juneau, alaska, part ii

The best day of our cruise to Alaska was Jenn’s birthday. We got in to Juneau very early, and had booked ourselves onto a photography excursion.

The first half of the excursion was spent on Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier was mostly receded, and there were some interesting shots taken, but I’ll save those pics for another post.

The second half we spent out on Auke Bay, ostensibly in search of various seagoing wildlife. The guides talked about whales, but downplayed the possibility of a sighting: “Too early yet, they won’t be back.”

Motoring out onto the bay, we almost immediately spot a mother and calf pair.

(Unfortunately, I only had my crappy point-n-shoot Nikon Coolpix, so I’ve edited the relevant portions for your edification…)

mother and baby

The boat in this shot is the only other craft we saw on the whole bay that morning.

As the guide explained, the mother was teaching the baby to dive. Diving is in preparation for breach. The baby never breached, but did a lot of huffing and puffing.

As we were shooting this pair, we saw a large splash several hundred yards off in the distance. The guides were very vocal: “We’re supposed to do what the guests tell us to, but if I were you, I’d tell us to go see what that splash was about.” So then we were motoring off, and the first good sign was this tail:

tail

As we approached the whale, he turned around and began to run up the bay. We got another tail:

tail 2

And then, DISCO!

disco

And the splash…

splashdown

So, after a while, a pattern set in. He’d do the breathe and dive thing three times in a row, and on the third, he’d breach. By now I was shooting in action mode, and I was burning up batteries like crazy as the autofocus was almost continuously searching for something to focus on…

Still, all this was rewarded with several great shots of breaches:

breach

Sometimes my timing on the continuous fire would miss the sweet spot of the breach:

I got him a couple of times with just his head up:

head up

And there were several moments he spent lounging on the surface, waving his fins around, slapping them on the surface of the water and making massive booms:

flipper 1

flipper 2

flipper 3

flipper 4

He breached several more times. A couple of times, he breached right across our wake–I was too forward in the boat to get decent shots of that. But I still got several more breach shots:

breach

And another:

breach

And one of my favorites:

breach

That picture above is right at the end of the series of the whale. Just after that shot, he crested one more time, and then disappeared.

crest

All in all, it was an awesome experience. We followed this guy for close to two hours, during which he basically played and jumped and splashed as he pleased. He was very aware of us, and took off when he grew bored.

it is one thing to go to Sea World and see whales jumping to their training; it is something else entirely to see the animals doing it because they can.

I’ll post the rest of the awesome day of pictures in Juneau later. For now, I wanted to get the whale pix up. Your comments welcome!

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