You are a new naturalist on an Alaskan excursion boat. You just came up from Outside, you’ve narrated a few wildlife tours and are beginning to feel a little confident and then… You are on a wildlife tour filled with Alaskans on a fundraiser for a local service club.
She had a few inaccuracies that Sitkans gently corrected, but the thing that got me was when you said: “You are really lucky that we are seeing so many whales. Normally they don’t come up from Mexico this early in the season. You must have attracted them.” Most of us have been watching whales for since late March when they came up from Hawaii to feed on the herring.
She was trying to make visitors feel special, lucky to be on this wildlife cruise. We who live here do feel special and lucky. Aurora delivered her rap well. At the end of the cruise, she thanked us for helping her with “local knowledge.” When we got off the boat her tip jar was full. I hope she grows to love this place as much as I do, and whether she stays here or not (we came up as tourists 50 years ago and are still here) she remembers this summer job fondly.
The state ferry used to have (perhaps they still do) Forest Service naturalists who came up for the summer to lecture along the Inside Passage. They talked the Forest Service line and were flustered when locals asked them a pointed question while pointing to a fresh clear cut. Once, while the naturalist was narrating the passage through Sergius Narrows we passed a rock with ship bottom paint on it. Someone innocently asked, “do the ferries ever hit rocks?”
The naturalist didn’t want to answer that one but had to admit “Yes, that one right there.” Once the ferry Taku hit a rock in Wrangell Narrows. The standing joke was to go to the bar and order a “Taku on the Rocks.” The bartender had to invent the drink.
May and June are golden months in Southeast Alaska. We have rain but we also have long days and some of the best weather of the year. This is when we schedule outside events. This month I’ve posted about Porch Fest, Bear Aware Day, and the Summer Music Festival. But getting out on the water is special. Since we ho longer have a boat, we take advantage when Sitka’s non-profits sponsor a fundraising cruise on an excursion boat provided by Allen Marine. This week it was the Rotary Wildlife Cruise. Next week we will go out on the Music Festival Cruise.
On this cruise Rotary made places for the AmeriCorps and Jesuit Volunteers who come every year to help our non-profits and educational institutions. Many decide to stay to become a vital part of our community.
On this cruise we saw sea lions before we even left the dock. Once we passed the one cruise ship anchored in the bay and a zodiac full of red jacketed visitors from the ship, we headed to Buoy 2 to see the Stellar sea lions sunning themselves. There were so many that the buoy was riding low in the water. Fortunately for the sea lions there were no transient pods of orca cruising the sound. The Killer Whales sometimes view buoys as a kind of cafeteria. They ram them to knock off a couple of tasty sea lions.
After the Stellars we cruised past a kelp raft where sea otters like to hang out. Past the sea otters by Vitscari Rocks we found some whales. Often when they sound (dive) their flukes are high in the air. Some of them showed their flukes, but at least one dove without holding its tail high. This can mean it is underweight. It can’t get its tail up. Well, that’s why they are in the sound, to bulk up.
Following the whales, we cruised to the northern tip of the Siginaka islands to look at an eagle nest. Then it was back to Crescent Harbor in time for the Sitka Music Festival evening concert celebrating Rachmaninoff’s 150th anniversary.