It Was Raining in Juneau…

This morning I awoke as Adam walked down the stairs. It was cloudy and raining in Juneau, after 2 days of bright sun and beautiful weather. I lay in my thin 35 degree sleeping bag on the pull-out with Natalie. Our eyes searched the room for familiarity with a groggy curiousity. I stretched my arms without thinking as Adam explained that he had to go to work early – no time to hike or ride the mountain tram. He wondered if we’d like to go on the ‘citizen science’ tour today, noting that the others were likely full.

Adam, who we had met in Fairbanks last year during our first attempt at couchsurfing, now lived in Juneau. He had moved down for a school internship and never left, having fell in love with the misty mountains and whale-filled inlets. Now working with the locally famous ‘Gastineau Guiding Company’ he had comp tickets on a sciency whale-watch-glacier-hike tour – sort of a seal-the-deal addition which helped us decide upon this detour from our original 2nd stage of our now emerging 6 part, 4 month, 15,000 mile road trip away from Alaska.

The citizen science tour started out with a look at stream life as part of a cooperative with the forest service. Investigating mayfly and similar species that nest in rocky river bottoms, we looked for signs of increased pollution, which might have been caused by the recent construction of a new road. Our guide, Jon, had worked for teh forest service for over 25 years and reportedly had connections with people whould would care, and make, or at least try to make changes if our geeky tourist group found decreased populations of insects: which we did.

Next we moved from the stream down a well maintained path past streams filled with chum and sockeye salmon. Bald Eagles sat in spruce with mossy beards and a few tourists rumbled by chassing after an elusive black bear that had been spotted the hazzy temperate rainforest of the inner passage – a poor idea.

Rounding a corner in the trail we emerged on a calm lake filled with a flotilla of ice ships birthed from the massive Mendenhall glacier. The bergs varied in size and texture, strewn about the glacial lake, blue-white and curious. Jon told us that an enormous historical event had just taken place the day before: A melt-pond that had reached its critical limit had punched a drainage hole through the ice allowing millions of gallons of fresh water to escape. The river feeding the lake tripled in size and the water level rose 5-10 feet, leaving smaller icebergs stranded on shore destined to slowly melt intot he soggy shoreline. It was a beautiful sight; cool, cloudy, and decidedly Alaskan.

Finally shuttling over to the docks at Auke Bay we met our Captain, Rich. A short ride in the small boat has us 10 miles back up the coast toward Haines, Alaska, where we had left our car before taking the ferry to Juneau. Stopping quickly we opened the windows of the boat to witness the misty pouts of a pod of humpback whales. In all the whale watches I had been on out of New England, none had been so quick, direct and close to shore.

This time of year, in this particular corner of the world, nestled between fjords, birthing glaciers, and clouded spruce forests, humpacks have pioneered a cooperative industry. ‘Bubble-net feeding’ is known only to occur off the coasts of Juneau and at a small remote location near Chile in South America. Here, a mere 15 minutes into our whale-watch a story was narrated to us as we watched the whales dive on the female’s command. “They’re grouping together now, near the bottom, blowing basketball sized bubbles in a circle…” This bubble ring corrals and confuses herring, krill, and other small fish into a cylindrical buffet. Then all at once, they rise to the surface, mouths open, lined with fuzzy baleen, they break the surface engulfing 15,000 gallons of water and food. We saw this again and again, merely 300 feet from our boat.

Farther past shelter Island, where we witnessed the feeding, 2 pairs of mother and child swam through the channel, A sudden splash set the beats occupants to one side with a gasp. “That’s a breach!” Joen excalimed as the baby again lept clumsily out of the water, splashing and flipping its tail. I scrambled to put my telephoto lens on and readyed as shot near the last miniature breach. ISO up to 800… f/9.0…too dark…..f/8.0….shutter to 1/1000th of a second….focusing, scanning the horizon. I took the camera away from my face and wiped the mist from the lens.

Looking back through the view finder I gazed directly at a huge mass leaping from the sea. My trigger finger dpressed the shutter button letting off 5 shots before it fell back into the dark, deep, blue waters. The boat erupted into an extended, “WOAHHHHH!”

‘Low Battery’…… ‘Card Full,’ my camera blinked at me.

I had practically missed seeing the actual breach from behind the rapid blinking of the shutter. I hit review. There it was.

“Remarkable,” I mumbled under my breath. I looked to Natalie, both of us smiling. “I got it.”

One Response to “It Was Raining in Juneau…”
  1. Ann Ives says:

    ok…..that seals it……I need to go to Juneau!!!

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