Below is the first in a series of posts related to AK Fam’s recent cruise aboard the Wilderness Discoverer, one of several InnerSea Discoveries vessels sailing around southeast Alaska.
It was an “almost-sound” that woke me. A steady, quiet noise unlike that of boat engines, the hum of which had lulled me to sleep the night before. This was different, and although the clock read 5:50 a.m., my curiosity kicked me out of bed, boots in one hand and camera in the other.
A briny, foggy morning greeted my senses as I carefully slid open the door to our cabin, stepping into my XtraTufs to avoid damp socks so early in the day. As I pulled the door shut, a sudden “whuff”, then another, drew my gaze toward the passage through which we were slowly cruising. Just below my boot tops, not 20 feet away, were two humpback whales, mother and calf, hugging the shoreline and at times, each other, as they searched for food in the cold Alaska water. Humpbacks migrate to southeast Alaska each spring to fill their stomachs before making the long journey to Hawaii or Mexico and a winter of non-eating. Sometimes noshing up to 20 hours per day, these gentle Pacific giants were a common sight during our trip, and a reminder to everyone that we do indeed share the planet with creatures more powerful than we.
Blessed with a captain whose passion centers around Humpbacks, their habits and habitats, passengers aboard the Wilderness Discoverer were treated to near-daily encounters with whales, often at a most intimate level of understanding. Jeff Kalbach, captain of our boat and a wintertime whale researcher, was able to explain the intricacies of these whales, often turning the boat completely around and following a certain group as they sought herring, krill, and other tasty Alaskan treats to satisfy their nearly insatiable appetites. Hours slid by as every single passenger and available crew member found space to view the whales, marveling at their intelligence, especially when the group began cooperative bubblenet feeding, a learned behavior currently believed to be known by only 17 humpbacks (yes, readers, out of a few thousand whales, a mere 17 are masters of this skill).
A significant pack of children were also aboard this particular ISD boat, and although the trip wasn’t officially designated as a “family cruise”, Wilderness Discoverer’s crew labored on a daily basis to ensure the kids, ranging in age from 6 to 16, experienced Alaska as it was meant to be – from a completely wild, raw perspective. Whale behavior was just one of the natural scenarios these kiddos were able to witness, including the dynamics of feeding a group of 10 unrelated whales and one calf who was relegated to the outskirts of the party while mom worked her flukes off to secure breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her one-ton baby.
No glide-by cruise of any means, passengers aboard an InnerSea Discoveries trip are treated to daily excursions that engage the body and brain, young people included, and our week provided ample time to dig around an intertidal zone, taste salty water splashing up from kayak paddles, and hike among wild blueberry patches, bear scat sitting in a heap at our feet. We saw the violence of nature, too, in the form of wild rainstorms, flopping salmon in the jaws of a brown bear, and a wide-eyed seal locked in the grip of an Orca whale. Life is like that, sometimes, Captain Jeff explained to the equally wide-eyed kids. Knowing the reasons why, and continuing to investigate nature’s soft -and hard- parts is so important to discovering who you are, or will become.
Like hearing an “almost-sound” and waking up early in the morning, maybe.
Un-cruise. It’s what to do in Alaska.