Alaska Cruise Report: Chichagof Island

From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska September 1, 2010

Humpback whale breaching off Chichagof IslandThe morning dawned to find the National Geographic Sea Bird in Iyoukeen Cove on Chichagof Island. Whale spouts signaled the presence of several humpbacks within sight of the ship. Loosely affiliated animals such as these individuals, often times turn to cooperative feeding in the herring rich area of Chatham Strait, but the humpback whales this morning had other ideas.

Whale ”paparazzi” on the bow of the National Geographic Sea BirdA pair of whales chose to demonstrate a few different behaviors. Initially pectoral slapping caught our eyes, with one whale rolling on its back and repeatedly striking the water with its massive “wings.” This led to a second animal engaging in a bout of breaching. Time and again this whale swam up and out, rotating mid-air, only to crash back into the water with a percussive slap. Long lenses on gimbaled tri-pods captured the whale with water streaming off of its body with classic Southeast Alaska as negative space. Tail slapping and head lunging rounded out the behaviors on display for photographers to capture. In the end, patient persistence paid off.

Early afternoon found us hiking, kayaking and touring in Zodiacs at Pavlof Harbor. Quite often brown bears frequent the waterfall here, especially when the pink salmon are running in such large numbers. The table was set. The dinner bell was rung. But no bears came to dine. Instead the falls offered photographic challenges with swimming salmon, colorful kayakers, and diffused light streaming in through the temperate rainforest.

Hikers enjoyed signs of brown bears all along the trail and it became obvious that we were sharing the road. A day bed where one bear had recently enjoyed the sun was on the edge of the forest. Fresh prints in the mud gave photographers an opportunity for macro images. Signs of bears were all around us, but the bears themselves were not to be seen. The no-show bears tried our patience, but we were persistent to the end.

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