Tag: Aquatic Adventures

Reflections on Whales–Going Home

Reflections on Whales–Going Home

Thursday–High wind, rough water. Grounded…on the mothership. The whales have not been as numerous this week as in weeks past. Even with fewer whales sighted, those that chose to interact really gave us the best of humpback whale curiosity, engagement and presence.

Each whale-loving human spent the day in various states of waiting….for the weather to improve, for whales to find us again, to have one last opportunity to commune with Angels of the Sea. But it never happened.

Friday–The 90 mile journey from the Silver Bank to Ocean World Marina on the north side of the Dominican Republic began a bit past sunrise…as soon as the captain could safely navigate through the coral heads into open ocean.

I didn’t feel the sadness I usually feel when leaving the Silver Bank. That’s a relief as the two previous years the re-entry from whale bliss to everyday life has been challenging. For some reason, it feels okay to be headed inland. Perhaps I finally understand the connection never goes away…it’s always inside, always present, no matter where I find myself.

Roadside market…closed for the afternoon.

SaturdayWritten at the airport:

The 90 minute drive from Puerto Plata to Santiago winds through mountains. I am struck with the utter poverty that SO many people live in. All along the highway are concrete shelters…I can’t call them homes. But they are to those who live there. Many have steel bars on the windows and doors. That struck me as odd.

We passed a girl, probably about ten years in age, standing beside the road dressed up in very modern clothes performing to an imaginary audience. Waiting for someone to discover her genius, her beauty….her talent. Her stage presence reminded me of American Idol.

So many cultures attempt to copy the USA–The American Dream.

But there is a dark side I wish I could share with them. Our beloved country is regressing daily. Greed is now exposed as the driving force behind all policy and governing. So much for freedom…of religion, of the Press, of assembly. The very values that made our country such a unique and beautifully evolving democratic Republic are hourly being tossed in the toilet.

Sweet friends who think the USA is setting the example for prosperity and success….we are currently destroying laws that protected our precious resources of water, clean air…desecrating sacred lands and places. We now mirror back to the world the absolute truth of what happens when greed and the love of money dictate policy and politics.

Dear friends from the many beautiful and wonderful countries of this Ocean Planet, please do not long to be like us for we are uprooting a deep, darkness that threatens everything our ancestors worked so diligently to create.

Work in your homes, your native lands, to deepen your values and desire for a better life by cultivating fairness and compassion in your hearts and minds. Care for all life. Strive to acknowledge and build on the beauty in your backyard…in your hearts and minds…in your communities. And please, every morning, say a little prayer for us. I’ll do the same for you.


As I was writing at the airport the guy sitting behind me at the gate started playing Imagine by John Lennon on his phone. Tears streamed down my face as I turned and thanked him. He was embarrassed because he didn’t intend to play it out loud…sometimes Great Spirit, the Universe, God….whatever you call It…orchestrates little reminders.

Lyrics to Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

The trip was a good one as evidenced by the salt stains on my cap. If you are interested in whales I invite you to visit the Center for Coastal Studies website. Read about a whale I photographed that is recovering from propeller wounds in the Epilogue of this series….in the next post. Piano is followed by the scientists there. And….if you want cool whale merch, check out their site. They do amazing work!!!




Wednesday at Sea

Wednesday at Sea

SimoneLipscombApril Fool’s Day

The sun rose from a calming sea. Purple-blue rain clouds hung low in the sky as light begin to be birthed from behind the low cloud bank in the east. Before the ball of fire emerged from its hiding place it began to illuminate the western sky and the puffy stacks of cumulus clouds took on a golden hue that grew in intensity until a cathedral of light surrounded us. Those few, early-morning risers who seek the peace and hope of the dawn received an Anointing of Light. And then….the rainbow. Each of us, in our own way, was transformed as our hearts and minds accepted, with gratitude, the gift of the day.

No camera to document it. Some moments are best captured with the heart.

First Half of the Day

SimoneLipscomb (4)Mother and Calf–in water watching them sleep. As I floated on the surface in the blue water, I was overcome with the sweetest peace. Was unsure of how I would react with such intimate closeness with creatures I have longed for my entire life. Would I be over-excited? Instead a deep, profound peace filled me. There were no thoughts in my mind. I was calm, present and one with the whales.

