Monday, September 5, 2016

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I was very fortunate to be able to go on a cruise to Alaska this summer. Our first stop was in Juneau. My partner, my son and I went on a "Photo Safari" looking for humpback whales with local guiding company. We had a couple of close encounters with a pod of whales that were awe inspiring. As we headed up the channel on our 30 foot whale watching boat, we saw a group of boats in the distance; a sure sign that whales were feeding in the area. When we arrived we saw several whales in the distance. We could see them spout and surface, but it was hard to make them out clearly. As we were waiting for them to surface, we drifted around not sure of where they would come up next. Our guide told us a good way to tell where they are going to come up was to look at the behaviour of the seabirds. According to our guide when the whales surface to feed, the birds will land and get some of the krill the whales feed on. I looked over to the port side of the boat and noticed a small gathering of birds circling over the water about 100 feet away. Then we heard a noise also off our port side. We turned to see the spray of a whale less than 100 feet away headed straight for the boat. Several others in the pod of whales surfaced as well.  As they passed under the boat, I was fully expecting to get bumped or even flipped over. However, they passed under the boat without any disturbance only to surface on the other side. I took a burst of shots as the humpback came to the surface, flipped his tail fin and went down again and disappeared. 
The guides on our boat identified the whale as 1465. A whale that first appeared in Juneau in 2006 and is a regular participant in a bubble feeding group that hangs out in the ocean around Juneau. The whale is identified by the underside of his tail fin. In the animated gif above you can see the tail fin and pattern of white on the underside.
After this close up look, we left the pod for a little while. Whale tour operators are limited to half an hour of time in the area of whale pods, So we left and went up to look at a group of sea lions hanging out on a nearby island. On our way back, we came across the pod one last time and had another close encounter. As I was videotaping whales off the side of the boat, I was surprised by a whale surfacing quite close to the boat. This is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The shear size of these creatures is truly amazing. They were easily larger than the boat we were on.

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