Sunday, December 30, 2007

Serious air in Alaska

August, 2007
These are all images of the same adult humpback whale breaching. Each "pose" seems a little different from the others and there seems to be no end to the variations on the theme. The breach above was more of a head-lunge leading into a belly-flop. Notice that the eye is closed!

This breach is going for the huge arching back-slap with a full twist in mid-air!

Simulating a rocket launching into the sky, or a submarine launching from the depths (of course humpbacks knew how to do this long before we humans built machines capable of these feats!)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you think the huge "O" of water off the pectoral fin was intentional? Hmmm....

Here's looking at you, BABY!

August, 2007
Not only do adult humpback whales love to breach, but babies love to get in on the act as well! This little calf is probably about six months old, having been born in Hawaii in January or February of this year. It has been very patient while mom has been busy bubble-net feeding with her friends here in Chatham Strait, but ENOUGH is ENOUGH! When a tail-throw and some pectoral fin slaps do not get mom's attention then what is a baby to do? The answer of course is to BREACH! I was as surprised as this little calf must have been to find that it was breaching right at out little inflatable boat!

Seeing it through my 70-200mm lens I prepared for the soaking I was sure was coming my way when this baby hit the water, but not a drop reached us on the inflatable. Good thing that objects appear larger and closer in the lens than they really are...whew!

I have filmed literally hundreds of humpback whale breaches over the years, but this one really got my heart pounding. There is ALWAYS more to see where these animals are concerned.

This young calf gets extra style points in its breaching efforts for the water it is flinging off its body when it twists in mid-air! A perfect 10!

And then another breach, seems like a star is born!

Alaskan salmon: fish for life

August, 2007
The five species of Pacific Salmon found here in Southeastern Alaska are the cornerstone of much of the biodiversity found here. Animals as diverse as eagles and gulls to brown and black bears all rely on salmon returning from the open ocean to spawn as a primary food source in the summer. People love them too!

These pink salmon have returned to their natal stream in order to spawn and pass on their genes to future generations. All of the leaping may be in preparation for rapids to come, or possibly to loosen eggs and milt for actual spawning.

August is a very busy month for pink salmon, with literally hundreds of rivers and streams witnessing the return of these fish. The fate of each individual is assured, whether successful in spawning or not. The nutrients in their bodies will not go to waste, however. Some other animal will be the beneficiary of their return to these waters. And so this amazing life comes full circle.

Birds of Alaska

Southeast Alaska August, 2007
From the largest to the smallest the seabirds of Southeastern Alaska are finishing up their duties as parents and getting ready to finally get those chicks out of the nest! The days are getting shorter and fall is on its way! This adult bald eagle is no doubt bringing home dinner to a couple of chicks that are by now very large and ready to fledge.

This adult pigeon guillemot has caught a sand lance and will be returning to the nest to offer it up to its hungry offspring.

First year Bonaparte's gulls learning to fend for themselves in the calm waters of Takatz Bay.

This dimunitive marbled murrelet is learning how to dive for its dinner. Bottom's up!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The "Bear" Necessities

Svalbard, July 2007

Polar Bears! How can you not absolutely fall in love with the grace and beauty of these, the largest bears currently living on planet Earth? The cuteness factor coupled with the notion that this is an animal that can, and has, attacked and killed people couple to make this one of the most mysterious predators around.

Much has been written in recent years about the fate of this Arctic mammal, whether or not as a species polar bears can survive our warming planet. Time of course will tell us all, but it is hard to quantify just what a loss the world would experience should we lose this bear. In the meantime, celebrate the beauty and majesty if you dare!

Adult male on the beach on Spitsbergen Island, Svalbard.

Shaking off the cold sea water before going ashore.

The easiest way to travel from ice floe to floe; jump!

Gulls know better than to get too close!

Reflected images in a meltwater pool. Will global warming be the end of polar bears?

Visit to see my other photos.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to all

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only thing a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘t was only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliff and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate, Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good.
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Although I am not spending Christmas at sea this year, it is one of my very favorite poems, I hope you enjoy it. May I be the very first to wish you and yours a very safe and joyous holiday season!

2007 was an amazing year for me full of many exciting events:

I crossed all the major lines of the sun's annual path at sea this year including the:

- Antarctic Circle (west side of the Antarctic Peninsula)
- Tropic of Capricorn (off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean)
- Equator (in the Pacific off the Galapagos and also in the Atlantic)
- Tropic of Cancer (in the Pacific, Gulf of California, and the Atlantic)
- Arctic Circle (to 82 degrees north in Svalbard, northern Atlantic)

I safely crossed the dreaded Drake Passage in the southern ocean 12 times (and only got violently seasick during a few of them!!)

I started and ended the year in Antarctica, surrounded by ice, penguins, and good friends.

I finally got the images of wolves in Yellowstone I have been trying for (soon to be posted here).

I travelled over 25,000 nautical miles via ship this year, and spent over 200 nights at sea.

But mostly I got the privilege to continue to follow a dream I have had since I was a very young man; to be in the field in the presence of the most incredible animals on the planet with people who share my love and passion for wild places.

The latest photos from this year in review will post here soon, I promise!

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

- Michael