Alaska Whale Watching
by Shari Bookstaff
Imagine exploring a pristine wilderness. Clear water surrounds you as you paddle your kayak away from shore. Suddenly, you see a large puff of smokey air waft high into the sky. The black body of the animal that follows slowly breaks the surface of the water, You see a long expanse of the whale’s back, then a glimpse of the dorsal fin. As the whale dives, it lifts its 15-foot wide flukes (tail) into the air. The flukes are as large as the boat you’ve long-since stopped paddling. This is an introduction to Alaska Whale Watching!
Fabulous wildlife excursions await you if you plan a vacation to Alaska. Whale watching is one of the most popular and exciting nature tours you can experience. The polar, icy waters surrounding Alaska are the summer home to a great number of species of whales, seabirds, sea lions, and the great grizzly bear. The long, sunny summer days together with the cold, nutrient-rich water supplies a fantastic base for an extremely productive food web. When you have lots of little creatures (plankton) swimming in the water, lots of big creatures (whales) will be around to eat them!
Alaska whale watching will feature usually feature either humpback whales or killer whales (orcas). Humpback whales undergo an annual migration from warm, Hawaiian waters, where females give birth and males attempt an elaborate mating ritual, to the cold, productive waters of Alaska. Whale watching in a kayak, or a larger boat, will bring you to the primary feeding sites of these magnificent animals. Dinnertime for the humpback whales will last a few months, then they will head back to Hawaii. For more the Hawaiian chapter of the whale’s tale, see my article on Hawaii Whale Watching.
One fantastic feeding ritual performed by Alaskan humpback whales is called bubble-net feeding. These Alaskan whales will swim in a circle around a school of fish, blowing bubbles as they go. The rising bubbles form a net around the fish, corralling them in a tight area. Then, the whales will lunge through the tight ball of fish, gulping huge numbers of them into their open mouths. This type of cooperative feeding behavior is only seen on Alaska whale watching excursions.
Killer whales will also likely be viewed during an Alaska whale watching tour. Killer whales (orcas) are an awesome sight to see in the wild. There are two separate races of killer whales you may encounter: resident or transient. Resident killer whale pods are primarily fish-eaters. They take advantage of the salmon run each year to gulp down this favorite food. Transient killer whale pods feed on other marine mammals. If you see a killer whale chasing a sea lion during an Alaska whale watching trip, you are very fortunate!
There are many companies that offer Alaska whale watching opportunities. One of the most popular is to take an Alaskan cruise. Many of the major cruise lines offer Alaska as a destination. Look for itineraries that include a day in Glacier Bay. Viewing glaciers in this national park is spectacular, and just outside the entrance, you may see some whales from your ship. Be sure to choose Alaska whale watching as one of your shore excursions.
Going on a vacation that will include Alaska whale watching will be the trip of a lifetime. Don’t forget the camera!
More articles by Shari Bookstaff