A whale of a photo op at Port San Luis

A humpback whale gets up close and personal with thrilled photographers ... and perturbed pelicans

clambert@thetribunenews.comAugust 20, 2012 

Bill Bouton drove from San Luis Obispo to Oso Flaco Lake on Saturday morning to photograph birds with a lens he’d recently purchased.

There wasn’t much to see, said Bouton, a retired biology teacher from Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan. Discouraged, he headed back toward San Luis Obispo but decided on a whim to stop in Avila Beach.

As he drove toward Port San Luis, Bouton, 69, saw at least 1,000 pelicans and gulls diving around a “bait ball” of fish.

He turned the car around, parked on the side of the road above Olde Port Beach and set up his camera, a Canon 7D with a used 500-millimeter lens and a teleconverter, on a tripod.

That’s when his day took a turn.

For an hour and a half, Bouton shot photos as at least one, perhaps two, humpback whales lunged out of the water to feed about an eighth of a mile from shore.

“By watching what the birds were doing, one could often guess where the whale was going to lunge up out of the water because they were all after the same food,” Bouton said.

Later in the day, he posted the photos to image-sharing site Flickr.com and sent the link to his ex-wife, who works in Avila Beach. The link was later posted to a Facebook page about Avila Beach.

From there, Bouton’s photos went viral. His Flickr account has received more than a quarter of a million views, and he’s been contacted by television networks ABC, CNN and NBC.

“It has been really trippy,” he said.

Bouton started taking photos nearly 50 years ago. He moved to the Central Coast in 1997 and, depending on the time of year, takes photos of birds, amphibians and flowers on the Carrizo Plain.

The whales “were a real highlight of things I’ve seen in nature,” he said. To see more of Bouton’s photos, go to www.flickr.com/photos/billbouton.

A friend, Donald Quintana, also took some photos of the humpbacks Saturday, including one of a whale with a brown pelican in its mouth. To view those, go to www.flickr.com/photos/donaldquintana.

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