24 hours to seek out whales, otters & humpbacks
Alaska is one essentially the most unimaginable locations to see wildlife and regardless of its vastness it’s doable to have close-up encounters with among the world’s most iconic species right here. I travelled there final summer season basically to observe 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 making an attempt to identify among the different unimaginable creatures Alaska has to supply: particularly, 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 certain I used to be up early to get the chance to tick these encounters off my bucket checklist. At 4.30am, it was nonetheless darkish once I climbed into his boat and commenced loading up my digicam tools and the solar was simply rising as Joe steered us in 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 mushy, a quiet trilling that crammed the air as we received nearer.
I grabbed my binoculars, amazed to see so many bald eagles roosting collectively. The birds right here have been non-breeding eagles, starting from adults whose chicks had already fledged, to birds who had not bred that 12 months, and children nonetheless to mature. The juveniles have been straightforward 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since these younger eagles don’t develop a full head of white feathers till they’re about three and a half years outdated.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 goal, permitting these birds the advantages of communal residing through 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 generally known as eyries and will be big constructions 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 have been straightforward to identify since they have been aged between eight and 10 weeks outdated and have been virtually as massive 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 generally known as mustelids. This group additionally consists of the weasel household. They group collectively within the water in ‘rafts’ and are even recognized 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 often 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 as a result of the truth that it’s so chilly there.
These pups have been only some 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 mushy fur of their moms was actually fairly endearing. Sea otters eat a variety of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans and are one in all only some species that use rocks as instruments to crack open the shells of crabs, snails and shellfish.
Fascinatingly, they’re recognized to maintain this rock in a fold below their armpit, in order 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 below 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 another 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 attempting to find fish beneath and so we watched, tense with anticipation. Then certain sufficient a whale breached, utilizing its highly effective tail fin to launch out of the water. Whales have to breath air and can resurface now and again. 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 at the least 25 occasions, dwarfing our boat as they heaved themselves above the waves. Then we heard a giant 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 once they breach may very well be a ‘social sound’, serving to teams talk over lengthy distances.
When humpbacks need to get someplace shortly they journey at some velocity, staying near the floor to breathe extra simply. This is called porpoising and as soon as this pod determined to maneuver on it wasn’t lengthy earlier than that they had swum out our sight.
By this time it was beginning to get darkish and time to go again to base. As Joe steered the boat residence, 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 evening in blankets.
Because the solar set a fiery pink 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 lovely cubs – all in someday. There’s little doubt about it, Alaska actually is a magical place.