Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back

Welcome to my 2012 Photo Review
When I think back on 2012 these are my images that stand out in my mind.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year as we welcome in 2013.

Photo: The wonderfully sweet and endangered West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) of Crystal River Florida are at risk not just from boaters but from changes in climate as well.

Filmed on location at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River, Florida courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Photo: A Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) chick on Midway Atoll asks us to stop smoking and stop plastic pollution. Unfortunately Midway is a victim of not only marine debris but of budget cuts as well. Reopened for tourism in 2008, Midway lost over 1 million dollars in funding and has had to eliminate it's visitor and volunteer programs as a result. It's up to those of use who have had the privileged of visiting and exploring this amazing location to let people know the plastic is still out there - it's still a fight worth fighting even if we can't see it first hand any longer.


Photo: Remember the Keystone XL Pipeline? It's still looming out there and last March I visited the Platte River in Nebraska with the National Wildlife Federation. The Platte is an important area for migrating Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) and TransCanada wants to travel right through... an oil spill would be catastrophic. Two years after the Kalamazoo River Pipeline Oil Spill in Michigan the clean up is still not complete! That spill went largely unnoticed because all eyes were on the Gulf of Mexico. What's making this clean up so difficult, costly and time consuming? Tar Sands Oil. Still think Keystone XL is a good idea?


Photo: Royal Lipizzaner Stallion at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. A lifelong dream come true was to visit the Spanish Riding School and see the beautiful white horses perform. They are far more more beautiful in person than the tapestry that hung on my wall as a child.


Photo: Ah, Alaska! It just doesn't get much better than fall in Denali National Park.



Photo: Swimming with Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Kingdom of Tonga was an incredible experience. There's nothing in the world quite like having a creature the size of a city bus give you the eye and then leave you miles behind with one slow casual stroke of its fluke.


Photo: A total geek-out-highlight moment of 2012 was being invited to join the California Science Center as they welcomed the Space Shuttle Endeavour to its new home in Los Angeles where it will continue in its mission to inspire children to reach for the stars.


Photo: Return of the river otter (Lontra canadensis)! This gregarious and playful river otter showed up in the ruins of the Sutro Baths this year much to the delight of wildlife watchers. Once plentiful in the San Francisco Bay area the river otter was hunted and poisoned right out of the city. Sam gives us hope that nature can and will recover from our meddling.


Photo: It doesn't get much cuter than a Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) resting in the snow. One of my favorite Antarctic moments was lying in the snow near this guy waiting for a stretch or a yawn and occasionally being honored with a wink.


Photo: If you've followed me for any length of time you'll already know that Albatross hold sway over my heart. I was so thrilled that weather conditions on our return voyage from Antarctica enabled us to visit Diego Ramirez Island just off the tip of Chile because it meant meeting the Grey-headed Albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma).


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Baily Head - Important Bird Area

Baily Head, Deception Island
62°58’S, 60°30’W
"Get out of the boat, GET OUT OF THE BOAT!!!!" Easier said than done when you find yourself on the high side of a tipping zodiac! A moment later the rolling wave retreated and I scrambled to join my companions on the beach.

And what an amazing beach it was! Over 100,000 pair of Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica) return to Baily Head each year to raise their chicks, making this spot one of Birdlife International's Important Bird Areas (IBA). With it's large swells and breaking waves, Baily Head is considered by some to be Antarctica's most dangerous but worthwhile landings. However we had good weather and conditions so per our skipper, ours was just a "sporty landing."

One one side of the massive rock outcrop is a small horseshoe-shaped cove with a dramatic steep slope which leads up to the massive colony above. The diminutive little penguins trudging upward through the snow to reach their mates - on a warm day the snow gives way, making the accent relatively easy... on a cold day the snow turns to ice and the slope more of a slick toboggan run.

The other side of the outcrop boasts a long beach of black sand with a long gentle slope and a winding trail of penguins marching to and fro with purpose. The beach is dotted with large chunks of blue ice which drift ashore and give predators a nifty spot to hide.

