Thursday, April 7, 2011

Close Up Whale Watching

by Robert L. Gisel

 Watching for whale can sometimes reap a spectacular event, like this one, with no guarantee of a repeat performance.

 The usual way to watch whales is from the safety of a local tour boat or from a cruise liner. A kayaker in Katlian Bay near Sitka, Alaska found himself viewing one from the whale's mouth. He must have decided he'd wanted to watch whales from up close and you know how that goes; you have to be careful what you ask for as you may just get its literal rendition.

 Seems he ventured into a herring ball at the same instant a whale breached to scoop up the herring. The end result was to be straddling the gaping wide open mouth. He reported "Paddle fast" was his thought just then.

 He should have seen it coming. The usual reasons herring will swarm in a tight ball are two-fold. One, is that a school of herring will come together is a tight ball for protection against a salmon siege. This time of the year early king salmon would be arriving in Sitka waters so this is one explanation. The other is that a whale will circle a school and send up a curtain of bubbles out his blow hole. The Herring school will feel trapped and ball up in a tight packed swarm for protection, except the next action is for the whale to breach and scoop up the herring. Either way the paddler should have seen the circle of bubbles, quite noticeable in calm waters like this, or at the least he should have seen the swarm of the herring ball on the surface, visible in the picture.

 Note this in your lesson book for Alaska survival tips, along with datums like don't eat yellow snow. Don't paddle your kayak into a herring ball.

The danger to the kayker is probably less than it looks. Whales don't eat objects like a boat and he is more likely to spit out than chew up the unsuspecting kayak. The whale was no doubt as surprised as the kayaker. It was a pretty composed photographer that caught this shot, though.

 One other scenario is that the boater, who is a local Sitka Dentist, was trying to drum up business. In that case he should know that whale don't have teeth, only baleen. And no health insurance. It is a nice publicity stunt for a dentist who can handle any mouth.

 Go ahead and take that trip to Alaska you've always wanted, but don't expect to get this close to the action.


Scroll the blog.

No comments: