I owe it all to my buddy Patrick. He was the first one who really got me into photographing whales. After showing me a few photos and video footage he caught of some Grey Whales, I knew I had to get some of my own. In fact, ever since I bought my first drone in 2016, I wanted these kind of photos.
Grey Whales endure the longest migration of any mammal at over 10,000 miles round trip. In the winter months, they make way for the warmer waters of Baja Mexico for birthing and mating. Between January and April, these massive animals head back to the Arctic to feed during the summer. First to migrate north are the males, pregnant mothers, and juveniles. The mothers of newborn calves remain in Baja for an extra month or two until the calves gain the strength for their first trip north.
Fast forward to Valentines day of 2018. I'm driving along the cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes, a location I commonly visit for sunset. I notice a small fishing boat about a mile offshore. I look at the road, then back at the boat. Boom! A spout blasts above the surface thirty yards from the fisherman. I couldn't stop the car fast enough. I had been waiting two years for this moment. I knew the whale was a good distance away, but was willing to take the risk. The mile plus flight to the boat felt like a lifetime, but I had made it. To my surprise, it wasn't one whale, but two. They skimmed the surface four or five minutes before diving. I had lost them. My first and only whale encounter was short but sweet, and by this time my first battery was running low. I returned the drone to exchange batteries when I spotted two more spouts. They had surfaced again, and I was hot on their tail. I followed and captured their behavior for almost fifteen minutes before they dove one last time, leaving me with a heart shaped spout as if to say Happy Valentines Day.
The coming months I had no interest in my usual photography. I was hooked on whales. In Newport Beach, I had chased one over a mile swimming towards the pier I was standing on. He was exceptionally close to shore, sometimes as close as twenty yards, feeding on crustaceans and rubbing barnacles from his body. Inevitably, he ran into the pier, surfacing just feet below me. Close enough to feel the mist of his spout when he rose for air. Another incredible experience came to an end after the animal turned away and swam out to sea.
In Malibu I had several run ins. Point Dume State Beach is a common location for mothers to bring their calves. Once again, they were all within a few yards from shore, making them very easy to spot, and extending my time to photograph these amazing creatures. However, the amount of whales each day was dwindling down. Almost all had gone north by now, and I was content. After all, I had more photos and video than I knew what to do with.
Safe to say, it was pretty breathtaking start to the year. I had finally taken the photographs I'd been striving for. I reached the goal I set for myself and achieved it, a feeling that no one can take from you. This is why I started photography in the first place. Capturing a moment in time that I'll never forget. Till next year.