Sign up for our newsletter
Stay up to date on all the latest photography gear!Subscribe
Photo Of The Day By Robert HendersonToday’s Photo of the Day is...
Photo Of The Day By Max FosterToday’s Photo of the Day is “The...
Photo Of The Day By Ross StoneToday’s Photo of the Day is “Mobius...
5 National Parks For Summer
They’re not too hot, not too crowded and they offer tons of summer-specific photographic opportunities.
Camera Settings For Wildlife Photography
How to choose the right combination of exposure settings for the situation.
The Bridge To Black & White
Creative considerations for making black-and-white images from color files.
Point Reyes National Seashore
One of the best-kept secrets of the National Park Service, Point Reyes National Seashore is a year-round wildlife destination.
California’s Eastern Sierra
Explore the many opportunities for dramatic landscape photography on the sunrise side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Parks For The People
George Grant toiled in obscurity for nearly three decades as the first official photographer of the National Park Service. Ren and Helen Davis want to make sure his story isn’t lost to history.
This is the 1st of your 3 free articles
Become a member for unlimited website access and more.
FREE TRIAL Available!
Already a member? Sign in to continue reading
Behind The Shot: Social Scrum
Sitting on a boat, roasting like Sunday dinner in the unyielding heat of equatorial sun, staring out across a panorama of tropical blue. Hour upon hour of scanning the seas, enduring ocean swells, with nothing to show for the time and effort but salt, sweat and sunburn. Oh, the sunburn.
Suddenly, a blow on the horizon, then a second, third, fourth. Wait, dozens. No, hundreds! I’ve read accounts from whaling days of vessels coming across cetaceans in numbers so large that it was impossible to count them, but little did I think I’d ever have a chance of witnessing such a spectacle.
What I ended up seeing that day defies description: hundreds of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), swimming to and fro, twirling, twisting and talking—so much talking—clumped together by the dozens, descending to deeper water from time to time, but staying for the most part near the surface, allowing me the opportunity to witness, then participate in, their social scrum. Yes, you read that correctly. Participate.
This is one of the sperm whale groups, literally within arm’s reach. The whale facing me is an adult female. She came up for a moment to take a look and pepper me with echolocation signals, almost as if she were hoping to communicate. The whales knew where I was, of course—they always do. Curiosity satisfied, she executed a cartwheel of sorts, with her fluke pivoting around and coming up toward me while she reinserted her bulbous head into the Physeter fray below. From that point forward, the whales paid me no mind, allowing me to swim in and among them, through the bubble blasts and sloughed-off skin, into the cocoa clouds of whale poop.
I’m not sure that anyone fully understands why sperm whales, which are the largest of the toothed whales, congregate like this. I can say with a measure of confidence from repeated encounters of this nature, however (though involving far fewer whales, of course), that these events are social gatherings. The water is inevitably filled with a staggering cacophony of sound—clicking, clacking, snapping, popping, buzzing, squealing. The whales rub against one another, appearing to luxuriate in tactile exuberance. And, for whatever reason, they often defecate so much that the water becomes opaque, with the ocean taking on the texture and consistency of an oil slick. The one thing I always try to remember in these situations is: “Don’t drink the water.”
You can contact Tony Wu for fine-art prints at www.tonywublog.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonywuphotography and on Twitter @TonyWu.