While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.
An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.
We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.
The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.
Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males. This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat. Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this! Continue reading →
“Mommy there’s a whale spouting rainbows”! Overheard from a little girl on a Rainbow Tours boat cruise to Seldovia last week.
We set out on the Rainbow Connection, one of two vessels owned by Rainbow Tours, little did we know these names were an omen for something astounding that would happen later. Our research on weather paid off again, and it was another glorious morning, quite warm even, although at times it got quite breezy on the water.
We heard about this tour from some folks on our last boat tour out of Seward. It is part wildlife tour and part ferry transportation to Seldovia, a town that is across the water from Homer on Kachemak Bay and accessible only by boat or plane. We had heard about Seldovia from our friend Dan.
But the clincher was that both this tour and the ferry to Seldovia accepts dogs. So Angel could come along.
As it turned out, both our friends Karen and Jack had reserved this same date for the tour, and Dan and Amanda joined the boat tour with us as well.
The boat’s first stop was Gull Island, a seabird rookery owned by Seldovia Native Corporation. There we spotted pigeon guillemots, common murres and more horned puffins.
We had great views of Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, and at 10,197 feet, the highest peak in the Aleutian range.
As we reached the Eldredge Passage, we spotted otters. We are always excited to see them. There were quite a few otters, a group of them is called a “raft” of otters.
Camera & Bloody Mary … heaven
Next we spotted some bald eagles and also an eaglet in a nest. Kachemak Bay is not as well known as the Gulf of Alaska for wildlife viewing but this was turning out to be a great wildlife cruise.
One interesting fact we learned from one of the naturalists on board was that the eaglets’ wingspan will be as large as or larger than the adults when they leave the nest at between 9 and 13 weeks old.
As we continued we spotted some more otters, these were mamas with babies. We did not stop so it was tough to capture photos, but we could see that one had a baby that she was carrying face down – usually the babies are face up on top of the mama’s belly. But we could see the pup’s furry back and at one point he turned his head to look at us. The otters are really enchanting.
Next we saw some humpbacks. They were feeding from the nutrient rich top layer of these waters, and so were not diving, simply surfacing for air. I had not expected to see whales on this cruise, so was pretty excited.
Unfortunately, we also found the remains of a dead whale. There have been several dead whales found in the general area around Alaska and scientists are still puzzled as to the cause.
Then we reached our destination, Seldovia, one of the oldest settlements of the Cook Inlet area. Seldovia’s first residents were the Alutiiq about 2,000 years ago then in 1800 Russian settlers arrived and named it “Zaliv Seldevoy” – Herring Bay.
These first settlers came to mine coal, but the town later became a center for fur hunting and trading, and later yet for processing salmon, crab and herring.
Before roads provided better access within Alaska, Seldovia became an important first stop for ships from Seward and other areas in the Cook Inlet. The town built a wooden boardwalk along the waterfront and businesses whose structures were built on stilts grew around the boardwalk. In its heyday, it became known throughout South central Alaska as the boardwalk town.
The Good Friday earthquake of 1964 caused the town to sink four feet, and subsequent floods destroyed most of the boardwalk and structures around it. But its “new old boardwalk” is still a prominent feature in town, after being rebuilt along with new structures on stilts for businesses and residences alongside it.
People come for the day as we did, or to stay at one of its hotels or bed & breakfasts. You can hike, enjoy its beach, shop and eat at one of its shops and restaurants, fish, or kayak.
A popular stop is The Russian Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas, built in 1891. It is still “an active religious facility in the community”, with a visiting priest offering Sunday services and performing baptisms, weddings and funerals.
We had a leisurely lunch by the water – made more leisurely by the restaurant’s being understaffed. But what we enjoyed most was the boardwalk and the colorful structures alongside of it. There are lots of flowers everywhere, and many artsy touches.
Our almost three hours in the town flew by and it was time to return.
And there they were; the otters, one was sleepy and holding a seashell from a recent meal.
As we crossed the bay back towards Homer we spotted several humpback whales, they were on both sides of the boat. Most were not diving nor showing their flukes, but apparently feeding as the ones we had spotted earlier. But one of them, apparently a calf, breached – Amanda I think was the only one who saw it.
And then an amazing thing happened. As we were following along behind a humpback, because of the sun’s position relative to the boat, a rainbow appeared in the whale’s blow! Not once but three times! Something we had never seen before, and frankly I missed it because I was behind others. Hector saw it and captured two of the three.
Nature is so awesome.
This boat trip could not have been any better. The rocking boat lulled Angel to sleep, thankfully. But she also got to walk around the boat a bit and “socialize” and several people commented on what a nice dog she is. In fact, one couple let her sleep under their feet for a while.
One last whale sighting, this one dove and showed its fluke, “waving” good-bye.
Because of all of the wildlife sightings, the tour took more than its scheduled seven hours, but noone complained.
When we arrived back in Homer, we were all happy campers.
We said our good-byes to Jack and Karen, who were leaving that evening, we hope to catch up with them again in Alaska. And we have plans to see Dan and Amanda again down in Seattle.
Our stay in Homer exceeded all expectations, a campsite on a great beach, some rest and relaxation, good friends and socializing, and a beautiful cruise on the water.
The rain that began on the afternoon of our last cruise intensified and continued for two more days. During those days, we moved from our inland campground to the water. The ocean is my favorite place in the whole world and with a view framed by snow-capped mountains, it is beautiful rain or shine. And we extended our stay in Seward so we could see more of Kenai Fjords National Park.
We stayed in the Resurrection South RV Parking section of the Waterfront Campground (City of Seward). Read my review of the campground here.
