Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sperm whale at sunset

It has been almost fifteen years now since I saw my very first sperm whale here in the Gulf of California, and the sight of one still makes my heart race! I can only imagine the lives these animals lead in the deep waters surrounding the midriff islands and the trenches in the middle gulf. Capturing an image like this one, just before a dive to thousands of feet to hunt for squid, is only a glimpse into a place I can only dream about...que le vaya bien, compadre.

This animal has an unusual amount of damage (probably bites from an Orca attack) to the trailing edge of it's flukes. Some day I may get to witness such a battle...

A young sperm whale surfacing in deep water off Isla San Pedro Martir. Note the smooth skin in the area around the head as well as the blowhole all the way forward and on the left side of the head.

Visit to see my other photos.

Dolphins of Loreto Bay National Marine Park

WOW! I have just printed this image today (June 9, 2007) and I have to say it looks INCREDIBLE as a print! The two dolphins are floating, surrounded by the other dolphins! If you have ever considered getting a dolphin print as a gift or for yourself, I can promise you will not be disappointed in this one. To order simply visit my website at and click on the "featured Images" section. Thanks!!

April, 2007

Here in the National Marine Park of Loreto Bay these long-beaked common dolphins surface in waters so clear and calm that it seems as if they are levitating in space rather than swimming in the ocean. What perfect conditions to observe and film such sleek mammals.

A giant needlefish seems suspended in air as the dolphins pass below it.

There is so much magic to be found in this area, yet the pressures of development loom large in the near future. Who can blame anyone for trying to experience the wildlife of the Gulf of California, and particularly the waters of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park? There is absolutely no doubt about it; THESE are the good old days in Baja...enjoy it while you can!

A curious adult bottlenose dolphin turns to look at us as we are all hanging over the bow to get a closer look at it. Just who is the more interesting mammal, anyway (my money is on the dolphin.)

A bow riding pair of bottlenose compete for the "sweet spot" right on the tip of the pressure ridge caused by the ship. Surf's up dude!

Visit http://www.wildlifeimages.netto see my other photos.

Salinas salt mine on Isla Carmen

Here on the east side of Isla Carmen is an abandoned salt mining operation in Salinas Bay. While salt hasn't been mined here since the 1960's, private owners have taken over the little town site and kept up this unique little spot. What a wonderful diversion and step back in time on an otherwise uninhabited island!

Remnants of the mining operation are strewn about the town site including old machinery, cars, loaders, and abandoned buildings. Isla Carmen is part of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park (founded in July, 1996) and protected under the park's jurisdiction. Permits are required to land here and to explore the abandoned town site.

What a wonderful idea... an old forklift converted to hold planted cactus!

The abandoned mining offices still hold file cabinets and even the company payroll safe. The area has the feel of a western ghost!

Abandoned U.S. manufactured cars in the middle of an uninhabited desert island attest to how "odd" this place is. There is really only one dirt road around town, the half mile drive to the salt water lagoon itself.

You can still see the train tracks where the salt was brought from the lagoon to the town site for shipment. The lagoon itself has a beautiful turquoise color cast to the water, surrounded in blinding white salt shores.

And of course the salt in the lagoon covers everything! This little side trip is definitely the way to spend a morning when the wind and sea conditions make it difficult to watch for whales or dolphins. Such an anachronism here on Isla Carmen!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Surrounded by Blackfish!

Blackfish! This is the name given to a small group of cetaceans that are actually more closely related to dolphins than to whales, but due to their larger size they are often given the misnomer of whales. The killer whale, actually the world's largest dolphin, belongs to this group.

Today we encounter one of the larger blackfish; the short-finned pilot whale. There were literally hundreds of these animals spread out as far as the eye could discern near Isla Ildefonso.

This animal waved goodbye with a wave of a tail and a fluke-up dive!

Off Isla San Esteban we encounter a pod of about thirty different blackfish called false-killer whales, or Pseudorca. All ages were represented, from old bulls to newborn calves. We travel along the coast with this group, part of the pod for just a little while.

Traveling at speed these animals are actually lunging out of the water as they travel.

Here are the three adults surfacing side-by-side in relatively shallow water off the east coast of Isla San Esteban.

Spring fin whales in Baja

April, 2007

It has been almost a year since I have been in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), and for me that is a long time away from an area I consider home. This body of water between the Baja peninsula and mainland Mexico is home to over thirty species of cetaceans, making it one of the richest places on the planet to come and see whales and dolphins. This trip did not disappoint as I encountered six different types of cetaceans in a single week! This pair of fin whales off Isla San Esteban in the midriff region were sub-surface feeding time and again. I estimated the bigger animal to be over 60 feet long...Caramba!

