Hello, my Name is Ora, owner of Alaskan Raven Charters, LLC, located in beautiful Hoonah, Alaska. I wanted to share a few pictures and a little information on the Humpback Whales that come to our backyard each year, making our home a little extraordinary! Every spring it is a very welcoming sight to see a flume of air burst out of the cold winterized water of Port Frederick and Icy Straits, giving the locals a calm reassurance that spring is on its way. As the weather warms and old man winter gives up the fight, more and more puffs of air start to rise out of the deep blue and disappear into the advancing spring promise.
Some whales do stay in these cold Alaskan waters during the winter, but most choose to migrate to Hawaii or Mexico to give birth to their young and continue the circle of life. At birth the average baby Humpback starts out at a meager 4,000 pounds and 11-13 ft. in length. This pales in comparison to the baby’s mother who at a full-grown average length of 42 feet (females being the larger of the two genders) weighs 84,000 pounds or 1 ton for every foot of length. Some have been known to reach lengths of 55 feet and 110,000 pounds!!! One story even boasts of a Humpback measuring 88 feet.
Here in Hoonah many of our “resident” whales do hang around in the waters of Port Frederick every now and again, but most of them stay in the waters of Icy Straits, and more specifically in the waters near Point Adolphus. Twenty minutes from Hoonah and directly across from Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve these waters hold the majority of the whales migrating to the Southeast waters. It is not uncommon to count 20-30 whales near and on the horizon at any given time during the summer months. The Humpback is normally a solitary creature traveling alone. Humpbacks gather in these waters near Point Adolphus mainly because of the abundance of feed, which mostly consists of herring and krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans). Waters rushing in or out from the Pacific Ocean during the tide change meet the inside waters doing the complete opposite. Here the waters collide and create a big tidal wash where feed, fish and predator all collide as well. Always nearby are the sea lions trying to get an easy meal. Most fishermen in the area believe the sea lion to be a nuisance as it lazily travels behind the boat stealing the daily catch. Sightseeing captains have found them to be a part of the show as they dive bomb around the boat and stretch up out of the water and bellow and belch. But just like in a zoo, the same rule applies in these waters, do not feed the animals! This creates bad habits and could end unfavorably for the sea lion, as it enforces its lazy decision to follow the boats. Eagles are another great spectacle in this unrehearsed show brought to you by Mother Nature. Dive-bombing out of the sky the Eagle is a skilled and precise machine snatching up the same herring the whale feeds on. Eagle nests are as abundant as the brown bear in this area (one per square mile). Life seems to start here in Icy Straits, or at the very least, it meets just long enough to continue a new cycle.
Whales live to be about 50 years old, although it’s hard to be certain, since it’s difficult to obtain a whale once it has expired. Each whale has a “fingerprint” on its tail (or fluke). These fingerprints are unique, each being distinguished by the size, grooves and color pattern of the tail. Scientists study these fingerprints and keep an extensive library of photos, a lot of them sent in by people on vacation just like you, tracking their movements and even speed of migration.
With all the studies being done mainly to protect this wonderful creature, very little is known about the Humpback. Under protection, the Humpback has made a slow increase in number, but early whaling nearly depleted this beautiful creature. Although Orcas and sharks are the main wild predators of the Humpback, humans have been the number one threat to this creature.
While researchers try to understand the reasons behind the song of the whale, why it slaps tail and fin on the water’s surface, we here in Hoonah actually enjoy the mystery of the Humpback. One of the most amazing mysteries of the Humpback is the magnificent display of power in what is known as the “breach.” Like a ballerina, this 45+ ton mammal flies out of the water as if it weighed next to nothing, cork screwing in the air, landing on its back and creating a wave you would have to see to believe. Never knowing when and where the whale will decide such a maneuver, the captain of each vessel is usually just as amazed and excited as the guest. I can attest to this fact, as I have never ceased to be amazed at the power and grace of this massive acrobat of the sea!
So when you come to Hoonah on the cruise ship, make sure you take the time to see the Humpback whale with one of the local sightseeing captains, or take a quiet kayaking trip and throw chance to the wind or tide that you just might fulfill that once-in-a-lifetime dream to actually paddle with real giants! Or if you have the time (and if you don’t, then make it!), stay a couple of days and do both. Flight seeing and wildlife road tours are also available in Hoonah. As the Humpback whale population grows, so does our appreciation for this gentle giant. Come to Hoonah and enjoy our little secret!
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