18 Aug 2015--Last Thursday, the 13th of August, we took a boat tour to Juneau from Haines and had another incredible experience. The day started at about 8AM, when you see us here approaching the Haines boat docks with this beautiful display of fog out over the water and mountains.
It turned out to be a gorgeous day weather wise, so although it started with the fog, (it was so thick at times you couldn't even take a picture), eventually it broke and the scenery just kept getting better and better. And I couldn't tell you how many glaciers we passed.
Once we could see through the fog, we were entertained twice with pods of humpback whales doing what is called "bubble net" feeding. I will explain that shortly, but in essence we were supposed to see whales on the return trip, so we were surprised with seeing any on the way out. Here you can see in the 2nd pic 2 adults diving while a baby trails behind, then 2 more adults in the 3rd & 4th pics, and finally the only pic we got now at the tail end of the whales feeding. Trying to catch the action on camera is hard at first because you are looking 360 degrees at a vast ocean (haha), but we got much better at it later on the trip back to Haines, so that is coming.
As we came into the port in Juneau you could see down into the water at the shoreline...look at all the salmon gathered to spawn in just this one spot!
Alaskans love their plants, probably because their season to grow them is so short, I guess! We still can't figure out why Juneau is the capital of the state; the only way to get here is by boat or plane, so you can't say the vast majority of people have access to their leaders. We were told that the first part of Alaska to be inhabited was the southeast shoreline, which makes sense, and now the people here don't want it moved to the actual population centers of Anchorage or Fairbanks. That is Mount Roberts in the background, with lots of waterfalls flowing!
Only becoming a state in 1959, but being a US territory prior to that, the capitol building and other state office buildings were all formerly-owned federal buildings, so they are boring, at best! One little fun fact: Alaska is so big, it averages only one person per square mile! In comparison, Texas has 96.3, Florida has 350.6, and Massachusetts has 822.7 persons per square mile.
We only had about 3 hours to walk around town and get some lunch, so we weren't upset that the capitol was so boring...haha...it saved time in getting to see the rest of town!
We have seen this sculpture before, and thought it an interesting native belief. I don't know how they know who is a raven and who is an eagle at birth, but I guess it works for them. haha
Believe it or not, Juneau is the biggest city in the world, with 120 miles of coastline. But it has one main road that run a total of 48 miles, so the permanent population is only about 30,000 people. They can certainly pack the crowds in come summer though, when up to five of the huge cruise ships come into port on a daily basis. And as you can see, the ships are literally "in" town!!! The last cruise leaves port on 24 September each year, and this main shopping street shuts down completely that very same day! (I put this postcard in here because I was going to name all the places on it that we have been to, but let's just sum it up with "most of them!")
A "healthy" crepe for lunch? Not sure, but it was good! haha
Small float planes are all pervasive in Alaska...seems like there are as many of them here as there are cruise ships, in what most places would be boat slips.
The next part of the tour took us to Mendenhall Glacier, right outside Juneau. Believe it or not, at some point you are thinking "if you have seen one, you have seen them all", haha...not really, I guess!!! They are honestly beautiful, and the only thing we did not get to do while in Alaska that we wanted to do is what they are doing in the last pic in this group...we would have loved to kayak among the icebergs, but the time or weather was never quite right!!!
I am standing in the visitor center taking this picture, so you can see the window frame and therefore the point the glacier used to reach in 1935.
Back to our dock we go...this is the bay where I am standing and looking out at the ocean as we all prepare to board the catamaran for the trip back to Haines.
OK...so, let the games begin!!! We were barely outside the port waters of Juneau when an explosion of humpback whale activity occurred. Over the next hour or so we must have witnessed at least 8-10 "bubble net" feeding episodes...it seemed no matter where we looked the whales were feasting! All we had to do was follow the birds, and wait for them to start diving. Here are groups of 4-6 whales, young and old alike, having a field day so close to us you can't believe your eyes. Blow up the pics and you can count multiple whales in each...I especially love the last pic where you see 2 tails, and in between them 2 water spouts...even with "new math", that's 4 whales right there! haha
So what is bubble net feeding...the whales go under water and create an ever-tightening circle of air bubbles to "herd" the herring who gather in the "safety in numbers" theory. As the herring are forced to the top by the bubbles, the whales rise all together and scoop up as many of the herring as they can in one fell swoop. (Humpbacks are so powerful, they can swish their tails 3 times and go from 8 to 26 MPH!!!) What we learned to do from the captain was to watch the birds above us...once the birds started diving en masse, within about a second here came the whales screaming out of the water. It was, I believe, the most amazing thing we have ever seen!
And let me point out what you cannot see when this is happening in real time. The next 12 pics happened in about 3 seconds, but we will break it down into the individual shots Cathy got.
Blow up the pics, and see that in the first one there is a bird really close to the suddenly rising whales. Then in pic 2 the same bird says "yikes", while on the right side of the same pic you can see a baby whale emerging alongside the others. Now in pic 3, the bird can barely be seen but it is there, with wings downward, while the baby is even bigger.
Now in this 4th pic the bird is still making its getaway, and the baby is quite prominent, while in the 5th pic it looks like the bird is about to be swallowed and a new bird comes into the picture by the baby. Then in the 6th pic both birds are making their escape, but there is another adult whale visible by the 1st adults mouth.
In the 7th pic the 2nd bird looks like it is still a little close for comfort and the 2nd adult is even more prominent, the 8th pic has everyone in the clear, and the rest show them all slowly disappearing. And look how close that boat is to all this action in the last pic.
Was that crazy, or what!!!! Because all this happens so fast, we couldn't get a really good video of any one feeding episode, so Cathy put together all the above pictures in a video sequence of about a 1/2 second between pics that you can see all the stuff I pointed out in faster motion...this is totally cool!!! I have already watched it myself a dozen times. haha Last fun fact; did you know that when actively nursing, a baby humpback gains about 8 pounds an hour? That's almost incomprehensible!
Just a couple more pics here to show this boat load of people...looks like they are about to tip over with everyone coming to one side to see the action. haha
The show wasn't over, but we had to leave so we headed back, unfortunately, to Haines. On the way back we saw several Orca whales, and we loved the "synchronized" swimming, but in all honestly it paled in comparison to the feeding humpbacks. The ones waving their tails are babies, while the others are adults...we so hoped to see one completely jump out of the water, but after watching a while, we again had to move on.
Is this place pretty, or what?
I couldn't decide which of these I thought prettiest, so I put up all 3. haha What was interesting was that we actually passed this lighthouse in the morning, but due to the fog we never saw even a trace of it!
On the rocks at the base of the lighthouse were these seals...look how different their colors are.
Our captain and his daughter take us safely home and into Haines harbor.
I may be getting emotional because I know our time here in Alaska is winding down, but I just want to say, "Thank you, God, for making days like these possible!!!"