The brilliant and underrated comedian Demetri Martin once said, “Whale watching is a very similar to watching people on a boat become disappointed.”
My previous whale watching trips have always been a futile endeavor. Everyone would get all excited by a fluke half a mile away and snap photos with a camera phone. We’d then wait about seven minutes for it to resurface so we could all try and take another blurry photo of a whale back.
After spending half a summer in Glacier Bay, I have been converted – I have found whale-watching religion and I sing its praises from on high. Do you have a personal relationship with whales? Have you come to accept whales as the most amazing animal on Earth? Can I step inside your home and show you some materials?
My religious conversion came on June 23 of this year. All the elements were in place for a spiritual experience: I was at Halibut Point at sunset, the Fairweather Mountains were out in all their glory, a riot of wildflowers covered the shore, Hitchcockian swarms of sea gulls swirled around and for good measure several bald eagles glided overhead. Then I heard it. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! I turned around expecting to see a flannel-clad Alaskan shooting a gun into the air, but instead saw a humpback whale slapping the water with his tail.
Off to the other side, I heard what sounded like my Dad blowing his nose, a shocking noise for the uninitiated. I looked over to see a towering column of whale snot and water vapor shooting 50 feet up in the air and a humpback the size of a school bus glide through the water. He arched his back and made a deep dive with his tail slipping gracefully into the water. I was gobsmacked.
I spent about two hours watching the eight or so whales in the cove. I always heard them before I saw them – the oilrig gusher of whale breath erupting from the water would betray their position. The whales were singing, sometimes sounding like a booming trumpet from heaven, sometimes making a screeching noise like a giant door with squeaky hinges.
Seeing whales from the shore was awesome, but a few days later I took it to a whole new level by going kayaking in the same waters. Being up close to a leviathan isn’t for the feint of heart. Not long after we got in our kayak, this happened:
I looked back to see water splashing as if a meteor crashed behind us. A whale had breached, and although we didn’t see it, we saw the subsequent splash and felt the thunderous blast. We turned and went closer to shore…just in case.
Then over the weekend I went on the TAZ tour boat. After about 2.5 hours of seeing whales surface close to the boat – awesome on its own – a whale decided to put on a display by breaching repeatedly.
The whale would come flying out of the water, nearly getting his entire 80,000-pound frame into the air, twirl around with the grace of a ballerina and then crash into the water like a fat kid doing a cannon ball. Between breaches, the whale would shoot his body half-way out of the sea and smash his head onto the water, which was nearly as cool in its own way.
I am now a whale evangelist, ready to spread the good word with a religious zeal. If you died today, could you say that you’ve seen whales? If you haven’t come to Glacier Bay to see this, you really should. It is one of the great wildlife spectacles on Earth and unlike Demetri Martin, you won’t be disappointed.