Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blue Whale beached


A giant Blue Whale was beached at Bean Hollow State Beach just north of Pigeon Point Lighthouse and south of Pescadero. Here is one of the photos I took. The rest can be seen and purchased at http://www.seasurfnbird.smugmug.com. I was at Pigeon Point Lighthouse when I read the Santa Cruz Sentinel News online about the whale. I thought: sunset, low tide and I've never seen a beached Blue Whale, the largest animal to ever live on Earth and then concluded that I have got to see this for myself. Just less than 5 miles north of me I arrived about an hour and a half before sunset and there were plenty of empty parking spots. Naturalists from the nearby camps were all carpooling to see the whales. As a surfer of 30 years, I noticed the Bean Hollow beach left rolling in pretty sizably and I sort of wanted to just go try and surf it, but alas I had to see this whale. Yes, the Blue Whale was a pregnant mother that died and then aborted her male fetus. A very sad situation indeed, but that made it all the more interesting to look at and photograph. When I pulled up I saw California State Park Ranger Frank Balthis with the KGO ABC channel 7 news van pulling up to a better location. I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and asked the naturalist where it was located. I was in a small cove just north of the big beach at Bean Hollow so everyone had to walk over to actually see it. The first thing you see is the young all white 20 foot male fetus that Frank said was about 6 months developed. It had either white placenta afterbirth or intestines from the mother beside it and in the water. One Sheriff walked up and did not realize that the fetus was not the big whale until he turned the corner around the small point and saw the 85 foot mother. The female was on her back pointed north and was missing most of its dark skin and had lots of large intestines alongside its body. Several large shark bites riddled the underside of the female. The very large and expanded neck pleats was a very interesting feature of the creature. I wondered if it was bloated up as it seemed to be about 5 feet off the ground and very wide, perhaps 20 feet. Baleen was on the beach in parts and I later learned that a Ranger had used a chain saw to remove a section for the Rancho Del Oso Nature Center where he lived. I was having some trouble getting my Nikon D90 camera to work after putting on my new 15mm Sigma EXDG Fisheye lens. I could see Frank, who is also an amazing photographer and owner of Nature's Designs photography, talking to the media people as they set up there video shots of the whale from he cliff top above. After getting my black Vans slip on shoes wet from a wave that caught me off guard with my tripod adjustments, I decided to ask Frank if he knows how to fix my camera error. Before I reached him I ran into Steve Van Zandt of San Mateo Outdoor Education Program and one of the first managers of Pigeon Point hostel and not to mention him as "Solar Steve" of the famed Banana Slug String Band. We talked about the waves and the whale. His friend was a funny guy who caught me off guard on several under the radar jokes. It was amusing, but I really needed to talk to Frank.
Frank did not immediately know, but suggested I talk to the video guy if he knew and he said that with out the manual, he would not know what to do. I was bummed that I did not have the manual myself, but then Frank said that it could just be the manual setting of the lens aperture could need some adjustment, and then: "vola" F/22 was the magic trick to stop the error reading. At this point, Frank said that I would be a good subject to interview for the newscast. I know that I owed Frank because just a week before the hostel was shooting its video for Pigeon Point Lighthouse and he just happened to be at Pigeon Point and I asked him if he could be interviewed for our website and he just nailed about 10 questions about the area that was so good, it was my turn to return the favor. Lisa was the story writer so she asked my why I was there and how I found out about the whale and so I talked to them for a few minuets at least. Lisa said I would be on the 11:00 Evening news and so I was. They only chose one bite for the short segment as I said: "I have always wanted to see the biggest animal that's ever lived. It's quite a specimen," says naturalist Jeff Parry. I didn’t mean that that was the biggest Blue Whale ever, but it kind of sounds like I did. Oops! They asked me what I do, but kind of wanted me to be a naturalist as I had told them I had done some work like that in the past. Well now, I really wanted to get some photographic shots of these whales! You can see it at: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news%2Flocal%2Fsouth_bay&id=7708760
I set up on the beach to the south with my tripod and aperture priority settings along with the 2 stop auto bracketing 3 shot sequence with the timer set to go off in 2 seconds with exposure delay on to minimize the shaking. I really should not have had the neck strap on, as it was blowing around in the light breeze but it was too much to take off at this point. I kind of just took several photos from the same tripod position but started out at f/11 and went up to f/22 incrementally as I bracketed my 3 shots for each f stop. I only adjusted the bracketing EV once as I didn't have much time to get all the perspectives before sunset, so I just set it to zero 0. About a quarter ways around the whale to the east looking west, the Jordan Swank, the program director for the Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School at Loma Mar showed up with a friend. Jordan is also an amazing wildlife photographer and recently featured his work at the Pescadero Arts and Fun Festival in August of 2010. Jordan was also my former assistant at Pigeon Point Hostel. He was amazed at the spectacle and joined in the photographing. I was able to get several perspectives of the Blues before the sun set into the Pacific horizon. As I walked back to the car, I talked to the news crew who where busy editing the story for the satellite feed up to the station. I gave them my photography web site address in hopes that they would publish it on air, but alas, no such luck. I went through 3 SD 2GB cards and had my work cut out for me back home at Pigeon Point. I use Lightroom 3 and Photomatix Pro to process the 3 auto bracket photos I chose in to tone mapped High Dynamic Range Images. With the diagonal fisheye lens, I had to Lens Correct transform with the distortion to fix the horizon curve of the photos. It almost works, but I am not really happy about it’s over all distortion. The only other real adjustment is just some detail, clarity, restoration, zero saturation and down vivid qualities. I am really happy with the photographs and I hope you are too.