A Whale of a New Year

January 1, 2018

Monterey, California

A whale of a photobomb! Here's the story of how I started 2018 by unexpectedly meeting, and nearly being bulldozed by, a humpback whale underwater.

I decided to ring in New Year's Day with some photo diving. Conditions were fantastic – 30' visibility, sunshine, and swarms of photogenic jellies. While shooting these jellies near Monterey Breakwater's old cannery pipe, I glanced over to what looked to be a huge rock suddenly appearing at the edge of the haze. At first I thought maybe the visibility had cleared up to make it more noticeable. Then I realized this giant "rock" was moving... Directly at me.

At this point I figured out I was looking down the bumpy snout of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) looming out of the blue murk like a concrete wall; it felt like standing on a set of tracks as a chugging train materializes out of the fog in front of you. I had no idea if the young whale saw me or if it had any intention of changing direction. Deciding not to find out, I kicked into nearby kelp and watched as it swam by about 5' away.

I could only snap a few shots – the first forgetting to turn off the strobes, the second forgetting to readjust shutter speed, and the third so far gone all that's visible is a fading silhouette. None worth framing, but all precious proof of a wild event that was over in fewer than 20 seconds. If you look on the right side of the photos you can see a moon jelly which, only moments before, I was floating behind and shooting. Had neither of us changed course, the whale probably would have slapped me with its pectoral fin… I'm happy I had a few seconds of advance notice.

I never thought I'd meet a whale underwater in Monterey and it was an awe-inspiring and humbling experience to say the least. I can only hope that next time I'm prepared to nail the shot rather than get nailed in the head.

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