Alaska, Day 2

Alaska, day 2

We got up at first light this morning to try to find a brown bear at a salmon stream. We boarded the zodiacs and cruised over to the mouth of the stream to see scores of salmon entering the stream and going up the rapids, but no bears in sight. Patiently waiting for most of an hour, we finally drifted away to watch eagles in the trees, anemones and starfish in the clear waters, and a harbor seal playing with his freshly caught, not-quite-dead salmon.

A bear finally showed up, and we watched him/her wander along the bank of the stream and stroll across the top of the falls before entering the forest.

With that mission accomplished, we reboarded our ship and started cruising north towards Glacier Bay. Pretty soon humpback whales were spotted so we headed over to check them out. We found 8-9 whales hanging out and watched them as a naturalist described the cooperative feeding that is occasionally observed in this area.

Groups of 8-10 humpbacks will gather when herring are present and organize a roundup. One whale will dive below the school of herring and starts blowing bubbles as it circles below the fish. The bubbles create an enclosed column as they rise, containing the fish. Then the “trumpeter” whale creates a series of sounds which cause the fish to concentrate more, and the team of whales then come up from below as a group with their mouths open to swallow up as many of the herring as possible.

Just as this story was finished the whales got together and dove. A few minutes later the gulls in the area took off and started circling. We spotted an arc of bubbles forming on the water surface beneath the gulls and then the ocean erupted as the group of whales simultaneously surfaced with their mouths open. Wow! No sooner had things settled down that the whales dove again. A hydrophone was put in the water and we began to hear the “Trumpeting” calls, adding to the drama of the experience. As the whales rise towards the surface, the trumpets rise in pitch until the whales erupt once again. This went on for two and a half hours! I don’t know if they ate all the herring, or just got full, but the frequency of the dives dropped off and we finally had to move on. It’s just 10:30 am on our first full day!

About an hour later some Orcas were spotted so we stopped to check them out. As time passed more and more orcas came into the area. Lone adults, pairs of adults or a mom and calf, and small groups often with several younger whales were all hanging out in the area. we estimated at least 35 distinct whales were around us, and possible many more. There were times when our ship was surrounded by whales. After another zillion pictures were taken and hours had passed, we finally had to leave to get to the entrance of glacier bay by 7:00 pm. What a day!

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