Inside Passage

It took 3 hours to fly to Juneau, it took 18 days to get back.

The video is done. Shot with a Canon 60D, a Canon G11 and an iPad, the video documents the voyage from Juneau to Anacortes I took last month. Bears, whales, dolphins, and a whole lot of water. It was a great trip, I can only hope I convey a little of the experience in the video.

Compressing 1,800+ photos and dozens of video clips to three minutes is an interesting exercise. This is compounded by the thousands of timelapse exposures that needed to be assembled. It went surprisingly quickly this time, a mere three evenings of work. (As long as you classify evening as getting to bed before 2am.) Either I am getting better with the tools, or I just got lucky when it came to fitting the thing together.

I have produced several videos about these voyages by boat through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. How do you keep each video from looking just like the last? This time I changed it up stylistically, opting for a much more driving soundtrack coupled with the frenetic pace of timelapse.

Does it work? I will await your judgement.

Inside Passage from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.

Crossing Paths with a Humpback

Any sort of water activities, fishing or scuba diving, off the Kohala coast in winter involves a chance of seeing a whale. Indeed, Kohala is not just the part of the island we call home, it is the Hawaiian word for whale. In winter the whales are here in large numbers… Boat or drive north of Kawaihae and the odds approach certainty that you will see not just a few, but a lot of Humpback Whales as they cruise the waters along this sheltered coastline. Rental cars are parked along the coastal highway wherever a pod can be seen. Just getting to a dive site can involve navigating around a pod or two as blows and fins are seen in all directions. Dive beneath the water and you can listen to the songs of the whales echoing eerily through the blue.

Humpback Trio
A trio of Humpback Whales pass by off of point Adolphus, Alaska, 30 June 2004
During the winter these whales can be found around all of the Hawaiian Islands. They come here to mate and give birth in the warm tropical waters. The most sheltered areas in the lee of the large islands have the greatest concentrations, this includes the Kona and Kohala coast of the Big Island. Through January, February and March the whales can be seen all along the coast. Much of these waters have been designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to protect these unique animals during their winter stay.

Bubble Net
Humpback Whales closing the bubble net at the entrance of Peril Straight, Alaska, 25 July 2006
Come spring the Hawaiian population of whales head north, to the food rich waters of Alaska. It is an interesting experience, in addition to regularly seeing these whales off the Kohala Coast, I regularly see them on the other end of the migration while boating in Alaska. The activity of the whales is different at either end of the journey, in Hawai’i they pretty much just hang out and sing, slowly cruising the coast or just hovering below the surface for many hours. In Alaska it is all about eating, here you watch whales circling through food rich areas over and over. Sometimes the whales cooperate to create bubble nets, encircling shoals of krill or herring.

In past journeys to Alaska I have had many opportunities to watch these majestic animals. We regularly stop and watch when we get the chance, drifting while whales feed around us. Hopefully this results in good photos to enjoy and post on the blog. At the end of the trip I fly back to Hawai’i to resume my usual life. But when winter comes the Humpbacks will follow, returning to the warm tropical waters around the islands to mate and give birth to the next generation. I look forward to seeing them off the Kohala Coast and listening to their songs while diving in those warm waters.

What are the odds of encountering the same whale at both ends of this journey? I wonder.

Counting Whales

It is that time again! Time for Ocean Count 2012… A morning spent spotting and counting whales for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The sanctuary staff recruits teams to crew sites all around the islands. All together, 61 teams with over 950 volunteers observed whales from Kauai to Hawai’i today. Twenty one teams set up to cover the Big Island from South Point to Opolu Point. The procedure is to observe whales from 8am to noon, recording the behavior in half hour time slots. Every blow, dive, breach or other activity is recorded. The technique is to work in teams of two, one person spotting, binoculars in hand, the other writing as the whale activity is called out.

Counting Whales
Deb Cooper counting whales north of Kawaihae

A bluff overlooking Pelekane Bay has been our site for the last three years. Mile Marker 7 is a perfect place to observe whales. A bluff well above the water. A rocky knoll covered with lawn chairs, coolers, and well over twenty observers peering through binoculars.

This year was much like the last several years. We counted dozens upon dozens of whales from the MM7 site, while other sites around the island are lucky to see a handful. There are some sites that did not see a whale all day. We count as fast as we can write, activity everywhere.

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Alaska 2009 – The Video

Three weeks of photographic effort, literally thousands of photographs to select from. It is difficult to put the experience into words, hopefully around one hundred of the best photos and a few minutes of video set to music will convey the trip better than pages of text can manage.

About two thirds of the photographs are mine, the others from one of the seven other cameras that were present on the trip in the hands of other family members and friends. Editing the video was not a short or easy process, but the result is fairly good. Hit the full screen icon to see it in full resolution, this is the first properly HD video I have put together. The Vimeo version does exhibit some encoding artifacts, the original 720p HD versions are simply beautiful.

Three weeks of traveling some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet is something best experienced by being there. Short of that, this is the best I can manage…

A Touch of the Wild – Alaska 2009 from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.

Alaska Roundup

It is over, an odd and melancholy feeling pervades. After three weeks out the boat begins to feel like home, leaving it a sad thing. But we are also ready to go back to our regular lives, which are not really all that bad in Hawai’i. Looking forward to seeing friends and getting back into the swirl of the life we have built on the island. I return to the observatory, with a major project coming to a peak with the delivery of the K1 laser. Deb has gotten a call from the school, they want her back for the next school year.

Nordic Star in Ford's Terror
The Nordic Star anchored in Ford’s Terror while we explore
It is just the trip in between which promises to be a real pain, too much luggage and a very long layover in Seattle await. We are still in the hotel in Juneau, checked out of the room, but with hours to kill before the flight. At least I still have WiFi connectivity to do a little blogging from a conference room just off the lobby.

Three weeks on the water. Three weeks of beautiful weather, whales, halibut, icebergs and fantastic scenery. Hard to think of how the trip could have gone better, maybe a few more fish caught?

Week one was spent mostly touring with just enough fishing to eat and a little for some friends to take home. We headed south from Juneau to the fjord of Tracy Arm to dodge icebergs for a day. From there it was further south around the end of Admiralty Island. As we passed the Brothers Islands there were whales, both humpback and orca everywhere, also sea lions and porpoise. Up Chatham Straight we stopped at Barnof Hot Springs and one of my favorite places, Tenakee Springs.

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