Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Hard Working Whales

The last of the shoreside chores were completed this morning. With noon nearing there was little time to make ready for departure. I scurried about the boat, latching the doors on the refrigerator (it gets seasick in rough weather) and stowing loose items. We left Wrangell behind, looking forward to more quiet days in the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. Day one did not disappoint.

Three humpback whales diving.

The whales were busy again. There are some humpback whales that spend the winter in Southeast Alaska, but many of them go to Hawaii for the cold months. Smart whales! They feed in the Pacific Northwest, but have their calves and cavort in the warmer waters around Hawaii. They don’t eat there, though. When they eat here they are building their blubber bank account for their migration and winter vacation.

This day they are bubblenet feeding. As I mentioned in a recent post, the whales blow an ascending spiral of bubbles, then open their mouths as they surface in the center of the bubbles, taking in huge quantities of water and feed. They strain the water out through their baleen. Baleen is made of long plates of rigid material like fingernails, and it has a ‘hairy’ fringe. The baleen traps the krill and small fish that whales eat.

Humpback whales bubblenet feeding. Their throat grooves are expanded, taking in water and feed.

They have other feeding methods, but as a group, bubblenet feeding must be very effective. It is pretty common in this area.

Six whales come up through their bubblenet.

I wonder if they ever swallow a seagull…and, if so, do the feathers tickle their throats?

That man of many hats is at the helm, keeping us at a good distance from the whales. My long lens brings the forty ton creatures closer. Yes, eighty thousand pounds of whale, and there are at least seven in this group.

Two humpback whale snouts and a fin. Barnacles and other hitchhikers are visible on the tip of the fin.

This is beautifully coordinated, cooperative work between huge creatures, moving fast and close together, in a three dimensional space. Quite the athletic team they are.

Bubblenet feeding humpback whales Southeast Alaska

Somewhere there is a recipe for whale stew. The ingredients go something like:

One whale

One semi-truck load of potatoes

Five thousand pounds of onions

Okay, you get the idea…and no, these amazing mammals are not for dinner.

The whales blow and dive again. This is making my day, and I don’t want to leave. The light is leaving, though, and we need to get to our destination before dark. It is November. Dark comes at 4 p.m. now. We are at 56 degrees north, well below the Arctic Circle. We get much shorter days in the winter, but never 24 hour darkness.

Goodbye for today, graceful whales.

Hoping you enjoyed coming along on this little whale watching excursion,

Alaska Beachcomber

More on whales: Bubblenet Whales, Humpback Whales at Point Baker

Lots more animals here: Alaskan Critters