Signs of spring are busting out across Alaska. From slushy streets to the return of wild birds from points south, Alaskans know the season called “Breakup” has indeed arrived. Kids dance in the mud puddles, and parents survey damage done to a winter’s worth of snow pants and mittens, smiling all the way.
How else do Alaskans know it’s time to put away the winter boots?
The whales are back.
First the gray whales appear, after a 5,000 mile journey from their calving grounds near Baja California. Sleek, grayish creatures, grays are the whale-without-a-dorsal-fin, and can be tough to spot as they slide through the chilly water on their way to the Bering Sea.
The humpback whales have also returned; in fact, a few were spotted in Resurrection Bay just a few days ago. The bubblenet feeding giants have fabulous flukes that seem to wave at visitors as they scramble for video cameras and smartphones to film the blowing, singing, and splashing. Humpbacks remain in the southeast (Inside Passage) and southcentral areas of Alaska for the summer, before heading back to Hawaii (as should we all) for a winter of feeding, calving, and general whale fun.
The black and white orca whale population will be just behind their larger cousins. A resident pod hangs out in Alaska all winter, but some do migrate south toward the Pacific Northwest before heading back during salmon season. Look for them a bit later in the spring.
This is a great opportunity to show off Alaska’s marine environment to kids; the crowds are thin, the roads are clear, and the sunshine, when it’s out, is simply spectacular. Between now and mid-May is prime time to take a day cruise, so read about a few of AKontheGO’s favorites for families.
Kenai Fjords Tours provides early-season whale and wildlife cruises that also add an element of geology, birding, and glacier expertise. Knowledgable crew and captains provide running commentary to guests aboard the comfortable catamarans for the 4-hour trips out of Seward, departing at noon. Over the course of 50 miles, guests can watch for sea otters, bears, mountain goats, tons of birds, sea lions, and those beautiful whales, checking them off the provided guide. A hearty lunch is served on board, and afternoon cookies bring even the most tired kids back to life. A free shuttle is provided from a downtown Seward parking lot, too, and motorcoach transport from Anchorage or Girdwood can be had for a fee.
We appreciated the attention to kids on board the Kenai Fjords boats, offering prime viewing spots on deck, and sharing a nice collection of books and maps to keep their attention. AK Kid enjoyed his experience very much, especially when the captain allowed him to steer the boat! Prices for 2013 springtime tours are $84/adults, $42/kids 2-11, including the lunch. Check website for dates and times.
Major Marine Tours also operates out of Seward, and provides a similar 4-hour gray whale cruise between now and May 12. With lots of crew to help your kids spot grays along the coastline, Major Marine also provides binoculars for easy viewing of other wildlife, too. AK Kid loved having his own binos with which to visually explore the rocky, windy shore for animals other than whales. While no lunch is served, hot drinks are available, and a snack bar sells some kid-friendly food. Major Marine can help arrange transportation from Anchorage or Girdwood. Adult tickets are $79/adults, $39.50/kids over 2.
Do remember our tips for day cruising with kids, including food, rain gear, warm hats/gloves and non-slip shoes, and entertainment, since 4 hours can feel like an eternity to some children. Arm yourselves with extra clothing if necessary, and consider bringing along soda crackers, ginger candy, or other home remedies for upset sea-tummies.
NOTE: Most of these early-season specials, for both companies, will end mid-May, so don’t delay!
Springtime in Alaska; just you, the whales, and a panaroma of 49th state wildness. Awesome.