Humpback Whales

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There are many different ways to explore Alaska, but the most interesting ones are when you get off the beaten path. And since Alaska is not small, there are many different paths you can leave to explore on your own. I’ve been there a couple of times now, and each time I’ve experienced and photographed incredible sights. This article is the first in a series of posts about our incredible 49th state. The question becomes where to start, but the humpback whales in  Whale’s Morning and the events leading up to that photograph seems like the right place.

One way to explore Alaska would be driving, and indeed, that’s a great start. Alaska doesn’t have an extensive road system, though, so just driving might not be the best way. You could fly over it, of course, and see some incredible scenery from above, but that, too, isn’t the best way. Or, you could sail its waters, and when it comes to the Inner Passage, this is absolutely the best way. I started my sailing adventure in Petersburg and ended many days later in Juneau. In between, I encountered gorgeous places and wild animals. Those we’ll chat about soon, but for now, we’ll talk about the humpback whales.

The Inner Passage is perfect for the humpback whales. Its waters are pristine and deep, offering prosperous hunting. Whales are, quite literally, surrounding you as you ply the waters, although one area, Stephens Passage, is home to several large, stable pods. I stayed quite a while here and was sad when it was time to weigh anchor and head to other waters. I spent most of my time near the Five Fingers Lighthouse, which is still operational, but also the part-time home to whale watching organizations. It makes the ideal base, and using a lighthouse to watch the humpback whales allows the researchers to keep watch over the entire range. 

For me, mornings were my favorite time. I’d wake early, well before the sun did, and wander up on deck. There, in the stillness of the pre-dawn, I could hear the whales breathing. It is a slow, deep sound, almost human-sounding. In and out, slow and steady, the whales would breathe, surrounding me. It wasn’t easy to count them, but I would estimate forty or fifty were in the waters around me. The crispness of the air froze their breath for just a moment, allowing me to make some surreal photographs. 

Vaporous Whales

Vaporous Whales is one of those photographs. Their breath would rise in the crisp morning air and hang there for the longest time. Each whale would rest on the surface for a bit then dive back down, only to be replaced by another. The process repeated over and over, eventually leaving a myriad of vapor trails from their breath.

The humpback whale routine is fascinating to watch. Each one rests quietly on the surface, slowly moving toward whatever destination it has selected. Without warning, the whale rises ever so slightly from the water, then slides beneath the waves. Their tail lifts behind them, pointing toward the sky, then follows the whale into the murky depths. Headed Down is the decisive moment of their dive.

Headed Down

I made Whale’s Morning on a still and calm morning. The horizon was cloudy, though, which dashed my hopes for a bright and colorful sunrise. I was up early with the whales and had my fingers crossed, but alas, the skies were cloudy. As dawn approached, I kept hoping conditions would improve, but they did not. The sun began its daily trek, and although the whales were nearby, a stunning photograph did not appear to be in the cards. Yet, much to my surprise, the sky did light up. Not in the pinks and reds I was expecting, but warm, soft yellows! The moment was even better than I had hoped. Whale’s Morning was the result of this spectacular dawn, thanks to a humpback whale who chose the perfect moment to dive deep.

Whale's Morning

We’ll continue our Alaksa adventure in the next post.