to offspring, slow maturation and high longevity. Females give birth once every four to six years, and the gestation period is at least 12 months and possibly as long as 18 months. Nursing takes place for two to three years. In males, puberty lasts for about ten years between the ages of about 10 and 20. Males continue to grow into their 30s and 40s and only reach their full size when about 50 years old. Sperm whales live for up to 80 years.

The sperm whale holds some natural world records:

1. Largest known toothed mammal ever.

2. Largest brain of any living creature on Earth. The brain of a mature sperm whale weighs 7 kg (15 pounds), though there have been specimens with 9 kg (20 pound) brains.

3. Largest living carnivore on Earth.

4. Deepest diving mammal (found at depths of 2,200 meters (7,200 ft) and can hold its breath for up to 2 hours.

5. Loudest animal in the world. Sperm whale clicks have a source level exceeding 230 dB re 1 micropascal referenced to a distance of 1 metre.

In 1820, a sperm whale estimated to be about 25.9 m (85 ft) long attacked a Nantucket whaling ship Essex. Only 8 out of the 20 sailors managed to survive and be rescued by other ships.

jaycee, XOTAELE, haraprasan, Evelynn, boreocypriensis, eqshannon, horia, CeltickRanger, rcrick, NinaM, elizabeth, Adanac, Luis52, ramthakur, PaulH, hester, bobcat08 has marked this note useful
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ThreadThread Starter Messages Updated
To bobcat08: Whale WatchingJamesp 2 03-01 01:01
To ramthakur: ThanksJamesp 1 02-28 22:58
To elizabeth: Kaikoura Whale TailJamesp 1 02-28 22:55
To horia: LuckyJamesp 1 02-28 22:53
To eqshannon: LuckyJamesp 1 02-28 22:51
To Evelynn: CoffeeJamesp 1 02-27 15:41
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Critiques [Translate]

  • Great 
  • jaycee Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2454 W: 10 N: 8044] (25460)
  • [2008-02-27 8:56]

Hi James,

What a sight this is! Great timing to catch him diving with only the tail and the wonderful splash. Very well done! The colors and water ripples are wonderful.


Hola James.
Una fabulosa captura, con muy buenos detalles y estupenda nitidez.
Buen encuadre amigo.
Un cordial saludo, JL.

Hi James,
What a lovely capture of this whale tail. Very good action capture. Excellent details and well composed. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Hello James,
When I see a tail from a Whale, I will remember Kaikoura for the attraction of tourist!
Looks like a good bright day for this beautiful captured with good exposure and focus!
a good image with a useful notes
many thanks

You are amazing. I just showed this image to my husband who uses that same lens and converter a lot. I asked him how the heck you got such a sharp image of a moving subject, handheld, from a boat at only 1/400? He just sort of snorted... "Well, he doesn't drink coffee...that's for sure!" .. then mumbled a few other things and left! : )

It's a great capture.

Evelynn : )

Hi James,

Classic shot with excellent detail and sharpness. Love the limited colour palette and graphic nature of the shot. You've done well holding that kit steady on a rocky boat.

Hi James,

A perferct capture of the tail of a diving Sperm Whale with excelent details, nice colors and wonderful composition. Also well-prepared useful note!
TFS friend.


Neat! Being or rather having lived in NorCal for 20 plus years....I can appreciate how these kinds of shots have to be done...even on whale watching expedition boats..many times it simply doesn't work well..but you have that almost arch typical image we have of the whale...and in this case your colours are better than my imagination!

  • Great 
  • horia Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2158 W: 224 N: 4749] (16656)
  • [2008-02-27 13:05]
  • [+]

Hi James

Another fantastic shot from you, my friend!
Even photographic wise this is a marble - handheld at 420mm at 1/400 on a beat? That is pretty impressive :)

But back to your great subject here - a beauty and again a rarity on TN.
I love the composition here and the arch that the tail makes just before splashing on the water. Also the drops of water coming down from it are a great bonus to the composition, just like the white foam behind the wail.
I read your note once more with a lot of interest - especially the records of this big fellow :)
Overall, another terrific addition to TN!