So how do you know when the whale you are watching is a fin whale? Given that there are several species of large baleen whales in the area you hope for a look at the whale just like this; where you can see the right side of the head. Only fin whales have an asymmetrical coloration pattern where the lower right side of the head is white, the left side is black. A perfect look at the defining field characteristic for this beautiful whale.

There are over four hundred resident fin whales living in the Gulf of California today. They have taken up residency because the waters in this sea are so rich that they do not need to migrate great distances in order to feed, everything they need is right here in these waters. Researchers can tell individuals by their dorsal fins, each fin has a distinct size, shape, ans color pattern. Amazing!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ascension Island

On our approach to Ascension Island literally hundreds of flying fish were encountered as the hull of the National Geographic Endeavour sliced through the calm waters. Schools of flying fish would explode from in front of the bow and "fly" to safety away from us. The action was fast and furious as of course the fish never erupted from the water in the exact same place!

For more than an hour the action was stop-and-go as new schools fled our approach. Literally thousands of images were attempted on the bow by several photographers and of course only a very few were worth keeping, the success percentage running less than 1%!

How fun to be poised on the bow with my telephoto ready to shoot at the first hint of this elusive fish!

Later that night we went ashore to watch the return of nesting green sea turtles to their natal beaches to lay eggs. The huge females would first dig out a body pit with her front flippers, then delicately carve out an egg chamber with her back flippers. Once the chamber was ready each female would deposit roughly 100 eggs into the chamber. The eggs looked like ping pong balls as they began to fill the hole mom had just made. When she was finally done laying eggs the female would cover the chamber first, then crawl forward and fill in the body pit. Just watching all that work was exhausting!

Life at sea in the Atlantic

One of the best things about being at sea in the Atlantic is that you just never know what might float by as you travel. The pace of life itself tends towards "floating". Here a Potuguese Man-of-war on a glass-flat afternoon just before sunset!

A red-billed tropicbird resting on the ocean just off the shoreline of St. Helena.

Rough-toothed dolphins riding the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour.

A spectacled petrel on the wing at sunrise in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

A yellow-nosed albatross following in the ship's wake off the Tristan da Cunha Island Group.

A juvenile bottlenose dolphin surfing beside the ship as we approach Tristan da Cunha.

The hilariously crested moseleyi rockhopper penguin on Nightingale Island.
Visit http://www.wildlifeimages.netto see my other photos.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wandering Albatross on Prion Island

The wandering albatross is one of the largest flying birds on Earth. With a wingspan of over 11 feet and a weight approaching 25 pounds this is truly one amazing bird. Here on Prion Island the wanderers are performing their courtship rituals, trying to find and attract a suitable mate. The dance is intricate, the moves perfectly choreographed. Such a privilege to observe and film one of nature's best mating behaviours.

This pair is totally engrosed in each other, oblivious to the outside world!

Sometimes there is quite a bit of discussion as to just who is going to pair up with whom! A lot of side-to-side rocking, foot lifting, head shaking, and posturing goes on before an actual pair break off on their own.

Other times it seems that there is a singles mixer for all the newly mature albatross to meet and gather. Kind of like those awkward high school dances so many of us endured years ago...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

South Georgia - King Penguins

King penguins! On South Georgia the huge colonies that we visited were simply overwhelming. The sight, the smell, and the sound of literally hundreds of thousands of nesting king penguins has got to be experienced to be believed. I hope these images can offer even a glimpse...

A lone chinstrap penguin (in the foreground) hanging out with king penguins in Stromness Bay.

National Geographic Endeavour staff Richard White amongst a sea of king penguins.

Three curious adult king penguins posing for the camera on Salisbury Plains.

Adult king penguin pair displaying courtship behavior in Right Whale Bay.

King penguin colony on South Georgia Island. Perhaps as many as 2.3 million king penguins survive on the planet today.
Visit http://www.wildlifeimages.netto see my other photos.

Antarctic fur seal RESCUE!

National Geographic Endeavour staff Tim, Patrick, and Lisa work to cut off a plastic band that is choking a fur seal pup on South Georgia. The "operation" was successful, and this lucky pup scampered away a little dazed, but out of danger of choking to death. Great job guys!

South Georgia - Antarctic Fur Seals

Antarctic fur seals were hunted to commercial extinction beginning in the 1790's. Since that time this species has made an incredible recovery with some population estimates as high as 4 million animals, 95% of that number being distributed on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seal pups are amazingly curious and will approach if you simply sit down on the beach. This pup posed perfectly right in front of the National Geographic Endeavour...what a ham!

With a growth rate approaching 10% per year mothers and pups are quite easy to photograph.

Asleep and smiling, oblivious to the stealthy photographer clicking away!
Visit http://www.wildlifeimages.netto see my other photos.