I know I'm dating myself, but when I was a kid, we had 3 networks and PBS. Yours truly spent a LOT of time with my nose either in books & National Geographic or watching The Undersea World with Jacques Cousteau & Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I have always loved seeing all of the beauties of our world, it's flora and fauna, creatures great and small. I would dream of being a Marine Biologist, Oceanographer, Zookeeper and then later (by around age 11) , a wildlife photographer.
Jump ahead 40 years (how did that happen? But I digress) and last month, I was in the right place at the right time, had my camera at the ready and captured a bit of history! I'm still grinning from ear to ear every time I think about it... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let me backtrack to last month, August 2, 2015... when a surprise visit from a friend who lives inland, lead me to show him one of my favorite trails down to the beach. It was a hot day here on the MendoNoma Coast with bright Sun through fog which makes great indirect light for photography; so even though it was midday and normally too bright to shoot, I grabbed my camera nonetheless. ('Cause one of the tell tale signs that you have the photography gene is that you can't NOT be ready to take pictures. True story, but I digress.)
So, friend Liam and I walk through the dunes and grasses, down to the beach, strolled a bit and then I suggested that we sit down a nice big piece of driftwood and just watch for a few to see what we might see. Oooh boy, was I ever glad of that decision... because within just 10 minutes, I spotted a dorsal fin! Parallel to the shore and just two breakers out. I always get excited when I see Cetaceans, so I jumped up and tried to guesstimate where it might surface next and what type of creature it was!
O.k, so far I can tell it's a Dolphin's dorsal fin. Dolphins are tricky to photograph, especially from shore, as you're never sure where they're going to surface... they can hold their breath for a very long time indeed.. so kept watching, put the camera down.. scan the ocean.. spot them.. lift camera.. try to find them.. down again... repeat, repeat, challenging!
But... I was intrigued, because then I saw this...
A long back.. this is a BIG creature.. but what?
I remember excitedly saying,
"Liam! That looks like a Bottlenose Dolphin.. or maybe a juvenile Orca?" Couldn't really tell yet. But since I'd remembered from my studies that Turiops aren't found this far north, I was confused.
But then, I saw the tell-tale nose!
These are a pod of wild Bottlenose Dolphin!
Now here is where the story gets even cooler! So, I was pretty darn excited to have captured pics (wish I'd had a bigger zoom lens with me, but did the best with what I had, like ya do) and my friend Liam, grinning from ear to ear, tells me that he'd never seen wild dolphins before and that it had been on his bucket list. Nice!
So.. then.. I shared some of my dolphin pics on FB with my friends and I also sent a few to Jeanne Jackson who has an awesome column in the ICO (Independent Coast Observer) and features sightings of the incredible plethora of flora and fauna we're blessed with out here on the Coast. You can check out her blog here: www.mendonomasightings.com. (She's also written a fantastic book of substance with exquisite photography: "Mendonoma Sightings Through-Out the Year".) Jeanne was kind enough to feature my story of seeing them and published one of my Dolphin pics where it was seen by the folks at Golden Gate Cetacean Research! They sent her the following letter.
"Jeanne, these are very intriguing bottlenose dolphin photos. I am part of a team of dolphin researchers that has been cataloging the individual bottlenose dolphins in the San Francisco Bay and Marin and Sonoma County coasts. It would be great if we could get the full resolution photos to see if we could make a match to our catalog of 84 adults dolphins.
We have never had a photo of a dolphin as far north as Mendocino before, but with the warm water off our coast lately, it does not surprise us.
The story of the California coastal bottlenose dolphins is interesting. Before 1983, there were no coastal bottlenose dolphins of Northern California, but that year a big El Niño brought warm water and the dolphins up from Southern California. When the water cooled, the dolphins stayed, and took up residence in Monterey Bay. They have been slowly moving north in the years since then. By 2007 we were seeing them in San Francisco Bay. And now they are regular off Marin and Sonoma (to Bodega Bay). Almost all the individual dolphins we see here are known from Monterey Bay, and a few of our local animals were originally seen years ago in San Diego. Fortunately, they live a long time…up to 50 years or more.
Please contact me so that I can get the the dates of the photos, and if I can reach the photographers, we might learn more by comparing the unique dorsal fin silhouettes to see if we can recognize certain individual dolphins.
Golden Gate Cetacean Research"
WOW!!! Worlds inside my heart collided and exploded! My love of photography, wildlife, science and history all came together for those few moments of pure serendipity!
So.. I quickly sent off all 20 of the images I'd captured. Many were of just a single dorsal fin. I did that on purpose, as I know from my studies that a cetacean's dorsal fin is as individual as a a fingerprint. It's a rough place out there in the wild ocean and their fins tell the tales of their lives. So, artistic, those images not so much. Purely for scientific knowledge. I always dare to dream big. What if? What if these animals are identifiable from my images? Wouldn't that be extraordinary? (My inner mean girl voice tried to tell me that my resolution was too low. You know, THAT voice. meh. Told her that if she didn't have anything nice or constructive to say, to go sit down in the corner and take a time out.) Ha! Kept my grin on and fingers crossed and waited. The two weeks seemed interminable! Ahhhh.. but sooo worth it!
CHECK OUT the LETTER I received!!!!! ↓↓↓
"Anne Mary, thanks very much for sending along your dolphin photos. They turned out to be very valuable scientifically, as we have been able to identify three of the individuals. This took a while because we had to consult our colleagues in Monterey Bay, where some of the dolphins were known to reside.
See the attached pdf that shows you the animals you photographed.
The first one is Miss, one of the oldest female we know in the area.
She was first sighted in San Diego in 1982, so she is likely close to 40 years old.
The SFBT means San Francisco Bay Tursiops (the genus of bottlenose dolphin) and the MB is the catalog number in Monterey Bay.
The second one is Shine, and the third one is Chip, also females.
The 4th one is unknown, but we may have to wait to get better images before can be sure. The 5th one is a young one, and has no distinctive dorsal fin notches yet.
This is very interesting that these dolphins, like Miss and Shine, who are commonly seen in the SF/Marin area are so far north. Glad you had your camera! Let us know if you see any dolphins again...
Golden Gate Cetacean Research"
Wow! Just.. WOW!
What a full circle moment. Miss and I both lived in San Diego in 1982 and now we were both at the same beach at the same time 33 years later?! I thought I'd let go of one dream to pursue another, but to have my passions culminate thusly? Amazing.
Miss and Shine... how apropos for moi... who's all about letting your little light shine.
Howsaboutthat boys and girls? Thought I was just going to take a walk with a friend and show him around, and wound up taking historically and scientifically important photos! Who'da thunk it? Having your camera on hand with you at all times, FTW!
I feel truly honored to have been of help to marine research. Going to be sure to be on the lookout for Miss, Shine and Chip. And in my heart of hearts, I hope that somewhere, wherever he is, Jacques Cousteau is smiling.
Moments matter people.
Have your camera ready!