Category Archives: Photographs

Drones may address mystery of early deaths in killer whale calves

Being able to measure a killer whale’s girth and observe its overall condition without disturbing the animal is an important advancement in orca research.

By running a small hexacopter, also known as a drone, at a safe level over all 81 Southern Resident killer whales last month, researchers came to the conclusion that most of the orcas were in a healthy condition. Seven whales were picked out for further observation, including a few suspected of being pregnant.

I was especially intrigued by the idea that researchers could track the progress of a pregnancy. It has been long suspected that the first calf born to a young female orca often dies. A possible reason is that the calf receives a dangerous load of toxic chemicals from its mother. With this “offloading” of toxic chemicals from mother to first calf, later offspring receive lesser amounts of the chemicals.

Miscarriages and even births often go unnoticed, especially in the winter when the whales travel in the ocean far from human observation. If the young ones do not survive until their pod returns to Puget Sound, we may never know that a young whale was lost. Now, this remotely operated hexacopter may provide before and after pictures of a pregnant female, offering evidence when something goes wrong with a calf.

Images of the whales can be combined with skin biopsies and fecal samples collected by boat to provide a larger picture of the health of individual whales and the overall population.

Images of the whales collected this fall can be compared to those collected by conventional helicopter in 2008 and 2013 to assess any changes in the animals. Because of the noise and prop wash of a conventional helicopter, pilots must stay at a higher elevation to keep from disturbing the whales. There seems to be general agreement that drones are the way to go.

John Durban of NOAA Fisheries, who piloted the drone on 115 flights over the Southern Residents, said he was encouraged that their overall condition appeared better than in the past few years.

“Most individuals appear to be fairly robust this year, which is good news, but it’s also very important baseline information to have if the next few years turn out to be difficult for salmon and their predators,” Durban said in a news release.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has a somewhat different take on this new tool. The high rate of miscarriages and neonate deaths have long been known, Ken told me in an email. It is the only way that they are able to control their population within the carrying capacity of their food supply.

“I am more excited about five whales being born and surviving since last December than I am about an unproven morphometric surmise that additional whales are in some stage of a seventeen-month pregnancy,” he said. “It is not wise to ‘count your chickens before they hatch,’ as the saying goes.”

The goal should be to recover the population, Ken said. When it comes to recovering salmon and killer whales, resource management has been a dismal failure. His suggestion: Remove the Snake River dams and allow the salmon numbers to rebuild naturally while fixing Canada’s Fraser River.

“With climate change well underway,” Ken wrote, “we cannot fritter away golden opportunities to restore viability in what little is left of a natural world in the Pacific Northwest while counting unborn whales.”

Other aspects of this new effort involving the hexacopter were well covered by news reporters this week. Check out the list below. The new video with John Durban and NOAA’s science writer Rich Press can be seen above. Last month, I provided other information and links about the new tool. See Water Ways Sept. 9.

Recent news coverage:

Amusing Monday:
Sea slugs bring color
to Puget Sound

Nudibranchs, soft-bodied mollusks often called “sea slugs,” are among the most ornately decorated creatures in the sea. With about 3,000 species of nudibranchs coming in all shapes and colors, I thought it might be fun to track down some of these animals.

Frosted nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Frosted nudibranch // Photo: Dan Hershman

Nudibranchs are found in all the world’s oceans, but you don’t need to go beyond Puget Sound to find some of the most beautiful ones. I’m grateful to Dan Hershman, a retired Seattle teacher, part-time musician and underwater naturalist, who shared some of his best photos of sea slugs from this region. Check out Dan’s Flickr website.

The word nudibranch (pronounced nude-eh-brank) comes from the Latin word nudus, meaning naked, and brankhia, meaning gills. So these are animals with naked gills, which often grow out of their backs and sides. These creatures can be as small as a quarter-inch or as long as a foot or more.

White and orange tipped nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
White and orange tipped nudibranch
Photo: Dan Hershman

Nudibranchs are carnivores, eating things ranging from algae to anemones, barnacles and even other nudibranchs. They can pick up coloring for camouflage and even poisons from the prey they eat, using the chemicals in defense against predators.

Hermaphrodites with reproductive organs of both sexes, these animals don’t normally self-fertilize. But they are prepared to mate with any mature individual of the same species. Eventually, they will lay masses of spiral-shaped or coiled eggs.

Diamond back nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Diamond back nudibranch
Photo: Dan Hershman

For more great pictures, check out Bored Panda’s collection, the 500PX photo gallery or National Geographic’s page of David Doubilet’s photos. If you would like to join a sea slug fan club, visit Slug Site, home of Opisthobranch Molluscs..

