Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sea Lions and Humpbacks

The first day of our cruise proved to be a triple header. After kayaking with icebergs and seals in the morning, we spent the afternoon zipping around Sail Island. Which really ought to be named Sea Lion Island, for all its Steller's sea lions (pictured at right with a flock of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds).

George Steller, by the way, was the chief naturalist on Vitus Bering's expedition from Russia to Alaska. Bering managed to get a sea named after him, while Steller had a knack for affixing his name to critters. Besides the sea lion, there are the Steller's jay, sea eagle, eider, sea cow (extinct), and the presumably imaginary sea ape.

At dusk, we encountered a dozen humpback whales feeding. The humpbacks of southeast Alaska are famous for their bubble-netting technique, in which they surround a school of herring with bubbles, drive them to the surface, and then dramatically engulf them. They often work as a team (as we witnessed a few days later), but on this summer eve, they were working solo over a wide area. At times, you could look in any direction and see a humpback feeding or diving to begin again.

We photographers quickly learned that most humpback photos feature their tails as they prepare to dive out of sight.

Note: the middle photograph is by another fellow traveler.

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