An Arctic air mass sits over Southeast Alaska. It is cold, colder than usual in November. It is acting like late December or January. If I lived on the inside, closer to the mainland, I could have horrific winds as cold air from a high-pressure zone in the interior mountains pour through the passes toward the low in the Gulf of Alaska. As it is we have whitecaps in the Eastern Channel.
It was in these conditions that we embarked on the Sitka Whalefest whale watching cruise on an Allen Marine boat. We arrived at the dock just after sunrise. (The last Daylight Savings Time sunrise of the season) and got on the boat with several scientists who would do a little interpreting for us on the cruise.
I always love these cruises because I have a chance to talk with the lecturers at the Marine Symposium. For instance, on this wildlife cruise I spoke with a whale researcher from Juneau who is studying whale poop. Humpback whales eat in our northern waters and then head to Hawaii (or Mexico but not as many) to have calves and then breed. If they do not wish to breed, they may stay here to bulk up over the winter. That is happening more often as warming water in the Gulf of Alaska is less nutrient rich than it had been, and whales lose about 35% of their weight on the round trip to Hawaii, fasting during their whole journey.
But the whales serve a function to enrich the waters in Hawaii. They eat here and poop along the way south. I guess they are slow digesters. But they carry nutrients from our northern waters to tropical waters and release it in their defecation. This helps the oceans maintain some balance.
As I said the day was cold and the water choppy. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go far to see whales. They were right in Eastern Channel and Silver Bay, very close in, and we didn’t have to spend much time traveling to see them, which means we could spend more time watching them.
It was a glorious day. Usually when I post after one of these cruises three quarters of my shots are of whales and a quarter of scenery. This cruise revises the proportion. It was so beautiful I had to take scenery pictures. And taking whale pics was a bit more difficult than normal. My camera is hardened to minus 14 Celsius but the long lens I was using is not, so the motor for the auto focus was very slow. When I switched to manual focus, I found that my frozen hands were almost as slow, or if I was wearing gloves not as accurate. I did have gloves with the fingertips cut off, but cold fingertips sometimes do not do so well in focusing either. Plus, I just spent more time inside the warm boat than out on deck than I normally do, watching the whale dives and blows from the comfort of an Allen Marine cabin. No complaints, it was a wonderful trip.