This past July, I lead my only photo tour of the last 2 years. It was a pleasure to be able to spend time searching for humpback whales with my friends Tony Wu, Steve Levi, and Doug Perrine. Unfortunately, we had to search longer and farther for whales than anytime since I first started visiting Southeast Alaska over a decade ago. Eventually, we located a group that was cooperatively bubble-net feeding in Frederick Sound. During the evening that I photographed this scene, the ocean was calm and the sunset light was prolonged. I love the dark clouds and tree covered hills in the background as the golden light illuminated this whale’s breath. If you look closely, there is also a faint rainbow visible near the base of the blow. It took luck and skill built up during my years of experience in order to compose this image while also piloting the skiff and shooting at the same time.
This past July, I returned to Alaska to lead my semi-annual humpback whale photography tour with Tony Wu. I have been photographing in Alaska for over 15 years and specifically humpback whales in Southeast Alaska for 11 years. When I first started, I never imagined that I would witness such a calamitous decline in their population, but that is exactly what I observed this summer. One of the research papers that I have reviewed clearly showed that the population increased from 2006 to 2014, but that the number of sightings has dropped since 2015. That also coincided with the “blob” of warm water off the West Coast during the same time period. How has this impacted the whales, let alone the plankton and small fish? All I can share is that I normally expect to see dozens of whales each day. This summer, I had to spend most of my time searching for any whale. Over 3 weeks, we eventually counted a total of 35 whales which was quite sobering. Still, I eventually had luck at finding some groups of humpbacks that were cooperatively bubble-net feeding for my guests. This image was from the morning of one of my scouting missions when Tony & I had set out in the fast skiff to locate the bubble-netters north of Kupreanof Island. We came across this adult that was repetitively breaching and were able to capture a few images of this exhilarating behavior. The overcast light might not have been the most dramatic, but I like this image because of the angle of the whale with the small island in the background.
Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble net feeding. I co-lead these trips with my good friend and regular partner Tony Wu. I have been photographing the whales doing this exciting and dramatic behavior since 2007. Man, it really was a decade ago that I purchased my little C-Dory and set off for Alaska without a clue. After my initial struggles, I became very good at finding and photographing the whales while they are bubble feeding. Still, it is never easy to do. I often have to spend several days searching for them by covering hundreds of miles of shoreline combined with the nearly constant bad weather, but when I find them it is incredible! I am looking forward to returning to Alaska with Tony in July 2018. Who wants to join us?
Last August, I visited Svalbard for the second time to photograph Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears. I was invited by my close friends to be the photography guide on their expedition. It was a fantastic opportunity and I got to make a number of new friends, but dang is Svalbard a long way from Kauai. The highlight of our trip was definitely the days we spent motoring around at 82°N searching for polar bears in the pack ice. Did I mention that it was cold? Like really cold, but not winter cold. I wonder how my body body is going to keep up with my ambitions now that I live in Hawaii? Anyway, we experienced some truly wonderful encounters with over a dozen bears. This is one of my favorite images as this polar bear jumped from one ice flow to another.
This is my favorite underwater walrus image from my Svalbard sailing expedition last summer with my co-leader Tony Wu. Early in our trip, we encountered walrus resting on iceflows with ideal blue sky conditions that allowed for great underwater visibility. As both the trip leader and inflatable boat driver, I cautiously motored towards a group of walrus to allow my clients to photograph them without disturbing them. Eventually, I delicately approached them and got close enough to extend my underwater polecam out to shoot the most curious animal. I love how he is looking right at the camera and the detail in this image is truly amazing.
I encountered this curious female polar bear during my June 2015 Svalbard expedition. This image was featured on the first page of my article about Arctic wildlife in the January 2016 issue of Popular Photography. During this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, I leaned over the sailboat’s railing and lowered my polecam down to her level on the ice. She repeatedly checked it at point-blank range which allowed me to photograph this incredibly close-up and intimate portrait.
Last June, Tony Wu and I lead our first expedition to Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago. We departed Longyearbyen for 14 days of exploration with our incredible captain Heinrich and three of the best clients that a photo tour leader could ever wish for. Like any truly worthwhile adventure, we experienced a lot of down time while sailing and due to bad weather. Our primary goal was to photograph walrus, but of course we were also hoping to encounter polar bears during our voyage.
I tend to stay up all “night” during the Arctic summer and sleep from 6am to noon, or so. Imagine my delight when I woke up one afternoon to discover that we were anchored to some solid fjord ice and had a bear in view, albeit over a mile away. Looking through a pair of binoculars for several minutes, I observed a female bear and her small cub before resigning myself to patiently waiting to see if they would eventually approach us. I went back down below to prepare myself some food, but in no time at all one of my clients alerted me that the bears were already walking towards us! I hurriedly finished my meal and got dressed in anticipation of our encounter.
I was hoping to get some nice images of the bears on the ice using my medium telephoto lens, but the momma bear walked right up to our boat, stood up on her hind legs, and proceeded to check us out. This was way too close for anything but a wide-angle lens. Our captain assured me that she was just curious and that he had the situation under control, so I grabbed my underwater polecam and set to work. I began photographing her by cautiously leaning over the railing of the sailboat while gently lowering my camera down to the ice. Early in our encounter she stuck her nose against my dome port which left snot all over it. It took me a few minutes to clean off and from that time forward I did not allow her to touch my camera again. She walked back and forth along the ice edge for over an hour, but her cub mostly stayed by our anchor. Towards the end of our encounter, the cub finally decided to join her close to the boat. I could not see what I was photographing, but realized that the cub was beneath her and quickly repositioned my camera in order to capture this incredible moment.
I’ve been behind on my photo editing, blog posting, and social media-ing, so hopefully in the next few weeks I will get back on top of it. To start it off, I want to share my walrus image that graced the January 2016 cover of Popular Photography. I photographed this behemoth last June while co-leading a small sailboat expedition around Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago with Tony Wu. I cautiously waded into the shallow water with my polecam outstretched and quickly shot some images before he let me know that my presence was unwelcome.
I want to start sharing some of my incredible new images from my spectacular Svalbard expedition that I co-lead with Tony Wu this past June. I have been hesitant to publish what I consider to be some of my best work ever given the fact that publishing photos is not what it used to be, not to mention that a lot of my work gets used without compensation by copyright infringers. However, I can not be afraid of holding back my new photos forever.
This is an underwater walrus image that I created while standing in the Arctic Ocean, holding my polecam, and waiting for a walrus from the nearby colony to swim up to me. Eventually, this very curious walrus took interest and swam directly at me as I nervously stood my ground with my polecam held under the surface in front of me. I blindly fired away as this extraordinary encounter unfolded. After the walrus grew tired of staring at its reflection on my dome port, it gently settled into the shallow water in front of me and proceeded to scratch itself for what seemed like an eternity. It was truly an unimaginable experience as both of us were just relaxed and hanging out at the beach while enjoying each other’s company.
Over the last decade, I have focused much of my travel and photography on Alaska. However, my only trip up north this year was in early August when I lead a small group tour in search of my favorite subject, humpback whales bubble-net feeding. There were some ups and downs associated with this particular trip that I do not need to get into, but it was definitely my most productive tour photographically for bubble-net feeding. I told my clients that they should be proud of what we accomplished. The exhilaration of photographing over a dozen humpback whales cooperatively hunting and feeding on schools of herring never gets old. It does get frustrating, but never boring. This image shows a very close encounter where I had to zoom back to 70mm as the whales erupted above the surface with their mouths about to slam shut. If you look in the mouth of the whale on the right, you can even see a silver herring flying through the air about to be engulfed.