On a trip to Alaska, I wanted to go humpback whale watching. I didn’t really have a reason why. It just sounded like something that I’d like to do. And since I love nature photography, it was something I had to do. Who knew it would be one of my favorite experiences.
Having no idea where whales were, we took a whale watching tour in Juneau. This whale watching trip was on a boat aimed at photographers and included wilderness experts on board. No guarantee is ever made that you will see whales, but this has a good chance of success. Our guide was excellent and incredibly knowledgeable. She pointed areas of interest as we headed to Stephen’s passage, a whale feeding grounds.
Stephen’s passage did not disappoint. We found a large humpback whale slapping the surface of the water with its flukes or pectoral fins in order to stun the fish with the shockwave. It would then open its large mouth and gather all the fish.
Whale migration each year
Our guide explained that the whales come to Alaska each summer season from Hawaii. Because of the mild weather in the summer season, there is an abundance of small fish for the whales to feed on.
Between November and May, the humpback whales migrate back to Hawaii. This trip is around 3000 miles and takes 4-6 weeks. They go to Hawaii to mate, give birth and nurture their calves. The gestational period is 11-12 months so they both conceive and give birth in Hawaii. They do not give birth in Alaska. Since baby humpbacks are born with minimal amounts of fat, the water is too cold in Alaska.
It is believed that the adult whales do not eat when in Hawaii. Food is not readily accessible like in Alaska. Adults go for months at a time without eating, losing up to one-third of their body weight.
I was hoping to see a breaching whale and we were given a show by a baby humpback. I was excited to see it breach the water but kept hoping it was closer.
This baby humpback was with its mother but she did not show her head. Instead the adult female entertained us with a whale tail.
Then, as if the baby could read my mind, it made a much closer appearance.
Humpback Whale Facts
- The fastest documented humpback whale migration from Alaska to Hawaii is 36 days.
- Humpback whales grow to between 50,000 – 80,000 pounds and up to 60 feet long.
- Females are larger than males
- Newborn whales are about 15 feet long and weigh approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds)
- They live to about 50 years old.
- Female humpback whales have their first calf between 8-14 years old. Most have their first calf at age 11.
- Females give birth every 2 or more years.
- Like a human fingerprint, the tail of each humpback whale is unique.
- They have two blowholes on top of their heads.
If the opportunity comes up on your travels, I highly recommend a whale watching tour, especially a humpback whale watching tour. It’s informative, interesting and incredible to see these larger mammals. And if you like nature photography, one that has great viewing and knows the area is a plus.
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Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Debbi is an award winning and published travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography. She travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.
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