Thursday, August 22, 2019

This is Whale Watching with UnCruise

The whale action has been intense lately in Southeast Alaska. I've been traveling the waterways of Alaska's Inside Passage
  on the luxury adventure cruise ship Safari Quest. I absolutely love getting people out with the humpback whales on our small skiffs. The low vantage point, almost water level, gives a whole new perspective of how big these animals really are. When you are in a small inflatable boat the size of a suburban, and you are surrounded by animals the size of city school buses you can't help but feel in awe of their sheer size and power.

Today was one of those lucky days where we had so many close humpback whale encounters from the skiff, and the water conditions were so calm, that I was able to get a bit creative in my whale photography. We were able to position our skiff to view the diving humpback whale in between us and the Safari Quest. I always like to think about the backgrounds in my pictures to see if I can use anything to help tell more of a story or give it more of a sense of place. 

  I know the passengers on board this week will always remember this experience...especially since we also got to see killer whales during the same skiff tour! You can read about that experience and see photos here: Killer Whales From Water Level Post

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Leaping Humpbacks

  Things are hopping here in Southeast Alaska at the moment, and by 'things' I mean 80,000lbs humpback whales! Frederick Sound in the middle of the Inside Passage seems to be the place to be. At one point last week we were surrounded by the leviathins. However one whale stepped up to really steal the show. So much so, that at one point a whale swam under our bow and hardely anyone took notice because they were still watching the showoff.

Whale Photos
  Once or twice a year I come across a humpback who breaches over and over again. I talk about these rare occasions during my photography talks. These repetitive breaches are a photographeres dream come true. It is still quite hard to determine where and when they might breach next but they give you multiple chances and you have some idea of what distance away they might be. Eventually everyone on the bow was able to snap at least a few pictures of this great whale as it breached away the afternoon. 

  I often get asked where do the whales breach the most, in Hawaii or Alaska. Its always a toss up, although today Alaska really took the cake.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mom and cubs
  I havn't seen a lot of brown bears yet this season but this one encounter more than made up for it. We were exploring the shoreline of Baranof Island, one of the ABC Islands famous for their dense population of brown bears.

   We had seen a few bears from a distance, but nothing up close. That is before we rounded the point of a peninsula jutting out and came almost face to face to with a family of Ursus Arctos, or brown bears. A mom with three cubs was hanging out on the rocks. They didn't seem too bothered by us drifting by, or our other skiff motoring up to join us in the show.

  The cubs occasionally wrestled a bit while momma bear snagged a salmon out of the water every few minutes. We were near the Hidden Falls Hatchery so the salmon return is quite plentiful here. The entire family of bears looked very well fed. 

Brown bear cub antics

  We all delighted in the encounter. It was another experience of being all alone with the wildlife which Alaska is so amazing at offering. We stayed with the family for a good 20 minutes before heading back to the boat...anxious to see what our photographs looked like.

   There's nothing quite like a good brown bear encounter from a skiff. It is the perfect way to get close and feel comfortable to a 600lbs predator. Everyone felt very lucky.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Northern Lights in August!

  I still can't believe it. We had a couple of very clear nights last week as we sailed the Safari Quest through Southeast Alaska. Not only did that bring some beautiful sunsets, but one night it brought something even rarer, Aurora Borealis!

   To see the Northern Lights you need a combination of factors. You need a clear night sky, darkness, and a perfectly timed release of charged particles by the sun. There are a few apps out there that are getting better at predicting the chances and intensity of the northern lights, however just getting a clear night sky is a task in itself here in Alaska. It is the rainforest, which means low hanging clouds almost all the time. Plus it is still summer, so the days are long, and the nights not very dark.

  Our night deckhand shocked me with a midnight wake up call for northern lights. I lept out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed my camera and bolted up on deck. I was amazed further at the intensity of the lights. They stretched from horizon to horizon, clearly visible with the naked eye. They persisted until everyone had had enough and slipped back into the beds.

  Not too shabby for my last week up in Alaska this season. 

  You can read about the first time I saw northern lights here, back in 2015.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Huge Glacier Calving Caught on Tape

  It takes a lot for me to switch from still photography to video mode on my Canon 5d but this event was worth it. We had spent the morning kayaking up to Dawes Glacier from about four miles back. We weaved our way through the ice, sometimes hearing small calving events that still sounded like thunder off in the distance ahead of us. When we finally got closer I was able to capture the end of a huge calving event including a couple of shooters rising up from below, with our skiff in the foreground for a little perspective.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Orca Encounter from Water Level

Orcas from Water Level

    Today was our morning to cruise for charismatic megafauna, aka really cool big animals, in the whale rich waters of Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska. We were nearing a group of islands called the Brothers Islands which are well known for having a stellar sea lion haul out. I often like to take the small groups aboard the Safari Quest to these islands and then get a more intimate experience by loading into our small skiffs. As we neared the islands this morning however, I knew it was going to be a skiff ride to remember.

   As we slowed down the Quest to load the skiffs the captain and I were both looking in the opposite direction from our destination islands. Sure enough there they were again, surfacing and heading our way. It was a pod of transient orcas, or killer whales. I can count the number of times I’ve seen orca from a skiff on one hand, so I was anxious to load everyone up. We quickly got all the guests into their lifejackets, onto the two skiffs, and off we went. A skiff ride to remember indeed!

   The orca circled around us for what seemed like an eternity. What they were actually circling was a distressed male sea lion. It looked like they may have injured it as it was having difficulty breathing and wasn’t trying to escape. But in the end the orca mysteriously left it behind as they eventually started moving out heading south across the sound. At one point the orca disappeared for a few minutes and then popped up with a loud ‘whoooosh’ about 10 feet behind our little skiff. It took everyone by surprise, myself included. It felt good not to be a sea lion in that moment. 

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