Whale Watching!

Sept. 20, 2011

Juneau, AK: Whale Watching!

We docked in Juneau and disembarked to find an Adventures Galore  guide. A small shelter conveniently protected our small group from the light rain. When everyone had arrived, we traveled by shuttle to a dock where a small boat awaited our arrival. It had an enclosed cabin plus space to stand in the bow and stern.

Twelve passengers, a driver, and a guide set off in a hurry across Auke Bay. Two outboard motors pushed us across the cold, choppy waters. In the distance we saw some spouts (“blows”) from whales, but we went further and saw, in quick succession, 7 whales! At least one of them was a calf.

These humpbacks normally live independently (or with calf) unless the feeding is very good. Apparently the herring were plentiful and the whales were on a feeding frenzy. Each herring has about the same calorie count as a Big Mac, and about that size. The whales are fattening themselves up for migration  all the way to Hawaii. Some of them have already begun the journey; the ones we saw will be gone by the end of the month.

The whales do not eat after they leave Alaska. They lose 10 of their average 40 tons (roughly one ton per foot of length). Perhaps one third of the females will breed in Hawaii. Gestation is 18 months, so the calves will be about 6 months old when they make the first trip, still drinking mom’s milk. Whale and calf will stick together another year.

We saw some of the whales roll, showing off their lateral fins. Sometimes we would see the humped back then the famous notched tail arching high over the water as they make another dive. They surface 3-6 times then submerge for about 7 minutes, though they can stay under water for up to 40 minutes according to our guide David. We were too busy watching with scanning the surface with eyes or binoculars to bother with cameras. The whales were pretty fast!

After that visual feast, we motored back pretty darn fast over very choppy water. I stood in the stern, tucked into a corner, enjoying the speed, the wind and cold, and occasional splashes of water. Even the tour guides were excited to see so many humpbacks in one place. We didn’t see any orcas, though. David had wanted to bid farewell to them as well.

After a bit of poking around Juneau shops we headed back to the ship for a warm shower and dinner. On a cruise, there’s never a need to skip a meal no matter what time of day or night! The Pearl set sail again at 10pm.

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