photography Archives - Judith Scott Photography

Meeting ‘the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales’ – humpbacks

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Whale watched in both feeding and breeding grounds, humpbacks reward whale watchers so often with their behaviours. Herman Melville described humpbacks as “the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales, making more gay foam and white water than any other of them”. And he was right.

A mother humpback appearing to be giving her calf a breaching lesson, South Africa. 

As an aside, if you are going whale watching, do check how many boats work that area as in many places humpbacks could be considered too whale watched. I work in Hólmavík, Westfjords Iceland now, where we are the only boat with the whales. Much better for you and for the whales.

I had been saving money while working in the university library to do a masters in oil painting restoration, when I heard about an internship to go and work on a whale watch with humpback whales. When the lovely whale freak Cynde McInnis (I hope she does not mind being described that way) agreed to have me along, I spent that money on going to Gloucester, Massachusetts to intern for Cape Ann Whale Watch.
I had only seen one wild baleen whale before, off the coast of Scotland on a week-long wildlife watching trip. While it was a fabulous trip around the outer Hebrides, one glimpse at a Minke whale was certainly different to what I would experience with the humpback whales.
Humpback whales are known for their curiosity, surface behaviours and bubble feeding techniques, all of which incredible behaviours I would get to see in my three month internship.

A feeding ground for humpbacks off the coast of New-England, Stellwagen Bank is a US National Marine Sanctuary. The humpback whales are well known there with individuals having been followed since the mid 1970s, using the unique patterns on the underside of the tail. These black and white patterns, like our fingerprints, allow us to follow the whales using photographs. An annual ‘whale naming party’ attended by all the whale watchers in the area meant the whales got names based on the patterns on their tails.

I was so very lucky to learn about working on a whale watch here. Cynde has completed a masters in whale watching education, and I learned from one of the best. We had teaching tools which we took around the boat to show the passengers and teach them about the whales before and after our time on whales. Although responsible, well managed whale watching I do not believe is detrimental to the whales, I feel you are doing the animals a huge injustice if you do not teach people about what they are seeing when out on the boats. Having a boat around can obviously affect the whales a little, but if the people on board leave with a new respect, knowledge and understanding of what they saw and conservation issues facing whales, at least some minor disturbance from a boat is somewhat mitigated.

I still use the knowledge I gained from my internship twenty years ago to teach passengers every day on the whale watches I now work on, with basic teaching tools like baleen and whale teeth. Engaging people in the whales, environment and what they saw is very important to be a great whale watching guide in my opinion.

During my time in Massachusetts I got to know some individual humpback whales well and I will share the amazing story of Spoon with you in my next blog.

Hello and welcome to my new website!

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Welcome to my new blog and website. Thanks for taking a look.
My name is Judith Scott and I have been working as a whale watching guide in many places around the world for most of the last twenty years. People have often asked me if I write a blog and I have always replied, no; until now! I hope I am up to the challenge, but in my many years working on the ocean I have been lucky enough to see some amazing things and seen whales off every continent. I hope to share some of them here mostly through my photography, but I would like to see if I can manage to be eloquent in words as well as pictures.

My story with whales started when I was only about seven. I was born in South Africa, and always feel a part of me was left in Africa, but we moved to the UK when I was five. It was an episode of the kids TV show in the UK, Blue Peter, and a picture of a killer whale on there that got my love of whales going. I am often asked why, but I have no idea, however this image was so interesting to me I started drawing killer whales on anything I could find. I used to spend hours as a teenager painting killer whales on my finger nails (usually just my thumbs as rather time consuming) with about six different layers of colours. Maybe this was a bit much, and I was bullied at school because of my slight whale orientated quirkiness.

This is my bedroom when I was a kid. My Gran used to come and stay in my room and complain about getting sea sick!

I was planning to go to university and study marine biology, however a slight hatred of maths sent me to the career advisor’s office at college, who, after hearing why I wanted to study this proceeded to declare that this was a crazy career choice and I was not up to it and would never find a job. I don’t know if this moment in my life has slightly altered in my memory over the years, however I would love to show that guy my CV now as I have worked with whales all over the world.
I will write about how I got going in the whale world, a very competitive business on my next blog. Thanks for being here and enjoy my photos!