From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska, July 22, 2010
For two evenings now, after dinner we have had some spectacular whale-watching time off the bow of the National Geographic Sea Bird. Tuesday evening a pod of killer whales appeared as we sailed up Frederick Sound, frisky as could be, upside-down, exposing white bellies while swimming the length of the ship and back. Last evening after dinner we were surrounded by lunge-feeding humpbacks, mouths almost closed when they reached the surface, throat pleats expanded, rippling the molten silver surface of the darkening night.
This morning was a grey-on-grey awakening inside Idaho Inlet. Sea otters were rafting – resting in groups – their floppy feet held high out of the water, mitt-like paws over their ears to keep warm, navigating with tail-power against the light tidal current drawing them out of the inlet, keeping themselves angled into the headwind coming from up-bay.
The after-breakfast Zodiac expeditions were awesome. There is no better word to express the almost two-hour Zodiac excursions we all took from our anchorage at the “Hobbit Hole”, to the outer island of the the “Inians”. Steller sea lions were the stars, their immense size was understood only when they surfaced next to our Zodiacs and we realized that one individual weighed more than all of us together. Their “haul-outs” out on the steep shoreline rocky coast have a pungent smell and give out unforgettable sounds. They were the center of attention until the humpback whales appeared. Now THAT was an adrenaline rush! The tidal current flowing through the Inians was such that the surface pattern of the ocean was a turbulent mess of choppy white-caps and smooth eddies going every which way. The whales sounded, surfaced, blew heavily, trumpeted, fluked all around us. Several times we found ourselves waiting for the whales to surface, with engines idling (one should never turn them off so the whales know where we are at all times), only to have one or more surface and head directly towards us! But of course they always knew precisely where we were. We drifted with the currents and let the whales work freely along the shore.
We reluctantly returned for lunch, to warm up and to move on to our next adventure at Fox Creek. Kayaks, long bushwhacking hikers, fast hikers and “BPI”s (Birding, Photography and Interpretation) took off after examining a bear skeleton that has been slowly decomposing behind the bushes for the last month. Streams were forded, meadows traversed and waterfalls visited. Kayakers visited the kelp gardens near shore, and Benjamin, with Gretchen, later returned to these kelp beds on a collecting expedition. Before recap we had a mini-aquarium set up with lion’s mane jellyfish, a moon jelly and comb jelly pulsing gently in their temporary tank, poured back into freedom before we left the anchorage.
After dinner, some whales at Point Adolphus put on a show we never expected. A mother and calf provided aerial aerobic displays that went on…and on…and on… All of us were wondering where all the energy was coming from for junior to leap and throw his tail around so often. The mother snuck off a few hundred yards to get a few minutes sleep before junior found her once again. Humpback headstands and cartwheels seemed to be the activity of the evening. Finally a raincloud came in and darkness fell; so did we, soon asleep, preparing for another day to come.
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