Friday, September 16, 2016

On the trail of the whale, from Puget Sound, north to Alaska

A juvenile orca whale -- probably less than a year old -- was the star for passengers in Puget Sound Express.
Watching an orca breach was a thrill of a lifetime this week on Chilkat.
A family run enterprise shares 31 years of experience in Puget Sound Express.

The "L" Pod was photographed off Victoria.
Puget Sound Express shares its knowledge and love of
whales in extraordinary top-rated adventures. 




I FELL IN LOVE with whales when I was a kid. I was a young musician and vocalist when I first heard that whales could sing, too.  I asked my parents for a recording of their elaborate vocalizations. Ear-popping! It changed my life -- introducing me to the lyrical language of another species.
LATER, AS A  newlywed, my late husband and I honeymooned in Maui and heard whales off the shores of Lahaina, the same year Roger and Katherine Payne's wonderful "Songs  of the Humpback Whale" came out. That 1970 album from respected musicians and "bio- acousticians"  showed the world that my revered childhood whale tunes were indeed communication: my beloved whales' complex and haunting methods of sharing joy, fear, longing and  more.
Chilkat Express takes its name from the Tlingit native people of
Southeastern Alaska and pays homage to the peoples' reverence for whales.
 BRUCE KELLER AND I  have  followed the magical world of whales on seas, bays and oceans, and we are lucky lad and lass to follow them again in the U.S. and Canada, watching, photographing  -- and listening --with joy.
Thrilling sight: three humpbacks feed, frolic in Alaska's Stephen's Passage.
We were aboard a delightful Juneau Tours vessel when we found these gems.  
We're reveling in  early autumn whale watching out of Edmonds, Washington, finding Orcas, which are frolicking in the Straits of Juan de Fuca -- as many as 50 surrounding our Chilkat boat,   one of three vessels run by the excellent Puget Sound Express.
 Three generations  of the marine-life loving Hanke family run the operation, which specializes in close-up whale encounters that leave shivers up the spine. Our trained naturalist, Justine, driver Brian and boat host Wendi took 60 of us into the Straits of Juan de Fuca,  up towards Victoria, where the orcas cavort, feed, feast on salmon and teach their young the whale ways. Our "preview" was a half-dozen humpback sightings.
Each humpback has a distinctive tail or fluke, allowing
Puget Sound Express to identify each and name each whale.   
 SINCE MY first sightings off the shores of Lahaina, I've watched whales on several continents -- and in our wintertime backyard of San Diego.  Never have I had a wealth of sightings to compare to our day on Chilkat with the Puget Sound folks.  The crew knows every whale by name -- thrilling in itself. And for this "Cookie," it was pure bliss to meet a whale who shares my nickname. She's a revered auntie who helps raise the young.  Whales operate much like a kibbutz or my big Irish and Norwegian clan. They help one another out, share child-rearing chores, feeding and babysitting to give one another a bit of down time.
SEEING THESE magnificent creatures in the wild gives one a whole new perspective on their imperiled life. And using radio communication with fellow "spotters," moving at more than 40 miles an hour, you cover the waterfront with Puget Sound Express, which also offers three-day excursions to the San Juans with expert instruction on whale watching and wildlife viewing around Friday Harbor and Port Townsend. Our Chilkat naturalist  prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling two weeks week of whale watching. If you're staying in a Seattle hotel, Tours Northwest can book you for the Puget Sound trip and pick you up at your hotel.
LATER IN THE week, we had more whale thrills with Juneau Tours and Whale Watching. We set out in a 15-passenger smaller vessel, and  the whale revels continued (more next blog). They amped up aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, as we exited the Tracy Arm Fjords and headed back toward Victoria, through a sea of playful humpbacks. Listening to the humpback's haunting song, watching them move in ice as tall as three-story buildings is bound to  thrill. Spending time with three pods of salmon-feasting Orcas on their Puget Sound kibbutz is off the charts.
A well fed sea lion suns, snoozes. The sea lions are part
of the "extras" on whale watches off Seattle and in Alaska.
UP NEXT:  Watching three generations of orcas an  listening to the humpback's haunting song --  watching them navigate around ice bergs as tall as three-story buildings -- all this alters a person forever.  There simply is not enough room in a single story to do justice to the magical, intelligent and graceful whale, and to the wildlife one sees on the whale trail. We continue our marine watch with sea lions, otters, and bears aboard Juneau Tours with 15 other passengers, then with a cast of thousands aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us with a new post each weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Have always wanted to frolic with the orcas, a most revered creature.
    So beautiful, strong, graceful, supple. And they like salmon, too! Looking forward to part two.