24 hours to seek out whales, otters & humpbacks
Alaska is one probably the most unimaginable locations to see wildlife and regardless of its vastness it’s potential to have close-up encounters with a few of the world’s most iconic species right here. I travelled there final summer season basically to look at bears, of which there have been many, however on the finish of my go to I spent 24 hours exploring Kachemak Bay State Park close to Homer.
In that quick time, I set myself the problem of attempting to identify a few of the different unimaginable creatures Alaska has to supply: specifically, humpback whales, bald eagles and sea otters.
Guided tour of alaska
Fortunately I had a very good information who knew simply the place to take me. Joe Chmeleck, who owns The Lodge at Otter Cove, the place I used to be a visitor, made positive I used to be up early to get the chance to tick these encounters off my bucket listing. At 4.30am, it was nonetheless darkish once I climbed into his boat and commenced loading up my digital camera gear and the solar was simply rising as Joe steered us in the direction of close by Tutka Bay Lagoon.
A bald eagle roost
Right here Joe knew of a bald eagle roost. Fringing the lagoon, the place the water teemed with pink salmon, was a thick forest. It was so nonetheless as we approached, the timber offering good shelter from the wind. Then out of the gloom we noticed the white heads of dozens and dozens of eagles, dotting the darkish firs like Christmas decorations. The sound of their calls was surprisingly gentle, a quiet trilling that stuffed the air as we bought nearer.
I grabbed my binoculars, amazed to see so many bald eagles roosting collectively. The birds right here had been non-breeding eagles, starting from adults whose chicks had already fledged, to birds who had not bred that 12 months, and kids nonetheless to mature. The juveniles had been simple to identify, since these younger eagles don’t develop a full head of white feathers till they’re about three and a half years outdated.
Roosts like this serve a social objective, permitting these birds the advantages of communal residing throughout the winter months and it was superb to listen to the quiet contact calls between them. However what I actually needed was to see bald eagle chicks, so Joe cruised on to the place he had heard there was a nest. Eagle nests are referred to as eyries and will be big buildings however recognizing them excessive within the timber will be difficult.
Nonetheless as we approached I observed a feminine bald eagle flying with a fish in its beak. I adopted it with my binoculars and watched because it landed on a big nest. Excited to have discovered the nest, I zoomed in nearer. The chicks had been simple to identify since they had been aged between eight and 10 weeks outdated and had been virtually as large as their mom. Eagles share the care of their chicks, with the feminine spending most of her time on the nest and the male bringing in meals.
As I watched the feminine along with her chicks, this male carried a trailing clump of moss and positioned it into the nest. Bald eagles use the identical nest 12 months after 12 months and prime it up with new materials all through the breeding season and so I assume this one was bent on renovations that day.
After having fun with the eagles, we headed again to Otter Cove, this time to search for sea otters. Weighing as much as 45kgs, sea otters are among the many heaviest of a bunch of mammals referred to as mustelids. This group additionally contains the weasel household. They group collectively within the water in ‘rafts’ and are even identified to wrap themselves in sea kelp earlier than floating on their backs to make sure they don’t drift away and get misplaced.
We noticed 10 in a single raft, however some rafts can have as many as a thousand people. Rafts are normally made up of otters of all one intercourse, and with pups on this one, this was a bunch of females. In Alaska otter pups are sometimes born in late spring. That is a lot later than sea otters in different elements of the world and is probably going attributable to the truth that it’s so chilly there.
These pups had been just a few months outdated and their mums nonetheless carried them on their chests, floating on their backs to guard them from the chilly water. Pups are nursed on milk which is excessive in fat, just like seal milk, and to see them nestled within the gentle fur of their moms was actually fairly endearing. Sea otters eat a spread of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans and are one in all just a few species that use rocks as instruments to crack open the shells of crabs, snails and shellfish.
Fascinatingly, they’re identified to maintain this rock in a fold beneath their armpit, so that they don’t lose it. I’d heard of this, and though I watched one utilizing one other shell to open a butter clam, I didn’t see it use a rock, nor did I discover if it tucked the opposite shell beneath its arm afterwards. After a while watching the otter raft drifting, the water lapping gently at their sides, we headed out to sea.
There was nonetheless yet one more species I needed to see earlier than the tip of the day and earlier than lengthy earlier than Joe pointed to a whirligig of white within the distance. Gulls circling above the water are a very good indication that there are whales looking for fish beneath and so we watched, tense with anticipation. Then positive sufficient a whale breached, utilizing its highly effective tail fin to launch out of the water. Whales must breath air and can resurface from time to time. It signifies that when you’ve noticed one you simply want to attend and it’ll quickly reappear.
As we waited for this one to re-surface we observed there have been two extra humpback whales with it. Earlier than lengthy these whales additionally started breaching and I watched awestruck as these big mammals leapt away from the water not less than 25 occasions, dwarfing our boat as they heaved themselves above the waves. Then we heard an enormous blow as a whale surfaced proper subsequent to the boat. Humpbacks will be seventeen metres lengthy and weigh as much as 30 tonnes and the splash they made as they landed sprayed our boat greater than as soon as. Analysis suggests the slap of water they make after they breach might be a ‘social sound’, serving to teams talk over lengthy distances.
When humpbacks wish to get someplace shortly they journey at some pace, staying near the floor to breathe extra simply. This is named porpoising and as soon as this pod determined to maneuver on it wasn’t lengthy earlier than they’d swum out our sight.
By this time it was beginning to get darkish and time to move again to base. As Joe steered the boat house, we handed extra rafts of sea otters and even noticed some drifting gently on the waves with their younger on their chests, wrapped in sea kelp as if tucked up for the night time in blankets.
Because the solar set a fiery crimson over the water, I mirrored on my 24 hours in in Kachemak Bay State Park. I had seen a once-in-a-lifetime humpback whale show, watched bald eagle chicks of their nest and loved shut ups of otters with their lovable cubs – all in in the future. There’s little doubt about it, Alaska actually is a magical place.