Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whale Watching

A pod of about 12 whales surfacing 25 feet from our boat.

This whale was 10 feet from my open window. My, did he have bad breath!!

For this day, Chad, Peder and I had booked a helicopter to land on an ice berg where for 30 minutes we would don boots with cleats and walk around on the surface. We may even fly over some whales if any were spotted. Well, to our dismay, while waiting for the bus to pick us up, we learned the excursion had been canceled due to the nasty weather. It was drizzly and foggy - not a good day to fly. So what to do? Heidi, Chad and I decided to walk into town - Juneau - to see what we could find. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Golden Retriever next to a whale excursion booth. I pointed him out to Heidi and Chad, and since they missed their dog, Brian, they walked over to see him and talk to his owner. The dog's name was Echo. His master told us about the boat and the experts who are the commentators for it. The driver and the narrator have studied whales for years. They have been featured on the Discovery Channel and other national programs. He went on to tell us we would be guaranteed to see whales or our money would be refunded. Well, it didn't take much for us to decide to book it.

The time of the excursion was 3 pm, so that meant we had time to eat and shop a little. Echo's master recommended the Red Dog Saloon. We walked right to it, and as luck would have it, we got 3 of the last stools at the counter. The saloon was loaded with memorabilia - and I mean LOADED. Saw dust covered the floor. Huge mirrors had dollar bills mounted all around them with signatures written on them. There was a honky-tonk pianist who sang lots of fun songs. The handles on the beverage taps were dolphins. And the food - I ordered batter-fried halibut and Cole slaw and it was DELICIOUS! Plus, the servings were huge. This was really fun.

After shopping a little while, it was time to get to the meeting place to start our whale expedition.
We rode in a bus about 5 or 6 miles away from Juneau. I enjoyed that too as it was really the first time I had been "in Alaska." Somehow this made it feel "real."

The tour boat held about 24 passengers plus the driver, a crew member, and the narrator. We left the pier and sailed about 15 or 20 minutes when we spotted about 5 signals of whales blowing. Our driver slowed down the engine and we continued to see more spouts rising. Then there were tails coming from the water. We watched and watched, and then we saw many heads rising. Our narrator told us they had been watching this particular pod of 12 whales for the past 5 weeks. They estimated the pod would stay near this location for another week and then start the long journey to Maui, Hawaii, where they will mate and give birth to a calves.

Our driver cut the engine and we drifted in the area for about an hour. It was chilly because we had all of the windows open. I was lucky to be sitting right next to one while several of the whales neared our boat. They were about 25 feet away when their heads surfaced. They were huge! Our driver dropped a microphone into the water and we got to hear the whales communicating. When they got within 15 feet, he pulled the microphone up and we could hear the whales on our own. They were swimming toward our boat. I was concerned they would capsize our vessel. If successful, would they try to eat us?! The narrator calmed my fear when he said the whales know where we were and would leave us alone.

All of a sudden, I saw the back of a large whale surface really close to my open window! He was no more than 10 feet away. Wow! Did he stink. Our entire boat could smell him.

This was an awesome trip. Chad, Heidi and I loved it. When we returned to the ship later that night, we learned my cousin Linda was on a boat about 25 yards from us. She was witnessing the same whale display! How cool is that?!


MamaD4 said...

I guess next time you go to Alaska, you'll know to take along a scented handkerchief and some Binaca for the whales, eh?

The pictures are amazing.

Sarita said...

Great photos Donna!

Did you know you can set the date and time for each post? Just click on "post options" right above the "publish post" button. You can even schedule posts for the future and they won't post until the date and time you set.