Whale Bow

The Whale Bow: A Unique Atmospheric Phenomenon

Have you ever heard of a whale creating a rainbow? It may sound unbelievable, but it actually happened off the coast of Oregon. In June '09, a photographer named Gordon Pierce captured an incredible sight known as the "Whale Bow." This phenomenon occurred at Boiler Bay, just a few miles north of the small town of Depoe Bay. Let's dive deeper into this extraordinary event and explore the science behind it.

The Whale Bow was witnessed on a day with clear skies and a temperature in the mid-50s, accompanied by high humidity. Gordon Pierce spotted two Gray Whales swimming just yards away from the coastal rocks. As one of the whales exhaled, its spout created a mist of water vapor in the air. The combination of sunlight and this mist led to the formation of a stunning rainbow that lasted for approximately five seconds in the calm atmosphere.

Rainbows are a common sight after rain showers, but it is extremely rare to witness one generated by a mammal. The Whale Bow stands out as a unique example of atmospheric optics. To understand this phenomenon better, let's explore the science behind rainbows and how they are typically formed.

Rainbows are optical illusions caused by the interaction of sunlight with water droplets in the atmosphere. When sunlight passes through these droplets, it undergoes refraction, which bends or changes the direction of light. This bending effect separates sunlight into its component colors, creating the familiar spectrum of colors that we see in a rainbow.

Typically, rainbows are formed when sunlight interacts with raindrops. However, in the case of the Whale Bow, the water droplets were created by the exhaled spout of a whale instead of rain. As the sunlight passed through these water droplets, it underwent refraction and dispersion, resulting in the formation of a rainbow.

The Whale Bow is a remarkable example of how natural phenomena can combine in unexpected ways to create breathtaking sights. It serves as a reminder of the beauty and complexity of the natural world. This event also highlights the importance of being in the right place at the right time to witness such rare occurrences.

While the Whale Bow may be a rare sight, there are other atmospheric optics phenomena that can be observed under specific conditions. These include:

  • Sundogs: Bright spots that appear on either side of the sun, caused by the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the atmosphere.
  • Halos: Rings of light that encircle the sun or moon, formed by the refraction and reflection of light through ice crystals.
  • Mirages: Optical illusions that occur when light rays bend due to temperature variations in the atmosphere, creating false images of distant objects.

To capture atmospheric optics phenomena like the Whale Bow, it requires both favorable weather conditions and a keen eye for observation. Patience and persistence are key when attempting to witness these rare events.

In conclusion, the Whale Bow is a unique atmospheric phenomenon that occurred off the coast of Oregon. It was created by the mist of water vapor expelled from the spout of a Gray Whale, which refracted sunlight and formed a beautiful rainbow. This extraordinary event serves as a reminder of the wonders of nature and the intricate interplay between different elements in our environment. While rare, atmospheric optics phenomena like the Whale Bow offer us glimpses into the complexity and beauty of our natural world. So keep your eyes open and be ready to be amazed by the unexpected marvels that Mother Nature has in store for us.

Whale Bow imaged by Gordon Pierce off the coast of Oregon in June '09. �Gordon Pierce, shown with permission.

"The photo was taken at Boiler Bay which is located several miles north of the small Oregon town of Depoe Bay.

Two Gray Whales were just yards from the coastal rocks, skies were clear and the temperature was in the mid 50's with high humidity. The spout was all vapor and the rainbow lasted for about 5 seconds in the still air.

I have seen many rainbows over the years, but this is the first one created by a mammal."

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Reference Atmospheric Optics

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  • "Whale Bow". Atmospheric Optics. Accessed on November 30, 2023. https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/whale-bow/.

  • "Whale Bow". Atmospheric Optics, https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/whale-bow/. Accessed 30 November, 2023

  • Whale Bow. Atmospheric Optics. Retrieved from https://atoptics.co.uk/blog/whale-bow/.