Friday, May 29, 2009

Alaska Day 3 Part 1: Juneau Whale Watching

The first stop on the cruise that actually allowed us to get off and explore on our own was in Juneau. Juneau is a small but beautiful town that also serves as the capital of Alaska. Before arriving, we had arranged to take a whale watching trip with Weather Permitting tours. Captain Greg picked us up at the cruise ship docks and drove us out to the marina to board his boat.

Captain Greg had also arranged to have Mark Schwan, the President of the Juneau Audubon Society, join us for the trip. Mark was very knowledgeable about the local area, and I had a great time birding with him on the trip. We even managed to sneak away for a little extra birding after returning to the harbor but more on that in a later post.

Having never seen whales until this trip, the Humpbacks that we saw on our excursion were quite a treat! It didn't take long until we found our first whale and it certainly wouldn't be the only one of the day. Overall, we saw about 12 whales and it was the best day Captain Greg had had all season.

This is the first whale that we saw. It surfaced multiple times
and allowed for some great pictures for all of us.

The same whale also brought its tail out of the water several times.

Whales were not the only highlight of the trip. There were many Stellar's Sea Lions around throughout the trip. The Sea Lions were fighting over their positions on a buoy in the bay and seemed oblivious to our presence. We approached to a close but respectable distance and took many pictures. As we were watching the ones on the buoy, my wife headed to the back of the boat and found a female swimming right next to us. She was able to get some awesome shots of this very curious individual!

Sunning on the buoy.

Two Sea Lions protecting their positions from attacks from below!

The very curious female that approached our boat very closely.

The birds that we saw while aboard where also exceptional! I found the largest group of Long-tailed Ducks that I have ever seen but unfortunately couldn't photograph them due to distance. I also got my best looks at Marbled Murrelet while on the boat. They are amazing little birds that are very interesting to watch. Additionally, there was a large flight of migrating Pacific Loons. Over the course of the trip I would estimate that we saw more than 75 Pacific loons. Since I had only seen them one time before, this was quite a treat!

Marbled Murrelets getting ready to dive.

As we cruised along, we came upon a beautiful lighthouse. We learned that it is no longer used very often but has instead been turned into a small hotel. The island that it is on is home to one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in Alaska. I think that it would be an awesome place to stay someday!

The lighthouse hotel.

As we headed back to the marina, I decided to try to snap some shots of the beautiful scenery that until this point, I had been largely ignoring. The next shot is the best one that I took as it was difficult not to blur the shots as we sped along.

This rocky shore was the resting spot of many gulls including a Glaucous Gull. Black Oystercatchers also roamed the shores and Bald Eagles stood lookout on the rocky peaks.

As we got close to the marina, Captain Greg stopped for us to take some pictures of our next stop, Mendenhall Glacier. If you will be in Juneau and are thinking about whale watching, I highly recommend Captain Greg and Weather Permitting. He picked us up at our cruise ship and dropped us off when we were done. He has a very comfortable custom-made boat and also had wonderful snacks on board including homemade brownies and shrimp that he had actually caught! Most importantly, he knows the area and will definitely find whales for you. He is very knowledgeable and can answer all the questions you can throw his way - trust me I asked enough to know! You can find out more about his tours at

Be sure to check back from my next post about my time at Mendenhall Glacier!

1 comment:

Martha Z said...

Sounds like you are having a great trip. Seeing the whales up close must be one of lifes greatest thrills.