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Gratitude and Celebration

2021 blessed me and our guests with so many remarkable wildlife encounters. We feel honored and privileged to have had many talented photographers join our tours this past year. It is a true thrill to take them to spectacular locations and seeing and often hearing their genuine excitement as they capture astounding images.

Please join me in celebrating and congratulating one of our wonderful guests, Heather Cudworth for her photograph of a bubblenet feeding whale she titled, “All you can eat” for being selected as a finalist in the international photography competition, the Pangolin Photo Challenge 2021, Mammal Behavior.

Heather Cudworth

I first met Heather when she joined one of our 2day photography tours in 2018. She returned with a friend for another 2day photo tour this past September. Heather chose this time of the year because she wanted to be here, “when the whales were still feeding in the Sitka Sound, but after the majority of the hustle and bustle of the busy commercial fishing season was over.” She added, “September was perfect. The town was quiet, and the water was literally bubbling with activity!” For her tour we set a course in search of new subjects and settings, so we decided travel to an area where we could have the best chance to see bubble-net feeding humpback whales.

A Smack of Moon Jellyfish

On this magical day we had the most intense rainbow I have ever seen as we headed toward Chatham Strait. However, we found it fogged in, so we back tracked to Hoonah Sound which is about a 2-hour boat ride from Sitka. On the way back we came across a major conglomeration of moon jellyfish called a bloom or a, “smack” of jellyfish. We could see it from about 100 yards away and having never witnessed one prior I kind of got concerned with what I was seeing especially when a guest said it was the bottom. Luckily our photo pro, Tyler Eddy, had seen this before and quickly identified it. There must have easily been a million of platesized jellies in an area about the size of a basketball court. The emerald, green glow of the water was magnificent, and the jellies undulations were mesmerizing. A real treat for everyone especially the wildlife biologist who also joined our photo tour this day.

      As we arrived in Hoonah Sound the afternoon greeted us with great light on a beautiful unspoiled background, flat calm seas, a very hungry and occasionally frisky lone humpback whale. We first saw this whale from a distance breaching about 12 times. When we got close enough for good photos, he/she did a couple more spectacular breaches and then went about re-energizing. We noticed what I thought and hoped was a lunge feed a bit away from where we anticipated it might reappear. Then it happened. Suddenly, the water was so flat with no wind or ambient noise and we could see a circle of bubbles rising to the surface, emerging counterclockwise and getting tighter to the center of the circle. We could even hear the percolating like sound of the bubbles but only when our excited crew and passengers stopped their coos of amazement. Suddenly, the center of the circle became disturbed, and we could see herring leaping out of the water. Then our newfound acquaintance exploded from the depths with mouth agape and throat grooves bloated.

Here is Heather’s winning image that perfectly captures one of the many times we were privileged to witness this truly remarkable animal behavior. As she was reviewing her photos from this incredible encounter, she said, “I instantly knew this unique moment was a perfect depiction of the mammal behavior theme.

Heather has always been fascinated by photography’s ability to capture beautiful moments in time which would otherwise only be held as a fleeting memory. She’s also adored wildlife her entire life. Therefore, her passion for photography has always been focused on wildlife and nature. She Says, “My heart is happy when I am able to combine my two loves and photograph wildlife in its natural habitat.

Heather offers these insights for those who are entering photo contests. Try to showcase your own personal style. Don’t threaten your artistic integrity just to check the boxes of someone else’s vision. If the contest doesn’t match with your style, look for one that does. Same goes for selling or displaying your work.

Heather has a photography trip planned for 2023 to photograph bears in Katmai, Alaska. And she is hoping to make it to Kenya next year. View more of Heather’s amazing work here. Moments by Heather Nicole(opens in a new tab).

Here is a video I captured on my phone during the same Photography Tour. I think it’s of the same lunge that Heather took her award-winning photograph.

I would also like to honor some other photographers that joined us this past year also entered images taken during one of our photography tours for the Pangolin Photo Challenge 2021, Mammal Behavior.

Photographer – Cole Lindstrom

Photographer – Richard Hebhardt

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