|Hello from the Critique Club;
First I need to point out that I've never actually seen a whale in person, so that's pretty awesome that you've had a number of chances to catch pics like this. In your comments, you allude to the other whale photos you have entered and their placement. As a general comment, I think whales are creatures that are really hard to photograph, since you have very little chance to "direct" the photo, and you don't generally have all that many encounters with them. It doesn't help things, either, that when most of us see a whale, it's an amazing National Geographic shot, so the bar is set pretty high.
Regarding this particular shot though, I'd say that you've nicely capture a whale as it comes up for air. It isn't as much of an action shot as "The Grace of The Dive" or "Dive-Dive-Dive," so I imagine that's part of why it scored where it did. Free Studies just demand superb photos that are also of "WOW" moments, and this one isn't as WOW as National Geographic shots. This is an interesting composition though, and I like how the whale's head is just pushing into the frame towards the viewer. I also like the effect of the water ripples distorting our view of its head. Personally, I don't see much of anything wrong with this shot, so I think you did a great job with things.