Marine mammals

“My, What Long Pecs You Have”

Humpback Whale

Identifying California’s Humpback Whales   This is the third of three articles on how to identify whales commonly seen off the California coast. In this article series we’ve featured blue whales and gray whales. This time we’ll spotlight humpbacks (Megaptera novaengliae). All three of these are baleen whales — Mysticeti. Their cousins the toothed whales, which include sperm whales and orcas, are known as Odontoceti. Humpbacks are among the easiest whales to identify. This can often be done even before the whale surfaces. That’s because […]

Way Cooler Than a Weasel: California’s Southern Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Since sea otters rarely spend any time on land most people will never see the lower part of them, which is usually underwater. The body resembles that of the otter’s close cousin the weasel and there is a substantial 10- to 12-inch long tail. Unlike most marine mammals, sea otters swim on their backs, not their stomachs, using their webbed and flattened hind feet like paddles. Their unusual forefeet can function like hands or paws. They are small and round with little fingers and partially […]

Have You Seen a Sea Elephant? All About the Northern Elephant Seal

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This column is a departure from those I’ve done in the past because it features creatures I have never seen underwater. There are two species of elephant seals, northern and southern. Those found off the West Coast of North America are northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). The three populations of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonine) are found in the south Atlantic Ocean, the south Indian Ocean and among the sub-Antarctic islands of the Pacific Ocean. The ranges of the two species do not overlap and […]

Harboring a Soft Spot for The Harbor Seal

Some marine creatures are easier to love than others. Two of my favorites are the little white sea urchins that decorate themselves with shells and pebbles and the proliferating (also called brooding) anemones whose babies live on their bodies until they are old enough to crawl away and fend for themselves. That anemones could have parenting skills is amazing. I also have a soft spot for harbor seals. Their teardrop shaped bodies are adorably plump and those big round eyes make them seem shy and […]

Awesome Nature: Predator Versus Prey

There comes a time in the evolution of a diver, and particularly underwater photographers, when we graduate from reef scenics and little macro creatures and set our sights on more exciting subjects — that is to say big subjects. While there are many places in the world where divers may safely interact with large animals, the Revillagigedo Archipelago off Mexico’s west coast stands out as one of the very best, both for numbers of species and numbers of animals. My buddies and I recently spent […]

A Committed Commuter: The California Gray Whale

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It is early fall in the northern hemisphere as I write this. By now a significant number of California gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) have reached the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest on their southward journey from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to a series of coastal lagoons off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula — about a 5,000-mile commute, each way‚– where they will mate, calve and spend the winter.  By late fall and early winter many of these […]

How to Photograph Sea Lions by Dale Sheckler

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The California seas are full of marine animals that can be a challenge to photograph. Personally, for me one of the most difficult is the sea lion. They are fast and they are dark. And they are smart. Back in the day I burned a lot of film on these funny guys. I have had a bit more luck with digital, but that is only because of the ever-present friend of the underwater electronic photographer: the delete button.  I have met some excellent underwater photographers […]

How to Photograph Elephant Seals

There are several “rules” in big animal photography. You must be where the animals are, and when they are there, you must find cooperative animals in clear water. And, most important of all, you got to have a lot of luck. Elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) are a good example of this. These pinnipeds belong to the family phocidae, the true seals. Males may grow as long as 16.5 feet and weigh in excess of 5000 pounds, while females may only weigh 2000 pounds. Only the […]

Interacting with Sea Lions

Diving California even just a few times and odds are you will have an exciting underwater encounter with a sea lion. Underwater, these animals are very fast moving, precocious, and prone to mischief. They will zoom in right at your face, sometimes blowing bubbles, roaring all the way. It is all at the same time frightening, exhilarating, and fun. Such encounters are truly special but often don’t last long enough for elaborate study or photography. The best sea lion encounters are those that last an […]

California’s Best “Big Animal” Dives

There has been a lot of emphasis lately with scuba marketeers for experiences with “big animals.” This generally refers to swimming with whale sharks, gliding with giant manta rays, or thrilling to an underwater encounter with a whale. These are experiences not to be missed, for sure but, unfortunately, California never seems to rank high on the list of destinations for these kinds of encounters. California does, however, most definitely have its fair shark of “Big Animal” encounters for an underwater thrill experience never to […]

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