Bottlenose Dolphin, South Shore, Long Island.

FINS to the left! Pics at the end!

The Fourth of July brought with it, not only fireworks and celebration, but also a very flat, mellow ocean.   The north wind and a lack of swell made for smooth lake-like conditions.   

I love these conditions for running the boat out there because the surface is relatively smooth in shape and texture.  No whitecaps to distract the eye.  It essentially becomes a backdrop from which your eyes can pick out anomalies – small disturbances emerging out of the overall pattern.

All too often, these visual stand-outs turn out to be helium balloons.  (Please, folks, think about curbing the balloon use, or at least don’t let them go fly away.  They land on the ocean, and I can fill garbage bag picking them up.  They kill.)  

The next common thing you will see are seagulls.   Kind of boring, but worth a second glance.  I have found sea turtles that I initially thought were birds.

Now if you keep your eyes scanning, there is a good chance that you will see some wonderful things –  dolphin, shark, turtle, an occasional humpback or fin whale.  Keep looking for the anomaly in the pattern.  You eyes will learn to see what you are looking for._DSC5364-2

On the Fourth, I spotted a few pods of migratory, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus.    They were actively corralling and feeding on atlantic menhaden, also known as bunker.  (See video of a bunker school below.)  Many babies were in the mix. There seemed to be two separate pods of 15 to 30 individuals.  I was between 1/2 mile and 2 miles off, between Robert Moses and Kismet.  

 

I often see dolphin very close to shore.  On these calm days, consider bring binoculars to the beach with you.  You might get a nice surprise!

Photo tips:  You really need a telephoto lens with some reach.  You cannot get too close to these guys.  Its not safe, legal, or effective.  If you get too close, they dive deep and split.   I try to maneuver to within no more than 50 yards, and then stay parallel to the direction they are heading and get a bit ahead of them. Turn off engine, and let them swim towards you, on a line that still maintains your distance.

I’m shooting with a relatively cheap Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens.   At 600mm, I really want some wide depth of field, so I keep my F-stop at 8 or higher.  Shutter speed needs to be fast – subject is moving at a distance, so I try not to go below 1/1000th of a second.  For me, this works well in aperture priority mode.  If I can’t keep the shutter speed up at F8,  I raise the ISO just enough to get that fast shutter.   I use back button focus, because its faster for me, and you need to be fast for when a dolphin pops up.  It also allows me to pre-focus on where I think they will be, and then just snap the shutter. 

I can’t really say enough about keeping your eyes on the water, and observing the surface.   On the way in, at a slow cruising speed, I saw a small disturbance that I though might be a turtle.   Turns out it was the dorsal fin of a triggerfish.  I stopped and he swam under the cover of the shadow of the boat!

 

Enjoy, and keep those eyes open!  Here are a few shots from the Fourth of July, as well as a few from previous trips!

 

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Continue reading “Bottlenose Dolphin, South Shore, Long Island.”