Bay of Pillars

Jun 20, 2019 - National Geographic Venture

This morning we sailed into Bay of Pillars. We were half expecting to be sailing through the legs of Zeus, or some giant ruin of ancient pillars. Well, so much for our imagination – Alaska is not ancient Greece. Alaska is about beautiful forests and majestic mountains, and the Bay of Pillars did not disappoint us in that respect.

We set anchor and the staff set out to reconnoiter the shore and find a good landing spot to take advantage of such a scenic place. They did well and we landed on shore on a small island that was a wonderland of pastures with beautiful wildflowers and a pristine forest that stirred the imagination.

Today was a day of exploration, and our naturalists would be venturing out to new areas they had not visited before, fortunately, they took us in tow. It was an extremely low tide today, so one of the walks took the opportunity to go exploring in the tide pools. It is amazing what creatures are to be found in the intertidal zone. The most adventurous of us took to a bushwhacking hike into the unknown. We watched as the intrepid explorers disappeared into the bush, and happily all reappeared at the end of their hike. There were also shorter, less adventurous hikes. All were worth the effort.

So went the morning. All of us were quite pleased with our day and thought whatever the afternoon brought us would be fine. As we motored toward our next destination, someone on the bow spotted a bear. Then there was a second, and then there was a third. Wow, things were looking good. Then as we were watching the bears, a call went out that whales had been spotted up ahead. Off we went expecting to see a few whales. We had had pretty good whale watching so far, but none of us, including the naturalist staff were prepared for what was ahead.

In Alaska, humpback whales are known for their cooperative feeding behavior called bubble netting. It’s a process where one whale swims in a circle while blowing bubbles to coral herring. At the same time, another whale calls out with a loud voice which further concentrates the small fish. Then yet another whale flashes its long pectoral flippers keeping all the fish in line for the entire group of whales to swim through the center with their mouths agape, allowing them to get as many of the little herring into their mouths. It is incredibly exciting and the sound of clicking cameras was constant. What made this day special however was that there was not only one group of whales doing this behavior, there were four distinct groups feeding in this way!

To see so many whales cooperating in an effort to gather food was no less than remarkable, and no one on board had ever seen that many groups bubble feeding in the same place. It is hard to imagine the excitement felt by everyone on deck.

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About the Author

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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