Osprey launching.           Out There! eMagazine
Real stories by real people
about their outdoor adventures in the Titusville Florida area.

Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

Dean, Austin, Dad, and Captain Bob's
Excellent Right Whale Adventure!!!!!

I hadn't seen these slides in years. They were badly overexposed and you could barely make out the subject, but there they were, the flukes of a Northern Right Whale, and these slides and a couple of more like them, the only evidence of what is clearly the most significant wildlife encounter of my life.
While holding each of them up to the light I was taken back almost 9 years, and I remember the exact day because it was Super Bowl Sunday, January 1992, between the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins.

My brother Austin had invited my Dad and myself to go with him and his Father in Law, who I will call Capt Bob, on his thirty foot sportsfishing boat for a day of offshore trolling for gamefish from Port Canaveral.
I remember asking my brother several days before, "Are you sure he knows what he's doing in a boat 20 miles offshore?"
To which Austin replied "He's a retired Navy Submarine Captain, I think he knows about boats."
Which in my mind brought up a rather obvious question, "Sub Captain? Does he have any experience actually trying to keep a boat on TOP of the water?" My brother and I had a good laugh, and as it turned out Captain Bob handled the boat just fine.

So here we were, heading east southeast about 15 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, into a fairly stiff wind and about 5 ft seas. I remember being up on the Flying Bridge of the boat when I first saw it.
At first, I thought I was seeing the largest manta ray I'd ever seen jumping, but then it came up again, and I realized with a shock what I was seeing.
When I grabbed my camera bag at the last minute before leaving the house, I figured it would be to take pictures of any fish we caught. I knew before we left that the ocean itself was not going to be at it's photogenic best, so I was totally unprepared for what was in front of me. In addition, my camera gear was packed away in the cabin.
I'm not sure how I got down the ladder from the flybridge tower to the deck of the boat, but I do know it was fast. Into the cabin I dove, wrenching my Nikon F from it's canvas bag, and ran to the deck shooting like crazy. 3-4 frames later, the film in the camera was spent, and I realized that in the excitement I had never bothered to check the exposure.
I quickly rewound the film and proceeded to load a fresh roll into the Nikon. Meanwhile, about 100 yards off the port bow of the boat, a spectacle unlike anything I had ever seen was unfolding. The flukes of a Northern Right Whale were being held straight up into the air, motionless, then they would come down and slam the water with a sound like a cannon going off, then rise again, remain motionless for a few seconds, then slap the water again.
I've since read that Right whales sometimes raise their flukes in the air while "Headstanding" and let the wind push them along like a sail. This is believed to be a playful activity as they have been seen returning to where they started to do it again. What I didn't realize at the time was that the offshore waters from Southern Georgia to about Sebastain Inlet on the East Central Florida Coast are important breeding grounds for this species of whale, who now number somewhere less than 300 individuals total.
This species earned the name Right Whale by being slow moving, easy to kill, and floating after dead, making them the "Right" Whale to kill by Whalers in the early days of whaling. Today, they are completely protected by law and yet still face threats such as entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with shipping traffic. These giants are among the most endangered of all the Great Whales.
Finally! My camera was reloaded and I was ready to shoot! Set the exposure this time, focus,.... shoot! This incredible animal was continuing his headstand for a minute, slapping the surface with his tail, then dove.
Ok where is he?
Something about knowing there is a creature in the water near your boat that is a good ten feet longer than your boat, is.... well....A very strange feeling.
Then he surfaced about in the same place. This time rolling and generally covorting about, slapping the surface with his flipper. Then as quickly as we saw him, he was gone.
We went about our day as well, ended up catching two Bonito and a small shark while trolling.
We finished up our day just in time for me to get home to watch the Redskins beat the Bills in the Superbowl.
The next day I went out to finish the roll of film in the camera so I could get these incredible whale shots to and back from the lab. But, for some reason, I thought I had bought a 24 exposure roll of film, but the camera already was on 29. Maybe I misread the box? I began basically shooting at just about anything to use up the film. When I got to exposure # 39 I knew something was wrong.
I rewound the film which didn't take nearly as long as it should have and I knew right then and there. I had not exposed a single frame of this roll of film. The only shots I had of this encounter were the first few hurried improperly exposed shots from the previous roll.
But nothing can take away from the fact that for about 10 minutes one cold rough day out on the open ocean, I had an incredible wildlife encounter that left me absolutely awestruck, we didn't just get a passing glimpse. We watched him at play. A huge creature oblivious to our presence using his intellegence to entertain himself. It made me realize what a small part of the world we as humans are in many ways. Yet somehow we ended up in an amazing position. On one hand, we have the power to destroy this world. Yet at the same time, the power to save it. The question that remains is, Do we have the wisdom to do the right thing?

Dean Richard Pettit,
Intrepid Oceanic Photographer
and "expert" film loader.
NOTE; Just for the record, the four of us were NOT in the boat shown in this picture, 20 miles out in heavy seas. We're a little smarter than that.
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EMAIL; Dean Pettit

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