Whale Watching and Image Capture

The house that we rented in Falmouth, Massachusetts is pretty quiet early in the morning…quiet enough for long enough to allow me to write the daily post. Yes, I’m on vacation but I look forward to sharing another article on all things relating to recording. After returning from a long day with my family and a niece that just happens to be working in the area, I’d like to share a part of a very memorable and remarkable day. And discuss how it is relevant to our current discussion.

We went whale watching out of Province Town (P-Town for those in the know) yesterday afternoon. After a long drive and brief visit to Race Beach, we arrived in P-Town at about 12:30 pm. The place was packed with tourists of all ages and we struggled a little to find parking. My son and I had a quick meal from one of the local eateries, my daughter and wife brought some take out sandwiches and my niece visited a friend that was working in the puzzle store, before we all headed to the pier and boarded Dolphin XIII for the 1:30 pm whale watching trip. The boat was practically full…and everyone had some sort of technology for capturing video or photos.

I brought along my GoPro video camera and my iPhone for stills. Others, including Lindsey (my niece), had professional cameras with long lens while still others brought tablets along in the hopes that we’d see some whales to record. I’ve done one previous whale watching outing from Ventura, California but after 4 hours of cruising off the coast of southern California looking for the migrating grey whales, we returned to the dock without any sightings. I was confident yesterday was going to be different. One of my niece’s friends had been out the day before and texted that they encountered 14 humpbacks, 2 fin whales, a few Minkes and some seals. We were hoping for a similar tally.

It takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the Stellwagen Bank off the eastern edge of the Cape. On the way, the naturalist announced on the PA system that a dead Minke whale was being towed back to P-Town by a boat off the right side of the Dolphin XIII. We saw the animal, which it turns out had become entangled in some fishing equipment and died sometime recently. My niece was already in the know about this unfortunate event. She’s been working with the IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Rescue) since last September and has been involved in many marine mammal rescues and recoveries. In fact, this morning she is at the land fill where they are doing the necropsy on the Minke whale.


Figure 1 – Breaching humpback whale

Once our boat reached the location of the whales, the collective excitement began to increase. We could see other boats in the area surrounded by whales slapping their pectoral fins, exhaling through their blowholes and feeding. When we arrived, the place was teaming with humpback whales. There were a couple of mothers with their calves, group bubbling in circles to maximize their intake of fish, whales breaching (jumping out of the water) and even a couple of fin whales cruising through the area. I was absolutely stunned by the activity, the closeness of the animals and the sheer number of sightings…we were in the midst of a feeding frenzy.

And everyone on the boat was either taking photos or video. There were lots of professional Nikon and Canon cameras among the crowd, but they were vastly outnumbered by people (including myself) holding up Smartphones and tablets. The “professional” videographer working with the tour company was up on the flying bridge along with the naturalist and captain recording the events for a DVD production that would be available to tourists. I actually spoke to her during the trip back to P-Town about getting a Blu-ray disc. She told me that they didn’t produce Blu-rays because they were still “shooting on film”.

Film? I know the Canon XL1 she was using and it’s definitely a miniDV camera…not film. It does use miniDV digital tapes, which is why she probably thought it was a “film” camera. She was right that it was not capable of HD video but I was surprised that she was the “professional” on board and was confused about something so basic. I suspect that most of the tourists on the boat were getting better images than she was.


Figure 2 – The dead Minke whale being lifted onto the pier.

The trip was absolutely amazing! And to cap off it off, once we arrived back at the dock we noticed that the Minke whale was tied up along side the pier waiting to be moved. Lindsey escorted us past the barricades as a member of the IFAW and we experienced the loading of the animal onto a tarp for preliminary measurements and full report.

The entire day was special and that Lindsey was in the right place at the right time to participate in the events surrounding the Minke whale was ideal. She took lots of pictures and I’m sure she was very proud of her work. I was impressed.

Final tally…15 humpbacks, 2 fins, 4 Minkes and a bunch of seals…perfect.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

4 thoughts on “Whale Watching and Image Capture

  • Jack Gammer

    Hi Mark, Great photos! I live just north of the Puget Sound area in Canada. Orca “killer whales” frequent the North Pacific waters off the coast and in our inland waterways. Every summer we holiday in the Canadian Gulf Islands and go whale watching also. These creatures are amazing and it is awe inspiring to be in a boat in the middle of a pod of them. Two years ago we were off Pender Island when, to our good fortune, the J, K, and L pods came together in Boundary Pass. We were surrounded by 87 of those magnificent animals. Just like you experienced, adults, calves, feeding, breaching, blowing, etc. When they are 10 to 15 feet from your boat it is actually scary too. At the time I had a Cool Pix camera and was so frustrated by the slow shutter speeds. Many times a whale breached just in front of our craft, I pressed the shutter release and by the time the camera captured the image, the whale was beneath the water. So I upgraded to a DSLR and was ready for the next summer’s expedition. But alas, the pods had gone elsewhere in their chase for a great salmon or seal meal. We’ll see what happens this year when I am in the islands. Happy holidays with your family! Jack.

  • Blaine J. Marsh

    Was that Inspector Clouseau who spotted the Minkes?

  • I have been whale watching off the coast of Santa Barbara as well as Alaska and it was spectacular. I have seen grey whales, orcas and humpbacks.When you are in a small boat and they swim up right next to the boat so close that you can touch them, is is simply an amazing experience. I was able to see some grey’s migrating last month off Ranchos Palos Verdes. Even from a distance, it was great.

  • Camilo Rodriguez


    What a privilege to see and experience those formidable giants of the sea. I hope one day I’ll be able to see them with my own eyes. Thanks for sharing.

    Ever layed thoughts to recording whales in HRA?



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