Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Humpback Whales Put on a Show in Frederick Sound

Karen and I hunkered down at the bow of Barry and Kathy Bracken’s boat, the Island Dream, focusing on a group of humpback whales perhaps a quarter mile ahead of us.  Drifting on the almost placid waters of southeast Alaska’s Frederick Sound, relishing the warmth of unexpected sun, we were poised to take the essence of a diving whale photograph. 

Suddenly, from seemingly nowhere, (OK -- from deep under the boat) an enormous cetacean body, far longer than the Island Dream rose from the depths with an an explosion of air from it’s blow hole -- close enough that I could have stepped onto it’s back.  After the proverbial “almost jumping out of my skin,” my hasty attempt to focus my camera on such a close object failed.  In retrospect I wish I hadn’t even had a camera at that moment -- that I had just indulged my senses on it’s enormous size, perhaps 45 to 50 feet in length and weighing up to 40 tons.  In seemingly slow motion the whale effortlessly rose, blew and sunk just below the surface as it gracefully moved ahead of the boat.

Barry and Kathy were out for a day of whale watching and had invited Karen and me plus a mutual friend, Bev Richardson, to join them for a leisurely day on the water.  The objective -- whales and indulging in the beauty of this “corner” of Alaska -- if an area in the middle of the ocean close to the “middle” of southeast Alaska can be termed a corner.

Whales seemed to be everywhere that day and Barry, experienced in whale photography, captured some impressive shots.  Karen and I, lacking Barry’s expertise, found ourselves getting a lot of shots of half a whale as the boat rolled and twisted in the ever restless sea.  Still, with over 400 photos between us, we did get some we’re happy with -- enough for Karen to say, “When can we go back?”

Thar she blows!  The sight that sent 19th century whalers hearts racing, the steam from exhaling whales can be seen from a considerable distance.  Similarly, when the boat's engine was turned off and we were looking in another direction, the resonant sound of exhaling whales could be heard far across the Sound.

When humback whales dive their tails often come out of the water as a finale to their show.  At that point you know you have 7, 10 or more minutes to wait for them to resurface after gorging on another gulp of krill -- time to head to the galley to share a snack with your cetacean "companions."

                           Just the scenery alone was worth the trip out into the Sound.

An "island" suddenly rises up from the depths of Frederick Sound.  Boats sometimes collide with humpback whales as their trajectories converge.  Back in 1968-69 I taught school in Juneau.  The next fall I ran into a former student who I knew had spent his summer commercial fishing for salmon.  "How'd the summer go," I queried.  It seems he was having a productive summer until a humpback whale rose under his boat and turned it over.  That ended his season.

Karen took this shot after the whale had passed us.  Notice the blow hole (the whales nostrils) towards the front of its back.

Two diving whales -- a cow and a calf.  You can tell the calf is starting its dive by the arched hump of its back.  The next thing you'll see is its tail and then you know you have time to grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat before you'll see the whale(s) again.

Several days later friends John and Marsha Voelker called.  "The whales are really putting on a show in front of our house."  Karen was free so dashed over to watch an hour of breaching, slapping their pectoral fins, tail throwing and however else they could "show off."  Here's a shot she took from the Voelker's deck right in front of Petersburg.

1 comment:

Cindi said...

It looks like you got some close up experiences that were pretty spectacular. I've been impressed with all the whale activity this year--very fun to see!