Whale Watching – Coastline, Alaska
While planning a trip to Alaska one of the things that you will want to make sure you schedule is time to go watch the whales along the coastline of Alaska. There are different times to see the various whales from when they begin their migration from the warm waters of Mexico in February and arriving in Alaska waters in April. There are also various species of whales that can be seen throughout Alaska during the months of May – September. The best way to see them is to take a tour that is specifically structured to show you these magnificent mammals.
If you are interested in seeing the Gray whales you will probably want to be in Ketchikan, Kitka, Kodiak or Seward during the months of April and May. During this time they are moving to the far north Alaska water of the Bering Sea and are usually there by late April. The name for the gray whales comes from its mottled gray body color. They fiercely defended their calves and themselves against whalers, thus earning the nickname “devilfish”. This whale is now known for its curiosity. The gray whale is a baleen whale. The average length for the male gray whale is 39 feet with female being slightly larger. They live for over 40 years.
These entertaining whales can be seen standing on their head in shallow water. They occasionally will raise their heads above the water and check out what is around them. They usually travel alone or in small groups except furing feeding and mating time when they form together in larger groups. These are the whales that breach creating a loud noise and big splash. Certainly something to see. Now, whether they do this to communicate or to free themselves of the of some of the sea lice or barnacles from their skin isn’t truly known.
The Gray Whale is the only baleen whale to be bottom feeders. They eat tub worms, plankton, mollusks and small crustaceans found in the sediment on the bottom of the ocean.
The Beluga whales can be seen along Cook Inlet going south from Anchorage along what is known as Turnagain Arm in the spring through fall months. These whales are able to be viewed year round in the southern Alaska waters of Shelikof Strait between Katmai National park and the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island.
The Beluga whale is still on the Endangered Species List where it was entered in 2008. At the latest count there are only 321 Beluga whales left in the cook inlet, down from 1,300 in 1979.
The famous Humpback Whales can be seen during the summer months in the Barren Islands between Homer and Kodial. June and July are the best months for seeing these enormous whales. Over 500 of them make Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage their home during the months of summer. So, when you want to see them you will want to plan on lining up a tour during the spring, summer and fall when they are in the cooler waters around Alaska.
Humpback’s are usually found in groups of four to five but generally travel and feed individually. Humpback whales breech, throwing themselves completely out of the water. You may also see them swimming on their back with both flippers in the air. They are known for tail lobbing, raising its huge fluke out of the water and slapping it on the water surface. Researchers believe this is a form of communication as the slaps can be heard for long distances underwater.
If you are going to be in Alaska’s northern and eastern areas of the Gulf of Alaska in July and August you may be able to see the Blue whales. You will need to take a tour to see them since they are more often seen in open water and rarely near the shoreline.
The Blue whale is the largest of all whales and most notably it is the largest animal on earth today. It can grow to be 110 feet long and weigh in excess of 200 tons. The baby blue whale drinks approximately 100 gallons of its mother’s fat rich milt every day for the first seven months of its life.
They are dark blue in color. They migrate away from Alaska in the winter months to warmer waters off Baja California where they mate and give birth to their young. They are known to live up to 90 years but have an average lifespan expectancy of 35 to 40 years. They are loners and travel most often alone of in small pods of two or three. They are known to often have Fin whales with them. The Fin is the second largest whale species.
You may be able to see the blue whales in the Bering Sea with larger concentrations around the Aleutian Islands. These whales were near extinction but are now making a come back.
Have you heard of the Killer whales? These are the Orca whale and are in the area between early May to early June with some being spotted during the months of June through September. They are usually seen near Seward in the waters of Resurrection Bay.
These are actually a member of the dolphin family. They are the largest, fastest and most powerful members of the dolphin family. They are called killer whales because they are great hunters. These are social animals and live in family-related pods which may have as many as 40 members.
They eat sea lions, fish, squid, seals, penguins, dolphins, porpoises and large whales like the blue whale. Resident pods that live in primarily in one area seem to prefer fish whereas pods that are more transient prefer a variety of marine animals. They are successful hunters because the whole pod participates and works together while hunting.
During the summer months, from June to September, the northern resident whales can generally be seen from northern Vancouver Island to Alaska. They prefer to live in coastal waters in cooler regions.
The orca or killer whale is readily identified. With it’s pointed dorsal fin of up to 6 feet tall and shiny black and white bodies typically sporting a white patch behind the eyes.
There are many Whale watching tours available in Alaska. Depending on where you are going and which ones you are most interested in you will be able to find the right tour operator for your needs.