Mother whale slept and baby tucked under her chin. Then baby would come up for a breath, go back down and rest under mama. Precious. Sacred.

The first time in I didn’t take my big camera housing but rather my little GoPro. And that’s all I needed. I wanted no distractions so I simply watched…observed…allowed myself the experience.

Eighty miles offshore. Twenty feet from a 45 foot humpback mother whale and her calf. How can ANYthing compare with this?

As I wrote Sunday after the experience with the rowdy group, I have never felt so comfortable in my skin. I still feel the same way. Only more so.

SimoneLipscomb (154)The Ocean does this to me but the humpbacks make me feel at home in my body. Finally.

I reflect at the strangeness…that I wasn’t overcome with crazy, wild emotions but rather taken deeper, deeper…deeper still into my core, to the heart of who I am. This is their gift to me.

After our time with the mother and calf, we were slowly motoring and looking for blows, fin slaps, or dark, shiny backs when we came upon another mother and calf and yet another mother and calf that converged. Each had her escort and a challenger. Seven whales weaving and moving very fast, answering the call of love.


SimoneLipscomb (143)I set the intention today of capturing a photograph of a breaching whale. Shazam! Not only did I get one but several are in focus. The manual focus effort is working but making me sweat. As I was reviewing my images in the room I went completely wild. If anyone was walking in the hallway they probably wondered if I had officially lost my mind. Well, sure. That’s a given. Finally!

SimoneLipscomb (156)I called him or her Grasshopper. The juvenile breached for probably 20 minutes without stopping. Scientists can study and surmise but if they simply observe with open minds there is no other conclusion as to why this juvenile was breaching: IT WAS FUN! The joy Grasshopper felt was contagious as everyone on our small boat was filled with light and laughter. Transformation…with whales leading the way.

SimoneLipscomb (127)So grateful! So very grateful!

SimoneLipscomb (125)So profoundly grateful!

SimoneLipscomb (137)Water splashes against the hull and brings me back to the present moment. I was lulled into a slight trance as I unwind from a day filled with whales…blissful whale peace…fathomless peace. Deeper into myself I go, tapping channels of profound peace and love that run deep to the Heart of the Planet.


Whale Notes: Scientists have tried to figure out the mysteries of humpback whales for decades and are probably no closer to finding a scientific explanation for their behaviors than they were in the 1970’s. Some scientists tend to look only at animal behaviors of lesser beings and so their work is inclusive. The mistake science makes is that it places humans at the top of everything. Because humankind has the ability to destroy anything and everything we must be more intelligent. Right? Or we have opposable thumbs. That’s we’re so smart. We’re also the only species that destroys the environment necessary for our survival. Whales have brain cells wired for emotion so, as I mentioned about their singing, why wouldn’t they frolic, leap for joy and experience bliss? My dream is to be funded to study humpback whales without the restrictions of science and to begin with a neutral baseline where no assumptions of intelligence pollute the information gathered. Perhaps we will find our kinship with them and all life when we stop elevating our own species above all others.

A female humpback whale and her calf commonly have a male with them called an escort. If another male approaches he is seen as the challenger. A rowdy group is a mixture of this combination and can include more than one challenger. 

Photography Notes: Manually focusing on a breaching whale is almost impossible. I checked the location and direction of the whale, thought about his likely emergent path and focused ahead of him on the Ocean’s surface.Using continual shoot with my shutter, I blasted several shots off with each press of the shutter button. Not all were in focus but several were sharp. I was bruised at the end of the day from leaning on the rail and bumping into it with the bouncing of the boat. Holding the heavy camera and lens up for long periods of time was also tiring…thank goodness for my workouts! This was undoubtedly the most challenging photography I have ever done.

Whale Diary Day One

Whale Diary Day Two

Whale Diary Day Three




SimoneLipscomb (166)Monday the 29th

Our morning out on the tender was a bumpy ride. We saw whales but none near us. I felt hypnotized by the water, wind and constant up and down bouncing of the small boat.

