Whale Watching cruise 2018 – Alaska’s inside passage + Black bear viewing
Private Luxury Yacht
There are many considerations to take into account when choosing a trip like this. One of the most important is the boat on which you will be spending your seven nights. The M/V Northern Song is, by anyone’s standards, pure luxury. It is an 84 feet long world class expedition yacht. It was designed and constructed from steel with the same rugged integrity of vessels built for Alaska’s renowned commercial fisheries. The heavy built commercial style hull is a proven design that ensures safety and comfort and includes all of the amenities for having a great time. When guests step on board, they experience the “wow” of the expansive open design. You won’t feel crowded on this boat. You’ll enjoy the spacious salon, covered decks and excellent viewing areas. It has 3 different levels from which to photograph. There is the lower deck and gangways which offer 360 degree viewing, the upper deck which offers 300 degree viewing from a higher vantage point and finally a rear platform which, when lowered, is just one foot above the water level. The boat can even be controlled from this platform, enabling us to get some incredible photo opportunities. The huge pilot house can seat 10 for whale spotting and back seat driving. The beauty and the wildlife of Southeast Alaska have been well documented with excellent photos captured from this yacht. The M/V Northern Song is the choice of professional photographers from around the world.
Photographers on Safari “recced” this trip in 2012. It far exceeded all our expectations and is now right at the top of our list of “must return to destinations”. Questions that are foremost on everybody’s lips are; “What is the sea like”?, “Will the sea be rough”?, “Can you take good photographs from a boat”?. The sea is incredibly calm. Although this cruise is described as taking place in the Inside Passage, we will actually be working in what are best described as large lakes that connect to the Inside Passage. These lakes are surrounded and sheltered by land on all sides. This means that you will experience the rise and fall of water levels as the tides change, but there will be no waves to encounter. It is in these calm waters that the whales’ food species prefer, and therefore this is where you will find more whales. Many of my photographs were taken while using a tripod on one of the decks. This is something that I had previously thought not possible.
Brief Overview of 2014 Cruise
2014 was the first year that the yacht was under the full control of Photographers on Safari. The whole trip was a HUGE success and far outdid the recce of 2012. We spent much more time with the Whales and far less time chasing shadows. There were days when we saw in excess of 100 Whales. There were Whales everywhere and we photographed up to 20 whale breaches in just one day. We also photographed Whales spouting, tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping, spy hopping, fluking, and generally just swimming around in all sorts of backdrops . We saw both lunge feeding and bubble-netting, with the Whales were feeding on both krill and herring. We both sailed up to the face of a glacier and also flew over it. We witnessed the ice calving and also spent time photographing the icebergs. We also photographed Sea-Lions, Orcas, Bald Eagles and other birdlife. And the Black Bears were catching Salmon almost non-stop. This trip may be very expensive but it was hugely enjoyed by all and far exceeded everyone’s expectations. On clear evenings we photographed until 10pm. The colours of the clouds and the sea were astounding.
Captain Dennis ‘Hank’ Rogers is a professional mariner with over thirty years of experience navigating the waters of Alaska as a commercial fisherman, and he is also a U.S. Coast Guard certified master of vessels to 200 tons. Decades of fishing the local waters during year-around seasonal fisheries for salmon, herring, halibut, prawns and crabs have made him a master of this region and its waterways. A career change from commercial fishing to charter yacht ownership provides the platform for Dennis to share with visitors the raw magnificent beauty and wildlife found among the islands, fjords, coves and bays of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage. With great enthusiasm, Captain Dennis continues Alaska Sea Adventures 35-year tradition of unsurpassed Southeast Alaskan cruises. Dennis has been selected to do important research on the Whales while in Alaska and also in Hawaii after their annual migration there. He is extremely knowledgeable on archaeology, natural and cultural history, sea kayaking, fly-fishing, ornithology, whale and wildlife observation. His all round expertise is second to none.