Bravo and TFS

hello James

what a great action shot with the waves line done,
the waters dropping from the tail, excellent POV & framing
with excellent density of the colours, i loved, TFS


Hi James,
I've been lucky enough to see this on a couple of occasion and itís an amazing site, you've captured it well here, lovely frozen action, excellent detail and sharpness, itís a shame that other whales are still being hunted and killed in this day and age.

  • Great 
  • NinaM Gold Star Critiquer [C: 773 W: 3 N: 1157] (4077)
  • [2008-02-27 17:27]

Wow, James, what an impressive story, it is very interesting! Those whales are from another world, aren't they? The only time I saw whales, it was in the St-Lawrence Gulf and I was totally impressed, having the feeling I was looking through an alien eye whereas I knew nothing of its reality. They are huge and alive, that's the thing. Thank you so much for those interesting comments and great picture of this vision you had of these beautiful creatures.


  • Great 
  • demeve Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 586 W: 12 N: 1682] (6165)
  • [2008-02-27 18:19]

Hello James,
Very nice picture, this Whale is diving deep.. Great image
and nice composition.. Well done


AWESOME! Nicely composed and beautifully sharp and great colour saturation. I wish my whale tail shot from Kaikoura was as good! I must go back for another trip.

  • Great 
  • Adanac Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1273 W: 1 N: 6188] (21378)
  • [2008-02-27 18:47]

Hello James,
This is superb Jmaes, I have yet to see a sperm whale, but if it like the humpback when they dive they are so graceful. Thank you James for sharing this wonderful image and the great notes.

  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2008-02-28 2:42]

Hi James,
nice shot of this diving Sperm Whale!
That must have been a breath-taking sight!
Superb composition.
I love the rich-blue sea... it looks veeeeeeeery deep!
Excellent sharpness and clarity for 1/400 on a rocking boat :-)
Thanks for sharing this,


Very witty caption to this action shot, James.
It must have been quite a challenge to capture the "whale of a tail" above water just for a fraction of a second. The water dripping off it shows how fast the action must be.
Great capture!

  • Great 
  • PaulH Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1137 W: 26 N: 3879] (13882)
  • [2008-02-28 7:42]

Hi James,
another trademark sea born shot - was it taken on a Zodiac as usual?? Seriously though, this is a classic shot alot of us would love to have. Super sharp detail and nicely composed with the frame, well done.

  • Great 
  • Luis52 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1175 W: 8 N: 4240] (15809)
  • [2008-02-28 9:03]

Hola James.
Vedaderamente hermosa esta foto. Finos colores y exelente momento capturado aqui. Me agradan mucho las "Ballenas" son unos hermosos mamiferos marinos, y sobre todo la forma en que se comunican entre si.
Saludos James.

  • Great 
  • hester Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1515 W: 18 N: 3165] (11638)
  • [2008-02-28 11:57]

Wow James

A sight I would love to see. Amazing how something so large can appear so graceful. I love the frozen action here. You can imagine that in a moment that tail will slip below the water



Hello James,

I am a little bit jealous on you that you such a beautiful whale could been captured. I was in 2005 on a delphin- and waletrip nearby Hole in The Rock (Bay of Islands). Yes, I have seen a few backs of one whale. But not so beautiful as yours. Very good action capture. Nice POV and BG. The waterdrops are perfect frozen. Chapeau my friend. Well done. Regards and TFS BOB

  • Great 
  • arfer Gold Star Critiquer [C: 2731 W: 0 N: 0] (0)
  • [2008-02-28 20:49]

Hello James

A beautiful capture of this whale tail.
Excellent POV .
The focus is sharp,and the shot is well composed.
It looks like you had a great time.


  • Great 
  • gannu Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 988 W: 4 N: 3277] (14761)
  • [2008-02-28 23:13]

Hi James, Lovely composition and excellent clarity of the water splash. Well done Ganesh

  • Great 
  • Janice Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3277 W: 148 N: 6163] (18832)
  • [2008-03-04 22:59]

BEAUTIFUL. Great capture James, and it must have been an exciting day for you.
Well captured

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