Behaviors seen this morning: fin slapping with whale floating on back bringing both pectoral fins up and down repeatedly. Since they are fifteen feet in length this is quite amazing and creates a huge splash and sound. Also saw lob tailing that was done many, many times. Oh, and breaching. Even though none of these were close it was amazing.

FIn slapping...the whale is floating on her back while raising the 15 foot pectoral fins from the water and slapping them repeatedly
FIn slapping…the whale is floating on her back while raising the 15 foot pectoral fins from the water and slapping them repeatedly

All afternoon the wind picked up in intensity. Twenty-five to thirty knot winds meant no afternoon on the small boats as the transfer from big boat to little ones was simply too dangerous. We sat grounded on the mothership watching whales in the distance as they continued the behaviors from the morning. One group of whales stayed about a thousand feet to our stern for hours teasing us with fin slaps, breaches, lob tailing and all we could do was sit, clap and whistle. Some on board were known to hoot and holler. Even though we weren’t as close as yesterday, it’s still awesome being in the presence of humpback whales.

SimoneLipscomb (89)A mother and calf were part of this small group of three whales. All afternoon the big whale splashed and made quite a statement, but what is she saying? In my imagination she gave birth and was letting all the whales know of her newborn. I shall call her Stormy. Maybe a children’s book will give birth to this idea…did I just do a whale pun?

Now pale rays of sunlight shine through heavy, gray clouds and touch the blue-gray ocean at the horizon. Their brilliance creates a living, silver horizon. To the left, dark, slate-colored rain clouds. To the right, clear skies. Between me and the horizon lie humpback whales, living in the salty sea.

A circle opens overhead in the thick cloud layer and one ray of light pierces the darkness to illuminate the sky. I feel it illuminate me. What is this life-long call to be with humpback whales? Where will it lead me?


SimoneLipscomb (118)I can’t remember the day of the week or the date. No electronic distractions…no social media, no email. I realize how much my life revolves around a piece of plastic with metal and glass bits. I am sinking into whale time which seems to function in another dimension.

In-water experience with a baby today. From only twenty feet away the graceful pectoral fins slowly floated past. Humpback whales are like angels…angels of the deep.

My discovery for the day? A juvenile humpback whale is HUGE! I mean HUGE! Eighty miles offshore, in this vast ocean, I was only 20 feet from a baby humpback whale. Just ocean and whale. And bliss. There was bliss.

SimoneLipscomb (3)
Our guide observing a mother and calf

Then….my reality was shifted.

We had the short encounter with the mother and juvenile and were back in the boat when the captain heard a radio call about a group of folks from another boat listening to a singer. He got out his hydrophone and recorded it. We took turns listening through headphones.

As soon as I put on the headphones and the vibrations of whale song reached me, I was changed. Whoooop, whooop, whoooop…..then deep bass notes trembling through the water. Whoooop, whooooop, whooooop….higher, eyrie treble notes. I felt my face light up and my entire being shift. And one-by-one, we listened. There was no concealing what each person felt as the faces shifted to expressions of pure light and love.

The reverberations of deepest bass mixed with high squeals and whooop, whooop, whooops made my heart open in an explosion of joy. I sat on the bench seat and wept with the purest expression of love I have ever experienced.

After the recording was done we quietly slipped into the water and even though we were far from the whale, several of us heard the song as we dove down beneath the surface. Humpbacks truly are the voice of the Ocean. They are angels of the deep.


Juvenile nose emerging from the water
Juvenile nose emerging from the water

Whale notes: Even though humpback whale songs have been studied for decades now, scientists are no closer to understanding why they sing. Many theories exist but none have ever been proven. It is thought that the males are singers and they sing to attract females for mating but females don’t approach a singing male. Most of the time males sing alone but it is common for a male to sing with a mother and juvenile. Sometimes other males gather around a singer. The song of the humpback whale is the same between all whales in a group and changes each year. After careful study of their song through graphs and notation of the sound it is found they rhyme. Also, whales from all over the planet that supposedly never have contact with one another, sing the same song or songs that are very similar. Not long ago a scientist discovered that humpback whales have special brain cells that are also in human brains…the cells that are associated with emotion. My theory is they sing simply because they love to sing and it is their way of expressing emotion…and they are telling the story of their species, of the Ocean. 

