Orcas, surveying the scene
It was a perfect day for photography! It rained through the night and the morning air was calm, and cool. The sky was featureless, and the clouds low and very, very grey. Like I said, it was perfect! As I stood on the deck of our whale watching boat, the Naiad Explorer, I could see the dorsal fins of a pod of orcas in the distance. With the hydrophone in the water, I could hear their haunting songs.
I’ve always thought of whales as amazing creatures and during my trip to the west coast of Canada in August of last year I finally got the chance to photograph them. My interest in whales goes way back in elementary school, when in my sixth grade science class I had to write a report and do a one minute presentation on an endangered species and I chose the Humpback Whale. To this day, I remember how stressed I was when I found out I had to do the presentation in front of the whole class. Well, the stress has long since passed but my interest in whales has remained strong.
The narrow Johnstone Straight located between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia is one of the best places in North America to see and photograph orcas and that is why my girlfriend Kate and I chose this location for our adventure. While there are several whale watching tour companies on Vancouver Island, I chose the family run Mackay Whale Watching based out of Port McNeill. Captain Bill pilots the MacKay’s boat, the Naiad Explorer. The Naiad Explorer is a 17m aluminum vessel custom built for whale watching. It’s fast, comfortable, and stable all of which make it an ideal platform for photography. The tour lasted almost 5 hours and in that time we saw dozens of orcas, several humpback whales, countless dolphins.
Coming from landscape photography where I can set up the shot ahead of time and then just wait for the light to be perfect, I found photographing whales to be a bit of a challenge. Of the hundred of shots I took that day there are only a handful that I’m really happy with. The biggest obstacle is that no one can ever be sure exactly where a whale is going to come up. And when it does come up, you’ve only got a few moments to compose and focus and release the shutter before it disappears again.
In the end, it was a fantastic day out on the water and I came away from the experience with an even bigger appreciation of whales than ever before. Having the opportunity to witness and photograph orcas and humpbacks in the wild was truly an awe-inspiring experience. One I can’t wait to do it again.
Orca (Orcinus orca)
Bull orca (Orcinus orca)