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A Whale Tail
(or is it A Whale Tale?)

By Roger Clark

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I was on a cruise to Alaska. On July 25, 1996, my wife and I took an animal site-seeing boat out of Sitka. There were probably about 40 people on the boat. One guy had what looked like a 600mm f/4 Canon lens. The tourists flocked around him like flies to ____. (maybe a touch of jealousy here-not the attention--the big very expensive lens). I'll call this guy "Mr. Pro."

(In case you recognize him, he carried his lens in a purple bag that looked like a gym bag. As you will see, he was not a pro, only a pro wannabe. So the following is not intended to be a put down of professional photographers.)

As we headed out of Sitka, the captain explained we would first head to where some whales had been spotted. He explained how as we approached, the whales would hear us and at some point we would see their back arch and that was a signal they would dive (I had never experienced this before), and then we would likely see the whale's tail.

Far in the distance, we spotted a couple of spouts from some whales. Mr Pro had two cameras around his neck, one with the 600mm, the other with a normal lens.

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive.

We got closer, the whales were still small in my 300 mm lens.

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive.

People were flocking to one side of the boat as it became obvious which side we would pass the whale on.

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive.

As I was looking through my camera, I missed getting to that side of the boat, so I stood on a step and had a good view over the crowd. we were getting close. I had a full role of film ready. I took a frame for context.

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive.

As we started passing the whale, we saw the back arch. I shot a couple of frames. Suspense was building.

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive.

Then, just as the tail was about to come out of the water, Mr. Pro yells, "Oh no! I'm out of film!" His arms flailing in the tight crowd, he sent people flying. I had to jump to one side to get him out of my field of view (and he partially blocked one of my shots with is flailing arms). He tried in vain to switch his lens to his other camera. He got it on just as the tail disappeared!

Mr. Pro: click, click, click, click went the motor drive imaging the ripples where the whale's tail disappeared.

Essentially everyone on the boat, including those with the $10 disposable cameras got a picture of the whale's tail, except "Mr. Pro!" Everyone was quite happy, except those he flung out of his way, "Mr. Pro," and his wife, who immediately started hitting him yelling "how could you miss that shot, how could you?" All a group of us could do was laugh!

A little later, on our way back into Sitka, everyone was inside but me. The scenery was beautiful. I was leaning on the railing, taking pictures toward the front of the boat. No one else on deck, when all of a sudden, Mr Pro walks up two feet in front of me, leans on the railing, blocks my field of view and starts taking pictures! What a JERK!

I couldn't believe it! What arrogance! I almost started to yell at him. Instead, all I did was laugh, as I already had great images and has about to move because the scene was changing to something I didn't like). Again he missed the shot, only this time he didn't even know it! Here is someone totally unaware of his surroundings and the impact they have on others.

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First Published February, 2000
Last updated November 18, 2008.