“Checking out the Tourists of Frederick Sound” ©Dr. Penny
It started with a young juvenile breaching repeatedly. Even those with the slowest shutter fingers were able to get a shot. Now everyone on the boat had a photo of a breach – something you can go tourist boat whale watching year after year without having a chance to see, let alone photograph (speaking from personal experience).
“Humpback Whale Tail” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound, Alaska
It continued with the sun peeking out on a day when the forecast was for solid rain. We were so busy enjoying great scenery and many whale tails that we hardly noticed the weather, other than feeling the need to peel off a layer of fleece and drink a big glass of water now and then.
“Humpback Whales Gathering” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound
That would have been a mighty fine day whale watching in Alaska. But the fun was just beginning. We were watching a few whales when suddenly the energy changed – like when you know something big is going down, but you don’t really know what it is. Excitement was in the air, like a drum roll at the beginning of a spectacular performance. You are about to witness something so magnificent, that it is impossible to put into words.
“A Feast For The Eyes” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound, Alaska
The whales were gathering. Not at a distance where you need binoculars, not even at regulation whale watching proximity of 100 yards, but right where we were. Soon we cut the engine, because we were surrounded by humpbacks. Not one or two … about 50. Not for a brief glimpse of a fluke disappearing below the surface … but non-stop surface feeding action for 4 hours. The current must have brought the krill in spectacular numbers. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
“Sneak A Peek Whale” ©Dr. Penny, Ventro-lateral view of head
What can you say about seeing a whale choose to surface right next to your boat in a trumpeting exhalation? Any words I can think of seem woefully inadequate. Seeing these giants of the sea surface a half mile away is exciting enough. But there is no way to describe the magnificence of 45 tons rising up through the depths to part the sea with its mouth wide open. And watching the water rush back out as the giant jaws slowly close to filter and feed on krill.
“Grace in Motion” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound, Alaska
Then watching the huge mouth slowly sink below the surface into the depths and disappear. Then catching a glimpse of white pectoral fin below the murky depths, and realizing the whale is still right there below you. Every movement so slow motion, graceful, powerful and elegant, that you cannot help but become it at a new level yourself. (Well after you pause from racing from one side of the boat to the other, totally oblivious to bruising your shin and elbow and countless other places … in a frenzy of overwhelming excitement being surrounded with an energy so powerful you don’t know how to encompass, embrace, or quite what to do with all of it.)
“Bubble Net Feeding” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound, Alaska
As the convention began to disperse, the whales began to work together instead of feeding individually. We got to see the spectacle of bubble net feeding, where a group of whales swims in a shrinking circle below a school of prey blowing bubbles. Strategic body position, a wall of bubbles surfacing and vocalization are used to concentrate prey into a tighter and tighter cylinder. Then the whales swim up through the bubble net, surfacing to feed together as a cohesive unit.
“A Good Day Indeed” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound, Alaska
Then some more breaching to celebrate the bountiful feast.
“Shy Curious Steller Sea Lions” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound
Happy and exhausted we were on our way to a secluded bay to anchor for the night. But first, a quick stop to see the sea lions. Not accustomed to much company in this remote location, the sea lions were extremely shy yet curious at the same time. They reminded me of young children peeking out from behind momma’s skirt to take a quick look at us as they climbed and swam and hid over top of each other.
“Exuberant Joy” ©Dr. Penny, Steller Sea Lions of Alaska
One particular sea lion was especially brave and caught and held my eye for a quick game. It was pure joy to feel him stretch high above the water for a better look, sink back down and then see him burst through the surface in a playful expressive leap that tinkled my heart with laughter.
“Energy Synch” ©Dr. Penny in Frederick Sound, Alaska
As we motored away from our new friends, one gregarious sea lion followed and thought about jumping into the life raft trailing behind the boat. At the same time, I had the urge to jump in the water to stay and play awhile. But both of us exercised better judgment, turning back to our own species.
“Miracles of Nature” ©Dr. Penny, Humpback, Frederick Sound
Do I ever expect to see all of this again? No. Of all the experienced professional photographers and naturalists on board, had anyone ever seen or did anyone ever expect to see such a spectacle again? No. Do I ever expect to have my breath taken away by such a miracle of nature again? Absolutely. What is the best way to set up another best day ever? Holding an attitude of expecting to see great things and catching the spiral up by appreciating every little thing that shows up like it is the biggest bestest show on earth – cause it is! Miracles of nature are everywhere.
“Til We Meet Again In Hawaii” ©Dr. Penny, Frederick Sound