Monday, June 21, 2010

Whale Watching, Juneau, 6/20

This was the very first HOT day...what a relief! At one point we actually had to dust off the air conditioner in the car, and people were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. One girl was even in her bikini top - that might have been taking it too far! The highlight of the day was our whale-watching trip with "Captain Larry," an old, crusty, salty seaman who has been doing whale-watching tours in Juneau longer than anyone has been alive (actually, just longer than any other tour company!). He was able to spot whales from miles away without using binoculars, and we were the first boat on the scene. Maybe he had sonar? At the outset, Captain Larry said that they don't see Orca (i.e. Killer) Whales 90% of the time. However, within minutes of leaving the dock we spotted a sizable pod of them! Captain Larry used his expertise to get just close enough to the whales without disturbing them, which made for some National Geographic-quality photos. We then went further into the ocean and Captain Larry knew exactly where to look for humpbacks. Again, we got extremely lucky because we came upon a pod of humpbacks feeding using the "bubble" method. This is when they surround a bunch of Krill by blowing bubbles around them, and herd them toward the surface. Then they take turns shooting up from below and swim sideways with their mouths open to scoop up the Krill. The owner of the campsite where we're staying said it took her 12 years to see bubble feeding, and Captain Larry said it was extremely unusual to spot this behavior. When we got back to shore we decided that we had enough energy to return to the Mendenhall Glacier for a 4-mile hike through steep rainforest hillsides where there were spectacular vistas of the mountains and glacier. Little did we know that another first awaited us after we finished the hike. From a distance we heard some kids screaming "beaver," so we decided to investigate. They pointed out where they had seen it, and even though it required tramping through several icy-cold, glacier-fed streams WITHOUT our socks and shoes on, we made the trek...and boy did it pay off! There was a family of beavers, very busy and hard at work carrying branches to their dam and munching on bark and leaves. After the hike we still weren't completely tired out, and the sun doesn't go down until around 11pm, so we drove the only road out of town, which dead ends 40 miles outside the city. Despite the fact that the drive took us several hours and the hour was late, at this latitude the sunset lasts nearly two hours, so we had sunset ocean views nearly the entire drive.