Steps walked: Shaun - 8,281, 32 stairs climbed; Shannon - 6,941, 32 stairs climbed
Critter count: 4 adults male orcas, a mother and calf orca, and about 10 juvenile male orcas (and I do mean juvenile), maybe 20 humpbacks including a mama and a baby, 2 juvenile bald eagles, a shitload of pink salmon, several sea otters, and bear scat but no bears
Another interesting phenomenon we witnessed was what the naturalists call a "Pink Floyd" which is an erect orca penis that we were treated to several times during our morning commune. Naturally, I was very interested in this phenomenon being a connoisseur of all forms of male genitalia, but unfortunately, I never got to see it (despite my running all the way to the lounge to get stronger binoculars!). Shannon thought she caught a picture of it, but we can't find it now, so bummer for you!
Imagine all 60 people on the ship....along with all of the naturalists, all vying for position, trying to catch things on film. I finally gave up and just watched which was very freeing, and Shannon did her best to be the family photographer. She did a great job, and we got some very special shots. It was hilarious, though, because the main photographer, Rich...he is a very funny man. He kept up a running commentary on what we were seeing and how crazy it was and all that. One guy caught him on the stairs and asked if there were any whales, and Rich said, "Are you kidding me? It's whale soup out there!" That totally sums up our experience because there were whales everywhere we looked, and through it all were this group of juveniles who refused to be outdone by anyone, including the massive males who came along later. We listened to their sounds through the hydrophone and the very different blow sounds of the orcas and the humpbacks. They chatted with each other the whole time, and Cindy just stood there and giggled and couldn't believe we were having this extraordinary experience.
Before lunch, we were treated to a presentation by Rich (the photographer) about one of his passions, time lapse photography. It was totally over my head, but it was still interesting to see his work, and he is helping many conservation organizations by providing visual proof of various problems that need to be addressed in the naturalists' world.
After lunch, we were treated to ANOTHER presentation by Andy, the head of the Alaska Whale Foundation who was also a professor at a couple of universities and a sponsor of graduate students. He had a whole bunch of other credentials too, but the most important thing about Andy to Shannon and me was that he is an expert on all aspects of humpback whales...especially their feeding habits. This guys was SMART with a capital S and a super good speaker. He was also very cute, too, so we had a very enjoyable hour listening to him talk about the various marine mammals in the area.
Once he got to the humpback whales, though, you could just feel his passion, and we learned all about the Pacific Northwestern whale population. These animals are unique in all the world because 95% of them winter and breed in Hawaii exclusively. They only breed with other Hawaiian whales and keep the gene pool very clean. However, there is nothing to eat in Hawaii (crazy huh?), so for 5 months the females take in no nourishment at all despite the fact that they are nursing their calves during that time and traveling so far. They lose a third of their body weight during that time, which is why they're so hungry when they get back to Alaska. Thank goodness the waters here are so rich in food for them!
Pacific Northwestern whales also exhibit some interesting feeding adaptations, one of which is called bubble net feeding. In bubble net feeding, one whale goes way below the surface and blows a ring of bubbles around a school of herrings. Another whale emits a very distinct sound that scares the herring, and between these 2 behaviors, the herring stay within the net and don't swim below it or in between the bubbles. The other whales in the group (which can be between 2 and 24 animals but are usually 8-10 individuals) come up from underneath the net and gulp 12 telephone booths worth of water and herring into their mouth (Shannon and I don't remember the number of gallons). They strain all the water out and are left with only the herring. If you want to see it in action, go to YouTube. There are some great videos showing the phenomenon.
It turns out that, of the 20,000 humpbacks in the Pacific Northwest, only 50 or 60 of them practice bubble net feeding, and of that group, only 6 or 7 do the actual netting and vocalizing. Also, the 6 or 7 specialists, as they're called, usually work with the same partner through the years, and these whales live to be upwards of 100 years old! The partners are not necessarily related to each other, and it doesn't appear that they teach their skill to their children either. They think the specialists just learn by trial and error after having been in a bubble netting group that loses their specialists.
Another interesting feeding adaptation of whales in this area is used by sperm whales, which never used to come to this area, but about 13 years ago, a couple of whales came into the Inside Passage and figured out that the long line fishermen had halibut and black cod attached to their fishing lines. The whales will find a long line boat and sleep by it until the boat's wench starts up and then they proceed to pluck every one of the fish off the line! Can you imagine? The fishermen have no recourse but to just pack up and leave because there's nothing you can do to make a sperm whale move on if he doesn't wanna.
(How do you like my alien baby?)
Well, that's about it for this wonderful day in Chatham Strait and the ABC Islands of Alaska. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing that could possibly beat this day....but I'm willing to let Lindblad/National Geographic give it the old college try!
And one last whale picture: