The day I was almost swallowed by a Humpback Whale

“Sea Lions!”, my friend Tom yelled to me, barely audible over the chaotic roar of thirty lightning quick flippers, surfacing and disappearing in a boil of water to my right. Then one thumped into my kayak hull and I knew I had maybe 10 seconds. I pulled my camera away from my face, laid it sideways on my lap above a pool of saltwater on my skirt. 6 seconds… I nabbed my paddle, flipped it and planted it into the water with the awkwardness of going too fast.

I could suddenly hear myself breathing as my heart became audible and I pushed backwards with a stroke. 3 seconds… A few more strokes and my kayak gained momentum and slid, frictionless, through the water, away from the sea lions. And then suddenly the sea lions vanished beneath the surface.

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A quiet moment passed but I kept paddling, then swiftly raised my camera with one hand. Suddenly, the ocean in front of me burst open as three humpback whales lunged, enormous jaws agape, straight out of the water where I had been moments earlier. Those 50 ft whales with jaws 15 ft long pushed up and footlong anchovies shot everywhere, sparkling silver amidst white foam. That’s the goal. They were here for the anchovies. We were here for the whales.

In Monterey Bay, California, anchovies school in large numbers and attract humpbacks who feed on them through a technique known as bubble-netting. The whales swim around a school in circles, releasing a steady stream of air bubbles. The fish won’t cross this wall of bubbles and become corralled into a tight ball, at which point the whales dive deep and come up, mouths wide open, swallowing ocean and prey alike.

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Tom and I had paddled out in our handmade traditional kayaks, having noticed the rare coincidence of a small ocean swell and whales not far offshore. We shot out of the marina a few hours before sunset, fully loaded with photo gear. Straight out of the gate we heard them blowing, the smell of a fish market lingering in the air.

Minutes later, a lone humpback surfaced in front of my bow, ten feet away. I stopped paddling and braced, one hand on my paddle, the other on my camera. It snorted and blew a fine mist sky-high, which landed all over my kayak and lens. I was still clicking despite my heart having stopped beating.

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An hour later, we spotted a group of feeding humpbacks and paddled to about 100 yds away, careful to avoid disturbing them. From afar I watched and learned the patterns of their behavior— first the whales would dive, exposing their tail flukes, and then the sea lions and pelicans would start diving in a frenzy. Moments later the humpbacks would come crashing out of the deep blue as they inhaled and strained anchovies through their baleen. The thing about wild creatures, though, is that they don’t stay put very well. The whales moved around us as I watched, and then they were amongst us.

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Truthfully, despite having paddled thousands of miles in beautiful waters and having had lots of wildlife encounters, this one tops the list. To be in the gaping maw of wild creatures in their environment is a bit transcendental. As a person, I died that evening, and was born again, like a sudden gust of wind or a wild thing on a wild sea.

Filming Goshawk Nestlings by Remote Camera

I sure do love my job. I spent the night over in the goshawk woods east of Seattle about 100 miles, woke up, and worked with falconer Aaron Allred to install a remote camera. Aaron did a tree climb about 100-150′ up and placed the camera at a terrific angle and we ran 500′ of cable to our blind to kick back and watch the goshawks get fed and grab some terrific footage. Here’s a quick glimpse.

Featured on Cover of Another Escape

AE-CoverSeawolf Kayak’s Kiliii Fish is on the limited-edition cover of British Magazine Another Escape!

Thanks to fabulous photographer Elias Carlson for his gorgeous photography, I had a blast with him out on the Washington coast, making paddles and talking kayak. I also chatted with the editors of Another Escape about kayaking the outer limits of endurance, sea otters, and the essence of the traditional and hand-built life.

You can get the issue here.

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Amazing People and their Falcons

Hey folks, I’m a little behind on the blog so I’ve got lots of stuff to post. First, some shots from over the weekend with falconer and all-around awesome guy Aaron Allred. I took the opportunity to get to know Aaron by bringing some kayaks north with me to Deception Pass so we could paddle together. In the afternoon we visited the gorgeous cabin where he lives with his peregrine falcon, goshawk and dogs.

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Goshawks are the largest of the Acccipter family of hawks, those who are exceptionally agile in flight and have a speciality in chasing down other birds. Goshawks, unlike their smaller siblings, also take mammalian pretty like rabbits etc. Since we weren’t hunting and the light was beautiful I thought portraits from Aaron’s backyard view would be most appropriate. If you look closely you can see the Deception Pass bridge in the background.

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I’ve always been fascinated by falconry and so I was truly excited to glimpse into Aaron’s world and hang out with the raptors. The immature goshawk here isn’t being hunted yet as the season won’t arrive until fall, but Aaron’s relationship and understanding of the rather feisty hawk was remarkably fluid, an unintentional naturalist. Unsurprisingly, I am now looking for a space to build a hawk house of my own and apprentice into this ancient art. I’ll be back in the fall to shoot Aaron and the raptors on the hunt.

London Kayak Workshop in August!

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One of our highlights last year was building kayaks in wintry Cumbria, England. This year we’ll have less sheep but more brave men and women working on boats, and conveniently near London! Here are a few photos from last year’s workshop, as well as details for this coming one.

Dates Offered: August, 2014
Location: John’s Boathouse, London, UK
Maximum Class Size: 8 People
Costs: £1600 with £800 deposit to reserve. Includes: All kayak building materials. All large and group tools (you will be required to bring a small amount of hand tools). More information at www.seawolfkayak.com, for registration and London details please email adrianahome@gmail.com.

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Feature in Au Magazine

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Au Magazine is Aurora Photo‘s quarterly publication, an amazing collection of shots by the best in adventure and stock photography. This quarter I’m humbled to be among the featured photographers alongside some amazing talents, covering combat photography to fine art. I’m also sad to say goodbye to longtime Aurora Director of Photography Peter Dennen, who has with this final issue moved into photo consulting with Pedro+Jackie.