Opalescent nudibranch Photo: Dan Hershman
Opalescent nudibranch // Photo: Dan Hershman

Amusing Monday: Fabulous photos from parks and wild places

The U.S. Department of Interior maintains a large photo album of incredible outdoor pictures taken at national parks and other federal lands throughout the United States. I look forward to checking these pictures each day to see what stunning views have been newly posted.

Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior
Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior

The picture at right shows the Potomac River where it rushes through a narrow gorge before flowing past Washington, D.C. This photo, by Yin Lau, was taken on the Virginia side of the river.

You can access this photo album on Instagram or on Twitter.

This “Amusing Monday” post is a day late and somewhat abbreviated, because I am battling a virus that drained my energy the past few days. I’m feeling better today.

Amusing Monday: Time-lapse reveals national-park wonders unseen

Time-lapse photography can add a new dimension to the way we see things. When done well, these speeded-up videos not only help us see things in a new way but also call us to remember feelings about special places and natural wonders.

On their first visit to Olympic National Park, brothers Will and Jim Pattiz captured images from various park locations for what would become a captivating video for the series “More Than Just Parks.” They traveled to some prime locations that many of us have visited, but their careful use of time-lapse equipment create a new sense of inspiration for familiar places.

So find a quiet moment, sit back and enjoy their video full-screen on your computer if not your TV.

If you’d like to learn more about the video project and what the brothers learned about Olympic National Park, read the interview on the Exotic Hikes website, or check out the background on “More Than Just Parks.”

One of my all-time favorite time-lapse videos was shot in Yellowstone National Park, where photographer Christopher Cauble captured the rhythms of nature in a place where geysers, streams, clouds and even the animals move with a natural fluidity. I especially like the sections where the video slows down to remind us about the normal pace of events — something not seen in most time-lapse videos.

The last video on this page shows Mount Rainier in a time-lapse video by West Coast Time Lapse, a company of Nate Wetterauer and Chase Jensen. Like the Olympic National Park video, this one about Mount Rainier was posted within the past year.

If you would like to see more time-lapse video of national parks, take a look at “15 time-lapse videos that capture national parks at their best” by The Wilderness Society. It contains parks from here in Washington (a different Olympic National Park video) to Maine, from Alaska to Texas.

A reminder to watch live video: Bears still active
at Alaska’s Brooks Falls

Brown bears are still actively fishing at Brooks Falls in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. I wish I had more time to sit and watch them, as there is almost always something going on at this time of year — although the salmon run is expected to decline soon. See live video from three cameras on

The looping video on this page was captured from one of the live cameras by national park staff, who posted the action with this note: “Wow, fishing gets intense! Bear brawl!”

For this and other live wildlife cams from across the country, check out my “Amusing Monday” blog post in Water Ways from June 29.

Amusing Monday: Historical photos reveal lifestyles of long ago

Old photographs can help us grasp human ways of life, long ago supplanted by new ways of thinking, acting and living in the modern world.

Photographs don’t judge; they just depict a truth about how things were at one point in time. At least we can hope for a certain honesty from pictures that predate Photoshop.

Annette Kellerman in her scandalous one-piece bathing suit.
Annette Kellerman in her scandalous one-piece bathing suit.

As they say, a photograph is worth a thousand words, but it still takes a few words to capture a deeper meaning in the images we see, especially when they are far removed in time and place from our own experiences.

I’ve been looking through collections of “historical” photographs compiled in various galleries on the Internet. I especially like the one posted by writer Justina Bakutyte on the “Bored Panda” website. She calls the gallery “40 Must-See Photos from the Past.”

I learned from these photos that a woman’s one-piece bathing suit was once a scandal that could get you arrested, while a two-piece suit was the norm. The first photo on this page shows the scandalous one-piece worn by Annette Kellerman in 1907.

It didn’t take much digging to learn how Kellerman became a competitive swimmer as a child, after she had difficulty walking. Kellerman later became a Vaudeville performer, developing her aquatic artistry as a water spirit.

Annie Edson Taylor with the barrel that transported her over Niagara Falls.
Annie Edson Taylor with the barrel that transported her over Niagara Falls.

Kellerman gained world attention when she was arrested for indecent exposure after spurning the cumbersome bathing dress, which was the norm at the time. Instead, she appeared on Revere Beach in Massachusetts in a one-piece, form-fitting bathing suit. Her action sparked other women to redefine their gender, according to an article in “The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in 20th Century Australia.”

