Monday, July 17, 2017

St. Vincent's Beach

 Well, a trip to St. Vincent's yesterday yielded many potential topics for a blog. Catherine Barrett and I had so many uncommon, up-close encounters. The quandary now is which one to share first. Upon reflection, I thought I should go with the one that enthralled me the most.... an astounding whale show.
 The whales were so close to the beach we frequently got misted as they expelled just prior to rising to the surface. We were so close we could look the whales in the eye.
 It is challenging to get any decent pictures when the creatures are so close, so plentiful and so unpredictable. Typically, I watch for the blow as that comes from the top-most point of the head. The first part to surface. Following that, the whale may surface more or just sink back out of sight.
 This shot shows just how close they were. The ripple at the bottom of the photo is the gentle wave rolling right onto the beach. I was told St. Vincent's is one of the best places to view whales, because there is a sudden, deep drop-off very close to shore. They were so close at time I thought they might become beached.
 Pictures aside, what an exhilarating, exciting, marvelous experience. For nearly two hours we watched as the whales worked a steady pattern of feeding from one end of the beach to the other. At times they moved together as though it were some type of feeding strategy. Other times, a single whale would move about. There was at least one small one among the group of about six close to shore and more off shore.
 The whales displayed their fins as they rolled, but didn't go into any near-shore slapping frenzy. I included this shot because it looks like something attached to the fin. Could it be a transmitter?
 The size and thickness of the fins is amazing.
 The markings on the fins are variable, and I suspect they are as unique as the typical identifying fluke pattern.
 There were injured fins, and there were fins encrusted with barnacles. I wondered if the amount of barnacles lent any information to the aging of the animal.
 Sitting on the rocks and enjoying this spectacle, I realized just how little I know about the Humpback Whale. I have seen them for years, both up close and afar. However, never have I seen them this close.

 There were only these three opportunities to capture pics of the whale tale. Whales need to dive more deeply for the tail to surface in this way.
 With the whales in so close, there was no diving. Fortunately, the deep water wasn't that far away. While my 300 mm lens was not the best for the close shots, it served me well to get these.

 With tails, fens and blow holes addressed, I finally get to my favorite shots... the head and mouth. I wondered what the whales were eating. There were no capelin on the beach, and I didn't see any birds with capelin.  It wasn't until I saw this image that I saw the tiny fish the whales were scooping up. They are so tiny. How many thousands of this did they eat during the two-hour frenzy we observed.
 The lower jaw is like a bucket, much larger than the upper jaw. As they skim they work to fill up the bucket with fish. They rose from the cover of the water with a mouth full of the ocean and fish.

 Check out how the portion of the lower jaw is bloated. This is the first time I ever saw this.
 Then, when the whales reach the surface, they expel the water with great force, keeping the fish inside.

 I even got a shot of the tongue. Now that I have seen these images and made some fair observations of their pattern of surfacing. I would love to return to the beach to try again for better shots. I was told the best show happens around 8 p.m. when the Humpbacks stop feeding and begin playing. This includes tail and fin slapping and the most desired photo op of all ..... the full breach.

 At one point, three heads immerged at the same time, but I wasn't quick enough to get them all. In fact after this session, I felt like I had run a race. Who knew being a spectator could require so much engagement?
With one parting shot, I reluctantly turned my attention to the Jaegers which I do not see very often.

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