Chatham Strait and Hanus Bay, Alaska

Aug 06, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird

Wow, what an incredible last full day in Southeast Alaska! The morning began with a bang: We finally saw a group of humpback whales working cooperatively to catch herring using the bubblenet technique. Few people in the world have witnessed this rare and incredibly impressive behavior. What luck for us—and we hadn’t even had breakfast yet!

National Geographic Sea Bird pulled away from the whales; we had much more to explore for the day. We cruised south to Hanus Bay on Baranof Island where we enjoyed our morning activities. Some guests chose to explore the bay by expedition landing craft. They were rewarded with a great, close-up look at a bald eagle eating a freshly caught salmon. Many other guests chose to hike around the island. They took the well-maintained trail to Lake Eva that passes through a lovely temperate rain forest. Some of the massive Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees there are truly old-growth, having started their lives hundreds of years ago. Some highlights along the trail included sightings of river otter and two species of Pacific salmon—chum and sockeye—in the stream.

After yet another delicious lunch (including an ice cream sundae bar!), we left the bay and headed back to the area where we spotted humpback whales earlier. Before long, we were rewarded by the sight of a group of whales bubblenet feeding. Our great luck would continue, it seemed.

Initially, there was a group of five whales. Each time they fed, they would first display their graceful flukes as they dove deep, one by one. Then all of us on the ship’s bow—and pretty much everyone was out there—would hold our cameras at the ready and quietly scan the water around us, trying to anticipate where the great whales would emerge. Suddenly, there they were! Bursting forth with mouths agape and baleen flashing in a maelstrom of cold water. We were in awe every time this happened. More whales joined the group until there were 10 of them. They gave us the show that we were so hoping to see on this voyage: one of the great spectacles of the natural world.

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About the Author

Ivan Phillipsen


Ivan is a passionate naturalist with a background in scientific research. He has participated in studies of a diverse assortment of organisms: aspen trees, cactus wrens, aquatic snails, frogs, and beetles. He holds a M.S. in biology from Cal State San Bernardino and a Ph.D. in zoology from Oregon State University. The population genetics of freshwater animals was his area of focus. He has published a series of papers on the evolutionary biology of amphibians and aquatic insects. Ivan’s scientific work invariably involved backpacking into remote wilderness areas to find his secretive research subjects in their natural habitats.

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