Whale Diary Day One

Whale Diary Day Two


First Contact

First Contact

28 March 2015

First afternoon with humpback whales.

SimoneLipscomb (176)(Silence)


I’m sitting on the bow of the mothership listening to the sound of waves gently kissing the sides of the metal hull. Eighty miles offshore and nearly flat calm seas.



SimoneLipscomb (230)I’m not sure there are words to describe the amazing experience. I’ll have to invent them.

This morning, while having breakfast, we saw humpbacks from a distance and were amazed. Truly. When three massive adults are rowdy within ten yards of the tender boat…well…just OH! MY! GOD! Thank you!!

SimoneLipscomb (182)The action was so quick…so very quick…I hardly had time to take it in. But at one point I just stopped and emotions arose. Trying to balance on a moving boat while manually focusing a heavy lens with moving whales is challenging. Very challenging. The auto-focus is too slow so I had to anticipate where they would surface, focus and wait.

SimoneLipscomb (179)Hearing the blow was amazing and one was so close I could hear the trumpet sound he was making with his exhalation. It’s a high-low sound like a raspy voice, a grunt almost. He was working hard, swimming fast to keep up with the female, calf and her escort. Just being close enough to hear that sound was amazing. It feels permanently tattooed on my soul.

Another wonderful moment was being so close we could see the white of their fins directly under us and see bubble streams as they surfaced. WOW!

SimoneLipscomb (164)
Rowdy Group…notice the whale has a mouth-full of water. They do this supposedly to make themselves look bigger to the other male.

There were several mother whales with juveniles but none were interested in us visiting them in the water. But it was okay. I want time to integrate this afternoon’s experiences.



At one point on the small boat, when we were so close to the whales, I thought I had never felt so comfortable in my skin. (Sigh).

SimoneLipscomb (168)As I sit trying to gather my thoughts about my first close encounter with humpbacks I look into the soft, blue sky filled with wispy, white clouds. I see humpbacks in every cloud formation. One cloud looks like a spinal column, like vertebra of a massive sky whale. I wonder if I breathed too much fishy whale breath and am hallucinating.

What could be better than snuggling in the bow of the big boat, gazing upwards and finding cetacean cloud forms gazing down at me? Whale angels flying around the sky with long, flowing, graceful pectoral fins, stretching to the edges of the Universe.

SimoneLipscomb (34)The water was so clear today and so calm. I feel such gratitude just to be close to the whales, to see them in the distance as they blow or breach or lob tail or fin slap. What is this strange magic here on the Silver Bank? I feel inebriated with wild, white-breathed whale blows.

I sense myself changing rapidly as I become one with the Ocean and Her singers, the voice of the Sea. The only thing to do is surrender to it, let go and be in the salt-water flow.


Whale Notes: A Rowdy Group is a group of whales that includes a female and possibly a calf, her escort and at least one challenger (male). They move very fast and get very physical with one another. The explosive power in these massive animals is truly mind-blowing. Humpback males are 45 to 50 feet in length. Females are 50 to 55 feet in length but size varies just as it does in humans. Adults weigh between 25 and 40 TONS! Calves are born about 15 feet in length and weigh around a ton.

Photography Notes: Surface shots are with a Nikon D300, a Nikon 70-200mm lens with a 2x converter. Some of these images are at 600mm. Very few are cropped…the whales were so close in some shots I couldn’t frame their entire fluke (tail) in the image. The auto-focus function was far too slow so I manually focused all surface shots. This was undoubtedly the most difficult and challenging shooting I’ve ever done. Trying to keep the camera and lens dry, balance in a moving boat while manually focusing on fast-moving whales was tough. I was delighted that many of my shots were actually in focus…and quite surprised. I would focus on where I guessed the whale would surface and had my shutter on continuous fire. I set the lowest aperture (5.6 with the converter) and let the camera choose the shutter speed which worked very, very well.

Entry One from the Whale Diary can be found at this link.