Alaskan Cruise Post 5: Juneau, Alaska

Thursday, July 07, 2011
Saturday dawned, and it was time to explore Alaska's capital city, Juneau.  You can't arrive unless you come by boat or plane, or you are a wild animal and can traverse unpaved land. Many people arrived before me and helped create the 'need' for little saloons like the below Red Dog Saloon.  It's said that Juneau is a great drinking town with a fishing problem.  I didn't do either, but the story is believable.  It is much more populated than Skagway, the whole 'Alaska's government resides here' thing probably has to do with it, but it still was charming, and colorful, both literally and figuratively.
I made a list of 101 things I wanted to do over the next few decades, and one of those things was to go whale watching (I've always been terrified of whales...long story I'll pay a psychologist to listen to someday). According to all the books, this was the place to do it. Mom and I took an excursion out to one of the bays in the area and loaded on the below boat.

One of the first humpback whales we saw had a baby in tow.  The baby breached and let us get a good look at it. 
There was lots of spouts spraying water during the 3 hour trip.
The baby is doing some fin slapping and the Mom is spouting in the picture below.
We saw two sets of humpbacks and their calves, and several other whales swimming around the bay waiting on the salmon to spawn.
This gives a good perspective into the size of the whales with the boats behind.  This is just the hump back portion, it's about three times larger than this.  The back fins alone are 15-18 feet, and the whales span 50+ feet in length. 
We also saw some other marine mammals fighting over the prime location of buoy seats.
...and eagles soaring and diving for fish.
We passed the Mendenhall Glacier (another excursion I'd want to try next time), and great scenery along the shores of the bay.  There was a naturalist on board this boat as well who shared info about the wildlife, and helped spot wildlife in the water and along the shore.  We had seen a lot of these animals on the cruise ship, but this got us much closer, and allowed us the opportunity to stop and just enjoy the show.
 I have to share this one little story because it's so sweet.  Apparently Killer Whales are really social animals.  They travel in large groups with the females as the matriarchs.  Mama whale's kids will travel with them, and her daughters will have children that travel with them etc etc etc.  Researchers can tell the different families apart because they all have distinct songs.  The songs change over time, but when the change, they change at the same time amongst the whole family.  All whales can be told apart through their back fins.  There aren't two that are alike in markings, coloring, shape etc.  Photographers can share photos and match and track whales through photographs of the diving fins.  There was this baby whale they found alone in Alaska when it should have been with it's family in HI.  It was nestling up to a ferry each night, and doing poorly.  By listening to it's song, and examining it, the researchers figured out who it's mother was and what pod she traveled with, and figured out something must have happened to her.  They decided to keep the whale in a tank in the ocean (trying to not communicate with it too much so it wouldn't form attachments to it's caretakers).  They nursed it back to health, and then months later, when they knew it's family would be swimming by (they swam by the same general time/place each year) they placed it in the ocean to meet up with it's family.  When they saw it again, it had attached itself to one of the males in the family.  A year later, it came back by and it was swimming with one of it's older sisters.  It swims by every year now (starting in 2002), and they always pin a sign on their tower, 'Welcome, Springer' (the nickname they gave it).  I'm a sucker for a cute baby story.  I can't say that I want to get any closer to a whale, but it was really great to see them by a boat, and the baby helped eleviate some of those fears. 
After the whale excursion, Mom and I did a little more shopping until hopping on board and headed back down  the inner passage to our third port...


Carol said...

I did that cruise last summer. When we went out whale-watching we saw many humpback whales. We were fortunate enough to see them breach! Most people never get to see that/ We also had three "sister" killer whales swim alongside our boat and show off. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime!

Shane and Laine said...

Awe...Free Willy!!!
I always thought I might want to do that but scared that a whale would jump (I guess the term is breach) out of the water and crash on my boat...maybe I should go to therapy with you!