We will not be working to a rigid itinerary. Photographers on Safari have hired the luxury yacht for 8 days / 7 nights and will have full control over where the boat sails each day. We will be in constant discussion with the captain and will make on the spot decisions that will provide the very best of the opportunities that present themselves. We will spend more time where there are more whales, and less time where there are less whales. We will also visit an amazing glacier and spend time with Bald Eagles and Sea lions. Our captain is also in contact with the floatplanes that fly overhead from time to time. These provide up to the minute information on exactly where the whales are feeding each day. The days are long and you could even find yourself shooting sunsets until 9.00 in the evening. The August charters highlight the peak of the enormous wild salmon returns. This is a true buffet-feast for carnivorous animals of the waterways and islands comprising Alaska’s Inside Passage, and we’ll be there to enjoy it all.
The calm, beautiful, nutrient rich inner passageways of Southeast Alaska provide a world class haven for some of the planets largest populations of Humpback Whales. Alaska’s Inside Passage, protected from the open ocean, is whale watching paradise and the ultimate setting for whale photography. Experience the best whale watching in the world -that is if you know who to go there with !!!!!!!!!!!! Humpback whales congregate here to feed on massive schools of herring and krill. Watch their complex feeding strategies unfold as they use bubble nets to herd prey. With over thirty years of cruising these waters our captain has the unmatched experience to get you there safely and is the choice of professionals from around the world. One of the most amazing of Humpback whales’ behaviours is the co-operative ‘bubble-net’ feeding lunge. This fascinating forage technique is unique to the humpbacks within certain areas of Southeast Alaska and is one of the whales’ activities that we will concentrate on finding. It’s an incredible sight to observe and/or capture with a camera!
If you are really lucky / attentive you will capture a whale breaching. We saw up to 20 breaches a day, but the capture rate was low, maybe 20 – 30%. Breaching only lasts for two to three seconds but it is often repetitive and somewhat predictable. If you are quick to respond when you catch your first glimpse of its’ emergence you could well get what may be the most outstanding shot of your entire photographic collection. The yacht’s hydrophone enables us to hear the humpback’s enthralling feeding call which helps to herd the herring or krill into the whales’ bubble-net trap.
Bubble Feeding Frenzy
The humpback whales employ an ingenious strategy of bubble-feeding which is unique in certain areas of Southeast Alaska. The feeding frenzy goes like this: The lead whale calls for the others to line up and begin the circling. The call intensifies, becomes gradually higher in pitch and gets louder and louder and faster and faster as they circle the fish and head for the climax. They gather together beneath the catch, and blow air to create the bubble net as they swim to the surface with their mouths wide open. Then, in a spectacular display, together, they burst out of the water as they fill up with fish. After taking food and water into their mouths, humpbacks strain or filter the water through their baleen plates, trapping food in their mouths. They groan with satisfaction, regroup and start the process again.
Whether you actually see what is described above does depend on what the whales are feeding on. In 2012 the whales were feeding on Krill. The whales worked in smaller groups of three or so. It requires a lot less bubbles to push the Krill into a tight ball than it does to push the fish into a ball. We saw lots and lots of instances of cooperative lunge feeding after the whales emitted their circles of bubbles. We did not see the bubble net feeding where up to 8 or 10 whales burst out of the water together. There was nothing wrong with our timing, there was just an abundance of Krill on that particular occasion. Humpback whales eat a varied diet in Alaska, including small schooling fishes including herring, sand lance, capelin, mackerel, and krill. It has been estimated that a Humpback Whale consumes nearly a ton of food a day while in Alaska. In 2014 we spent a day and a half watching Bubble Net Feeding by a group of 6 Whales. It was truly amazing.
