The most majestic creatures on this earth I’ve ever witnessed up close is the whales. In case you didn’t know, Alaska is full of them. And I love them. More than any other animal of the ocean, it was always my favorite times on the ocean when whales were involved. The Orca is probably as close to the most gorgeous animal I’ve ever seen, even though they’re technically in the oceanic dolphin family. Also, the humpback whales are gargantuan creatures that do amazing acrobatics through the air and slapping their fins on the water. As you can imagine, this making a quiet day on the water a little more interesting. They’re incredibly gentle animals but since they can grow so large, there’s actually a real danger to humans from them. The whales I’m hoping to see when I visit the Arctic Ocean are the Fin Whale, Grey, and Minke Whale. Although, you have the opportunity to see humpback and killer whales up here, which I think is exciting. I’d love to see them again. I’d like to see a beluga whale, though they’re not typically in Prudhoe Bay from what I’ve read.
First off, and let me be clear about this, humpback whales can be extremely dangerous. Even if you think they’re of no threat to you, or not even visible, they still can be dangerous. I’ve seen the after-math of people that have slammed into breached whales. I’ve heard incredible stories of people’s boats flying through the air off the back of a whale, both unnoticed by the other. I’ve been on the tail end of nearly avoiding a monstrous humpback. (The picture to the left is essentially what you see when a humpback breaches.) My brother and mother came up to visit me my first year working in South East Alaska. It was close to the end of their two week visit and we went out to fish as a family. My big brother, Trever, wanted to drive for the first time so I let him. The spot was 45 minutes away so I fell asleep. The next thing I new, I heard a thundering sound so I looked into the sky. We both screamed as I wrenched the wheel to the side and got my brother to turn off the engine. As it jumped out of the water to feed and my brother, my mother and I driving in a boat going 30 miles an hour, we narrowly missed a collision. I learned about how incredibly lucky we were a year later when 2 friends, coworkers from the fishing lodge, narrowly escaped death from a collision with a whale, destroying the boat and severely injuring the two coworkers. Luckily, there was another boat driving by at the precise moment these lucky men needed them. I feel extremely fortunate that nothing bad happened to my family. It made me sick when I found out about the men’s collision, both for the fact that these men almost died and that my family could’ve been in that same situation.
If you’re lucky enough to have an encounter with a Orca, use caution. They are the most widespread mammals on the planet, for good reason. They’re also considered the apex predator of the oceans and no real threat from any other species in the ocean, excluding humans of course, they can be extremely dangerous when threatened. Groups of them usually consist of deadly pods of up to 40 whales. They’re so effective in their hunting strategies that some professionals liken them to packs of wolves. I find this interesting, considering I’ve had several of these beauties surround my boat before. Maybe if I wasn’t in a big, aluminum boat, they could’ve tried attacking. If a mother whale has a baby, other female whales even help raise the young. On the same note, many Orcas tend to stay with their mothers their entire lives! Humans have hunted these creatures extensively, even going as far as trying to tame these animals. If you ever get bored on Netflix, search for Black Fish. It’s a documentary about the psychological effect that caging an Orca at Sea World has and the mind-boggling things that were ignored about this intelligent, ferocious animal, eventually leading to the death of many Sea World trainers. This whale is still the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen throughout my travels. (Pictured below, notice the incredible dorsal fin on the Orcas’ back. The fin looks even larger in real life.)
The humpback whale is the whale I’ve had the most encounters with. Anybody that has been on a boat in South East Alaska can attest to the fact that even if you can’t see a humpback whale, you’ll eventually hear them. Whether they’re breaching out of the water through the air or slapping their immense fins on the water, it’ll sound like cannons going off. (This picture to the left is a whales fluke, or tail. Each whale has a different pattern, much like a fingerprint) The Humpback’s tail fin is so big, in fact, that it accounts for a third of the animals body length. Which proportionately makes the tail fin of the Humpback the largest of any cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). That really impresses me considering it’s bigger than the blue whales’ tail, which is widely considered as the largest known animal ever to have existed and its’ heart is the size of a VW bug. It’s one of my dreams to see a blue whale up close someday. The Humpback is in the family of Rorquals, meaning it’s related to the blue whale, fin whale, and even minke whale. Because humpback whales breathe voluntarily, the whales possibly shut off only half of their brains when sleeping. This is incredible to me since I’ve seen what it looks like when these whales sleep. Another interesting fact about the Humpback is the way they trap their prey through an incredible process called bubble-net feeding. It involves several whales encircling a school of fish while blowing a continuously shrinking circle of bubbles. Some whales dive deep to drive fish closer to the surface. When they think it’s small enough dozens of whale dive deep and swim through the school of fish upwards with its’ mouth open. This technique is unique only to this particular whale.
I’ll be going to the Arctic sometime in June or July, hopefully several times. In that time, I hope to spot a Fin Whale, in particular. I don’t want to make any observations or research until I see it in person, so I’m sure there will be another lovable whales post in my future. But until then, you all will have to be satisfied with this 🙂
**In other news, I got my new computer! I’ve also heard back from Antarctica and I’m sending off the contract to go there in October soon, which is exciting. Also, this post is dedicated to my dearly departed grandpa. I know he would’ve loved to read this. He loved to hear stories of my adventures. Even though I wasn’t close to him, he was always nice to me and listened to me. You’ll be missed.