Saginaw Bay and Chatham Strait, SE Alaska

Aug 29, 2017 - National Geographic Quest

For those who woke early from a restful slumber, the morning greeted them with a lovely colorful beginning of the day sunrise.  Scattered clouds provided texture to the pastel colors of the rising sun.  To the west the soft morning light dappled the snow patches on the mountains of Baranof Island.  Those that slept in would probably see photos of the day’s beginning from their shipmates.

Our destination for the morning activities was the northwest corner of Kuiu Island. The rocky coastline of Saginaw Bay is indent with a more protected small bay called Halleck Harbor where the Captain anchored National Geographic Quest.  Today protected harbors were not really a requirement for activities, because it was absolutely calm and the sky was only spotted with high wispy clouds – spectacular weather conditions for kayaking and hikes along the shore and into the fringing forest.  Interest in kayaking was high so two rounds were scheduled.  For those not kayaking at the time or just wanting to walk ashore, naturalist staff organized hikes to experience the natural history of the receding tide and the edge of the forest.  By mid-day all were back from various locations and the kayaks were returned to the ship.

Soon after getting underway and as lunch was finishing, not more than a mile from the anchorage, a group of humpback whales were spotted.  People filled the decks to observe our first experience with feeding whales.  After the group of 5 or 6 whales finished replenishing their lungs, all would fluke as they went under the water surface.  Then a few minutes later an explosion of whale mouths would break the surface as they gobbled small fish.  This was followed by gulls of a couple species looking for scraps or stunned fish.  We watched for a period of time, and a couple of staff members used a hydrophone to listen in on the whale activities.

Moving across Frederick Sound to Chatham Strait we met Dr. Fred Sharp who has been working on humpbacks in the area for many years.  As we watched a different group of whales cooperatively feeding, Dr. Sharp explained what was going on and how he conducts research on the whales.  The afternoon was lovely, watching whales in sunshine and calm winds and seas.  We said goodbye to the research team and continued northward in Chatham Strait.

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About the Author

Bud Lehnhausen


Bud received an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University. He then immediately went to Alaska where he worked and lived for 30 years. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Bud studied wildlife biology and received a master's degree conducting research on four species of alcid seabird nesting on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.

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