Juneau, Alaska (Part 1): Searching for Sea Creatures

August 24, 2016

We awoke to the continuation of heavy fog and periodic foghorn blasts as our ship navigated through zero visibility.  I was surprised at how late it was:  7:45 – I thought it was 6 am and I really should sleep some more.  I probably woke up later because the rising sun didn’t wake me up due to the fog.

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We had the morning to take care of some business, since our shore excursion didn’t leave until noon. At 10:15 or so, we set out for Juneau, planning to be back at the pier for our excursion by 11:50.  I was torn between looking at the shops and spending some time to get online.  Getting online won, since there is no Internet available on board the ship unless you pay for it.  We asked where there was free Wi-Fi and the main suggestion was the public library, although it might be a little slow.  Soon we were sitting at a table in the library trying to get online. I was successful and managed to do all the online tasks I had set out to do, in a mere 40 minutes!

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The building that houses the library and other government offices
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A row of food shacks

Dale snapped the picture below on our way back to the pier. It seems appropriate to include here since our day’s activities included whale watching.

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We got back to the pier just as two buses were loading for our tour.  Our bus driver was a young guy named Mitch, with shoulder length frizzy reddish hair topped with a wool cap, and a stubbly beard.  He was funny and kept us laughing the entire time! After some investigation, however, I learned that at least two of his stories about Juneau are not true, so I am not sure if I can believe any of the anecdotes he told. Anyway, it made for a good comedy routine to keep tourists entertained.

Mitch first drove us to a dock where we took a boat, St. Juvenaly, much like the one I was on yesterday for Misty Fjords.

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Dale took this picture of the boat we went on to Orca Point Lodge.

We were given a map, the same type I’d gotten the day before, and provided once again with binoculars, but the ones I got didn’t work well. Our guide on the boat, Shari, also had a sense of humor but most of her jokes were bad puns! There was still a lot of fog, but the day held promise of being rain-free, at least.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera

First we went to Orca Point Lodge to have lunch and see small sea critters.   Shari told us that after lunch we could look for ONE souvenir at the beach, but she had to check it for anything on it that might be alive, which we wouldn’t be allowed to take.  (So of course someone picked out six beach finds, because, she said, she had six grandchildren! Shari made her put five of them back.)

Orca Point Lodge
Orca Point Lodge

Lunch was a buffet with a choice of salmon or chicken (I chose salmon because it’s an Alaskan specialty that I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of), rice, salad, vegetables.  A couple of people went around with trays of chewy brownies for dessert.

After lunch we went to see an aquarium full of sea stars, anemones, tiny fish and hermit crabs in various sizes, including one as small as a spider!

Then we traipsed around the beach, balancing on jagged rocks, many covered with barnacles, to search for small “treasures.”  I was surprised by the number of jagged, angular rocks instead of smooth ones, so close to the water.   The rocks I was walking on were full of barnacles.

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I found a bluish abalone shell and a beautiful small round shell which Shari let me take as a bonus because it was sure to break! I made sure to take a picture of it so I’d always remember it.

My treasures

From there our boat ventured out into whale-viewing territory.  There were bald eagles perched on the shore and we passed a reef island where harbor seals hung out.  Several boats had gathered a little distance away, positioned for whale watching, but our driver said we’d come back and see that humpback later; first he wanted to take us around the reef to get close to the harbor seals – he knew a spot where they liked to hang out.  Slowly we motored around the island in search of the seals, but they weren’t cooperating by posing for us on shore – instead, we saw their snouts poking up out of the water, bobbing up and down to breathe.

We returned to find the humpback whale.  Everyone stood quietly, peering through binoculars or staring at the water, cameras at the ready, but he (or she) wasn’t making an appearance.  Finally we saw the steam from its blowhole and the captain carefully steered the boat to get a closer look. Shari said they usually appear within about 8 minutes after they expel steam from their blowholes.  We waited, and finally saw the curve of its back, and eventually its tail came partially out of the water.  Dale set his camera to take multiple shots and was able to capture both the back and the fluke of the whale.  (Later we learned that to capture the markings on the tail, you should set your f stop 2 settings higher – so it looks overexposed.)

After spending a half hour waiting for further whale appearances, the boat started back, but en route caught a glimpse of “Sasha,” a shy female humpback who often travels  these waters but seldom lets people get a look at her.  Sasha has special markings on her tail that look a little like the initials AK.  (A picture of her was passed around – the A is clear, but the K is a small squiggle at an angle from the A.) We saw two blasts of steam, a glimpse of her back, but no fluke.  Well, that’s how it is with whale watching and we did see something.

This was all we got to see of the elusive humpbacks, a bit disappointing compared with others we talked to later on the ship who had seen multiple whales. The tour company promises to refund your money if you see no whales. We’d seen enough not to be able to count on a refund!

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