Humpback Whales in Alaska
This video from Education 2000's Dive Travel shows you Humpback Whales in Alaska.
Mike: Humpback whales are beautiful, beautiful animal. Their proper name is Megaptera Novaeanglia, which means big wing. And that refers to their fin. They have enormous pectoral fins. And when we see them swimming past the boat. And in fact, we get them right beside the boat as we did yesterday. You see the flash of their pectoral fins through the water. There’s a large summer population of humpback whales here. The animals gather here in the summer to feed. And then in the winter, they disperse to Socorro where we see them, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Southern California. And they go south to mate, to breed, to contest for female’s favors and so on. And a certain segment of the population actually stays up here.
But when we see them, the animals are here for one reason and that’s to feed as much as they can. And so, we see them at the Point of Dolphins. We see them at Wooden Island. We see them in Frederick Sound. And they are gathered there feeding. We see them jumping out of the water. We see them blowing bubbles. Sometimes, maybe about half the trips, we see something called bubble net feeding, which is a cooperative feeding behavior when you get 12, 13, 14 animals working together. And they blow bubbles around large numbers of prey, perhaps a school of herring.
And you’ll see all these whales blowing bubbles. This got big bubbles of air on the surface of the water. And then you’ll see 12 humpback whales coming vertically out of the water. And the way that they feed is that they take the water and the prey in their mouth. Their tongue is one quarter of their total body weight. So, their tongue can weigh, you know, eight tons. It’s a very, very big tongue. And they have baleen. So, they take this huge gulp and they have pleats underneath their mouth. And the pleats expand with this enormous load that they’re carrying. And they push against the water and the prey with their tongue straight in the water out and take a big gulp.
And when they do this feeding behavior, they can continue uninterrupted for 30 hours, 36 hours even 40 hours straight. And right now, we’re anchored in a place called Indian Island. I’m looking out the window. And I can see three different blows of humpback whales around us. I just love this area. You can sit here. I think at dinnertime last night we had one whale that was maybe a hundred feet off the dining room windows. It’s just, just beautiful.
Gary: Mike, you took us out to see sea otters the other day.
Gary: We spent a little bit of time with them. And these are furry creatures that are floating on their backs. And they look like little bears. They are so cute. Tell us, I understand they were almost eradicated at one time.
Mike: At one time, it was thought that sea otters were extinct. And they look furry. They look cuddly. Some of our female crew thinks that they are just adorable. And in fact, they’re voracious predators that kill everything around them. The interesting thing is that all of their thermal insulation comes from their fur. They have over a million hairs per square inch. That’s why they’re very susceptible to oil spills and pollution and stuff like that ‘coz they have no blubber. It’s all in the air that’s trap in their fur. And when Captain Cook came through here in 1778, he traded for some sea otter pelts. And he took them over to China to Manchuria and traded and got an enormous amount of money.
And as the sea otter trade developed after that because of course people saw easy money and a way to make a lot of money, at the height of it, one sea otter pelt in Manchuria fetched the equivalent of $100,000.00 in today’s money. And because of this gold rush, this bonanza on sea otters, the population was hunted to extinction. They say, thought it was extinct. And then, in the 20th Century, a very small pocket of survivors were discovered on an island. And so, they transplanted members of this population down to California at Monterey to the Channel Islands, to the Oregon Coast and to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. And those populations have grown to the point that they are now considered a pest in Canada. And there’s actually a calling program in Canada where they’re starting to eliminate some of the sea otters.
It’s Day 9 and I’ve talked about the pressure that I’m feeling ‘coz we haven’t seen grizzly bears. We’ve only seen black bears so far. The other thing that we have not yet seen is orcas. And we need to see the orcas to have the true Alaskan experience. There’re two kinds of orcas here. There’re resident orcas. And there are transient orcas. And the difference is they’re the same species, perhaps different subspecies. The difference is what they eat. Transients travel in groups of one or two animals. And they’re very quiet, very stealthy and they prey on marine mammals, very, very interesting animals. They often return or number of them is known to return to the same spot, same time every year. So, they’ll come to the head of an inlet the same time every year and then do a submerge dive, go roaring up the inlet to where the sea lions are hauled out for the winter and grab the sea lions. And they repeat that behavior every winter. Then they’re gone again.
The resident orcas are traveling in a family group. It’s matriarchal society. So, the boys always travel with mom. And they feed on salmon and fish. They won’t touch marine mammals. And transients won’t touch salmon or any kind of fish. And in fact, in the days, in the ‘60s nearly ‘70s, when they were harvesting orcas up here, this isn’t the days when they were capturing them for aquariums and Sea World. And about a third of the population was taken. They had them in pen. And this is when they first discovered the difference in the eating patterns. They had one orca that was just wasting away, would not take the salmon. And it saddened the pens just for three or four months before it finally took just a little bit of salmon. And they figured out or they understand now that it was a transient orca. They were able to go back through the matriarchal lineage.
So, orcas are another, I keep on saying that every animal up here is beautiful but it’s just a, it’s an amazing place. And they’re beautiful animals. And I, Gary I just hope I can get you in orcas tomorrow.
Gary: Do they surface like humpback whales?
Mike: They do, yes. They’re on the surface like humpback whales. They have a more distinctive dorsal fin. The dorsal fin of an adult male can be about five feet high. Yeah, it’s a huge fin, very, very impressive sight.
Gary: Mike, you remind me of someone because you are very detail oriented. And you have just a phenomenal crew.
Mike: Thank you!
Gary: I would expect that of you. But this man takes care of such details as when you’re going through icebergs, he has some special music he plays for you as well. So, these are the fine details that this man takes care of. And I appreciate that because that’s very special.
Mike: Thank you very much Gary! I can’t believe that you notice that I play the theme song from the Titanic as we entered the icebergs.
Gary: And it was incredible and what a moving moment to see the icebergs. And I guess we didn’t talk about the icebergs of all things. That’s incredible story in itself.
Mike: Yes. And most people think that we’re a little bit off the deep end. And what we do with the icebergs, it’s a phenomenal experience. We have a boat that was built to push into the ice. I do it very carefully. But we go through about two feet of ice. We go way, way, way into these inlets where most ships won’t go; certainly the bigger ships won’t go. Yesterday, when we were in the ice, I actually ended up getting stuck twice and picked up, twice; I picked up icebergs and pushed them with a bough as battering rams to go through. But that’s all exciting. But the thing is that once we shut down and it’s quiet and you can hear the crackling of the ice and we put people in the water. And nobody else does that but I think it’s all good fun.
We put people snorkeling in the water, climbing up on the icebergs, kayaking. We have hostesses bringing drinks over to people on icebergs by kayak. But the whole thing is just a very quiet, very peaceful moment that is just a long, long way from life in the city. And I would love to share it with as many people as I could.
Gary: And you are doing that all the time.
Mike: Thank you very much!
Gary: In fact, in talking to other passengers, guests that are here on the ship, it’s like, “Wow!” They’re just so impressed with your staff, with you and the ship. And this specific trip to Alaska, which is just a mind explosion for people who have never have seen this. And we invite you folks if you’ve never been to Alaska. This is the most awesome experience you’ll probably ever see in your life. And more so that what you would see in a cruise ship because as he says he takes you to places that cruise ship do not venture to because of his expertise.
Mike: (Laughter) that’s one word for it.
Gary: Mike, thank you so much!
Mike: Thank you!
Gary: For allowing me to take this adventure with you to Alaska.
Mike: I look forward to our next adventure together.
Gary: And we invite you to come along and enjoy this experience for yourself here in Alaska aboard the Nodales (ph) Explore.
Humpback Whales in Alaska
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