Tag: wildlife

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


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.


Whale Dreams

Whale Dreams

SimoneLipscomb (203)The shiny, black, massive body rolls past in the choppy, blue sea. My mind and heart are filled with humpback whale. Something pulls me back to waking consciousness and I realize it’s only a dream. Monday 5.15am and even though I still feel the gentle rocking of the sea, I am home in my own room, in my bed. The images dissolve as I realize where I am.

SimoneLipscomb (178)But where is home? I stood on the gunnel of the small boat as it slowly made its way to a blow of a whale and realized I had never felt so at home in my body, so at peace in my skin. I understood that home is not a place or geographic location but is a feeling, a sensation, that goes with us wherever we are. When we feel that sense of ‘home’ we are doing the right thing, on the right path, in the right place.

SimoneLipscomb (186)For as long as I can remember I have longed for humpbacks. And now my heart and mind feel as if their presence activated something deep within that I cannot yet put into words. I trust that as I continue to surrender to this beautiful life path, all will be made known.

I kept a detailed travel journal to remember and reflect and to share my experiences. Over the next few days I will post entries from the journey and invite readers to follow along and experience some of the magic of the Silver Bank where humpback whales return home to give birth and mate.

26 March 2015

SimoneLipscomb (16)Flying over ocean I see visions of the Cosmos being the home of whales and dolphins and the Ocean as a reflection of that wide, massive space. The deep indigo color touches my heart, my mind like nothing else. It activates within me a true sense of home. Shades of turquoise, indigo flecked with puffy white clouds reach out and touch me. I can feel the liquid fingers of the Ocean tapping my Heart.

SimoneLipscomb (15)Blue fades to blue. Liquid, salty bliss fills me, surrounds me and I overflow with joy and know not where I end and the Ocean begins. Perhaps that is the key. There is no end. No beginning. Only one. Unity. Bliss.

SimoneLipscomb (13)From the heat of the airport and confusion over transport to the hotel, I find myself in a hotel with grounds so beautiful it feels as if I have stepped into the Garden of Eden. Orchids gracefully arch from trees. Large, green, tropical foliage shelters walkways from the lower latitude sun.

SimoneLipscomb (5)The beautiful and comfortable room provides a place to rest and recover from the long travel day. Everywhere I turn there is beauty here. The light cocoa-colored sand is soft and welcoming. Tropical birds chirp and squawk as I attune to the sweet energy of Hispaniola.

SimoneLipscomb (9)Tomorrow afternoon we gather at the boat. By 11pm we will be underway to the Silver Bank, a reef found 80 miles offshore. This is where the whales come to shelter from high seas and to have their beautiful calves and to mate. This is where we will moor for a week and where life-changing encounters will occur.


Finding Eden

Finding Eden

IMG_8881Two days ago I passed the tunnel. Actually, it was a large culvert, partially filled with water, that goes under a road but it called out to me. I thought about it then but paddled on, intent on getting a good, physical workout.

Today, I paddled my SUP board for serenity, to find balance, to find center. The wind wasn’t as intense as before but it was still moving the water and me around enough that quiet, still channels were my goal.

IMG_8876The tunnel….so inviting. I paddled past it, to the end of the canal, and turned around. I almost decided against paddling through but the emerald green on the other side called to something deep within and so I slowly glided into the darkness.

Once inside, I felt contained and safe and marvelously happy. The verdant reflections on the other side called me onward and after pausing to take a couple of photographs, I slowly moved forward, reluctant to emerge as the feeling of containment was medicine. Big medicine.

It’s been a wild week. Intensely, insanely wild. Off-the-charts, ape-s*@t crazy wild. Was it only Monday–two days ago– I was emerging from a shower to awaken me at 4.30am and thought I should check my email in case news of a potential trip arrived. It did. And so I had to arrange air fare before leaving for Crystal River so I could be assured of a place on a humpback whale trip. A spot had opened up.

