by wjw on June 29, 2019

Version 2This is the less successful of the two photos I managed of breaching humpbacks.  But then any photo you get of a breaching whale is a success, no?

I shouldn’t have written “humpbacks,” because there was only one humpback jumping this day, and he kept it up for some time, as if he were indulging all the photographers on board.  (I’m guessing he was a he, and trying to impress a female with a display of his athleticism.)  He seems to have thought he was a spinner dolphin, because he spun as he breached, which is why each photo shows only a single fin.  He was quite successful at corkscrewing through the sky.

We boarded our boat in Húsavik, a port town on the north coast that is sort of Whale Central.  We were on a restored fishing boat, and not exactly ideal for sightseeing, since there wasn’t a lot of room at the rail and the boat had a tendency to roll.  I was told we were going to have to put on a survival suit before we went to sea, just in case we tumbled into the briny.  The survival suit turned out to be a (rather cramped) overall, to keep me warm.  If I’d actually gone into the ocean, it would have dragged me down to my death.

We went for quite some distance before we discovered any whales, and when they appeared, they were a mother and calf swimming on the starboard side.  I was on the port side, and I was trying to gauge the odds of my getting across the rolling deck without being thrown head-first into some machinery, or breaking an ankle . . . and then of course once I got there, I’d have to elbow my way through a crowd to see anything.  I consoled myself with the idea that I’d seen whales swimming more spectacularly in Mexico earlier this year.

The calf seemed to view the boat as a toy, and kept swimming under it to the port side, then swimming back.  It didn’t surface on the port side, but I could keep track of it by his big white fins visible through the water.

Then this other whale appeared on the port side and started doing acrobatics.  I already had my piece of the rail staked out, so I started snapping away.

A breaching whale is only visible for a second or two, and then there’s only the foam that marks the place where he submerged.  There was no way to actually aim the camera, focus, and fire in the instant available, so I took advantage of the fact that, when printed, the pictures produced by my Canon are maybe eighteen feet long.  In other words, if you blow up a small piece of a very large picture, you’ll still have a respectable photograph.

When the whale did anything, I just stuck the camera out and snapped.  What with the boat’s roll many pictures were of the sky or the ocean, and some were out of focus because the Canon’s autofocus feature just sucks, but I did get two pictures of the whale breaching, and more of the humpback spyhopping or penduncling, which are amusing things the whales do so that tourists can have something to talk about.

So all I had to get a decent picture was crop out the 85% of the picture that I didn’t want, and Bob was, as it were, my uncle.

I felt for the German guy who showed up on the boat with a zoom lens as long as my arm, and which would have produced a terrific picture if he’d just had it pointed at exactly the right part of the ocean in the right 1.5-second interval.  I asked him if he’d got anything good.  “Nix!” he snarled.

More evidence that if you want to be a good nature photographer, you’ll take 99 bad pictures for every good one.

Etaoin Shrdlu June 30, 2019 at 8:23 am

Does your camera have a video setting? That might have been useful.

I think my ratio is even worse, but then again, I never claimed to be a good nature photographer. Top 7 are me:

Susan June 30, 2019 at 8:04 pm

Enjoying your Iceland trip vicariously. It’s on my list of places to go someday.
I’m curious about the survival suit; when sailors put on a dry suit for winter sailing they have to try and expel the air that’s trapped inside so if they do go in the water the life jacket will be what keeps them afloat, not the air in the dry suit. (Frostbite sailing is a thing here on the Chesapeake, though not my thing at all.)

wjw June 30, 2019 at 9:02 pm

I’ve never used a dry suit, so Susan, you’re the expert there.

What I was given was just a heavy lined jumpsuit, easily waterlogged. There were lifejackets available, but we were never asked to wear them.

wjw June 30, 2019 at 9:04 pm

Etaoin, nice pics! We’ve got a good crop of butterflies this year, but most of them seem to end up on my windshield.

Etaoin Shrdlu July 5, 2019 at 4:53 am

Thank you kind sir! I remember you mentioned getting a bunch of rain this Spring — that seems to help them survive. We got totally soaked all Spring back in 2013 and 2014 and there were hundreds flitting around on the lawn most mornings. The last couple of years, lucky to see even one or two. This year is better, but nothing like 2013-2014.

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