Monday, December 08, 2008

Whale Tale--Why I Love Where I Live

This past Saturday evening, I received a phone call at about 9pm from a friend. In a nutshell, Suzanna said, "We're going out on Dave's boat to see some whales tomorrow. There's room for one more."

I balked, not at the idea of going on a boat--I love being on boats--or at the idea of seeing cool critters, but at the 6am sail time (on a Sunday!) and the 8pm return. That's a long day, and with only room for one, I felt a bit guilty. DH was going to have to stay home with the kids, but he had to prepare for an early departure Monday morning anyway. Suzanna was a persistent saleswoman, and in the end I agreed to sacrifice sleep for a little adventure. I'm so glad I did. (Sorry, kids. Next time we'll go as a family.)

Resetting my alarm to 5am (on a Sunday!), I hardly slept and was out of bed by 4:45 (on a Sunday!). My oldest stumbled out of her room just as I was fixing a cup of tea. "Go back to sleep," I told her. "I'll be back later. Dad will explain." I kissed her sleepy bed-head and sent her to her room.

Dressed in layers, prepared for ever-changing Alaska weather, and toting my camera, binoculars and travel mug, I was the first passenger to arrive at the boat. Dave, the captain, runs tourist charters and provides transport for the local scientists/state agencies. He's a great guy and knows just about everything there is to know about Prince William Sound. Milo and his wife Paula are a very nice couple I've met at several gatherings. He's a biologist/photographer for the US Forest Service, I think, and she's a librarian. Kristin is head of a local organization that monitors the massive watershed system here. Mary Ann is a biologist at the Science Center where my husband works. She had her 10 year old daughter with her for this trip. And Suzanna is the Public Health nurse in town. Good folks to spend a day with.

It took almost 3 hours to reach the bay where the humpback whales hung out. There wasn't much to see during transit--I'm sure the scenery would have been great, but it was dark until 8:45--so we chatted and drank coffee or tea. The boat was clean, comfortable and warm, the seas flat calm. Upon arrival, we donned our coats and hats and gathered our cameras and binoculars to go on deck. For South Central Alaska in December, it was an amazing day. No wind and only a bit of rain. The bay is long, very deep (500 feet for the most part, which accommodated the whales nicely) and somewhat narrow, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Clouds kept the sun from reflecting too brightly off the water, but that would be to our advantage when we began taking pictures.

Almost immediately, whale spouts were seen and heard in singles and in groups of two or three or four. Some as close as fifty yards or so. All around us were massive humpback whales, slipping along the surface or gliding below the boat. Mothers and calves, pairs, groups and singles. Stubby dorsal fins and knobby heads and backs broke the calm waters. An occasional pectoral fin, with its telltale white underside flashed in the grey light. As the sun rose higher, the whales appeared bronze in color against the black-green water. We didn't know where to look at any one time. Just once, we saw one breach, rising almost a full body length out of the water before splashing back down. No one got a picture of it, but we'll remember it for a long, long time.

No matter which direction you chose, you were sure to receive the gift of observing one of the most majestic creatures on earth. We were also fortunate to see a variety of birds, harbor seals "basking" on an ice sheet, and curious sea lions (who wandered up to the boat AFTER my camera battery died). My descriptions here don't do the trip justice, nor do the pics. Trust me, it was amazing.

We spent hours puttering up into the bay, idling and enjoying the scenery or watching the whales and other animals. Time after time, I was struck by the unbelievable beauty around us. There are still some wild places in this world, and I was never so grateful as then to be able to experience it. Thank you, Dave, for an amazing tour. Thank you, Suzanna for not taking "no" for an answer. Thank you, Milo, Paula, Kristin, Mary Ann and Nancy for such fun company.

Note: Milo was trying to photograph the flukes for identification, hence most of my pics are of the flukes too. He wasn't doing it as a paid job, but to help one of the organizations involved in humpback whale studies. And because it's fun and cool. The whales would surface, blow out their breath (very stinky, btw) and give us a glimpse of dorsal a few times before they made a characteristic maneuver that told us they were about to dive.

Here's a teaser pic while I figure out how to resize the larger files and manhandle blogger.

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At 7:27 AM, Blogger Writer and Cat said...



At 8:18 AM, Blogger Cathy in AK said...

Totally : )

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Tracy Montoya said...

Oooooohhhhhhhh. How awesome. The perpetually gray sky would still make me nuts, but it sure is gorgeous there!

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Cathy in AK said...

Tracy, I admit there are many grey days in these parts. The past couple of weeks, however, the sky has been crystal clear and blue. Oh, and the temps have been at or below zero as a result : ) Hey, you can't have EVERYTHING, right?


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