Five Years Later

Five Years Later

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010

I stood on the shore of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, early summer 2010 with tears streaming down my face. I had just called the hotline to report oil on the pristine, sugar-white sand. I thought that finally people would awaken and forge a new path of care and love for this Ocean planet. Five years have passed and the fervor to find and extract oil, at any cost, has escalated. And there are more spills worldwide, more toxic wastes generated by fracking operations and more earthquakes near fracking zones. The Atlantic coast is being opened to offshore drilling. The Arctic is open for drilling. Politicians are systematically trying to dismantle protected areas in states and federal lands.

Gulf of Mexico today
Gulf of Mexico today

As I sit on the sandy, Gulf beach watching the chocolate-colored waves, at least there is no benzene smell or globs of fizzing crude oil washing ashore. The dark water is from recent heavy rains. The salt breeze carries the smell of incense, an offering to the spirits of this magnificent body of water. I ask for forgiveness on behalf of all humans.

Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon
Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon

I reflect on John Muir’s life, one that was dedicated to preserving sacred places of unparalleled natural beauty and the success that came from his unrelenting love of nature. He saw the Divine in nature and viewed it as a direct reflection of God. Places like Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rainer, Petrified Forest are a small sample of areas Muir helped preserve. He petitioned Congress for a National Park bill and in 1890 it passed.

Photograph Summer 2010...Shell Oil
Photograph Summer 2010…Shell Oil

“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling, keen lance rays of every color flashing, sparkling in glorious abundance, joining the plants in their fine, brave beauty-work–every crystal, every flower a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.” John Muir.

Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier
Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier

“Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air….Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.” John Muir.

Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman's body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth
Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth

Lately, as I’ve read about seemingly endless assaults on nature and attempts to sell it to the highest bidder for fossil fuel and about sonar testing that deafens cetaceans, sentencing them to death, I have become increasingly disturbed. The grief and despair I felt during the year I documented the oil disaster has been touched and the wound opened again and again.

Photography taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama
Photograph taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama

I wrote this in August 2010:

“This morning I sat weeping for the birds, oysters, shrimp, crabs….for us all. As I breathed in the stillness of the dawn I felt sadness that we have collectively created such imbalance on this beautiful planet. Inhaling, exhaling…pausing to touch the grief within me….how did it get so messed up?

We have become so dependent on practices that destroy our world, there is no easy way to stop them. The oil industry is woven into the fabric of life in Louisiana along with the Gulf’s bounty. Maybe the problem began when we considered only what could be produced from the Gulf.

But it goes beyond the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis–way beyond to the collective intention to consume, to conquer without regard for what it does to the planet that, quite literally, gives us life. Where did this short-sighted way of thinking begin?

I weep for our ignorance and the destruction it keeps in motion. I weep for political polarization that puts power on a pedestal over compassion and caring. We are lost in fighting battles that pull us apart and weaken us.

When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?”

Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years
Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years

Today, almost five years later, the same questions still haunt my mind every day. When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?

Yet there is hope for there are still people who care, who love Nature and understand that humans are part of it, not above it. There are many who understand the necessity for living in balance and who grasp that the mindset of ‘more at any cost’ is no longer a valid way to successfully exist. We sell our own souls when we auction nature to the highest bidder.

Photograph from Summer 2010
Photograph from Summer 2010

So how can we stay positive? Hopeful? By reaching out to each other in love and by treading as gently as possible on this sacred Ocean planet. And practicing simple, yet collectively powerful steps such as these: turn off lights not in use; don’t use disposable plastic bottles; use water sparingly; adjust the thermostat two degrees and save energy and money; recycle; re-use; opt out of the mindset that new electronics must be purchased each time a new version is released; get by with less ‘stuff,’ buy locally-grown foods’ celebrate the beauty of nature each day; participate in efforts to make a positive difference.

Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge
Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge

Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to celebrate beauty found in nature and in human hearts everywhere.

Rainbow Thursday-Part 2

Rainbow Thursday-Part 2

SimoneLipscomb (13) First Encounter April 2nd

Mom and Baby…. O. M. G. !!!

The juvenile came right up to me…have no idea if I got photos or video but it was so close I saw the soft, gray of the face, the deep folds of skin and the eye looking into my eyes. It was within ten feet of me. So beautiful. So deeply profound.

SimoneLipscomb (7)Then later lob tailing by mom and baby, breaching with both, fin slapping. Amazing….AMAZING!

There was such a sense of profound peace when floating above the mom and calf. It is as if all the secrets of the deep are carried within her and I can witness these truths, this wisdom that is beyond anything I’ve ever known.

As I watched exhalations carried by the wind I smelled the fish wondrous whale breath. Perhaps I’ve slipped over the edge…over and over the edge.

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Mother and juvenile humpback practicing their lob tailing

I stood on the small boat photographing mama and baby with rain softly running down my face mixed with salty tears. I thought, I am loved (lob tail from whales) I am cared for (another lob tail). I am supported (thunderous SLAP!! with those flukes). Such sweetness.

SimoneLipscomb (39)This morning as I stood on the dive deck observing the rainbow, mother and juvenile humpbacks, tears also came. So deeply did I feel that everything in my life is moving in the right direction. I realized the more I surrender, the more opportunities arise. My love for the Ocean is deep and has been a guiding spark since I was a child and begged my parents to allow me to order (for free) the Jacques Cousteau book (which I still have).

