The second port of call for us on our recent Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Despite being the capital, it still has only three supermarkets – it’s not the raging metropolis you might have assumed the capital of (by far) the largest state in the USA would be. Oh, and there are no roads in or out of the city.
The city is mostly known for outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and skiing. It’s also famous for its wildlife, so we decided to do something else we’d never done before. Go whale watching!
For some reason, the ship’s schedule for arriving and departing in Juneau was not at all clear before time, and I spent a long time trying to find out what it was. Looking back, I think it was highly subject to change because it all depended on how our glacier cruising in the morning went. As it happened, we had to cruise a different glacier than usual due to ice build up in the area, but we still managed to arrive in Juneau just when the port authorities said we would. Still, we were cruise newbies and with the Norwegian website being unhelpful and horror stories of ships leaving without passengers floating around my head (remember, no roads in or out of town…) I decided that the safest option would be to book this particular excursion via Norwegian. Yes, it was more expensive than booking direct, but cheaper than shelling out for a one way seaplane flight to our next port of call to catch the ship.
Long story long, that’s how we ended up in the passenger bunfight I mentioned in an earlier post.
However, I’m not here to dwell on that. I’m here to talk about whales!
So, we boarded our vessel and settled in to a seat on the top deck. The boat was decked out comfortably, and binoculars were provided which was very useful.
We motored out to an area frequented by whales, which took about half an hour or so. On the way, we were treated to educational info and some beautiful sights, including another glacier to add to the tally:
There was a snack bar on board handing out free tea or coffee, but as I like neither I was SOL. I didn’t mind, I was enjoying the views and as it was getting a bit choppy I’d probably have ended up spilling it all down myself anyway.
We headed past an island stuffed with sea lions- we got pretty close and they didn’t seem bothered at all. They were busy disagreeing with each other about one thing or another. So we bobbed about looking at them for a bit before we moved on.
Once we arrived at the spot normally good for seeing whales, we spent a minute or two looking for any cetaceans in the vicinity. Soon enough, we found a lone humpback. It was explained to us that humpbacks spend this season basically stuffing their faces on the rich food available in the cool Alaskan waters before they migrate to Hawaii for the summer to mate, when they really don’t eat anything at all.
Consequently the whales are all very focused on eating and not much else. They weren’t bothered by us but equally they weren’t very active either. The whale we found surfaced a few times, treating us to a brief spout of whale breath, then dived down deep.
Once he had gone, a mother and baby showed up. We got sight of a whale back…
And a whale tail as they both dived again.
After a few breaths and a tail or two that was our lot. Trying not to feel disappointed (we had seen at least three whales, after all) I took my seat again as the captain turned the boat back around for shore. As I turned, I heard a loud splash and quite a few gasps. A whale had appeared and launched himself into the air close to our boat, splashing back down into the water. I had missed it! I was so cross!
Then- the whale breached again! In a totally different spot. This time, I caught the end splash. I was a little more satisfied. Then he breached again! And I saw the whole thing. All in all, this particular whale breached about 9 times within sight of the boat. He didn’t breach predictably, he wasn’t that close to the boat, and nobody had any idea where he’d appear next; his huge bulk soaring gracefully above the water.
So I made a decision. And this is a blogging fail but a calculated life win. There are plenty of excellent photos of whales breaching, and any attempt I made would have probably been unsuccessful due to my amateur photography skills and the whim of the whale. So I decided that I’d rather see it fully with my eyes, than partially through a viewfinder.
So I have no photos of that beautiful animal showing off and having fun, which is what our guide on board surmised this particular whale was up to. But the image is burned into my memory and will stay there forever. Sometimes I think that’s the better option.
Have you ever been whale watching? Did you take good photos or commit it to your memory instead?
ETA: if you want a decent photo of a humpie breaching, please head to my Canadian cousin’s blog where he shares some gorgeous shots he took in the waters around Haida Gwaii, BC. He posted them just for me! Thanks, cousin 🙂