Aaah, whale watching in Alaska…in our minds there is not much that tops it! In fact, we probably go at least 10 times every summer, from our home base of Juneau. There is something very special about being out on the calm waters of the Inside Passage or Kenai Fjords, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. The waters are a beautiful greenish-blue color, teeming with small schooling fish and krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans) that provide the Humpback Whales a never-ending buffet. Day and night they feed, 23 hours per day (they have to sleep sometime, called logging), fattening up for the long return journey back south to either Hawaii or Mexico. They can consume up to 2 tons (!) of food per day, to make up for the fat they lost on the journey here.
The big question, however, is WHERE in Alaska should you go whale watching? Luckily, you have a couple of great options to choose from. We have ranked our top whale watching destinations in the Great Land to help you decide. As with all of the tours that we sell, we share this information based on personal experience, so here we go!
JUNEAU WHALE WATCHING
Juneau is all about the Humpbacks! You will find plenty of Orcas in Juneau as well, but There are over 5,000 humpback whales that visit Southeast Alaska, with a significant percentage of those whales in the Juneau area. In fact, there are so many humpbacks in Juneau waters, that all of the whale watching tour providers guarantee a whale sighting or you get your money back! Many times, the first whale sighting happens within the first 10 minutes on the boat. The most incredible feeding behavior also takes place in Juneau:
BUBBLE NET FEEDING All summer, especially in July and August, the humpbacks join together to give us one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular shows. Whales are normally solitary feeders, but they coordinate when huge balls of schooling fish are spotted. First, each whale blows bubbles that traps the fish in a large “net”. The fish are confused and tend to gather together. Then the lead whale will sound a feeding call, and all the whales will shoot up with mouths open. As they approach the surface, you can see the fish flopping on the surface of the water, as they are trying to escape. Then you see it, up to a dozen whales with mouths wide open, surging up out of the water! It is an incredible experience, and only performed in a few places on the globe, one of them Juneau.
WHALE WATCHING IN SEWARD / KENAI FJORDS / RESURRECTION BAY
Whale watching out of Seward is all about variety. There are definitely humpback whales in plenty, that make the trip from Hawaii and Mexico for the summer. But there are also tons of Orcas and Gray Whales that visit Kenai Fjords. Minke Whales and Fin Whales also have been spotted, but they are more rare.
Orcas are in the area year-round, but the peak is May through July. There are two main types of Orca pods, Resident & Transient. The resident pods usually stay in the same area, and eat fish, mainly salmon. The transient pods are always on the move, circling the globe for food. They feed on marine mammals such as Steller Sea Lions, Harbor Seals and Dall’s Porpoise. It is fairly common to witness a transient group stalking their prey in Resurrection Bay.
Gray Whales migrate further than any other mammal on earth. They make the 10,000 mile swim from Baja to the Arctic Waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas every spring. They pass through this area between March and May, on their way up to the Arctic Circle. They are smaller than Humpbacks, but can still reach 50 feet in length and weigh up to 45 tons.
WATCH WHALES IN GLACIER BAY / ICY STRAIT
Icy Strait and Glacier Bay intersect just south of Glacier Bay National Park, to form an area that is one of the richest feeding grounds for Humpback Whales in the world. Glacier Bay National Park is a Humpback Whale sanctuary, with some of the strongest protections found anywhere on our planet. There is definitely a lot of Bubble Net Feeding happening here, as the waters are rich with small schooling fish such as herring. You will also find Orcas, Steller Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, Dall’s Porpoise and more on a whale watching excursion in Glacier Bay.
The other part of the equation here is the stunning scenery. Glacier Bay is ringed with dozens of glaciers that feed the bay. It is really a breathtaking sight!
Whale Watching in any of these wonderful places is a great experience, we hope you join us out on the water soon!
~Keli & Kris