Glaciers & Icebergs
We will cruise up through an iceberg strewn fjord to observe the amazing sights of a calving glacier. The ice fields and glaciers of Southeast Alaska are some of the few remnants of the vast ice sheets that once covered the state. Today there are still over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, although ice covers only 5 percent of Alaska. There are a number of glaciers to choose from, and we will choose one that fits in with where the most whales are. We saw several “calvings” which is when the ice falls into the waters below. The ice is, typically, 3,000 years old and the glacier we visited was a kilometre wide and 600 feet tall. There was also another 600 feet of ice below the water which also “calved” from time to time. This resulted in large lumps of ice suddenly surfacing and creating waves in the mirror like water below the glacier. The glacier can move forward as much as 40 feet in 24 hours, so spectacular calvings are regular occurrences. It is this ice that makes the water so nutrient-rich and is what supports so many tiny fish species on which larger ones depend.
Dall’s Porpoise & Birdlife
Dall’s Porpoise are likely to ride the bow-waves made by our yacht at some stage of the cruise. They are extremely fast and burst out of the water at the front end of the boat. We also photographed Sea Otters, Harbour Seals, Arctic Loons (in the UK we call them Black Throated Divers) and Marbled Murrelets (members of the Auk family).
Steller Sea Lions
The Steller’s Sea Lion is the largest member of the eared seals. Steller’s Sea Lions are yellowish to dark brown. The female is just over eight feet in length and weighs 580 pounds. The male can grow over 11 feet and weigh over 1,200 pounds.
The adult male has a large head, neck, and shoulders. Long, coarse hair grows on the neck and shoulders giving the impression it of having a mane like a lion. We will visit a place where these animals regularly “haul out”. Some will undoubtedly leave their resting places and come and check us out. They will provide us with some really great photo opportunities. You may even spot these subjects playing with a young Humpback Whale as it frolics near the surface.
Killer Whales / Orcas
We had a number of encounters with Killer Whales. There are two distinct categories of these enthralling mammals. There are the “Resident Orcas (which obviously stay all year round) and the much larger groups of “Transient Orcas”. The Resident Orcas are the most commonly sighted and their diet is fish and squid. These are ignored by the Whale and Sea lion populations. The Transient Orcas’ diet is almost exclusively of marine mammals. When these are present, the Whales, Porpoises and Sea lions are very wary, and that do their best to keep well away from these aggressive predators.
There are an estimated 6,000 Humpback Whales in the North Pacific. Of these, approximately 1,000 feed in Southeast Alaska during the summer. Nearly half of the Southeast Alaska feeding population, approximately 500 whales will enter the Frederick Sound area during the summer. They will feed on the very abundant herring and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans), which thrive in these waters. This makes Frederick Sound one of the best places in the world for observing the feeding behaviour of humpback whales. This is where we will spend the majority of our time when we are photographing the whales.
Please note that this is not part of the main trip. It is an optional extra that can be undertaken while the main group is returning on the final leg of the cruise. After your flight, you will land in Petersburg at the same time as the boat docks. We can arrange for a float plane to land at the Northern Song and take you on an incredible flight up over the magnificent ice fields, glaciers and mountains. It’s an experience never to be forgotten. I have done a similar flight many times, after viewing the Brown Bears at Kodiak, and it is an incredible experience never to be forgotten. You can see where the ice has recently ground rock into powder and see how it is taking those so important minerals down to the waters below. You are watching “history in the making”.
No trip to Alaska would be complete without spending time with Bald Eagles. The estimated Bald Eagle population in Alaska is 35,000, which is about half of the world population. We will find some of these beautiful birds along the shoreline and will tempt them down with some fish. They usually help themselves to several of our fish while providing us with some great opportunities to photograph them “catching” and flying off with a herring. The snow covered mountains behind make for an amazing backdrop. We will have further opportunities with these iconic subjects while watching the bears after the cruise.
Anan Creek Bear and Wildlife Observatory is one of Alaska’s prime bear-watching spots. Over July and August, up to 60 Black Bears come to Anan Creek in order to feast on the salmon and fatten up for the coming winter. Anan has the largest pink salmon run (sometimes over 100,000 fish) in Southeast Alaska. After arriving by boat, there is a half mile trail leading to the observation deck which overlooks cascading falls, from where visitors watch the Black Bears up close catching the salmon. Brown Bears fish further upstream from an area that we do not have access to. The salmon run usually begins about mid-July and peaks around the first week of August. There is a covered viewing pavilion that overlooks the stream where it tumbles through a narrow, boulder-lined gorge. This is where the bears catch most of the salmon. Natural vegetation gives perfect backdrops for your photography. A second, smaller & lower much better viewing platform is available on a rotational basis. This position affords eye to eye viewing of the bears from just a few metres away. Most of the best pictures come from this superb viewing location.
