USA: Alaska #5 A Whale of a Welcome

When I woke early on the morning of 22nd June, 2015 and popped my head out of the door to see where we were, I saw that we were in a very special place.


In the dawn’s early light © JT of jtdytravels; P1130527

The dawn’s early light was just enough to pick out the snow covered mountains beyond the channel we were passing through. The air was fresh and the peace of the place filled me joy.

As I stood there in my reverie, and I might add, dressed only in my nighty, I was startled to hear a voice beside me. ‘Why don’t you get dressed; whales ahead!’ I turned to see one of the ship’s officers standing beside me. I don’t believe I have ever thrown clothes on as quickly in a long time. Leaving David slumbering, I was soon standing in my special spot, on the walkway just in front of the wheel house looking at some bubbles in the water!


Whale surfacing © JT of jtdytravels; P1130535

A spray of water, a grunt and a hump slowly arose from the water right in front of the ship. Then, quietly and gracefully, the whale slipped away again.


Curtain of water drops © JT of jtdytravels; P1130536

A few seconds later; another whale; very close. A flick of the fluke and a curtain of water droplets, and it too was gone beneath the water. How good was that for early morning of our first day aboard “Sea Lion”. But that was just the start!


Sun rise © JT of jtdytravels; P1130528

I hurried back to our room to waken David as others appeared on deck, most with a warming cup of coffee in hand, or a very long lens camera. It was now 5.46am. The sun had risen over the mountains and was sending a long golden shaft of light across the water.

I was standing just outside our door at the railing of the deck. The ship had all but stopped. Everything was very quiet. Then something magical happened.


Whale tail in morning sun © JT of jtdytravels; P1130530

A whale appeared right in the midst of the sparkles of sunlight on the water.

Then, silently, it was gone.


Golden shimmer on water © JT of jtdytravels; P1130533

But it left behind a golden shimmer on the still waters…

the water seemed to turn to molten gold.


Whale spouting © DY of jtdytravels; P1100241

David was quick to catch the next whale spouting in that golden light.

How many people only see whales spouting far out to sea?

Here, they were right beside us.

We could hear them.


Whale tail in sunlight © DY of jtdytravels; P1100275

Very soon we realised that we were surrounded by whales.

Seventeen were counted!

This was a truly remarkable experience.

And the early morning sunlight just added an extra special touch.


Sunlight on predominantly white fluke © DY of jtdytravels; P1100261

Sunlight seemed to make this fluke glow!

It’s a predominantly white fluke with just touches of black.


A white with black fluke; © JT of jtdytravels; P1130537

Another white fluke but with more black. This is an important difference.

Scientists recognise individual whales by their under fluke patterns; for these are the whale’s ‘fingerprint’. Each whale is different. These distinctive patterns allow the story of each individual whale to be documented. Young whales, brought all the way from Hawaii to South East Alaska by their mothers, will always make the annual return to South East Alaska. And they, in turn, will bring their calves. So the tale of whales relies heavily on patterns on tails!


Black and white fluke pattern © JT of jtdytravels; P1130550

Other flukes are more black than white in pattern.


Black and white fluke pattern © DY of jtdytravels; P1100244

A very different black and white pattern; it’s quite distinctive.


Sun on black and white fluke © DY of jtdytravels; P1100254

And yet another; we did have seventeen different whales around us.


A black fluke © JT of jtdytravels; P1130540

This all black fluke is not so easily identified. Researchers have found that almost 50% of flukes recorded are all black. So they have to identify them by the the width of the notch between each fluke.

Whale Fluke Patterns

Whale Fluke Patterns from Humpback Whale Research Program

Whale researchers of the group “Humpback Whales of South East Alaska” are compiling a Fluke ID Catalogue. Since they began the project in 1979, they have compiled a photographic record of 1,900 different whale flukes. That’s pretty impressive. These are just nine of them.   Every fluke sighted is given an identification number. This research group encourages visitors like us to send in our photos of whale flukes with place, date and time of the sighting. Every sighting and photo adds greatly to their research data. Who knows… we may have found a new whale amongst our sightings as there were mothers and babies together in the group.

You can see more flukes and more about the life of humpback whales on the web site for ‘Humpback Whales of South East Alaska”. (Link at the end of this post.)


Top side of whale’s fluke © DY of jydytravels; P1130556

How amazing to spend a couple of hours with whales so close. The big ships sail through at night and miss out. Even if they see whales, they just keep going to meet their next port deadline. Not us! We had no real deadline. Our Captain could respond to whatever the day brought. He, too, enjoyed the encounter. We had time to quietly observe these wonderful animals; animals so big, they are a third the length of our entire ship! What a priviledge.


Curtain of water droplets © JT of jtdytravels; P1130544

Like everyone else on board, we were mesmerised by this display. But eventually, our Captain called “Time!” and turned the ship towards our next destination. Breakfast was ready and it was a very happy group who farewelled the whales and trouped down to the dining room.

What a way to begin an expedition!

Our thought for the day comes from Pierce Brosnan

“We owe it to our children to be better stewards of the environment.

The alternative? – a world without whales.

It’s too terrible to imagine.


Jennie and David

All photographs copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

Photographs taken near Five Fingers Lighthouse,

at the confluence of Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound

in the Inside Passage of South East Alaska

More of our travels on:

More of our travel photos on:


“Humpback Whales of South East Alaska” Research Project

Photos of flukes with place, date and time of sightings can be sent to: