Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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Polynesia’s beautiful underwater world

I recently made another a little reel, which I hope gives a bit of a sense of the gorgeous underwater world and incredible marine life of French Polynesia in the South Pacific. I simply love the diving and snorkeling there, whether its with the big critters – manta rays, dolphins, sharks – or the colorful reef fish, splendid coral, or the shoals of barracuda and jacks. Hope you enjoy the short film! (The diver in all the footage is a guy named Alexis, the organizer of a little dive club in the Tuamotus.)

(Click on the 4 arrows in the bottom right to make the video full screen.)


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Whales!

Since everyone seems to have a different date for World Whale Day, I figured today was as good a day as any to share some whale photos 🙂

The humpback whales are here in Hawaii for the winter – saw five just the other day, including a baby! Seeing whales from a little outrigger canoe is possibly even more exciting than seeing them from CELESTE – one is so much closer to the water and very aware that the whale is a 40-ton creature and the canoe is a very tippy 40-pounds (she’s made of carbon fiber, hence why she’s so lightweight – and fast and fun!). Didn’t get any photos of the whales from the canoe (didn’t bring the camera), but here are some from back up in Alaska:

Breaching whale

Humpback whale seen from CELESTE in Southeast Alaska, 2014.

This is probably my favorite. I love how well it captures coastal Alaska – the rocky shoreline, the steep forest climbing up and up in background, the wispy clouds, the cool, overcast weather, and, of course, the star of the show, the breaching whale. Do you see the two black specks above him? Those are bald eagles… gives you a sense of how immense this landscape is….

Bubble-net-feeding whales

Humpbacks bubble-net feeding in Southeast Alaska, 2017.

Here’s another image I love. These whales are bubble-net feeding in the deep water right off the shore. Bubble-net feeding is a clever and cooperative technique that humpback whales use to corral small fish and krill into balls, whereupon the whales burst up through the center of the fish ball, mouths open wide, to enjoy their feast! There is incredible footage of this in the new BBC documentary Seven Worlds, One Planet – Antarctica. Highly recommended!

Gray whale tail

Grey whale diving off Mexico, 2018.

Here’s a grey whale in Bahia Magdalena, Baja, Mexico. Grey whales make the longest migration of any mammal, more than 6000 miles each way between the Arctic and tropical waters. It was pretty exciting to see these grey whales in Mexico after having seen them in the Arctic. Just like it’s wonderful to see the humpbacks here in Hawaii after having seen so many up in Alaska!

Spinner dolphins

Spinner dolphins, Hawaii, 2019.

Obviously these aren’t whales, but as I don’t have any pictures of whales from Hawaii, I thought I’d throw in spinner dolphins instead. I love spinner dolphins – they’re so playful and they often show up around the outrigger canoe. It’s always so much fun to jump in the water with them. Though this photo was actually taken while scuba diving – this was a wonderful dive!

 


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World Oceans Day

Dolphin

Dolphin just breaks the surface off Celeste’s bow, Baja Mexico, February 2018

Saturday (June 8) was World Oceans Day.

I didn’t actually know that until today — I’m not really plugged into all the sundry United Nations holidays out there. But I like the sentiment behind it, celebrating and protecting the world’s oceans. The ocean is obviously a source of joy for me — as all my readers know, I try to spend as much free time on or in it as possible.

Under-over_Celeste and Ellen

Ellen swims under Celeste, French Polynesia, August 2018. This was the recent double-page spread in Cruising World.

And so Saturday was no exception, despite the fact that I wasn’t aware at the time that I was celebrating World Oceans Day!

I tried out a new scuba diving site, accessed from shore, and was really pleased to find a reef with healthier coral than I was expecting.

Coral reef

Healthy coral reef!

There was also a good amount of fish, many of them fairly large specimens of their species. Though I didn’t see any big marine life (rays, sharks, game fish), I was still very pleasantly surprised by the health of the reef.

