As we survey for whales each day, the main responsibilities in the plane are divided between the two team members who are flying that day. The person next to the right window of the Cessna is responsible for photographing the whales in each sighting, while the person in the left is responsible for assessing the area and ensuring there is no potential vessel traffic heading on course for the whales. Vessel and whale data is recorded both by hand on data sheets, by computer, and verbally into a voice recorder.
Photo Credit: New England Aquarium, Kelly Slivka.
Taken under a Scientific Research Permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA.
Two days ago I was in the right seat manning the camera when we had our fist Surface Active Group (also known as a SAG) of the season. It was a relatively small group, containing only six individuals. However, the part of the sighting I found truly difficult was not keeping track of the whales, but simply managing to photograph something-- anything-- from 1,000 feet in the air as the plane spins in a circle as if it's winding up to go into orbit, jostled by the blustering, icy winds that shove through the open window, finding the most stable way to prop the 7-pound camera so it faces down toward the water's surface, then fighting the constant centrifugal forces in order to manage 20 seconds of stability so that I can aim, focus, and shoot the whales diving and rolling beneath us in that slight window of time allowed as the plane swings into position over them-- clickclickclick-- before the whales are gone behind the overhanging wing. Though I was, in the end, able to capture identification shots for the individuals in this SAG (one of my shots is above), I certainly left myself a lot of room for personal improvement and have fostered a weighty respect for the more seasoned aerial photographers on the team.