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Mother whale fluke with our boat, Turks & Caicos Explorer II, in the background


We saw one mother and baby briefly in really deep, rough water. It was an in-water encounter but wasn’t long as mama didn’t settle and it was difficult for us to hold a position in the rough seas. We were outside the protection of the reef so I don’t think anyone complained when we re-boarded the tender and headed back inside the reef.

Our sister boat with the other half of our group.
Our sister boat with the other half of our group.

The rest of the afternoon I stood on the side of the small boat and watched for whales. Deep in thought, I rode. It gave me time to reflect and prepare for leaving this magical place tomorrow morning. I kept hearing the first part of D.H. Lawrence’s poem, Whale Weep Not. “They say the sea is cold but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest and the most urgent.”

Soft-encounter with mother and baby
Soft-encounter with mother and baby

I stood riding the waves from my perch on the boat with tears pouring down my cheeks and the ocean splashing on my left foot. I felt in perfect balance and so happy, so incredibly happy and joy-full. Such yearning within to spend more time on the Ocean, in the Ocean in the presence of whales.


Whales Notes: A soft-encounter is where humans are allowed to float quietly in the Ocean observing humpback whales. Touching is not allowed. The quieter and more still, the better the encounter. Mothers rest and sleep suspended in the water column and babies come up to breathe. If the group of humans stay together and within sight of mama whale, it’s best. Juvenile surfaces, breathes, circles and goes back down to tuck under mama. Because their buoyancy isn’t perfected, the babies need mom’s stable body to help them stay submerged.

SimoneLipscomb (53)Entanglements are deadly to whales and other sea life. Some fishing practices use large lines and traps and once a whale is entangled in these heavy lines, it can cause major problems for them. Notice the large scar on this mother whale’s tail. Luckily she was freed and now has a happy, wild baby born this year. Other whales are not so lucky.

Whale Diary One

Whale Diary Two

Whale Diary Three

Whale Diary Four

Whale Diary Five

Notice the entanglement scar that goes around the entire tail. The dorsal side has the deepest scar....
Notice the entanglement scar that goes around the entire tail. The dorsal side has the deepest scar….
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Mother fin slapping with juvenile lob tailing



Rainbow Thursday–Part One

Rainbow Thursday–Part One

SimoneLipscomb (80)I awakened around 5am and climbed to the upper deck of the boat to await the dawn. A dark rain cloud was hovering in the eastern sky and a wall of rain soon began to move across the Ocean toward the boat. I moved down to the first level which is covered but open on the sides. The loud shuuuu sound of the rain on the sea was beautiful music.

Past the small boats that were tied behind the mothership I saw a fluke slap the surface…then another…and another! And then a baby fluke appeared beside the mother whale and joined in the tail-slapping fun. It was obvious the juvenile was still learning as the control of the large fluke was a bit wobbly.

SimoneLipscomb (74)A couple was standing just inside the salon of the boat so I ran to get them. The whales were pretty close to us. I commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow with the sunrise and the clouds.” Suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared in the sky, arched over the mother and calf and the calf breached. We looked at each other in disbelief.

The whales continued their lob tailing, fin slapping and the juvenile played in the rainbow as the pastel colors kissed the surface of the sea. I was thankful there were others to witness this phenomena as who would believe this? One of the crew members, who was summoned to the otherworldly event by this invitation: “There’s a baby whale playing in a rainbow,” later said “Who says that?” Exactly. Who says...there’s a baby whale playing in a rainbow?

SimoneLipscomb (81)After people wandered away I stepped down on the dive platform so I could see the full arch of the rainbow. The mother and baby humpbacks were still there, but quiet now, coming up to breathe and then resting. Their white, misty exhalations a stark contrast to the dawn sky.

As I stood level with the Ocean, saltwater washing over my feet, I felt the immensity of this vision. Not just the vision of this incredible experience but the vision that guided me here, to this place…to this life. The support of those unseen forces that guide my life wrapped around me powerfully. I could quite literally feel their touch. And from unseen realms I heard clearly: “Your work is supported, your life is guided. This is the promise we give…you will always have our support.”

SimoneLipscomb (73)Remnants of the rainbow linger as I sit, writing about this experience. The mother whale and her baby just surfaced and exhaled. The mist from their breath lifted upward into the soft, pastel colors of promise. The Crystal River trip in January comes to mind where I was making a voice memo about following my dreams and the intense rainbow appeared…and the cross-street, Follow That Dream Parkway. Meeting the marine biologist who operates a humpback whale research station in Tonga who planted the idea and reminded me of my life dream to be with whales. This all seems so surreal. Rainbows and whales and life dreams.

SimoneLipscomb (83)Mom and baby whale are still there, literally at the end of the rainbow. And I know with certainty that I am guided, supported and loved, beyond anything I can imagine. I am so incredibly grateful.

Note: I didn’t have my camera on deck when the whales were playing in the rainbow. And I didn’t want to risk missing a moment of the experience to run downstairs to get it. These images are from later in the day with a mother and calf…I think it was the same one as this behavior continued for a long time. Regardless…the magic of it still moves me. And the rest of the day was amazing…stay tuned.

Whale Diary One

Whale Diary Two

Whale Diary Three

Whale Diary Four 



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.

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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!

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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.