Whale of a Tale

Whale SM11-100

Motorists traveling down Highway 101 in northern California were surprised to find hundreds of people standing on the bridge peering over the edge. “What is everyone looking at?” asked one motorist. “It’s salmon run and there’s a forty footer down there,” answered one of the river gapers.

Well, okay, it’s not quite a 40 foot salmon, but close enough. In late June of 2011, a demented 45 foot gray whale, accompanied by her whalet progeny, decided she had enough of tail-flapping among the swelling seas and, intent on trying her luck in fresher waters, entered the Klamath River, the second largest river in California. Perhaps she was suffering under the delusion that she was a salmon and needed to swim upstream for spawning. Or perhaps it was merely the normal sort of female lunacy ubiquitous of various mammals of that gender. In any case, she found a spot she liked under the Klamath bridge, where Highway 101 stretches across the mighty river, and there she stayed for weeks on end, swimming in senseless circles. Around the fourth week, her smaller whale progeny returned to the sea, leaving the neurotic mother to fight against the strong Klamath river currents all on her own.

Photographing a 40 foot critter from 80+ feet poses serious challenges, especially when most of the critter is submerged. I initially shot with my longest lens, the Pentax DA* 300, hoping to isolate salient aspects of the watery beast, as in these “head” shots:

When the whale was right under the Klamath Bridge, I could get pretty close with my 300mm lens, as in this shot of the whale’s blow-hole:

The real problem is that there wasn’t much beyond the blowhole to photograph close-up on the whale: just a lot of grayish-blue blubber sprinkled with whitish blotches of various shapes and descriptions. One subject, already illustrated in some of the above photographs, was the blowhole, which provided various situations of photographic interest:

After getting my fill of close-ups, I went with a lens of more modest focal length, the Pentax A 35-105. With the lens I hoped to get some complete body shots, but by this time, the sun was shining rather brightly and the glare off the water and the moist animal was becoming deeply problematic:

I even tried to few “landscape” shots, where I tried to show the whale in her chosen environment; but the harsh noon light worked against these attempts, as in this shot of the whale heading upstream: