Old Broads With Cameras Hunt Whales

When three women of a certain age pack their cameras, board a whale watching vessel docked in Oxnard, California, destined for the Channel Islands, they  discuss the ups and downs of capturing a money-maker whale photo. But what if  not one whale surfaces in the three and a half hour hunt?  Suddenly the hunt begins for anything that might make an interesting photo.

I first tried to photograph whales in 1982 for a newspaper story.  The story ran in both the local paper and the Los Angeles Times.  Fortunately I covered my phantom whale photos with photos of people aboard one of the first whale watching cruises off the California coast.

Several other whale watch trips repeated history:  Rolls of generic B&W  400 ISO film or 35mm Kodachrome shots of splashing water, whale footprints, the boat, the people and NO WHALE–well maybe some barnacle-covered whale backs (yawn).

Finally after  visiting San Ignacio Lagoon, my new digital (1st generation)  point and shoot Oly captured  grey whales breaching and even the grey whale calf that visited our panga.   Then, alas, a trip to Monterey Bay and 2,000,300 clicks got me a humpback whale fluke. I use it a lot on my Neptune 911 blog.

Let’s begin with the ladies with cameras.  Here’s Susan and Elaine practicing their focusing skills on ????

Susan and Elaine

Susan and Elaine

Oh! They captured me.  Well, the trip was young and the sky still blue.

Yours truly

Yours truly (Photo by S. Oberholtzer)

I was busy trying to decide what lens would make these clouds interesting. See that teeny fishing boat out there.  Yes, I remember that photography 101 class about 200 years ago.  Even scored a slightly straight horizon.

Riggings below the storm

Riggings below the storm

While the captain chatted about all the grey whales they saw in the morning cruise, I focused on  sailboats.  I played with manual settings and automatic settings.  Hmmmmm….automatic settings are pretty darn smart.


“Gray whales are baleen whales, ” explained the captain as we entered deep water. I know all that stuff so I kept amusing myself and swapping one lens for another and pointing them at anything other than…ummm whales.

Applause for interesting rock formations jutting out from the ocean as we neared Anacapa Island.




“Now much of our marine mammals have kept out of sight,” the captain interrupted my rockus focus attempts in this now more gray than neutral lighting circumstance.   “This tells us that the ultimate predators are around, like the pod of orcas we saw earlier this month.  We’re keeping an eye out for them.”

Orcas were what I really wanted to photo.  I have blue whale, grey whale and humpback whale pics, but to date,  I’ve not encountered orcas in the wild. I really didn’t care if we bumped into (figuratively) southbound grey whales.  I wanted red meat, in black and white flesh–killer whales (orcas).

Meanwhile the Anacapa  Island Lighthouse stood charming on Anacapa’s rocky point.


No whales.

When I was pretty sure the whales where giving their money-maker poses to some other pod of old broads with cameras, I met my new photo nemesis: Dolphins.

About fifty bottlenose dolphins decided to play in our vessel’s big wake. They surfed, breached, performed aerial acrobatics over and over right smack in front of me and the zoom lens.  Elaine and Susan were smart, they used their cameras’ video option. But little missy-I-can-get-this-photo, tempted her photo card’s digital space and set the camera on auto and continuous shoot.  (That 3rd person reference would be to me in hindsight.)

Remember at this blog’s beginning where I talked about phantom whale photos? I spent this entire morning deleting phantom dolphin photos.  I salvaged one great spin performance that’s ghastly blurred and out of focus into “an art photo.”  (Kind of like wearing tunics to cover those unsightly body lumps that won’t go away.)





No whales, but an abundance of dolphins–and a new marine mammal to chase with my camera.

Soon we passed one of the many oil derricks off the Ventura and Santa Barbara coastline. Desperate to show his no-whale watchers other sea life, the captain slowed the vessel down so folks could get a picture of sea lions resting around the massive oil mining structure.


I’ve heard from those in the know that there is an abundance of oil off Central California’s coastline.  I pray our coastline stays healthy and never experiences the Deep Horizon nightmare.  Because if such an accident occurred here, there would be more whale watch tours without the whales.

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