Inside Passage: Humpbacks and Orcas

After seeing Sawyer Glacier on our Inside Passage cruise, the next day we cruised Frederick Sound looking for humpback whales. Humpback whales live and feed in Alaska. To calve and mate, they migrate to Hawaii in the winter.

In the early morning we searched for humpback whales. Above, a humpback whale dives, flipping its tail high. At mid-morning, orcas appeared, and the humpbacks backed off.

Below is a male orca and a pod of five orcas. The male’s dorsal fin is taller and triangular; the female’s is shorter and curved.

From wikipedia,

The killer whale or orca (Orcinus orca) is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas. Killer whales have a diverse diet, although individual populations often specialize in particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals such as seals and dolphins. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves, and even adult whales. Killer whales are apex predators, as there is no animal which preys on them.

Like whales and dolphins, orcas expel air through a blowhole.

orca expelling air through a blowhole
orca expelling air through a blowhole

The orcas displayed several whale behaviors:

  • Spyhopping, rising out of the water to look around
orca spy hopping
orca spy hopping
  • Lobtailing, sticking their tail out of the water and slapping the surface.
orca tail lobbing
orca lobtailing
  • Breaching, jumping out of the water.
breaching orca
breaching orca

Our captain invited two whale researchers living on a nearby island for dinner. After dinner they talked about their research on humpback songs. In the middle of the talk, some passengers outside on deck were yelling periodically. We learned a humpback whale was breaching repeatedly. The speakers went outside, and we happily fetched our cameras and joined them.

A teenager kept count of the breaches — about 4 dozen.

distant splash as night falls
distant splash as night falls

The second day of our Inside Passage cruise was memorable and ended with a splash.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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