The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Humpback whales in Monterey Bay help photographer capture stunning sunset image

Katie Dunbar takes advantage of an abundance of cetaceans and setting sun to capture brilliant photo that probably belongs in a tourist brochure

Humpback whales

Humpback whales have gathered in Monterey Bay in numbers not seen in recent history, to feed on millions of anchovies that teem in the Central California waters. For more than month the whales have been breaching, lunging, and spouting plumes of mist over an area as far as the eye can see.

So on a recent day, when the Point Sur Clipper stayed on the ocean for an extended period because there was so much whale activity, research assistant Katie Dunbar decided to try to capture the perfect whale/sunset photo.

She appears to have succeeded, thanks to a humpback that dove at precisely the right moment, and thanks also to good fortune.

The top image, which was straightened and cropped but otherwise unedited, captures the rays of the setting sun transforming water pouring from the whale’s tail fluke into the color of lava. It also shows two other humpbacks, and the blow of another in the distance.

Humpback whales

The other images were also provided by Dunbar, and reveal attempts that were admirable, but not quite as admirable as her crowning moment on a voyage out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

“The singular moment was amazing,” she said of the top image. “For me it sums up the phenomenon of the concentration of humpbacks. In one moment there were three whales with the setting sun, and normally we are lucky to see just one!

Humpback whales

“As a biologist of course I am thrilled to see so many whales here to feed, the abundance of a recovering species. But as an artist I relish the opportunity to see such beautiful creatures, especially in such aesthetic conditions.”

The image, understandably, has been widely shared on Facebook.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a whale researcher, said the photo belongs in brochures touting the natural beauty of Monterey.

Humpback whales

Dunbar assured that the image was not Photoshopped.

“I literally didn’t do any editing; it’s just cropped for composition and rotated to have a straight horizon line,” she said, adding that she used a Canon 7D with a 70-200mm f/4L USM lens.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch, commenting on its Facebook page, wrote: “It was the perfect end to a perfect day.”

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