Then I wanted to order a hydrophone so I can record the singing of my whale brothers and so on the way south I was talking with sound-folks and trying to get everything ordered that would work with my current nature-sound recording equipment.

SimoneLipscomb (17)But back up a moment. Just days before I was invited to photograph the release of a manatee that I had helped rescue in the Magnolia River on January 4th. I felt lucky just to attend and watch quietly from the shore. Never did I imagine I would be asked to photograph Magnolia’s release. So of course, I had quite a buzz going from that upcoming event.

Add to that the humpback trip, finding a flight, ordering equipment, paying for the humpie trip and attending to all the details that trip involves while focusing on photographing the release of a manatee and documenting the Alabama Manatee Sighting Network’s tagging efforts….I think brain-fried is possibly as accurate a description as I can find.

And not sleeping well thrown into the mix..it has been an incredibly intense few days.

SimoneLipscomb (26)Magnolia’s release went well but within a few minutes time I was trying to stay clear of the manatee yet photograph and video her release and acclimation to the spring, try not to run over Sea World photographers who were running after the manatee and remember to adjust the settings on my camera when she went into a very bright part of the spring while clearing my snorkel, remembering to make sure the GoPro was actually underwater….you get the idea. Not easy but rewarding. And feel so grateful for the invitation. Profoundly grateful…thank you Ivan.

SimoneLipscomb (27)Rush back to hotel and try to pull video footage for the wildlife refuge and media here and in Alabama along with still images…..cram lunch so sweetly provided by the Sea Lab folks and then go out with three of the researchers into the Gulf tracking one of their manatees. Actually two but we won’t count the first one which led us on a very long, bumpy ride around grass beds resulting in Cas not being found. But finding Brody on the way back to the boat ramp and getting observation data on him. Late night…grunge dinner and hoped for sleep that was put off by insane partiers next door who had security called on them by their grumpy, tired neighbor.

IMG_8849Early morning to Homosassa River to track Cas with the gals from the Sea Lab. The tracking wasn’t working so well but we did hear his ping so we knew we were close. I spotted the satellite tag at the entrance to a canal and he was there with several friends exhibiting, shall we say, playful cavorting.

SimoneLipscomb (18)Kayla did an amazing job switching out his tag considering she had manatees on top of him, rolling on him and playing with the belt as she worked to attach a temporary tag, remove the old tag, attach a new tag and then remove the temporary tag. I watched in the water from a distance and had manatees swimming under my legs, nibbling my exposed ankles as I stood in shoulder-deep water, swirl around me checking me out. I got some very good photo ID shots of a very scarred manatee that made my heart hurt.

SimoneLipscomb (12)After observing Cas and his friends for a while longer from the boat, we headed back and were at the hotel by 1pm. I said goodbye and sat in my room looking at images and processing them, checking emails and social media. I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight then realized by 3pm that I had forgotten to eat.

Food helped revive me and I went back to the room to rest a while and ready myself for another SUP board paddle. I read an article on recent solar flares and a solar storm that was disrupting all sorts of human-related activities including sleep, health, radio signals and creating a lot of challenges for humans. Who knows how it affects animals.

And yesterday was the final of seven squares between Pluto and Uranus that began in 2012. Pluto is the bringer of change. My friend Steffan says, “Pluto is like the irresistible force, sweeping all before it. The only beneficial approach to this planet’s energies is to move in the direction it indicates. To do otherwise is to invite disaster.” Amen to that.

After reading the articles on Pluto and the solar storm, I thought back to the recent flurry of activity in my life and remembered that at the first of the year, in my new year’s eve meditation, I felt a strong wave of change coming into my life and knew this year was a year of intense and positive expression of my life’s work. January 1st found me in my dry suit helping with the rescue of a very sick manatee that died after being captured. But as I looked around at the large crowd of volunteers gathered on new year’s day, I knew that the meditation just hours before, was already coming true.

