“Sea Stacks Near Newport”

Sea Stacks Near Newport, Yaquina Head State Park, Oregon (c) Mike Utley

The town of Newport is situated along Oregon’s central coast and is home to a few notable attractions such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. During my stay in Oregon in the mid-’90s, I visited both places multiple times. In 1995, Keiko, the orca featured in the film Free Willy, was a resident of the aquarium and I was able to see this majestic killer whale in person. It was both exciting and disturbing to see Keiko as he swam restlessly and dispassionately in his tank, his drooping dorsal fin a sign of possible illness, injury or stress from captivity. He was eventually relocated and reintroduced into the wild off Norway’s coast, where he succumbed to pneumonia in 2003. His story is a sad one, and I was fortunate to be able to see this wonderful orca up close. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is north of Newport and oversees the area like a sentry. On this December evening in 1995, I had my back to the lighthouse as I photographed sea stacks in the bay, with Newport in the distance. The soft lighting rendered the scene in a gentle lavender hue, and as I made this image, a nine-inch-long banana slug meandered by in its slow, lugubrious way to the left of my tripod, leaving a slime trail in its wake. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

38 thoughts on ““Sea Stacks Near Newport”

    1. Thanks. Oh, I agree about Keiko. So tragic. I loved Free Willy. My heart belongs to the Pacific Northwest coast, and the movie was filmed up there along the northern Oregon Coast. I was completely surprised to learn Keiko was being rehabilitated at the aquarium when I lived in Oregon, so I made it a point to visit him. My mom, little sister and two young nephews had come to visit me in Salem, Oregon not long after I moved up there, and we all went to Newport to see Keiko. His tank wasn’t that big, and there was a viewing window below the water level where we could get up close and watch him. He just circled slowly in his tank, lap after lap. I had one of my nephews sitting on my shoulders so he could get a better view. I got a few snapshots of him but it was difficult to get any good images through the thick glass of the tank’s window. I was mesmerized, just standing there staring at him, this huge orca drifting by so gracefully time and again, and yet I knew something was wrong. His dorsal fin was folded over, and we’d been told it was due to depression from his captivity, or perhaps illness, and that orcas in the wild generally don’t display a collapsed dorsal fin when healthy. There was such a sense of intelligence and profound sadness about him. There was so much frustration with him being in captivity, so many activist groups demanding his release into the wild, and so much doubt whether he could even survive in the wild after having been in captivity for so long. When they finally released him, he didn’t last that long. It was so sad. But I was glad I was able to witness this creature, and happy that my young nephews were able to see him. A lot of mixed emotions for me even today.

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  1. This sure looks amazing. The sea waves, the mist-like appearance in the distance and the mass of rock standing in the middle create the imagination of an entity or person standing firm in the middle of an eminent calamity, saying, “Come on, come on, boy. I’m going nowhere. Come on and hit me. I’ll still be here, strong.” Hahaha. Then its bravery causes the sea to calm down and the mist to fade away. Simply marvelous. I love your photos. Always.

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    1. Thanks, buddy. Sea stacks are amazing. The Oregon Coast has so many scattered along its rugged shores. Cannon Beach, a tourist town along the northern coast, has Haystack Rock, a huge 235-foot-tall sea stack. Bandon, along the southern coast, has several sea stacks, including iconic Face Rock. Arch Rock State Park has Arch Rock (makes sense, eh?). So many more come to mind. These rocks truly do brave the waters and the wind, just as you imagined in your comment, and they add so much character to the seascape. Thanks for your kind words, Lamittan. I’m so glad my photos appeal to you. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you kindly, Xenia. I’ve always loved the lavender tint to this image. It was beautiful late-evening lighting, so soft and delicate…almost like a sheer satin veil was draped over the setting sun. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Gary. Oddly enough, I was using a near bottom-of-the-line Canon EOS Rebel II. It lacked so many of the features I needed, but I did almost all my photography with it. Later, I got a Canon EOS A2 and then a few years ago, a Canon EOS 50D (which I ended up never using due to a ton of “life events” getting in the way). I learned about Fuji Velvia slide film from reading Galen Rowell’s nature photo books (he was my “phantom mentor,” along with John Shaw, Art Wolfe, David Muench and Tom Till). Once I started shooting Velvia, I never went back. It was just superb in every way: color saturation, super-fine grain, etc. I used my 24mm f/2.8 lens for about 80% of my images, I’d say. Loved that wide-angle perspective (although for this image I used my 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6). I miss this stuff so much. Thanks for your kind words, Gary. It means a lot to me. πŸ™‚

