On the first day of the second half of our Alaska expedition, we rose with the sun in the 653,179 acre Tracy Arm Wilderness area, which consists of two deep and narrow fjords: Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. Both fjords are over 30 miles long and one-fifth of their area is covered in ice. Our destination for the morning after cruising up the fjord and dropping anchor was the Sawyer Glacier aboard one of our boat’s skiffs. Boarding the skiff first put me in the seat closest to where the captain (in this case our guide and captain was Bethany) controls the boat. In this particular instance that meant that when everyone at the front of the skiff saw a harbor porpoise surfing in the water in front of us – leading the way, if you will – I was the only person on the skiff that didn’t see it. I’m simply not tall enough to see over six people in front of me. Bethany saw how sad I was that of everyone on board I was the lone loser, so she let me move to the front of the skiff, but that was less than comfortable with the two front people’s feet digging into the side of me so I eventually went back to my seat having not seen the elusive porpoise. What I did get to see, however, was beautiful rock formations and a stunningly beautiful glacier, on yet another sunny day in Southeast Alaska.
After we left Sawyer Glacier, we made our way to Frederick Sound, the summer feeding ground for the northern hemisphere’s largest concentration of humpback whales (having been married in Maui in February, and visited several additional times during whale season, we’ve been very fortunate to see a very different, very active part of the humpback lifecycle). The whale watching in this area was phenomenal. Regardless of what side of the boat you were on, you had what amounted to a front-row view of humpbacks. Seeing them blow three to four times before flipping their flukes in the air to descend to feed became so commonplace that I actually stopped paying attention at one point, which meant I narrowly missed seeing a female humpback do a cartwheel (also called a tail lob or lobtail) out of the water. While I’ve seen plenty of humpback breaches in Hawaii, I’d never seen one jump out of the water quite like this. According to wikipedia, “Some suggest that lobtailing in humpback whales is a means of foraging. The hypothesis is that the loud noise causes fish to become frightened, thus tightening their school together, making it easier for the humpback to feed on them.” As you can see from the pictures below, I barely had time to turn my camera toward the direction I saw the activity taking place and hit the shutter before the whale was back in the water (hence the whale being in the far left of the frame). While some of the pictures are out of focus, I’m so happy to have been able to catch it at all. And then to my surprise, it happened again a few minutes later by another humpback, although not as dramatic. I think this might have been one of the younger whales mimicking the behavior, but I can’t be sure.
After spending the evening on the deck talking to Phi about his travels in Mongolia and elsewhere, we made our way into dinner, another beautiful and exciting day in Southeast Alaska in the books.