SimoneLipscomb (20)My life is quiet and lived in near solitude. My greatest love is to be in nature and to document the beauty I find there. I feel more animal than human and find animals so much easier to communicate with yet humans are the ones who hold the key to creating lasting, positive change. I knew this year was about putting myself and my work out into the world. It scared me as I looked around at the crowd gathered on new year’s day as I had asked them to come…and they responded with heart’s full of love. Why scared? Because I knew I could no longer hide and stay secluded in my quiet, peaceful world. I had to engage with others of my own species.

The adjustment hasn’t been easy. I have surrendered myself to the work, asking Spirit to open doors and promising to step through when they open. This all got going strongly just a few weeks after Magnolia was rescued on January 4th in Crystal River…where I met a marine biologist and his wife who invited me to Tonga. That was the trip I wrote about that started with a rainbow sky so powerful as I arrived in Crystal River that I had to stop just to take it in…and yes…and pulling up to Follow That Dream Parkway as the rainbow surrounded me.

SimoneLipscomb (30)Somehow that connection with Rich and his family and the rainbow experience opened doors that have continued to fly open. New camera housing for my D800, another manatee visit a couple weeks ago, meeting Ivan at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge who has helped with photographic opportunities, the humpback trip to the Dominican Republic, the two tagging trips with the Sea Lab. Finally, after so many years of very diligent, hard and sometimes frustrating work, a shift is happening. It feels like I was laying a very deep and strong foundation for a long, long time and now the structure is beginning to be built. And from where I stand it’s pretty amazing to see.

SimoneLipscomb (29)The passion I have, the love that runs so deep within for our Ocean Planet and all life here is at times very painful to experience for I see not only the beauty but the destruction. Documenting the oil spill helped me refocus on what is right and good and beautiful with our planet and so that’s my journey, my focus…my intention with every breath.

All of this forward movement in just a few months has been quite overwhelming. For three years after I moved back to the Alabama coast I felt as if I was awaiting instructions. It was maddening for me to sit and feel I was being told to wait…be still…be patient. But I had no other choice. And now I have three books lined up to produce. The first one is laid out and a Kickstarter campaign is about to launch to fund the printing of it. The second one is a children’s book on manatees and the third one has a title and I know the subject but am not yet sharing details…but I can say it’s about working together to generate positive change.

IMG_8886So after all of this, especially the intensity of the past three days, I found myself exhausted mentally and physically this afternoon but determined to get out on my board and just breathe with the wind and find that magical rhythm of stroke, pull, glide…stroke, pull, glide.

So the tunnel that called me was really a birth canal of sorts. When I emerged on the other side it was as if I entered another realm of green and water. The canal rested along side an alley sort of road and I could hear the sounds of traffic nearby but on the other side was palm trees, thick vegetation and wet, dense mats of lushness. It was surreal to slowly glide through the tucked-away surprise.

IMG_8892For me, it was Eden. I felt myself drop into a deep inner stillness where my core connected with nature strongly. Time evaporated into the warm air and once again I was in that sacred space where there is no separation between nature and me.

During the past couple of weeks I have met some of the nicest people who share a love of wildlife, the environment and humans, too. It feels as if my family is growing with brothers and sisters whose hearts are shiny and open. I am profoundly grateful…beyond words grateful.

I am ready.


Honoring Magnolia & Manatees

Honoring Magnolia & Manatees

Volunteering for the love of manatees is amazing and life-changing experience. Thank you community of Magnolia Springs, Alabama! You are awesome neighbors and friends to manatees. Thank you Sea World Rescue Team, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and US Fish & Wildlife Service. Working together we really can make a positive difference!

To update all the supporters and fans of Magnolia, the manatee rescued on January 4th recovering at Sea World Orlando’s rehabilitation center…she is doing WONDERFUL!! All the prop scars have completely healed and she is eating and gaining weight. There is a rumor that she is showing the staff that Alabama gals know how to eat! For everyone who has sent healing thoughts, prayers, love, happy thoughts and general good wishes to Magnolia…THANK YOU! If she continues to do well there is a good possibility she will be released once the water is warmer.