Another one of my favourite photography subjects in summertime is seen during my frequent boating trips: Humpback Whales.
In fact, I’m seeing more and more of them all the time. They are returning to British Columbia in increasingly higher numbers every year.
Commercial whaling in British Columbia ended 50 years ago (the year I was born actually). Since that time, the number of Humpback whales has gone from a low of 1,500 to around 20,000 animals. While that’s a significant comeback, it’s still well below pre-whaling levels when they were killed by the thousands for their blubber. They are still considered an “at risk” species.
The bay where I grew up in Nanaimo, BC, was once the location of one of the coastal whaling stations so that’s probably why I first became interested in them.
Photographing the Humpbacks is a much different experience than photographing the Orcas! Orcas, being the largest of the porpoises, are incredibly fast, agile, and often playful. Plus, they have biosonar so they know exactly where you are should they decide to come in your direction.
Humpbacks, on the other hand, are slower moving animals, 10 times the size of an Orca, and do not have biosonar so they can be oblivious to the location of boats. Unfortunately most boaters do not seem to know that and they get too close. In fact, vessel strikes are the most significant threat to the species. So if you see one, it’s really important to keep your distance.
These photos may look like I was close to them, but remember, they are gigantic animals, I’m using a 400mm lens, and the photos are all cropped.
Getting the shot is much easier with Humpbacks because they typically come to the surface of the water and let out an extremely loud blow. I often hear them before I see them. After that they usually surface a few more times, then I’ll see the hump, which means they are going for a deep dive and the tail is going to come up. The tail is never a surprise!
Seeing an animal as large and magnificent as a Humpback in the wild is always a magical experience – every single time. Just one more reason why I come back here every summer.