Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Not my picture! Photo credit: Wikipedia

As Ray Stevens put it in one of his songs, “Hello, Margaret, it’s me again…”

With the passing of Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer for Alaskans, things should slow down a bit. This summer seems to have been even busier than normal, and that’s my excuse for the lack of posts over the past - OMG! Really? - seven weeks. We’ve had visitors this summer and I’ve gadded about a bit, all of which leads to playing, which leads to neglecting the blog. 

The thing about visitors from the Lower 48 is they always want to see whales. They’ve all heard how in Alaska the whales float about as common as driftwood. Worse than that, they expect me to show them whales. This is bad news for all parties concerned.

I have always had bad luck with whales. To be sure, my luck hasn’t been as bad as others I could name, mainly Melville’s Captain Ahab, but nonetheless my record with whale watching is pitiful. Visitors don’t understand the situation. The best way not to see whales is to hang out with me. 

On five separate occasions we have taken visitors out on 8-hour trips with Kenai Fjords Tours out of Seward,Alaska, with the express intent of seeing whales. With one notable exception, the whales have fully cooperated, always on the side of the boat opposite my own. “Whales off to port,” the captain says. I’m on the starboard. “Whales off the bow!” I’m looking for the ones he called off the stern moments before. The best I can say for whale watching - at least four out of five times - is that it has improved my cardio-pulmonary functions as I dashed about the boat.

And the one notable exception? Ah, that was a grand moment! A humpback whale decided to put on a show for the boat. It came in close. It flashed its flukes. It spouted. (In fact, it spouted so close to the boat that we all got a lesson in why being called “whale breath” is an insult.) And then, it breached! Right. Smack. Before us. 

My view of a spectacular whale breaching
Judging from the gasps of awe the other passengers emitted, it was one helluva breach. Me? I didn’t see it. Our visitors asked me to tape the big event for them. While everyone else was witnessing one of nature’s grand moments, I was looking through a view finder at a black screen with a red, flashing “LOW BAT” displayed. I glanced up in time to see exactly where the whale re-entered the water.

Judging by the amount of foam on the ocean’s rippling the surface it had been quite the spectacle. 

Last week, while visiting a friend in Nome, the whales got me yet again. 

We were driving from Nome to Council, Alaska, along the Norton Sound. Just as we passed the inlet to Safety Sound (Alaska is a noisy place) we saw a pod of five whales frolicking in the distance. They were bobbing about, flashing their flukes, spouting and, in general, just having a whale of a good time. My friend sped along until we reached a good vantage point, and then pulled off the road. With camera in hand I dashed to the water’s edge. 

The whales beat flukes as soon as they saw me.

It is a scientific fact that whales communicate with one another. While those who study cetaceans have not yet been able to understand what the whales are saying, I know full well what those I saw in Norton Sound said.

“Hey! See those guys on the beach?” 


“Does the one with the camera, wearing the hat, look familiar?” 

“Well, I’ll be! That’s the chubby, red-faced guy from the Kenai Fjords Tours.”

“What the hell is he doing here?” 

“Beats me, but I’m outta here.”

In an effort to find something positive about my whale adventures, I’ve decided the upside is that I needn’t worry about going the way of Captain Ahab.

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