Last summer I visited one of the most beautiful places on Earth… Alaska. The snow-capped mountains, glassy water, and soaring bald eagles were incredible sights to see. One of the highlights of my trip was the whale watching tour I took in Juneau. My aunt and I booked the Mendenhall Glacier + Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest through our cruise (Celebrity Cruise Line). The entire tour took about five hours and we enjoyed every minute of it. Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and shared information about Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier, and –of course– the whales.
We started our tour with a walk through a lush forest bordering Juneau. It was a beautiful trail that led us straight to the world famous Mendenhall Glacier. Since this was a photography-based tour, our guide stopped along the way to give us tips on how to take stunning nature pictures–I learned a few things!
We hiked for about an hour before reaching our first destination: The Mendenhall Glacier. We walked around to different viewpoints to admire this beautiful work of nature. This is the most accessible glacier in Alaska and is only 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Mendenhall is a receding glacier, moving about 100 to 150 feet a year! It has receded 12 miles since 1958. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see a glacier up close before it disappears; I hope you all have the opportunity to do the same.
Up next was whale watching. We continued our journey toward Stephen’s Passage where we departed for the second half of our tour. We boarded a catamaran with our cameras ready for some action. As we sailed away from the coast we saw bald eagles circling above us–anticipation was high!
Our guides explained that humpback whales are the most common type of whale found in Stephen’s Passage, though other types of whales have been spotted here. We learned that pods of humpback whales are known to work together in order to feed. A female whale stays low to the ocean floor to alert the males up above when she spots a school of fish. The males work together in a process called “bubble netting” to disorient the fish. They blow bubbles and spray from their blowhole then circle around the school of fish before diving in to feed. (Don’t worry, they bring fish down to the female in exchange for her help.)
It was incredible to see. We saw the pod of whales rise up to the surface and spray clouds of mist through their blowholes. We felt like such a part of their mysterious world. We watched the same pod of whales surface about 6 or 7 times during the two hours we were on the water. It was always a surprise to see where they would pop up next.
We were also very lucky to spot an orca whale. It appeared to be swimming alone with its dorsal fin poking high out of the water. Our guides told us orcas were a rare sight to see.
Words alone can’t express my feelings while I was watching these whales in their natural habitat. It was so peaceful and absolutely breathtaking. My aunt and I kept turning to smile at each other in disbelief at what we were witnessing. The vastness of nature appeared before us and we felt so small on that little boat surrounded by miles of open water, soaring mountains, and pods of wild humpback whales. I will never forget these moments and my hope is everyone can have this kind of experience in the wild at least once in their lifetime.
Have you had any close-up encounters with wildlife? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
For more on Alaska, check out these posts:
- What to Do is Skagway, AK
- What I Love (And Don’t Love) About Cruising
- Sailing Alaska’s Tracy Arm Fjord