Many people, including me, have Alaska high on their bucket list of travel experiences to do at least once in their lifetime. So, I’m thrilled that Captain Alan Corbett, a whale watching Captain in Juneau, Alaska, has written a guest post for Life Well Cruised. In his own words. he explains what you need to know for your Alaska whale watching excursion. It’s both practical and awe inspiring.
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Alaska Whale Watching Tips from a Captain
Mention Alaska to most people and their mind is immediately drawn to a particular image. Some imagine a sweeping wilderness vista of snow-capped mountains dissected by turquoise glaciers. Others picture brown bears pouncing into crystal clear creeks chasing salmon and still others imagine cruising the crystal clear waters of the inside passage in search of humpback whales and elusive orcas. But regardless of your expectations, you can never truly prepare yourself for the reality , it’s emotionally overwhelming.
I’m a whale watching captain in Southeast Alaska and it’s my job to bring people out and give them, what in most cases is their first interaction with the humpback whales that visit us each summer. The rush of adrenaline that surges through your body when a 60ft,120000 pound animal surfaces near the boat and exhales a fine plume of mist 20ft into the air, is an experience you’ll never forget. That first encounter often moves people to tears of joy. But before you arrive on your whale watch, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure you’ll have the best time possible.
1) Dress Appropriately
Yes, you will be on a cruise. But this isn’t the Caribbean. It’s southeast Alaska and we live in the Tongass National Forest. That’s 16.7 million acres temperate rain-forest, which is a lot of trees and they like the rain. And we get a lot of rain. So be prepared. Dress in layers and bring a packable rain jacket, gloves if your hands get cold and a warm hat. It’s better to not need them than wish you had them.
2) Bring Binoculars
If you want to make sure that you get the best view possible of the humpback whales, then bring your own binoculars. I have high quality binoculars on board for my passengers, but not all boats do. Having your own binoculars means that regardless of whether the whales are 400 yards away or cruising by the bow of your boat you’ll have the best view in the house. Also please remember your captain is legally obligated, by federal law, to keep at least 100 yards from the whales. Sure the whales might come close, which is fine, but the chances are you will be further away from them than you think.
3) Know your camera
The camera on your phone or iPad should be just fine for your whale watch, I use mine all the time. But be warned the camera on your phone is not going to get you National Geographic style photos, especially if the whales are over 100 yards away. If you’re looking to use a better camera here are a few tricks that’ll help you get the shot.
a) Rent don’t buy. If you don’t have a camera or lenses then rent them. Plenty of websites now rent camera gear by the week. That’s a great way to use expensive equipment without emptying your bank account.
b) If you own or rent, know how the camera works. I see frustrated people every day miss the photo they want because they aren’t familiar with their camera. Take time to shoot the camera at home.
c) Be patient. The whales are mammals. They come up to breathe regularly. So if you miss the shot of the whale’s fluke high in the air as it dives don’t get frustrated. The whale will be back again when it needs more air and you’ll get a second chance.
d) Remember that taking photos of marine mammals is hard. The professionals spend weeks sometimes months trying to get one shot. Any photo you get is special.
4) Manage your expectations
We all want to see whales breaching, killer whales cruising near the boat, sea lions jumping out of the water and humpbacks bubble net feeding. However, the reality is that these are relatively rare occurrences. So take the pressure off yourself and just enjoy the tour. You’re going to see whales (On my tour we offer a money back guarantee if you don’t). Those whales are wild free-swimming sentient mammals. They are going about their daily business eating, socializing and being whales. The humpbacks in Southeast Alaska are very acrobatic… in Hawaii when they are breeding. When they are in Alaska they are focused on feeding. It doesn’t mean you won’t see a spectacular show. It just means they have other things on their minds.
5) Don’t forget to look around you while you are on the boat
Yes, you are there to see the whales but don’t forget to look at the scenery. The coastline of Southeast Alaska is a stunningly rugged mix of coastal mountains, islands and glaciers. It’s easy to get caught up with what’s happening on the water and miss the beauty that is all around you. Take a moment to put the camera or binoculars down and absorb the scenery. It will blow your mind.
Alaska is full of potential experiences for you to appreciate and cruising through the Southeast of is fantastic way to do it. Just remember when you book your whale watch here to follow my 5 top suggestions. You’ll be yelling “Thar She Blows” like a member of the crew!
Thoughts from Ilana
I hope that you enjoyed the 5 Practical Alaska Whale Watching Tips You Need to Know. Are you ready for a cruise to Alaska? I know I am!! Please follow Alan on Instagram for incredible Alaska photos and videos :-).
If you’re planning a cruise to Alaska, I think you’ll also enjoy this article about why everyone should take an Alaskan Cruise.
Bio: Alan Corbett is a whale watching captain in Southeast Alaska. He left Ireland and headed east, living in Southeast Asia, Australia, Vietnam. Eventually he arrrived in Alaska, where he stayed. He loves the ocean, the mountains, and all things outdoors. He lives in Juneau with his wife and two dogs. To book a whale watching tour with Alan while you are in Juneau, contact Alan below.
Social media: follow Capt. Alan on Instagram @alanwrites
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