One of the reasons we are here in Alaska is because we love animals, and we especially love seeing them in the wild. We feel a special connection to and are often in search of wildlife. And our second cruise to the Kenai Fjords was an extra special one.
There is something about the whales that especially captivates us, perhaps their intelligence, the way they form social structures, the sounds they make to communicate, or maybe all of those things and others that we just cannot put into words.
So each summer when we have been by the northern seas on our walkabout, we have devoted quality time to whale watching. Going out looking for the whales in kayaks, zodiacs, and small to large motorboats. And we have seen lots of whales; blue, fin, humpback, minke, beluga, gray, pilot and orcas (although technically pilot whales and orcas are part of the dolphin family).
Our goal in Seward was to go on several wildlife cruises. We were interested in some of the longer cruises, but not sure we would be able to go because of Angel. But we found a pet-sitter to walk Angel during the day. So after our six-hour cruise earlier in the week, we booked two other full day wildlife/glacier cruises, one with each of the two major companies in town.
Ice-capped mountains towering over the sea, picturesque fishing boats, sea otters, orcas, humpback whales, sea caves, sea lions, puffins, harbor seals, icebergs and a glacier. Our day on Prince William Sound was simply amazing.
We love being on the water, we love marine wildlife and anytime we have opportunities to combine the two, we are on it!
Two companies run glacier wildlife cruises out of Valdez. We chose the Lu-Lu Belle. First of all, how could we possibly resist that name? And we got a wonderful report about this cruise at the Tok Visitor Center from two people who had just been on it.
The 75′ Lu-Lu Belle was custom built by Captain Fred in 1979 and has served as both his and his wife’s summer business as a tour boat and as their home in the winter. Not your typical tour boat this one, she is a beauty.
Captain Fred has a unique approach, he describes it as a 5 ½ to 7 hour cruise, depending on what is seen along the way. His wife told us that “he comes in when the wildlife lets him”. He is willing to stay put to watch the wildlife – and we really loved that approach.
So we booked Thursday’s cruise the night before, when we arrived in Valdez. As it turned out, the place where their office is located also houses a tiny RV park, Little Lu-Lu, in their parking lot. It accommodates up to eight spots, although those are also their parking spots. And somehow, we lucked out and got a rate of about $15-$20 less than others who offer full hookup.
When Hector and I discussed coming to Valdez, the first thing that came to my mind was the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, at the time, the largest oil spill in U.S. waters. I remember the images of the birds covered in oil. It was a defining moment in my life, and I never looked at the environment in the same way after that.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, consisting of three state and three federal trustees, has issued reports every 3-4 years since the spill that provide the recovery status of 28 species, four human services and several archaeological resources.
Recovery is based upon “pre-oil spill levels”. The 2014 report states that 15 of the 24 species studied over this time are “recovered”, 4 “very likely recovered”, 4 “recovering”, 4 “not recovering”, and 1 “unknown”. It is telling that 25 years later, the impacts of the spill are still being felt. But we were going to see how the wildlife recovered for ourselves.
The morning of our cruise was quite hazy in spite of a weather report that it was going to be sunny and clear. Megan, Captain Fred’s wife who works the office said that some of the haze might be due to some of the wildfires around.
It seemed as if our chances of encountering whales on a one-day kayak trip were not very good. And the kayak tours are kind of pricey. So we opted for a whale watching tour on a regular boat to go look for the Northern Residents.
Since we try to avoid big groups on tours, we chose a 5:30 p.m. departure with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Apparently, that time slot never gets full. Which is surprising since it’s a beautiful time of day to go out on the water.
That afternoon, which was pretty cloudy, there were 14 people on a boat that accommodates up to 49 people. Very nice.
As our Captain, Geoff and the young naturalist, Sofia, were giving their introductory and safety talks, someone looked up and pointed to a bear that was walking by the marina just across the water from us. Right in front of our campground! A good omen.
So off we went once again to Johnstone Strait, this time powered by motor. Some of the Northern Residents had been spotted earlier and the captain went in search of them.Continue reading →
Telegraph Cove offers a number of different tours for kayaking in Johnstone Strait with opportunities to see all sorts of wildlife. And for those that want to see orcas, or killer whales, the best time of year to do so is during the months of July and August.
That is when the chinook salmon are running and a group of orcas called the Northern Residents arrive to feast on the tasty fish. Johnstone Strait is the body of water between the northeast of Vancouver Island and the Broughton Archipelago.
A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to see some of the Southern Residents, the group of salmon eating orcas who frequent the waters around the San Juan Islands in Washington.
The Northern Residents arrived in Johnstone Strait a few days before we got there. Some said that they were a bit late, but the timing varies according to the salmon run.
Our plan was to sign up with a kayak outfitter to look for the whales. We wanted to go out with someone who knew the waters, as the tidal currents in the area can be quite complicated. Also, the kayak companies keep in communication with other boaters and get updates if whales are spotted. Continue reading →
We got an early start for what we anticipated to be a long drive to the North of 290 mile long Vancouver Island. Allowing for a couple of stops along the way. Our route north to Telegraph Cove entered into a much more remote area of the island.
Duncan, about an hour north of Victoria and nicknamed the City of Totems, was our first stop. The town, located in the Cowichan Velley, borders the Cowichan Tribe’s Reservation, and the two communities work closely together on local issues.
One of the things I most looked forward to in the San Juan Islands was kayaking with the whales. When I was in my twenties I saw a photo of a kayaker looking over at a whale breaching and have wanted to do it since. So in search of the beautiful orcas we went.
Our plan was to visit a couple of the islands, and, especially, the area where the orcas are prevalent.