\”There she blows…!\”
\”We have a humpback whale on our 11 o\’clock\” shouts the onboard ranger as the whole lot of passengers run towards the left side of the boat!
We had an epic start to our adventures. We drove down to Seward with Alexander and Andrea, our new conference friends to take a cruise boat to the Holgate Glacier, an actively calving tidewater glacier.
I would never assume that a whale-watching trip means you will actually be seeing whales. I am so used to iconic animals being so shy and scarce, seeing anything rarer than a seagull would be a cause for celebration. And yet, there she was, the beautiful grey/blue sleek whale with her tail fluke disappearing in the sea. A flock of seagulls (I got to see the seagulls too, just to highlight that this is actually happening and not just a fiction of my imagination cause by my inability to process the beauty of this land) was flying in circles above her footprint (the disturbed area in the sea where the whale dove in), waiting impatiently to grab leftovers. Conclusion: seagulls are cheeky bastards all over the world.
The very keen of us stood on the bow (the front part of the boat), to get photos from as close as we could. As the whale dove in on our 2 o\’clock, our attention was drawn to our 12 o\’clock: a sea otter.
A SEA OTTER!
You know this feeling that you know that an animal will be pretty excellent and then when you finally get to see it you have a tiny stroke? That basically. Even though most people were still hooked on the massive cetacean showing a little bit of smooth fin every time it surfaced, a few of us were hanging from the railing, trying to get a better glimpse of the otter. The little brown fluff was floating about, handling a bit of seaweed with all the grace of the world and then turned around and back in – read about them and see some more closeup photos of them here. Farewell boat of excited tourists..
A SEA OTTER! Can you believe it!?
And then as we were still looking for the otter to surface back out, CRAAAAACK, the captain slams the breaks as the humpback surfaces right in front of the boat! The boat stopped so fast, we almost fell on the back of the whale! This happens to be one of my ultimate life goals, to ride a whale and disappear into the sunset. Alas, today wasn\’t the day.
The sharp breaks stopped the boat just before it touched the whale, so no harm done. So cool
We spent the next 2 hours looking for whale sprays as they breathe out and seagull gatherings. We saw about 6 more humpbacks – almost enough for some to start saying \”oh, it\’s another humpy..\”. Today wasn\’t the day to get bored of seeing humpbacks either.
We saw some Steller or northern sea lions, the largest of the eared seals (which made me realise I had never before thought of seal ears, so at least today was the day for that) (read more about Steller sea lions here). Them and their ears were chilling on a big rock – I don\’t think they are exactly the busy kind.. We also saw a few bald eagles perching on tall trees (find out more about bald eagles and their incredible diets and cartwheeling manoeuvres here).
As we turned into Aialik Bay and into the Holgate Arm, we saw the mighty Holgate Glacier! I will never forget the soft glacial blue… It\’s a colour that has such a texture and depth to it.
We ate our lunch as we approached the glacier since, by that time, we were getting used to seeing humpbacks and we had gotten pretty hungry. But we wouldn\’t get to finish that lunch…
\”And it looks like we have two Orcas on our 2 o\’clock!\”
WE HAVE TWO WHAT NOW???
Zoom! Every single on of us ran to the right side of the boat and hang over the railings once again. This time to watch one of the most intelligent of sea mammals. A sharp fin surfaced, and then another, smaller one. A mother \’transient\’ orca with her calf. Orcas are categorised in groups according to their prey specialisation. ‘Transient’ orcas hunt marine mammals and occasionally seabirds. Did you know that some orcas specialise on sharks – as if they needed to be more badass than they are already… Read more about them and their sophisticated hunting techniques here.
Orcas are one of my favourite animals. Even though we also call them killer whales, they are actually the largest species of dolphin (#notawhale) and they are extremely intelligent and display amazing collaboration with the members of their group.
Later on we saw three of them, possibly same mother and calf, joined by the father (according to the onboard ranger). Watching orca fins popping in and out of the water, now that is magnificent.. Seeing them swimming around the coast is an image that will stay with me forever.
We heard the voice of the glacier for a while, as the boat stopped for the tourist glacier selfies.. Not in a treehugger way – glaciers actually make incredible sounds as they move and crack and pop like an ice cube in your orange juice! It echoes through the bay like gentle thunder..
On our way back we went to visit the puffin home! An area where 2 species of puffin nest in rock crevices. Puffin flight is such an amusing sight to witness! According to the ranger, when they eat too much they cannot really take off anymore (neither can I to be fair). Fat, pretty sea chicken.. Great, great birds!
We arrived back in Seward feeling numb from the beauty of this day. Alexander, Andrea, Bert and I drove up to a campground where we would spend the night, put out tents up and cooked our delicious gourmet meals – the cheapest of instant noodles.
It took me a little while to fall asleep.
How can you possibly sleep when you feel like you are already in a dream?