ALASKA 2014 Trip Report (Part 2 of 3)

As we went through the narrow passage into Port Walter, the beauty of this anchorage was revealed.

As we went through the narrow passage into Port Walter, the beauty of this anchorage was revealed. © Kevin Loughlin

 

A pair of Red-throated Loons called as they drifted in the calm waters, while several Bald Eagles fished for herring. The perfect place to enjoy dinner and rest for the night. We looked forward to our morning photo session ashore!

Morning came and with it a heavy mist that sat low over the shoreline. Soon after breakfast the mist began to lift and as we motored ashore in the skiff we noticed thousands of Moon Jellyfish stacked below the surface. A wondrous sight but difficult to photograph! Once ashore we created images that included the long abandoned structures of the saltery with the beautiful waterfall as a backdrop.

Back aboard our yacht, we photographed fishing eagles and swimming loons as we motored back toward Chatham Straight. Crossing the straight toward Tebenkof Bay on the west coast of Kuiu Island. Our plan was to do some halibut fishing and maybe photograph some Sea Otters. Our plan, however, was severely disrupted by what happened next.

As we exited the mouth of Port Walter a group of Humpback Whales appeared along the edge of the rocky shoreline. They seemed to be feeding on herring and we hoped they would go into Port Walter to bubble-net feed. Lunch was ready so we took this waiting period to eat as we deciphered what the whales might do. We drifted as we ate, and watched the whales dive and surface as they slowly moved past.

Watching a group of a dozen Humpback Whales lunge to the surface in a cooperative bubble-net feeding frenzy is breath-taking!

Watching a group of a dozen Humpback Whales lunge to the surface in a cooperative bubble-net feeding frenzy is breath-taking! © Kevin Loughlin

 

WOooooOOSSHH!!! Suddenly the group lunged to the surface in a cooperative bubble-net feeding group right next to the yacht! Spectacular! We all grabbed our cameras and waited. Waited. Waited. No go. They moved on down the coast, so we continued across Chatham Straight to Tebenkof Bay to fish.

As we neared Tebenkof Bay the calm waters surrounding us began to boil. Herring were rising to the surface. Several Bald Eagles took notice and began to dive on the fish, catching fists full of the small fish as we captured images of their aerobatics. In the distance we noticed a few Humpback Whales. They seemed to be headed our way before they dove… they will be down for a few minutes, so we waited to see where they would rise.

WOooooOOSSHH!!! A dozen Humpback Whales lunged to the surface a hundred yards away! We had come across a group of cooperative whales bubble-net feeding! Engines cut, we drifted as the whales dove again. They will be down for 5 to 6 minutes, but we don’t know where they will rise to the surface again.

WOooooOOSSHH!!! “Ten o’clock!” One hundred yards off our bow, the whales rose again. “Six o’clock!” Another group, further away, rose in another feeding frenzy. WOooooOOSSHH!!! “One o’clock!” The first set of whales lunged directly off the bow again! The show continued for quite a while until I noticed several Dall’s porpoises speeding away from our location just as a pod of Orcas passed through, disrupting the feeding spree. The Orcas dove through the path of the humpbacks feeding on the herring as well. They dove under our yacht, then back to the other side again, offering many photo opps before swimming off.

The awesome display seemed to be over so we continued into Tebenkof Bay to find a place to anchor for the night. Our hearts still pounding from the incredible show we witnessed, we celebrated the event with a toast, delicious dinner and a beautiful sunset before sinking into our beds.

“Whales!” Breakfast was not even ready before our first whales were spotted. After another filling meal we motored out of our quiet anchor toward the distant blows. As we entered Chatham Straight we were once again surrounded by two groups of bubble-net feeding whales. The game was on once again… where would they lunge? Typically in water as calm as we had, we would see the bubbles rise to the surface moments before the whales would appear.

This group was different, however, as the bubbles appeared immediately after the whales had lunged. We dropped the hydrophone alongside the yacht in hopes we would hear the whale-song before the lunge. Usually we hear a crescendo of song before one final call, but with this group we only heard a single call barely a moment before they appeared. It remained a guessing game… a fun challenge to be in the right place at the right time!

Time to move on to yet another fun adventure, we turned north and motored toward Warm Springs Bay back on Baranof Island. Known for its geothermal hot springs, Warm Springs Bay is a popular stop for fishermen or anyone with a the proper sized boat… not too big.

Several Bald Eagles were fishing for the same herring!

Several Bald Eagles were fishing for the same herring! © Kevin Loughlin

 

Just north of the entrance to the bay, fishing boats were dropping nets for salmon, so we enjoyed watching them haul in the nets. Normally non-fishing boats are not allowed near the working boats, however, our captain is well known in the region and actually worked, a number of years ago, on one of the boats we were observing. They all knew Dennis understood where to place our yacht to remain out of the way as they worked.

After witnessing a few hauls of salmon we entered Warm Springs Bay and found a spot to tie up to the dock. An afternoon hike to Lake Baranof ensued and we looked for animal tracks in any mud puddles we passed along the way. At the lake we enjoyed a bit of photography. Photogenic rocks and dead trees are everywhere in this area, as are great macro opportunities with many tiny flowers.

As we began our walk back toward the hot springs, we again searched all the mud puddles for animal tracks. Much to our surprise, this time we found something other than from the local dog. Right next to the trail, where we had just passed, were the front and back paw prints from a fairly large brown bear! That’ll make the hair on your neck stand up!

We reached the hot springs without incident, though the trail is a bit tough. The springs vary in temperature. The week before, we were told, they were quite cold as it had rained a lot. However, they were back up to about 105° F when we arrived. Relax for around 15 minute maximum at the temperature!

Another amazing dinner was being prepared as we returned to the yacht, and tonight we were entertaining guests. Dr. Andy Szabo, director of the Alaska Whale Foundation and Courtney Hann, a grad student assisting with the research. Through dinner discussions and the following presentation by Andy, our group learned quite a bit about the amazing bubble-netting whales we had witnessed! –Kevin Loughlin

For trip info and a printable version of the report go to:
http://wildsidenaturetours.com/workshops/alaska-photo-adventure-cruise/

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