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

Seagulls at the Trough

Seagulls may be raucous and messy, but they are sleek graceful birds. They would even be considered beautiful if they had better manners. It is fun to watch them still. Flock politics and pecking order, feeding behavior and aerobatic skill make them entertaining.

The local canneries are closed for the year and no longer putting out seagull delicacies like ground fish heads and fins. Town gulls must forage for a survival diet to see them through to the next fishing season. Country seagulls are fine with wild fare all year around.

M-m-m-m, starfish for lunch. Score!

Gotta get it positioned just right.

It's best to get at least two legs started in the right direction.

Seagulls can unhinge their jaws so that they can eat huge bites. Sort of like a hungry sixteen-year-old boy.

Now if the starfish would just bend.


The flock in our harbor are mostly immature birds this time of year, with a few adults sprinkled around to babysit. The juveniles' plumage is light grey-brown and mottled.

The neighboring boat left for a few days, opening up prime foraging territory.

Seagulls lined up like pigs at a trough.

They pulled mussels, and sometimes clumps of mussels off of the dock for lunch. It was like a self-serve food bar. There seem to be some rules, though.

  • When you get a beakful you must move away from the food bar to minimize theft.
  • If you move away from the food bar you lose your place.

Mine, mine, mine.

  • If an aggressive seagull pushes you out of your place then you can go push somebody else out of their space.
  • The loudest gull doesn't always win, but it is worth the screaming anyway.
  • Biting is bad form, but is occasionally the way to get the point across.


So the seagulls are eating mussels seasoned with limpets and barnacles. All of those foods come in their own packaging. How does a seagull get through the hard shells to digest the rubbery, gooey center?

First the gull has to horf that puppy down into it's crop.  That is a pouch in it's esophagus where it can store food. Temporarily, of course. When you see a gull's neck bulging unnaturally then it has food in it's crop.

Here goes...

Vito No-Neck here just has a crop full of mussels.

You really want to see that again, don't you?

This one is even smiling.


After a stop in the crop, the mussels get a digestive juice bath in the first part of the gull's stomach (the proventriculous) and then are broken up in the muscular pouch called the gizzard. Skipping some digestive details, the seagull burps out most of the shells like an owl regurgitates a pellet. The rest you can figure out, as you must watch your step on the dock and never walk under a seagull that is perched on a light pole. Never, never walk under a flock of seagulls that are taking off.

At the end of the day the flock settles down for a quiet paddle around the harbor before perching on the dock for the night.

Sunset at Heritage Harbor

Wishing you full bellies and the good company of your flock,

Alaska Beachcomber

More on birds in Southeast Alaska:

Arctic Terns at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau

Pot Fishing for Crow

Barrow's Goldeneye ducks

Crows and Ravens Love Dog Food



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