Leopard seals only look cute and cuddly
Yup, when you have that many penguins in one spot, chances are you are going to run into quite a few critters who are looking to benefit.  I watched in amazement as a large leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) surged ashore not ten feet behind one of my companions, scattering penguins in every direction. My shouts of "TURN AROUND" were lost in the din of wave, wind and penguin chatter - he had no idea the seal had been there. The penguins were lucky and escaped unscathed this time. Further up the beach I found a couple of penguin bearing wounds from narrowly escaping the seal.

Skua with a stolen penguin egg
The threat isn't over once the penguins reach shore... the Brown Skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) and Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus) will take advantage of any unprotected nest, scooping up eggs and chicks alike. Before you judge them too harshly, remember every community needs a sanitation crew. Together with the snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus) these birds help to keep disease from spreading in a colony as they keep everything tidy. With a short season and hungry mouths everywhere, nothing ever goes to waste in Antarctica.
Southern Giant Petrel

Snowy Sheathbill is the clean up crew of the penguin colony
A leopard seal rolls off a rock after a failed attempt to catch a penguin 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sailing to Antarctica

Thump, thump, thump... 

creak, snap


The boat kicks and rolls, tossed about on the wave like a chew toy by a Doberman.  A nervous giggle bubbles up from one of my companions throats as a new wave breaks over the wheelhouse, white foam retreating from the porthole window as the boat lurches to meet the next wave. A glance out the starboard porthole revels only the deep aqua blue of the ocean below as we cut forward at almost a 50 degree angle. Suddenly we are weightless but for a moment then we crash into the bottom of the next wave rising to meet us. 

Then the engine cuts and we are at the mercy of the wind once more. I can hear the waves sloshing on the other side of what feels to be a paper thin hull. Our speed slows and the waves fall into a steady, rhythmic thump, thump against the hull. Poseidon knock, knock, knocking as if to ask if any among us might want to join him in the icy depths below. 

But the Sarah Vorwerk is a stout vessel. All 54 feet built for rough seas. Where we landlubbers crawl and claw our way from our berths, her skipper strolls the deck with all the confidence of a man born of the sea. Henk has made this trip many times before, at least three runs per season for the last 18 years. His devilish grin puts us all to ease as he waves a hand... "Yah, yah there's nothing to worry about."

Our quest was to visit the Antarctic Peninsula at the very earliest in the season possible. In that we have succeeded. We receive word that the Lemaire Strait is still completely iced in, only the largest of icebreakers have the hope of passing and so we head instead for the South Shetland Islands. We drop anchor in the sheltered cove of Deception Island and our first mate and one companion who have been suffering terribly from seasickness spring miraculously back to life. Henk remarks that this is the first time he has seen Deception covered in snow.

Abandon Building in Whalers Bay
A Weddell Seal sleeps blissfully unaware of the history of Whalers Bay
A memorial to a carpenter
Our first landing is at Whalers Bay and we stumble about as we try to get our land legs back beneath us. This place is a reminder of our violent past. Originally a safe haven and base for sealers, Deception became a home for factory whaling ships in the early 1900's. Large boilers used to boil whale carcasses for additional oils are still present on the island as are several derelict buildings. When whale oil prices dropped during the Great Depression the station proved to be unprofitable and was abandon (1931) but not before claiming the lives of the 45 whalers buried on the island. The cemetery itself was buried deeply after an eruption of the volcano in 1969 and only two memorials remain in sight.  The pristine snow makes us feel that we four are the only people to have visited this place in hundreds of years but patches of black sand, snow-free from volcanic warmth, show a plethora of boot prints, betraying the hundreds of visitors this site receives every season.

A skua takes flight after a long bath in a pond of melt water

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Studio Fun

A huge thanks goes out to the folks at Paresh Martial Arts for a couple of super fun days photographing all the students. Instructors Ms Ohlson and Mr. A run a fantastic Tang Soo Do studio (traditional Korean Karate) in San Francisco's Inner Sunset. They offer classes for everyone: Kids, Adults, and Family. 

