WILDLIFE WATCHING TIPS
Observe animals from a distance, watching for changes in their behavior that indicate stress.
Avoid sudden movements or surprise encounters at close range.
Never chase or disturb animals.
Respect dens, nests, rookeries and haul outs. Alarm cries and displays are an animal’s “request” for you to keep your distance.
Do not handle or “adopt” animals or birds, as parents are usually nearby.
Do not feed wild animals. Feeding wild animals is against Alaska state law.
TIPS FOR WATCHING MARINE ANIMALS
Watch for the telltale blow (spout) of the humpback whale. We can see whales just about anywhere along the SE Alaska coast, but the best sites are Snow Pass (about 4 hours north of Ketchikan), Juneau’s Auk Bay, Icy Strait Point, the entrance to Glacier Bay and Prince William Sound.
Most whale watch tours based in Juneau will guarantee seeing whales. Be sure to ask the Shore Excursion department about this.
Single otters or “rafts of otters” as the large groups are known can be seen regularly in Prince William Sound, especially in the College Fjord area, Sitka and Glacier Bay.
As their name implies, harbors are an excellent place to check for seals, especially in Ketchikan and Juneau. Glacier Bay is a prime area to view seals. Check the floating ice floes for seals and their pups in June and early July.
Look for sea lions on the sunny side of smaller islands from the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia and further north. Enroute to Skagway, on the starboard side, just after passing Haines, is a well known seal rookery. Listen for their distinctive barking sound.
Look up! Eagles love to perch on the tallest point in their neighborhood, it could be a tree or church spire.These magnificent birds can be seen all along your cruise route from Vancouver to Kodiak and return. Look for their bright white heads in trees, perched on lamp standards near the dock and marshy flatlands.
Where to Spot Eagles:
Ketchikan — Creek Street, especially when the salmon are running. The Ketchikan Hatchery and Eagle Center has the only pair of eagles that have pair-bonded in captivity.
Juneau — The marshy flatland enroute to the Mendenhall Glacier. There is also a live eagle display (her name is Lady Baltimore) at the Mt Roberts Tramway complex in her own special habitat.
Skagway/Haines – The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is the most reliable location in which to view large numbers of bald eagles.
Whittier– Eagles can be found near fishing docks and around salmon bearing streams on the outskirts of these towns.
Glacier Bay and College Fjord – Eagles are easy to spot even in these ice-filled areas. Don’t be surprised to find atop one of the floating bits of ice passing by the ship.
Icy Strait/Hoonah–The stand of trees adjacent to the dock is a favorite spot for eagles to perch, look up to the very top of the trees.
BIRDS TO WATCH FOR WHILE IN ALASKA
BEARS, MOOSE, MARMOTS
Both black and brown (grizzly) bears are found along our routes in Alaska. Look for them foraging for clams and shellfish along the shores in Glacier Bay, sometimes with a cub or two in tow.
Steep Creek, at Mendenhall Glacier, is a reliable spot to find bears, when the salmon are running, usually mid to late August and September.
Bears are not readily found in town areas. Your best chances for safe bear viewing are with a tour where viewing areas have been created. Late July and August is prime bear viewing time when the salmon are “running.”
My favorite place is in Haines, Alaska, a 45 minute ferry ride from Skagway. The easiest way to do this is to take a shore excursion to the Chilkoot River. The Chilkoot River flows from Chilkoot Lake into Lutak Inlet and is one of the most easily reached bear viewing spots in Southeast Alaska from mid-june to October. An afternoon or sunset wildlife watch usually produces the best results. The area near the fish weir is very good.
There is a beaver dam and lodge just outside of the bus waiting area at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Also one visible from the board walk over Steep Creek
In Juneau, at the top of the Mt. Roberts Tramway is a marmot colony. Follow the trails behind the top of the tram.
“Moose Flats” just outside of Whittier, on the highway to Anchorage is a reliable location for moose spotting. Or in Haines, Alaska in the Eagle Preserve. Moose prefer deciduous trees, not conifers, so do not look for moose in dense cedar forests.
Humpback Whales which migrate annually to the waters of SouthEast Alaska can readily be seen from your ship. Ask your onboard naturalist for recommendations of the best times and places.
The number of whales you see will be proportional to the amount of time you spend looking, be patient.
Look for the distinctive “puff” or “blow” from the whale just above the surface of the water. Humpback Whales will generally do this 4 to 5 times in succession before making a deep dive. Look for the curve of the back as they come briefly to the surface.
If you are lucky you may even observe a “break” when they leap out of the water before returning.
A tail held up high and straight, showing the flukes indicates a deep dive, the whale may not resurface for at least 15-20 minutes.
If watching whales is a priority, make sure to take a whale watching tour or shore excursion.