Focus on: Wildlife and Whale-Watching

I had  decided that the theme of my vacation would be the wilderness and the creatures that inhabit it.  So far, I’ve written about the majestic mountains, the rivers of ice, snow-capped peaks and breathtaking sunrises.   So now I move on to the creatures who call Alaska home.

The whale- watching expedition was the one excursion off ship that I was most looking forward to.  We began the day exploring the state capital of Alaska, Juneau  As we stepped off the boat we were greeted by the largest bald eagle I have ever seen.   He was kind enough to pose for a picture: He hasn’t quite got the grasp of smiling when his picture is taken!

On a more serious note, there are more bald eagles in Alaska than you can imagine.  They perch in trees and on church steeples as you can see in this photo taken by my husband, Bill.  I counted about ten eagles perched in a field as we drove
by on our way to the glacier. After viewing the

glacier, we boarded the bus, which delivered us to a marina where we then boarded a catamaran for the whale-watching adventure.  The catamaran was quite comfortable with both an inside area complete with seats, a snack bar, restrooms and binoculars, and outside decks for close up viewing.  We cast off and almost instantly spied a pod of orcas, also known as killer whales.  They are not, however, whales at all, but are the largest members of the porpoise family,  The first sign  that a whale is present is the spout of water and steam they exhale as they surface.  They move very fast.  The boat captains have rules as to how long they can stay near the animals, so after a little while we had to move on

          

 

This Orca whale is about to dive. Next to him you can see the waterspout of another whale about to surface

Next we spotted a lone humpback whale, which is not unusual according to the naturalist on our boat.  Humpbacks are solitary animals for the most part.  We also learned that they have lungs the size of a Toyota Prius ,  and the sound they make as they blow the water and steam out to take a breath can be heard quite some distance away.  They eat only small fish like herring, which they strain from big gulps of water with the baleen they have instead of teeth.  The baleen  look like long ,narrow pieces of vinyl  which hang from the roofs of their mouths and have strands of hairy bristles which help to trap the fish.  The whales can take gulps as big as 15,00 gallons at a time.  They feast during the summer months on the plentiful herring off Alaska’s shores, then migrate south for the winter to mate and enjoy warmer waters. During all this time they do not eat, so they are  quite a bit smaller when they return in spring and have to eat almost constantly to build themselves back up.  There was excitement among the whale-watchers when we came upon seven humpbacks together.  The naturalist explained they sometimes join ranks to corral the fish and feast together.  The whales came quite close to the boat, but did not breach, so we mostly saw just their tails and backs, but the disturbance in the waters as they swam by, gave us a good idea of their size.

 The whales slap their tails to indicate they are about to take  a deep dive.  They stay down for 7 to 8 minutes, and never surface in the same place they went down so it is hard to capture them with the camera because you don’t know where they will surface and they move fast!

 

As much as I’d have loved to see a whale breach, this was a little too close for comfort!

On our return trip we spotted stellar sea lions resting on a buoy, and in the water a sea otter was  floating on his back .Photo is a little blurry but you can see the stellar sea lions taking five.

And finally what sea voyage would be complete without a seagull escort into the harbor?

I came to Alaska in search of wilderness, wildlife and especially a glimpse of a humpback whale, and I found them all in one of the few truly wild and majestic places on this planet.  Alaska is a jewel to be treasured, enjoyed and protected. and I believe anyone who comes here will be enriched and changed by the experience.  I know I am!

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