Thursday, July 8, 2010

Killer Whales!!

Me, taking pictures of killer whale dorsal fins with a big fancy camera.
Pack of killer whales!!!
This picture and the next are shots I took while trying to capture the dorsal fin and saddle patch of the killer whales.

Heather and Kevin Riley, my whale photo tutors.
Today was AMAZING!! I spent most of the day on a boat following killer whales and it was truly awesome. First of all, it was sunny and 65 degrees today and weather like that just doesn't show up everyday here in Sitka. We got out on boat in the morning right as the fog lifted and almost immediately ran into a pack of about six killer whales. With me on the excursion were Heather and Kevin Riley; Heather is a whale researcher who used to work in the office here in Sitka, but left to get her masters in Fairbanks. She is back for a few weeks this summer to help Jan with some humpback data collection along with her husband Kevin. They are actually two of the nicest people I have ever met and I was so lucky that they agreed to take me out in the skiff today and give me some pointers on photographing whales. Kevin has this great southern accent and pronounces the "h" in whale- it makes me giggle every time. Anyways, we found these killer whales and decided to follow them and get some good pictures. When taking pictures of killer whales the goal is to capture the dorsal fin and the white patch behind the dorsal called the "saddle patch". These are two of the most distinguishing features of a killer whale and we can therefore use these clues to ID the whales and determine whether they are resident or transient, fish eaters or marine mammal eaters. We got so close to these whales, it was incredible. They're so beautiful! I got some really good practice taking pictures too. Killer whales are easier to photograph than humpbacks in that they surface more often and travel in groups, but they move really fast and it's hard to snap a picture of that saddle patch before they dive down again. We spent several hours following the whales before they swam too far out to sea. We then found a humpback and I got a great fluke shot of it- I think I'm getting better at this whole photography thing. Heather's specialty is in getting whale biopsies; she shoots special arrow with a crossbow that hits the whale and takes a little piece of its skin off so that we can get genetic information on the whale. She shot one of the whales today and got a skin sample- it was a pretty neat process to watch.
On a different topic, Linda and Kent got back from 5 days of fishing on Tuesday night. They caught a lot of King Salmon and seemed to be pretty happy with the outcome of the trip. They leave again tomorrow except this time for a wedding in California. So I'm back on dog duty tomorrow with another rainy weekend ahead of me, but at least I got to enjoy the sunshine today!

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