Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Whale of a Tail

Since we arrived in Alaska, we have been seeing more than our fair share of whales. On our last trip to Alaska, we saw a lot of whales in Fredrick Sound, and looked forward to getting there again in hopes of a repeat performance. After passing through Petersburg and entering Fredrick Sound this year, we were not dissapointed. As we made our way north, we were seeing up to several dozen whales each day, making whale watching pretty exciting, and navigation equally exciting when they would surface close to the boat or gather into groups making it challenging to get past. We have continued to see large numbers of whales in Stephens Passage, Lynn Cannal, Chatham Channel, and Icy Strait. It got to the point where my log entry for August 1 read: Left Hoonah Harbor, had to avoid a whale just outside the breakwater. Soon after, had to avoid a whale at the entrance to Port Frederick. Had to avoid additional whales, one breeching, in Icy Strait near The Sisters Islands. Used the channel inside Rocky Island to avoid whales just outside Swanson Harbor. Steep waves from southerly winds make it hard to see the whales while crossing Chatham Channel. Had to detour around southern part of Funter Bay before anchoring to avoid large group of whales inside bay.
That was just one fairly short afternoon trip.

Most of the whales we see are humpback whales, although we do see gray whales and orcas on occasion as well. Just the misty cloud from a whale breathing is a treat to see, but we have been lucky enough to see the full range of acrobatics. Tail slapping, fin waving, spy hopping, breeching and bubble-net feeding are all parts of the activities we have witnessed.
A few weeks ago we were talking to some other sailors and found out that a sailboat had just been sunk by a whale outside Hoonah. One of the customers from my business lives in Hoonah, and because there are not many sailboats in the small communities here I was concerned it might have been him they were talking about. He didn't answer his phone, so for the next several weeks we continued to wonder until we got a chance to visit Hoonah. Thankfully it turned out that it wasn't his boat, they had been in Europe for the past several weeks, but he did know the people that had lost their boat. Nobody is quite sure what happened, but the owners think the whale may have hit the keel hard enough to shear it off or severely bend it, and the boat filled with water and sunk so quickly they didn't even have time to put on survival suits. They were lucky enough to have another local boat close by to pull them from the water, but the boat was a total loss. The incident has definitely made us much more cautious around whales. Just to keep things in perspective, the name of the boat that sunk was "Ishmael".

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