Sighting Spot


When You See Flukes has been out in the world for a couple of weeks now, and it has been delightful to see where it’s traveling. A great example: we just received a wonderful email from Pat and Mike Conchatre, who bought the book during a whalewatch tour in Juneau last month. When they returned home and went through their photos from the tour, they discovered that one set of flukes looked very familiar: They belong to Spot, the “cover whale” for the book! I’ve posted their wonderful photo of Spot’s flukes above. 

Since both Cheryl and I have been in the Glacier Bay area all summer, we’ve not had a chance to see any of our familiar Juneau whales. Seeing Spot’s photo was like hearing good news about an old friend. Thanks, Pat and Mike! 

At last!

Our new children’s book, When You See Flukes, is here! It’s a 32-page, full color, illustrated book for primary-grade children (but you’ll find plenty in there to interest older kids and adults as well!) To order individual copies, email us. Or if you’re interested in retailing the book, contact our distributor, Taku Graphics.

Eye of the whale

We just got the advance copies of When You See Flukes, and I was flipping through looking at the print quality on the illustrations. It’s always a little unnerving to see this stage, because you notice color variations from the originals… but pretty soon that fades and you come to terms with the results.

A couple of the illustrations caught my attention this time–the ones that show the whales’ eyes. In doing these paintings, I studied many photos of humpback whale eyes, and read quite a bit about them. But they’re still tricky and mysterious. Underwater fish-eye cameras don’t, I’m sure, do them any kind of justice. Still, I wanted the illustrations to convey the intelligence and attention of the whales, and for we visually-oriented primates, the eyes are really important.

whale-eyeA humpback whale’s eye is fundamentally built like ours, but there are some striking differences. Of course the whale eye is bigger (about the size of a navel orange). The sclera (outer membrane) is very thick and strong. There are muscles that control not just the turn of the eye and the motion of the lids, but also the protrusion of the entire eyeball. The cornea is not smoothly rounded, but has a flattened area. The pupil, when contracted, forms a kidney shape. The lens is spherical where ours is flattened. There is a substantial light-reflecting membrane (tapetum lucidum) on the retina, and the retina also has not one but two areas of high sensitivity (foveae).

All of these differences appear to help maximize the whale’s visual abilities in its ocean environment. The thick sclera helps hold the eye shape under hydrostatic pressure. The ability to protrude the eyes probably gives the whale a greater range of vision, and may even grant it binocular vision in the region below its throat. The irregular cornea may allow the eye to function like bifocals–helping the eye to focus both in the water and in the air. The kidney-shaped contracted pupil creates two fields of view on each eye, with light directed to the two foveae–a nifty trick that could (?) help with underwater or above-water vision. The tapetum lucidum maximizes the light that passes through the retina, assisting with vision in the depths.

For more thoughts and information on the vision of whales, see this recent article in The Atlantic.

New children’s book about Humpback Whales coming soon!

flukes cover2

When You See Flukes is almost done! The illustrations are scanned, and we’ve heard back from almost all of our reviewers (including the most important one, age 6). Now it’s down to the last nitpicky color adjustments and word-tweaking… and this week we’ll be sending it off to the printer. It should be hot off the press in July. If you’d like us to let you know when it’s available, email us at