Friday, September 23, 2016

Whales astonish, amuse, delight on the whale trail from Seattle to Vancouver, to Alaska's Inside Passage

A juvenile orca learns how to swim next to his mother, south of Vancouver, near U.S. waters with Wild Whales Vancouver. 
Juneau Tours offers up close, personal opportunities to see
whales, with skilled drivers and guides to get you "there."

ORCAS, HUMPBACKS ENTERTAIN, INFORM-- AND EVEN PROVIDE EYE-POPPING ANATOMY


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

CAN ONE ever get enough of whale watching? I think not. It's sheer magic, eye-popping, time-stopping magic.
The erect penis of an orca can reach more
than eight feet as this undersea image
suggests
. Art courtesy ChainedBirds


Each outing is different -- we've logged more than 100. Because of weather, waves, the boat's speed, ability of the naturalist and captain, mood and travel patterns of the whales, you'll always see something new.
We've watched with awe these splendid creatures from Santa Barbara to Maui, Seattle to Iceland, Alaska to our winter base, San Diego.
OUR LAST five outings yielded spectacular sightings, although even with our practiced eyes, we didn't always have our cameras at precisely the right place and right time. We were so stunned to see orcas mating on a Wild Whales Vancouver outing, that we nearly forgot our mission. It was a magical adventure aboard the small, well organized company's sleek new Jing Yu vessel.
I grew up in Montana and have spent time on ranches, but the Wild Whales mating orca experience was a first.
Watching a humpback scoop up a huge mouthful of fish, to be filtered
through his baleen, is a magnificent sight.  We saw the birds circling first!
Accurate measurements of the erect orca penis are tough to make, because the whale's erect length can only be observed during mating.  We were lucky, our knowledgeable captain Michael said. There it was:  a huge penis above water, waiting for action (fellow passengers thought it was a squid or octopus.)  No, Michael assured us later, as his crew Luke and Christopher smiled. It was the male's sex organ. When the thrashing began, a female orca had answered the call.
Our knowledgeable  on-board naturalist, Amila, shared scholarly insights on the fast boat ride from Vancouver. She, too, had never experienced mating whales, but knows a lot about orcas.
WE HAD just crossed into U.S. waters, south of Vancouver, B.C., after two and one-half hours of a beautiful journey along Vancouver Island, into the sea pointed south. We saw a few humpbacks, and many orcas, including a family of four -- mother teaching baby orca, with another older juvenile and papa bringing up the rear.
Wild Whales Vancouver is tops.
About a 30-minute boat ride from Juneau, you'll be treated
 to diving whales -- here just a thrilling spot.
Headquarted on picturesque Granville Island with its pretty markets, restaurants and live music, it offers a nature-driven variety of whale watching tours into the Strait of Georgia and beyond. We also saw many seals and bald eagles.
EARLIER IN two-plus weeks of whale watching, we'd been thrilled with Puget Sound Express, which we boarded at Edmonds, Washington, after a pleasant coach pick-up from the Hyatt in Seattle.
In our whale watching days, we've been fortunate to see whales off the coast of Maui a half-dozen times.
Aboard Juneau Tours, Alex and Luke provided lively
commentary and a successful afternoon of viewing whales. 
We've seen the sperm and the blue, but never the elusive narwhal, known for his spectacular tusk.
Then in Alaska's chilly waters, we were thrilled to hear "Thar they blowed" aboard Juneau Tours. The majestic backdrop of the Chilkat Mountains and Juneau's Ice Field framed our whale watching there,  enhanced by other wildlife sightings -- bald eagles, playful harbor seals and plump Stellar sea lions, sea otters and black-tailed deer.
To be yards away from something greater than you, something far more powerful and more spectacular, is a humbling experience.
The fine mist from the humpback's spout as he feeds off Alaska's coast.
To think that man nearly brought this beautiful creature to extinction makes seeing a pod of seven humpbacks even more moving. To see several dozen orcas, as we did on Puget Sound Express then with Wild Whales Vancouver, is extraordinary.
ON OUR VARIOUS outings, we saw whales from five vessels -- aboard that small 15-passenger Juneau Tours vehicle, the 30-passenger Jing Yu speed boat out of Vancouver,  our 3,000-plus Explorer of the Seas on Royal Caribbean, a small motor boat and the sleek Puget Sound Express vessel, Chilkat.
WHALES INHABIT all Earth's major oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropical waters of the equator. Shamefully, man nearly destroyed them and sadly, several nations  still hunt them.
Cookie sets out on another whale-watching adventure.  This trip, we were lucky to have
five different experiences -- on vessels large and small -- all offering spectacular sightings.
Depending on species and migration patterns, some whales are abundant in some locations while absent in others. So look for other life, too. We loved watching sea lions lumber along the shores, and heave themselves on the buoys for sunshine.
THE SMALLER harbor seals were abundant in calmer waters.
Out of Seattle, our Chilkat naturalist prepped us through Puget Sound Express for a thrilling week on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. Humpbacks were the stars on our trip out of Juneau then again as we exited Tracy Arm Fjords and headed back toward Victoria for the thrills with Wild Whales.
For all our our whale adventures -- from Seattle, to Juneau, to British Columbia -- we reveled in gorgeous weather and bountiful, close-up whale sightings, enhanced by expert crew curious and friendly fellow passengers from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil.
We recommend whale watching on vessels large and small for eye-popping thrills. Shop around to find the vessel and tour that suits you best.
You'll be happy to join the humpback's song, singing the praises of "hunting" these magnificent creatures with cameras, not weapons of destruction.
Mesmerizing glasswork awaits at Dale Chihuly's Seattle museum.

UP NEXT: Enchanting Chihuly -- We visit the master's museum in Seattle where Dale Chihuly's "Garden and Glass"  visionary artwork is dispayed.  The Northwesterner's creativity shines through in gorgeous glass exhibits both indoor and outdoors -- right next to Seattle's landmark Space Needle. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us weekends for more artful, nature-driven travel adventures.



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