Quintessential Alaska – a whale blows close to moss and fern covered rocks in Resurrection Bay. The water is hundreds of feet deep near shore here – this slope face rises almost vertically to snow-coverd peaks.
Coming back from a fishing excursion the other morning, we spotted a pair of whales near shore, off our forward port (left) quarter. They appeared to be in no hurry and so we, too, slowed down to spend some time watching them. Here and there we noticed telltale herring flipping on the surface – no doubt the reason the whales were in so close to shore. The steep banks would make the perfect place to corral a meal.
Smooth back, pronounce fin and white markings on the side indicate a minke whale – a member of the rorqual whale group. Rorquals feed by opening their massive, expandable mouths and straining small fish, shrimp, krill and other food through baleen.
Although we kept a fair distance, at one point the whales disappeared. We thought they’d sounded and left the area until suddenly they both came exploding out of the sea on our starboard side. Herring seemed to be flying in attempts to escape the whales’ massive jaws. As whales go, minkes are small, but they still average nearly 30 feet and 10 tons – large enough to reduce a 22-foot boat like ours to fiberglass splinters. This was our first time to see whales so close, let alone lunge-feeding, and rather than snap photos all we could do was watch, jaws agape, exclaiming “Oooo!”
This photo (taken with a Nikon DX 18-55 lens) captures the blowhole and the distinctive white markings of a minke.
We lingered, hoping to capture a repeat feeding lunge on film. And then it happened.
If you look closely, you can see a couple of herring in the spray around this minke whale’s head.
Suddenly the surface of the water began to bubble with jumping herring, and then, as if out of nowhere, a huge head came exploding out of the sea. Fortunately Barbra had the presence of mind to snap photos.
By the early 1900’s, after the world’s whaling fleets had mined most of the large whales out of the ocean, countries such as Norway and Japan, which continued whaling, turned their attention to smaller whales such as minkes. They’re still being hunted, but they remain locally common, and overall populations appear to be stable. Minkes can be found throughout the world’s oceans. An excellent field guide to Northern Pacific whales is Whales and Other Marine Mammals of British Columbia and Alaska, by Tamara Eder.