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      1. I tried Fuji Velvia slide film from a review (I don’t remember who). It made me look good as the colors were so good. Then my camera met an unfortunate accident and being a beginner buff I didn’t get another camera for 10 years and went digital. I still consider myself an eager beginner with some tremendous luck with the wildlife and experimental nature shots

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  2. This is quite a magnificent sight to see Mike, oh your photography’s are quite a blessing for the eyes and the story behind the photos you share takes us through the whole journey with you. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Daphny. I’m glad to have you and anyone else along for the photographic journey with me. Thanks for your wonderful words as always. I love the sea, so this one is special to me and I’m happy to share it. Glad you enjoyed it. πŸ™‚

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    1. I’m new to this emojiku format (that’s the proper term, right?), but here goes:

      🌊 in Elysian seas
      β˜€οΈ gilded by the morning sun
      πŸ‹ Keiko’s spirit lives

      (I couldn’t find any orca emoticons so I had to settle using a generic whale.)

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      1. oh… I sent it to Goff but I’ll add on.. i started but looked at the clock.. i’ll tell him to wait to post but he’s sooooo fast! πŸ˜‚πŸ’–πŸ˜‚I’ll try to catch him

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  3. Hi Mike,. What a wonderful image and memories. Although the story about Keiko is sad. I don’t think I watched that movie but I did know about it.
    The banana slugs appearance is joyful! Always remember those little guys. They are so important. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Mark. Free Willy is definitely worth a watch. It was filmed along the northern Oregon Coast. Keiko’s story is sad, indeed. We need to do a better job as stewards of this planet. As for those banana slugs, I even had one on the living room wall of my apartment in Salem. It was a small one–two or three inches–and after chasing it down ( πŸ˜€ ) I captured it and let it loose outside. They’re pretty cool creatures. I saw some banana slug jelly in a gift shop in Oregon. I decided to pass on it! πŸ™‚

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    2. I was in a gift shop at Sea Lion Caves along the central coast not far from Heceta Head Lighthouse in 1995, buying stuffed animals (sea otters, seals, orcas, dolphins, etc.) for my young niece and nephews, and saw a rack of jams and jellies. Upon closer inspection, there it was: Banana Slug Jelly. I did some searching online the other night and couldn’t locate any, although I did see some search results where people described how to roast banana slugs like hot dogs over a campfire. The general consensus seemed to be banana slugs taste awful (especially the slimy outer coating). Banana slugs–either roasted or in jelly form–sound pretty gross to me. They’re really entertaining to watch, though, with their unique form of locomotion. I’d never seen them prior to going to Oregon.

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    1. Thanks, Jeff. I figured you’d be familiar with the Newport area. When I lived in Salem, my usual route I’d take to visit the ocean was to go south to Corvallis, then cut across to Newport. My last glimpse of the Oregon Coast was at Yaquina Head lighthouse in January of 1996. The sun was setting and a light rain was coming in off the ocean as I stood near the lighthouse, and the sea breeze was the most amazingly clean ,fresh scent I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I’ll never forget it. Always thought I’d be back soon, but it never worked out. Maybe someday…

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  4. So beautiful, Mike. The sea stack in the foreground looks like a seal or walrus. I’m always bringing to life shapes and setting their moods in different colors. The lavender is so alluring. What a great capture. You have an eye for beauty. That’s brilliant! πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you, Terveen. I do the same thing–anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. “Hey, that rock looks like a pizza!” πŸ˜€ (Well, sort of.) It’s a fun exercise and it means you’ve got a vivid imagination, and that’s a good thing. Incidentally, there’s a locale in Oregon called Seal Rock State Park, which has a rock formation named Seal Rock. Along the coast, you can find sea lions (Sea Lion Caves is amazing) and seals. I was so fortunate to have that amazing lavender lighting for this image. So soft, and it painted the scene so gently. I’m glad you liked this, Terveen. Thanks for the kind words. πŸ™‚

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