Today was ‘day of the whales’.
We woke to fog in Petersburg Harbor, but it cleared as if on cue, in time for us to depart at our regularly scheduled time. Heading north up Wrangell Narrows we’re treated to the view of jagged peaks and glacial ice that provides Petersburg’s epic backdrop. A few minutes after our departure, Telita sights stellar sea lions hauled out on a channel marker just at the head of the Narrows. Our first wildlife sighting of the day.
We head up into Fredrick Sound. Renowned feeding ground for humpback whales; there are perhaps 10,000 humpback whales in the north pacific today, a fraction of what once was, but each consuming 3,000-4,000 pounds of food a day. And a good amount of it here. We are on a sharp look out for whales aboard Deception, so are incredibly startled by the giant head that pops from the water just feet from our port side. Sea lion! It’s got a salmon! The gulls swoop down to collect bits from the water.
We continue to look for whales, passing a solitary sea otter that seems generally unperturbed by our wake as we pass. The first sea otter sighting for our fleet. He gives us a curious look and slips under the water. So here it is – sea lions, sea otters… barely noon.
It’s as the peaks of Admiralty Island emerge, we begin to see the whales. At first a few blows perhaps 500 yards off our bow. Then there are tail lobs and pectoral slaps. More blows! There are four maybe si – breach! Full Breach!! A whale blows and then with a spectacular show of its fluke, dives, perhaps a few hundred meters off our starboard. We idle then cut our engines. The fleet’s six boats are surrounded by at least as many whales. It’s hard to know where to look! Fluke slaps off port, breaches starboard, dives off the stern… They are all around us, and further up on the horizon off our bow even more activity. After a while Deception announces to the fleet that it is going to continue on. There are whales in the direction we’re headed, so we cruise on. But not more than perhaps 15 minutes later we are again treated to full breaches and lots of tail slaps – one, two three four, five… are they clapping? Playing, communicating? We’ll never really know, but some things you don’t need to completely understand to enjoy.
We cut our engines again. The fleet floats, and whales are surfacing not more than 30 feet from Deceptions port beam. A full breach not more than a hundred yards. There is what looks like a mother and calf that surface perhaps 50 yards from Deception and Telita, the blows so close together, and one noticeably smaller than the other. Again our fleet is surrounded as we drift around in the breeze of Frederick Sound.
After the whales seem to have passed along and the show has dispersed, we re-engage our engines and continue across to Pybus Bay.
Pybus Bay and Cannery Cove is a spectacular treat all by itself. Sheer cliffs in shades of green and white complements of remnant glacial ice and snow from this past winter. Someone remarks that it’s comparable to the Alps in grandeur. However, it’s distinguished as Alaska by the pair of bald eagles that marshal us in with their cries from one of the taller Sitka Spruce along the shoreline.
And are you ready? It gets better…
After Deception, Navigator and Ajax have rafted up together and Eldean, Telita and Aquila have found anchorages to call their own. We drop our dinghys and the naturalist aboard Deception heads out with Aquila, Eldean and Navigator to scout the shore for bears. It’s good grassy habitat along the shoreline, some mudflats and bouldered beaches that, particularly early in the season, can draw in bears searching out sedges or clams. We skirt along the edge of the cove entering a channel with another island, but are thwarted by a sand bank. Eldean sights a seal swimming through and we cut our engines to see if it will come closer to check us out, but it’s not interested. So we sit above the sand bank contemplating which direction to head, when we hear deep breaths of another marine mammal of some sort. Another seal? They are large gulps of breath, they sound close. And then there it is – the slice of dorsal fin that tells you Orca. On the other side of the sand bank perhaps a hundred meters, it dives and disappears around the side of the island.
For dinner with Navigator aboard Deception, we dine on the halibut and Dungeness crab that Ajax caught yesterday.
Fresh halibut, whale sightings and the scenery from your dreams.
Yup. This is Alaska.