Southeast Alaska
Whale/Wildlife Watching

Doty Cove 
Doty Cove

(more photos at bottom of page)

In the spring of 1998 I was fortunate to find myself, quite accidentally, with an application to work for Allen Marine Tours over the summer.  At the time, Allen Marine was running two different tours out of Juneau aboard 65' and 78' catamarans for cruise ship passengers; one was a three hour wildlife tour out of Auke Bay and the other was a three hour tour up the Taku Inlet to view the scenery, the Taku Glacier, and wildlife.   Allen Marine intended to start another tour that summer with Princess Cruises that combined a land trip to the Mendenhall Glacier with a historical/scenic tour around the back side of Douglas Island.  Because of my experience on the Taku River they hired me as "passenger service" to work on the downtown boat which did the Taku run once a week and the "Land & Sea" runs as well as intermittent wildlife trips.  Shortly after the season began, the naturalist (narrator) on my crew took another job and I replaced her, starting four summers of naturalizing on the waters of Southeast Alaska.  I worked for Allen Marine for two summers and then switched to Auk Nu Tours, Allen Marine's sister company at the time, narrating on day-long trips to Tracy Arm and Gustavus/Icy Strait for two years.

Growing up along the Taku River my affinity had always been for fresh water and cottonwoods so I was astonished when working on the ocean changed me so radically.  I still love the rivers and the sweet smells that waft down the valleys from the interior, but the sea has worked its way under my skin quite against my best intentions.  My life very quickly oriented toward the ocean, until scuba diving and whale watching became my favorite hobbies.  I never thought very highly of the ubiquitous rhetoric of the ocean and all the literature about the profundity of the sea and its siren-like pull to mariners left me a little cold and somewhat skeptical.  But so is the power of the ocean that I have begun to understand.

Four summers traveling by water through much of northern Southeast Alaska rewarded me with more marine mammal (and other) stories than I could write down, though I've only seen a fraction of what lives out there.  My crews and I spent whole summers regularly visiting the same mother and calf humpback whales, came to recognize individual orcas and their pods, and saw glimpses of the still largely mysterious lives of every marine mammal in the area, as well as numerous other critters.  Exhaustion and monotony always took their toll from spending day after day answering the same questions and seeing essentially the same typical wildlife (seals on rocks, humpbacks sounding, and so on), while trying to portray consistent enthusiasm to the passengers.  This could go on for a week or more, but something always manifested itself to remind me of why I worked in such a job--something astonishing, magnificent or simply unusual.  These reminders included minks eating sea urchins on a beach, a mountain goat licking rocks in the intertidal zone, cataclysmic glacial calving, a rare red-tailed hawk sighting, a newborn sea lion, mating orcas, a playful humpback whale calf on a perfectly calm sea at sunset, or just a happy passenger who'd never seen a whale before.  In addition to enjoying the wildlife and the interaction with the passengers, I've also been fortunate to work with some exceptional crew members.

In the spring of 2002, I took a full time job with the State of Alaska, forgoing a summer on the water in favor of weekends and evenings and annual leave.  Though my first "normal" summer filled with extraordinary adventures that were previously impossible (weekly dives, solo marine mammal encounters, earning my 100 ton masters license, hiking the Chilkoot Trail, five days at my cabin on the Taku River, gardening, etc.), I longed to be back on the sea regularly.  With the construction project down at Snettisham I wind up on the water often, but mostly for transportation purposes and I still miss the intensity of the time on the water.  Being under my own command, though, I've accrued a lot of experience and knowledge about tides and currents and weather conditions that I never gained as crew on larger boats.  Some day perhaps my Snettisham dreams will come to fruition and I'll again take passengers out to see the wildlife on my own boat.

I began taking pictures on and off during my first year on the water in order to record a glimpse of what we encountered; from there, amateur photography gradually grew into a passion until I began carrying my camera with me to work every day so it would always be on hand (though I didn't always compete with my passengers for photo opportunities).  One can never, never predict wildlife, I learned, and must always be ready for it to appear!  I shot the photos below with a simple automatic Pentax 35 mm camera with a 140 zoom (which brings the wildlife to about the same distance in a photo as I see them with my eye).  Most pictures below have enlargements and anecdotal captions.  Today I shoot with a digital camera and have begun to accrue some decent wildlife photos, but I haven't yet updated this page.


Click for enlargements and captions

Young bay
humpbacks AF29 D porpoise
orcas calf breach adult breach orca breach
Adolphus AF 3 tails lunge
T2 Adolphus calf lobtail sea lions whale

Whale Watching in Laguna San Ignacio (2001)
Whale Watching in the Sea of Cortez (2001)
Whale watching in Magdalena Bay and the Sea of Cortez (2004)
Whale watching in Magdalena Bay (2008)