Full Frontal Orca

Today is what I would like to refer to as another miserable rainy day here in Southeast Alaska….haha yea right. It is my last day off while aboard and I switched to have the day off at a little area called the Inian Islands, south of Glacier Bay National Park. Spent the morning hiking through the forest and muskeg, while there was not much wildlife to be seen, it was quite enjoyable to have a little change in elevation, view a rufous hummingbird, and some beautifully colored bright yellow warblers. We also stumbled on a bear skeleton and a sitka deer skeleton exhibiting the trials of life out in the wilderness. Among the muskeg were also a few prominent brown bear tracks which… were simply amazing. Not only is this animals paw print bigger than my face,  but it also weighs enough to create a deep muddy foot print among a bed of moss. Pretty spectacular.

my cute little house

I took the day off at Inian islands because it is suppose to have some crazy sea lion viewing. I do not get overly excited about sea lions, but was secretly hoping that it would be a good day to get a good view of a sea otter as well since I was yet to get a close view of one.

After the morning hike it was time for guest lunch and some of the zodiacs needed positioned. Occasionally when out afternoon ops are near our morning ops we just have a few people drive the zodiacs to the new location instead of lifting them back on the top of the boat. Bernadette had the day off as well and I jumped in with her to help position zodiac. On our way over I expressed my dream of seeing a sea otter close enough for a decent picture and she suggested we get closer to this little peak that was sticking out of the top of the water surrounded by kelp. Sure enough, in the kelp was a little sea otter all wrapped up in kelp enjoying the afternoon. It was simply amazing, and after being able to watch it for ten minutes. We decided our day had been made.

sea otters are the cats meow

I was hoping my main highlight of the day would be the afternoon zodiac ride around the Inian Islands, but with a full boat the purser told me all the seats had already been filled. I let her know that I would be sitting in the crew lounge with Bernadette with our life jackets on just in case that were to change. The weather seemed pretty wet for the first round of zodiacs that went out, so we were hoping the weather would deter some of the people that were signed up in the second round. Sweet as can be, Bernadette said if there was only one spot that I should take it since she thought I would enjoy it more, and my time on this beautiful little vessel is almost over, so when the purser called for just one, I jumped out and hopped into the zodiac. Almost right away we see a little otter relaxing in the kelp not far from the ship, but before we can even get close enough to get a good look at it a humpback whale surfaces just a little further off. Not spending much time at the surface, we decide to keep an eye out for the whale as we get a closer look at the otter. Although sea otters might have some less than ideal personality traits, they are still 110% on the cuteness scale. After spending a few minutes with the otter we move along around the point to see what the whale is up to.

At this point the other 2 zodiacs are already in the channel looking for the whale, who is traveling solo, and not spending barley any time at the surface. With the two zodiacs in front of us, I can tell everyone is getting a little anxious waiting, and as soon as the first zodiac speeds up to head on to something else the whale pops up right next to us, only to take a few short breaths and flip his fluke before diving back under again.

hey friend

With the beautiful tail show from the whale we sped off to possible greener pastures.  Rounding the corner we were obviously headed towards unprotected waters. The extremes in the currents were very apparent from the surface as the water was white cap choppy to the left of the zodiac and a very concrete section where the water was almost describable as glassy. We crossed over the line and headed for rougher seas. In the unprotected water we passed steller sea lions lounging all over the rocks. These sea lions are much larger than the ones you may have seen in California, weighing upwards of two thousand pounds.

The further we went the crazier it got. The water was full of the humongous animals coming to the surface with mouths full of fish thrashing about trying to rip the fish into as they were swarmed by sea gulls trying to gather a scrap. It was simply amazing to watch the all around the zodiac as these creatures popped up at the surface in the crazy miserable rain and watching the Island Princess pass our zodiacs by. The Island Princess is a moving city, and with its empty decks I realized that all the probably saw were a handful of crazy zodiacs driving in circles in the pouring rain, and all we saw watching them float by was a ghost ship that had no idea what they were missing.

All of a sudden all the sea lions started going crazy, simultaneously sticking their heads out of the water, growling and barking towards the sea, looking out in their direction I begin to understand why they are perturbed. Out in the distance there was one killer whale fin headed to shore, and I continued to look the fins began to multiply.

Lee put the zodiac in full throttle and headed out towards sea. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by the killers. Spy hopping with kelp on their head they were enjoying themselves. The other zodiac seemed to think they had some prey, but nothing was visible by the time we arrived.

With the other zodiac on our left, things felt safer with the killer whales moving in so close to our boats. As the other zodiac was looking at the whales passing super close to our right side, we had to scream “left left left!!!#$” to make sure they saw the ones that were popping up right next to them. Looking over at the other zodiac, i was so happy to see Bernadette sitting in it, two zodiacs watching the whales, holding the two of us, perfect.

the little green smudge in the corner is someones jacket from my zod. just to show how close the killers came.

As amazing as an encounter it already was, one of the killers decided to breach right in front of us and show us the whole white underside of his belly just to add the cherry to the top of our cake.

The ride home was fast and freezing, but still to this moment I can’t even feel the chill of the afternoon as the activities were to exciting to be deterred by any amount of awful weather.

Back on the boat and finally warmed up, there is finally enough sun in the sky to light up the water like a handful of glitter has been thrown out there, and there is a minke whale casually swimming by.

Yep, just another awful rainy day in Southeast Alaska.

2 yin and yang flukes, one blow. pretty magnificent

And that’s what I thought would be the end to my blog for the day, until we caught up with a pod of 7 humpbacks that were swimming closer together than any other pod I have seen, and almost simultaneously rising and diving. I watched for over an hour, just awe struck with how all day I was thinking “nothing gets better than this” and then something would prove me wrong.


    • Tia
    • May 31st, 2012

    Wow. Just WOW. Now that is a good day at the office! Miss you…

    • Stacy
    • June 4th, 2012

    What an extraordinary time you’ve had! I love you!

    • Emily
    • June 21st, 2012

    It is like you live on the Discovery Channel!

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