When in Alaska, it is quite common to be chatting with a group of people who are apparently not paying attention to the conversation. Gazing blankly past the speaker and off into the distance is part of it all, as we look to spot a whale or other wildlife. It takes concentration, as we found out on a whale watching and wildlife quest aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam this week.
Departing from Juneau, Alaska with Allen Marine Tours, the stage was set to actually see whales in their natural habitat, something that had eluded us on our last visit to the land of the midnight sun. Apparently, Allen is so good at finding whales that they offer a $100 refund to each passenger on their expedition vessel if none are spotted.
Passengers are cautioned to be quiet, move softly around the ship and to turn off the flash in their cameras to help with the quest. Playing the odds, those on board are encouraged to move about the ship for the best chance of seeing wildlife. When it comes right down to it, being in the right place at the right time has never been more important.
Seeing part of a whale is really not all that difficult. We saw a dozen parts. But when one whale, literally the size of a bus, came leaping out of the water, it was those who happened to be looking in that direction who snapped the money shot with their cameras/phones.
Now, with a good sighting under our belt, everyone was paying attention, looking for the next one.
An onboard naturalist gave a running commentary throughout the voyage, rattling off viewing tips and background information on what we might see while setting the stage for a nice tip or onboard purchase. In addition to whales, we were also looking for Sea Lions, Porpoise, Deer, Seals, Eagles and assorted birds.
Yes, we saw most all of those, but the star of the show was clearly the whale. Sighting one in nature is one of those things that is difficult to describe too. They are about the size of a bus. Not a mini-van or Volkswagen bus but a huge motor coach bus and they seem to know it. Once we knew what to look for, we saw several slinking in and out of the water with snake-like, graceful movements that will be difficult to forget.
I think if I had it to do over, I would set the camera aside and just enjoy the moment. Frankly, unless you have the best of camera equipment and a healthy portion of luck working on your side, odds are the fabulous images you hope to capture are not going to happen anyway. Be me with an iPhone and the odds go down considerably.
This would be a time to enjoy the ride and selfishly burn that image of a breaching whale into our brains. Like so much of this Holland America sailing, themed around relaxation and enrichment, whale-watching is a shared experience up front. In the end though, this memory is more of a personal nature, captured with a combination of concentration and luck.
While Chris is being sponsored by Holland America Line this week, on board Holland America’s Oosterdam in Alaska, he is free to relate the experience to readers in his own words, as it unfolds. Follow along on our SeaLog, on Twitter, Facebook and, new for this event, HipGeo’s journal account of the voyage.
Flickr photo by erikogan (because Chris was not paying attention at the time)