Another water-related photo shows Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The feat took place on Oct. 24, 1901, as shown in the photo.

According to, one man had survived a jump from the falls on the Canadian side in 1829. But Taylor wanted to follow 72 years later with something that would gain even more attention. She strapped herself into five-foot-long pickle barrel padded on the inside. After a wild 20-minute ride, she came to shore battered and bruised. She soon became famous, but she never earned the fortune she had hoped for.

I was also intrigued by a photo of a young girl wearing a breathing apparatus while lying in a hospital bed. She is smiling as she gazes at a small pool next to the bed, in which four baby ducks are swimming. The caption says “Animals being used as part of medical therapy, 1956.”

Animals being used as part of medical therapy, 1956.
“Animals being used as part of medical therapy, 1956.”

An article by registered nurse Lorraine Ernst in “Annals of Longterm Care” says Florence Nightingale was one of the first people to recognize the therapeutic benefits of animals in medical treatment.

While attending Washington State University in 1975, I had the honor of interviewing the late Dr. Leo Bustad, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. We talked about the important role that animals can play in the recovery of patients and how pets can lead to a healthier physical and mental condition among the aging.

Two years later, Bustad co-founded the Delta Society, which studied and promoted the human-animal bond. In 1989, the society developed a certification program, which allows animals to visit hospitals and nursing homes to aid patients with their companionship.

As I noted earlier, every picture has a story. I may never find out the identity of the little girl or the benefits of her therapy, but it is interesting to uncover the connections. For me, Lorraine Ernst’s article added information about new discoveries in animal-assisted therapy and what Dr. Bustad helped to bring about.

Other galleries of historical photos can be found on the Flickr page of the U.S. National Archives. One gallery I found especially interesting was “History Through the Camera Lens,” featuring photos of renowned photographers Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine and Edward Steichen.

Another worthwhile gallery, posted on the Buzzlamp website, is made up of 116 historical photos and documents, including a letter written to Adolph Hitler from Mahatma Gandhi in 1939. While this gallery is not especially focused on a war theme, many of the images are not for faint of heart.

Amusing Monday: Winning photo to grace national parks pass

Cameron Teller's winning photograph in the "Share the Experience" contest shows a young polar bear reaching up to its mother. National Park Foundation
Cameron Teller’s winning photograph in the “Share the Experience” contest shows a young polar bear reaching up to its mother.
National Park Foundation

Cameron Teller of Seattle, a former Kitsap County resident, is the Grand Prize winner in the “Share the Experience” photo contest — which means his touching photo of a polar bear and her cub will receive prominent display on next year’s annual pass for entrance into national parks and other federal lands.

Cameron’s photo was among 22,000 images submitted last year in the annual contest, which provides a $10,000 prize to the winner.

Cameron snapped the shot from a boat a good distance away, just as the cub reached its mother. The amateur photographer had gone out on the boat as part of a six-person tour to Alaska’s remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the group was focused on seeing polar bears and Northern Lights.

“I love going on trips to faraway places and taking photographs,” Cameron told me.

The group had flown from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, Alaska, then onto Kaktovik, the only village inside the wildlife refuge. A guide took them out on a fishing boat, where they spent the day photographing wildlife and scenery.

“The captain was a local resident,” Cameron said. “We went out early in the morning. It was awfully foggy that morning, then it started clearing up. The sun came out and it was a great day for scenery.”

Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., received a second-place award in the Share the Experience photo contest with his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. National Park Foundation
Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., received a second-place award with his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. // National Park Foundation

The trip occurred at the beginning of winter last year, just as the sea ice was freezing up. In fact, he said, the ice had grown so thick around the dock where the group departed that the captain had to choose a different landing site to get the group back to shore.

Cameron said there is nothing like seeing mothers and their babies, and it was a special moment when the polar bear cub walked over and reached up to its mother.

“I still can’t quite believe I won,” Cameron told me. “There were some amazing photos that were entered. I think one of the reasons this appealed to the judges is the whole topic of global warming and protection of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge.”

Of course, polar bears have become a symbol of the melting ice caps in the polar regions, where the bears are threatened with extinction because of declining habitat.

Cameron moved to Bremerton from Kansas City about 13 years ago to work for Parametrix, an engineering firm with an office on Kitsap Way. He lived in Manette a short time before moving to Bainbridge Island, where he resided for 11 years. For the past two years, he has lived in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.

Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, captured third place with his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. National Park Foundation
Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, captured third place with his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. // National Park Foundation

Cameron said the $10,000 prize will help fund his ongoing adventures. He visited Kenya about two years ago and plans to travel to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido next January.

It has been a good year for Cameron, who also won “Outdoor Photographer” magazine’s “American Landscape Contest” with a photo of El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

The polar bear photo will be featured on next year’s America the Beautiful pass, an annual pass that gets visitors into more than 2,000 public recreation sites on federal land. About 300,000 people purchase the pass each year.

The annual “Share the Experience” contest is sponsored by the National Park Foundation, Active Network, and Celestron in partnership with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Photographs are now being accepted for next year’s contest, which requires pictures to be taken during 2015 and submitted by the end of the year. Winners will be announced by May 1, 2016. Weekly winners are recognized.

Other winners announced last week in the “Share the Experience” contest include Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., second place for his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge taken at sunset from Marshall Beach, and Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, for his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said she hopes the contest helps inspire people to enjoy the country’s “unrivaled public lands and waters” and share the feeling with others.

“Taking pictures is one of the many ways to enjoy the splendor of our nation’s stunning landscapes and share those treasured moments with friends and family, as well as inspire others who may have never visited to get out and explore their public lands,” she said in a news release.

Amusing Monday: Videos capture beauty, allure
of national parks

I recently discovered a series of 58 fascinating videos that capture the highlights of the diverse national parks in the United States.

The five-minute videos, by photographer Dennis Burkhardt of Oregon, take us on trips into some of the most amazing wilderness areas in the world. The scenic photography and accompanying narration make me yearn to visit every park to see them for myself.

I’ve posted on this page three of the videos, including the one that describes our familiar Olympic National Park. The complete set of can be viewed on the YouTube channel “America’s 58 National Parks.” Be sure to go full-screen.

I’m sure every park has a story to tell, and these videos briefly tantalize us with the possibilities of exploration. I recall stumbling upon a rich history and some amazing tales while researching a Kitsap Sun story for the 75th anniversary of Olympic National Park. It is called “At 75, Olympic National Park has grown amid push-pull of forces.”

In 1872, our first national park was born when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law creating Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was followed by Mackinac in 1875, then Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890. Mackinac was converted to a state park in 1895 — one of seven national parks to go out of existence in the national park system.

National parks are selected for their natural beauty, unique geological formations, rare ecosystems and recreational opportunities. In contrast, national monuments, also administered by the National Park Service, are selected mainly for their historical significance.

California has nine parks, the most of any state, followed by Alaska with eight, Utah with five and Colorado with four. Washington has three — with North Cascades National Park created in 1968.

New parks are still being created, with Pinnacles National Monument in Central California becoming a national park in 2013. (Pinnacles is the 59th national park and is not included in the list of videos.) The largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, is larger then nine entire states. The smallest is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

A handy list of all the parks with links to more information can be found on Wikipedia.

Amusing Monday: Snow dogs and snow cats with winter now behind us

Each winter, I look for an opportunity to share amusing photos and videos of household pets encountering a fluffy white blanket and playing in the snow.

Guess what. Spring has arrived, and the Puget Sound region did not experience a heavy snow this past winter. I know that many people — especially those who dread driving in the ice and snow — are rejoicing how they managed to escape what they consider an annual nightmare.

For the skiers among us, the shortage of snow in the mountains has been heartbreaking. We can all hope this is not the beginning of the end for our incredible winter sports in Washington state.

Meanwhile, most of us have friends on the eastern side of the United States who have no sympathy for the snowless conditions in the West. They have seen one snowfall after another build up layers of snow that they must dig through. They received our share of snow and much more.

In honor of those living in the East and coming through one of the harshest winters in history, I’m pulling up some amusing images of snow dogs and snow cats. For those sick of snow, I hope this can be a humorous glance at the season in the rearview mirror. For the rest of us, we can take a moment to consider what we missed.

In the first video, Tiger Productions has put together a nice compilation of clips of animals playing in the snow, including some of my favorites. Another video by Official Dogs focuses on the canines. A new video by Ann Got shows us why a cat won’t be stopped by a little snow.

Also amusing are some still photos of dogs, cats and other animals in the snow. Check out:

Amazing image of gray herons comes after
much experimentation

I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest was no exception.

This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a statement accompanying the winning photographs.


The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.

By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout the scene.

“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.

The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry sky,” he noted.


I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.

“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one gave me the perfect pose.”

The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and backyard wildlife.

First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.


“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of the water,” he said.

Check out 17 stunning photographs, with comments from the photographers, on the National Wildlife website.