Paresh Martial Arts
447 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122


Monday, October 29, 2012

Chasing Mavericks

Mavericks Break
 “We all come from the sea, but we’re not all of the sea.  We children of the tides must return to it again and again.” -Chasing Mavericks

It's all about safety these days - Jet skies and Coast Guard
I saw the movie last night and while the critics are all panning the writing I have to admit that the opening line strikes a chord with me. I'm not a surfer, I wish I had the balance but I can't even roller skate without taking out a crowd of people and so I content myself with watching these incredible athletes and when the Mavericks Competition was called in 2010 I bee-lined to Half Moon Bay.

Thanks to my friend Jim Goldstein I knew exactly where to be to catch a ride out on a boat and before I knew it I was snapping happily away as the waves rolled past. A quick glance at the press boat made me feel sorry for the folks over there as they rolled with the waves, almost every face was green -- snap, snap, hurl -- they obviously weren't "of the sea" but they made a grand effort.

As the next competition season prepares to open I've got my fingers crossed that the winds will blow up some grand waves and that I will be in town when the 24 hour call goes out! I can feel the tide calling me.

Zach Wormhoudt drops into a Wave in the 2nd Heat of the 2010 Competition

Kenny “Skindog” Collins tackles a huge wave in the 3rd heat

Josh Loya riding with style in the 3rd heat

Greg Long dropping in the 3rd heat

Daryl “Flea” Virostko

Sunday, October 28, 2012


While on assignment in SoCal last week the team decided to head off site for lunch and I was introduced to Jalama Beach in Lompoc. As folks were heading off to find a nice picnic table and play with some California gulls I noticed an area that was literally jumping! Couldn't believe our luck when I saw the tiny balls of jumping feathers were Snowy Plovers -- Lunch was immediately forgotten as I snuggled deep into the warm sand, inching close enough to snap some pics of this adorable species.

Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus)

I'm Shy!
Morning Yoga

Who are YOU looking at?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pretty Puffins

Another awesome critter that charms nature photographers when they make their way to Alaska is the horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata).  These comical members of the auk family nest in rocky colonies along the coasts of Siberia, Alaska and British Columbia. 

 Similar in looks to the Atlantic puffin, the horned puffin is larger and lacks blue coloring in his beak.  They are named for the fleshy horn above their eye.


Horned puffin are monogamous and raise one chick per breeding season. We thought that by the time we visited all of the chicks would have fledged. Only a few adults remained on the rocky colony, most were out at sea. As we took one last cruise around the puffin colony we found this last little fledgling ready to join his friends at sea.  I loved seeing his little beak - looking similar to the over-sized paws on a golden retriever puppy.  Super cute!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Expo is Coming!!

Don't miss out on your chance to hear the latest field research and efforts to save some amazing endangered species straight from the worlds leading conservationists mouths.

Professor Claudio Sillero will be at the Expo to talk about his work with the Ethiopian wolf and I'll be at the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme's table with lots of images from my time spent in Ethiopia with the wolves.  Aby stuffed plush toys, cards and more will be available for purchase with proceeds going straight to help the wolves!

Visit http://wildnet.org/ to get your tickets today!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Otterly Crazy

Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni

I love most marine mammals but otters are in my top five favorite critters to photograph thanks to their playful nature, adorable faces and trickster attitudes. They are curious and will get into anything you might leave around - stealing boat covers, climbing up on kayaks or just popping up next to your boat to say 'Hi'.

Highly prized for their luxurious fur (850,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch) this member of the mustelidae (weasel family) was hunted to near extinction. They once numbered close to 1 million individuals but in the 1900's their population plummeted to 1-2,000. Today they have rebounded and while still threatened, it's not unusual to see otters floating along the Alaskan coastline or crunching on clams with wild abandon.

Unlike other marine mammals, otters rely on their fur to keep them warm rather than a blubber layer.  They spend quite a lot of time keeping their luxurious fur clean, tangle free and full of air bubbles.  It's a lot of fun to watch them rolling in the water as they groom.

The average life span of a sea otter in the wild is 10-20 years with females averaging 5 years on their male counterparts.  The oldest recorded otter in captivity lived to 28 years! As an otter ages it's fur becomes more and more blond so it's pretty easy to tell who's been around the block.