The abundance of Alaska's Wildlife is staggering.
Close viewing of humpback whales is almost a daily event during our cruises.Besides the humpback, other sea creatures frequently spotted are:
- Killer whales
- Minke whales
- Dall porpoises
- Sea Lions
- Sea Otters
- Alaskan brown bear
- Black bear
- Mountain goats
- Timber wolves
- Bald eagles
- Harlequin ducks
Captain Richard Friedman is a naturalist, accredited by the University of Alaska. Let us know about your interests and we will plan day hikes and special cruising days to view and photograph the wildlife you want to see.
On board the Alaskan Song, you have access to an extensive library of books about Alaska. We also have a night vision scope for our guests’ use. We also have a hydrophone on board allowing us to listen to the songs and other vocalizations of the whales.
Whales include the largest creatures our world has known. Blue whales weighed up to 200 tons before whaling days. Sixty to 100 million years ago the ancestors of today's whales were land dwelling, warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals that successfully returned to the seas to live.
Alaskan waters boast 10 species of baleen whales and five toothed whale species. You’ll find two of the baleen whales in Southeast Alaska's inside waters -- the minke and the humpback -- and one toothed whale, the orca. There have also been occasional sightings of beaked whales.
Marine biologists believe minke whales are migratory and more at home in the cold northern Alaskan waters than most baleen whales. (Baleen whales are named for how they feed). Cod and pollock are their main diet here. Farther south minkes favor krill.
Northern minke whales can grow to be 33 feet long but, despite their size, they are fast swimmers, making speeds up to 20 miles per hour. The rich meat of the minke whale makes it a target for modern whalers. Their North Pacific population appears to have declined to between one-fourth and one-third its pre-whaling numbers.
Orca whales feed on various marine animals, including fish, sea lions, seals, porpoises, sharks, squid, and other whales. Also called killer whales, orcas can hunt in teams and have killed blue whales, the world's largest animals. Male orca whales average about 23 feet long; the females less. They have no natural enemies.
Thought to be highly intelligent, orcas are readily trained in captivity. They can swim at a steady 29 miles per hour. Their distinctive, largely triangular dorsal fin may reach nearly 6 feet high on old males.
Humpback whales are the most acrobatic of whales, heaving their massive selves by leaps and turns out of the water. Humpbacks are both cosmopolitan -- found in all oceans -- and endangered. Only about seven percent of their pre-whaling numbers remain. Coastal feeders who love shorelines, bays, and fjords, they are naturals for Alaska, which boasts nearly 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline.
Humpbacks feed here on krill, shrimp, and various fish, including capelin. Humpbacks feed heavily because, unlike most birds and mammals, they do not feed year round. Humpbacks must store enough fat in summer to last the rest of the year. When they migrate to southern waters in the winter, they devote themselves to breeding and calving but eat very little, if at all. Adults average 40 to 50 feet long, females being the larger. Adults weigh in at about three-quarters of a ton per running foot.
An adult humpback has from 600 to 800 baleen plates in its mouth. These plates end in bristles. In the feeding process, huge masses of sea organisms are scooped into the mouth. Then the water, some 150 gallons at a shot, is expelled while the plates filter in the edibles. Were you to stare into a humpback's mouth -- which opens to 90 degrees -- you might not readily discount the Biblical mishaps of Jonah.
Southeast Alaska’s humpbacks have been observed working singly or in groups of up to 10 casting a "net" of bubbles about their prey, and then harvesting the hapless creatures -- probably shrimp and other slower-moving organisms -- caught in their airy illusion. To see these large whales in their native habitat surely counts as one of the great experiences of a lifetime.
The situation of whales, and particularly of the endangered humpback whales, in Southeast Alaska has recently been under intensive scrutiny by scientists. The purpose of the studies has been to learn enough about these awe-inspiring creatures to protect them. The numbers of whales present can vary dramatically from year to year. Whether these variations are wholly natural or not is uncertain. Historically, most of our information about whales derives from attempts to harvest them, not to save them from extinction.