Small Group Size & Photographic Tuition
The maximum number of clients on this cruise is just SIX. This means that you will all have plenty of room to find those key positions on the boat from where to take your photographs. It also ensures that you have plenty of room to relax in the lounge between photo shoots. The yacht has a widescreen TV and a good selection of films / nature DVDs if you need some relaxation. There will, inevitably, be a few quieter moments from time to time. We can, depending on conditions, be photographing for well over 12 hours a day. I will take these opportunities to check each client’s photographs and to offer constructive criticism where necessary. My aim is that you return home with as many top quality shots as possible. I will constantly be on hand to offer advice on optimal camera settings and any specific techniques that may be required.
All meals while on the yacht are included. The yacht has its own gourmet chef and if you enjoy seafood you will be in for a real treat. The standard of the food and the amazing taste of locally caught produce is really special. During our cruise we set out shrimp traps in a secluded harbour one night and haul up the catch in the morning. You won’t believe how huge these tasty treats really are until you actually see them!
We will also set out crab traps using a few secret methods for catching a platter of these delectable crustaceans for an all you can eat feast. You are left to decide on your own eating options for most of the time in Petersburg to give you the flexibility to do as you please. We will take our own packed lunches & drinks when Bear Viewing.
Day 1 – July 30th. Arrive Petersburg. Scandiahouse Hotel. Room only.
Day 2 – July 31st. Free day in Petersburg to recover from your journey. You may choose to visit the Le Conte Glacier or to do an extra day’s Whale watching (at your own expense). Scandiahouse Hotel. B.
Day 3 – August 1st. Depart Petersburg approx Midday to begin your cruise. Breakfast at Scandiahouse Hotel. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 4 – August 2nd. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 5 – August 3rd. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 6 – August 4th. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 7 – August 5th. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 8 – August 6th. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 9 – August 7th. Cruise activities. M/V Northern Song BLD.
Day 10 – August 8th. AM Cruise activities M/V Northern Song. PM return to Petersburg in time to catch the 16.30 flight from Petersburg to Wrangell. Overnight Stikine Hotel, Wrangell. BL.
Day 11 – August 9th. Bear viewing at Anan. Return to Wrangell. Overnight Stikine Hotel, Wrangell. B.
Day 12 – August 10th. Bear viewing at Anan. Return to Wrangell. Overnight Stikine Hotel, Wrangell. B.
Day 13 – August 11th. Free day in Wrangell. You may choose to re-visit the Black Bears for a third time, visit the Le Conte Glacier or to do an extra day’s Whale watching (at your own expense). Overnight Stikine Hotel, Wrangell. B.
Day 14 – August 12th. You are free to depart from Wrangell at your leisure. B.
Estimated cost excluding flights £9865.00 (based upon dollar rate of 1.3)
Actual cost excluding flights $12,824.00. Final cost in UK pounds to be calculated at time of payments.
What is included;
All meals, soft drinks, select wine with dinner, bottled water and beer while on the boat. Meals where indicated in Itinerary above. (B = breakfast, L = lunch & D = dinner). Transfers between Petersburg airport and the hotel. Transfers between the hotel and the Yacht. Transfers to and from Wrangell Airport.
What is NOT included;
Air fare including local taxes when applicable, personal items, gratuities, travel insurance, and anything not mentioned in the description above.
Meals where NOT indicated in Itinerary above. (B = breakfast, L = lunch & D = dinner).
We recommend that you purchase travel insurance to protect your vacation investment. Travel insurance is not an absolute requirement and is not included in the price of your trip.