Peacock grouper

Peacock grouper

I’m just an amateur observer, not a scientist, so I have no idea if my hypothesis is correct, but it seems likely that this site (which involved a 3/4-mile hike in over rocky terrain in full scuba kit) was more pristine than many I’ve dived simply because it’s less trafficked. And not just by scuba divers, but snorkelers and spear fishermen too. There was also little run-off from the land and the water temperature wasn’t too hot by tropical standards – 79 degrees F. In an effort to keep the site healthy and untrafficked, I’m not going to say where it is — sorry!

Over the years I’ve seen a pretty big variance in coral reef health, all over the world. Again, this is hardly scientific, as I’ve only been back to exactly the same places in very few instances and haven’t done any kind of systematic studies, but it does sadly appear as if the reefs of the Pacific are not as healthy as they were a dozen years ago. Thankfully, I still run across some areas of superbly healthy reefs. And even the moderately healthy reefs, like the one I dived Saturday, give hope for conservation efforts.

Reef and surgeonfish

A beautiful reef in the South Pacific, July 2018

In my opinion – and for me personally – there’s nothing like seeing the beautiful natural world with one’s own eyes to make a person care about protecting it. So it’s good we have days like World Oceans Day, which hopefully get more people out there to see for themselves!

 

 


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Critter Post 7: Atlantic Blue Tang

A big departure from my earlier Critter Posts: this one doesn’t live in Alaska and doesn’t breathe air! The Blue Tang is a reef fish native to the tropical Atlantic, so with this Critter Post, we’re harkening back to Seth’s and my global circumnavigation aboard HERETIC, during which we snorkeled with Blue Tangs in the Caribbean on the way out (2006/7) and the way home (2010).Blue Tangs-3

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Critter Post 6: Least Auklet

Least Auklet

Maybe my favorite bird? A Least Auklet! (he’s tiny – only 6 inches!)

Another bird-nerd critter post! I have a soft spots for goofy-looking birds and they don’t get much goofier than auklets. On our sail to the Arctic in 2015, Seth and I spent several days on St Paul island in the central Bering Sea, binoculars and cameras trained on cliffs full of nesting auklets. It was a toss-up for my favorite, but the Least Auklet was certainly a contender. Continue reading


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Critter Post 5: Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl on whaleboneAll my critter posts so far have focused on mammals, but we see so many interesting birds while sailing that I thought it was time for an avian critter post. Two years ago, on the Alaskan North Slope, we were lucky enough to see a snowy owl. We watched him for hours as he swept low over the tundra and perched on whalebones. Since it was summer in the Arctic, he was hunting in full daylight (even though it was close on midnight), and the low angle of the sun made for lovely light for photography. Continue reading


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Critter Post 3: Caribou

 

Denali - Caribou in snow

Caribou in the snow, Denali National Park

 

Despite a paucity of images, I’ve decided to write about the caribou for Critter Post 3. Caribou are an integral part of life in the Arctic and we were lucky enough to see one on the shore of the Beaufort Sea on Alaska’s North Slope – quite the sight, the lone antlered creature on the vast tundra. He was too far away to photograph, so for Critter Post 3 we’ll have to content ourselves with a couple of images taken on our trip to Denali National Park in 2015. Continue reading


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Critter Post 2: American Black Bear

Fishing black bearWe saw our first black bear of the 2017 summer on the shore of Wrangell Narrows as we passed through on our way to Petersburg, Alaska. So I decided to make the American Black Bear the subject of Critter Post No. 2. (For those of you who didn’t see Critter Post 1, the inspiration for this series came from fellow blogger, sailor, and birder who writes a regular Bird Photography Challenge post on her site s/v Take It Easy.) Continue reading


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Critter Post 1: Steller Sea Lion

Sea lions

Steller Sea Lions on a nav marker

As many of you know, the wildlife we see on our voyages is one the big highlights of sailing for us. So I’ve decided to try out a few posts exclusively about critters. This is mostly inspired by fellow birder, sailor, and blogger Chris of s/v Take It Easy, who writes informative posts about bird species that she sees, accompanied by her excellent photos. After spending a recent afternoon watching sea lions on a navigation marker outside Petersburg, Alaska (see photo above), I’ve decided to make the subject of my first Critter Post the Steller Sea Lion.

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