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Alaskan Waters - Notes from the Field

It's cold here. It is colder than most would think it would get in Texas, but the wind whips across a single-digit landscape to drop the wind chill below zero degrees Fahrenheit, so it's best to stay inside.

While I lament the cold weather here, I think of spring. In between watching football, I was doing some research on YouTube, and while running down multiple YouTube rabbit holes, I ran across some BBC nature videos. These videos are the best. If I had to pick one bucket list item, it would be to film for one of these incredible documentaries.

While traveling to Alaska, I've seen whales bubble feed, but that was in the summer. Never have I witnessed the herring spawn that occurs each spring in the waters of Southeast Alaska. Whales travel thousands of miles each year to return to the feeding grounds in search of one of the largest biomass concentrations on the planet.

The way whales bubble feed (and the method in which they've adapted ways to feed) is truly a spectacle. Take a look at the aerial footage below. It's just beautiful...

The incredible thing about the herring migration (and the whales that follow) is the food source that attracts other animals besides the whales. A few years ago, I was on the very tail end of the spawn in Southeast Alaska. While we saw a whale or two, the eagles and other wildlife were amazing as well.

Alaska Whales and Seaways - Hackberry Farm Photo School
Photo courtesy of Ben Blankenship

Alaska Whales and Seaways - Hackberry Farm Photo School
Photo courtesy of Ben Blankenship

As we traveled, the boat's cresting and falling caused by the gentle waves and hum of the craft creates a syncopated rhythm and is a bit hypnotic. The wind off the seas, although cold and with a bit of a bite, is welcome.

Soon, we are floating slowly through a cove just off the bay. A pair of sea otters surface and float lazily on their backs while we drift past. I've seen river otters often, but these sea otters are enormous. The species is native to the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean and can weigh up to 100 pounds. Their fur (which is the densest of any animal) is thick and sheds water - essential for surviving the harsh environments in which they live.

Alaska Whales and Seaways - Hackberry Farm Photo School
Sea Otter

Overhead, the first bald eagle flies past. Her presence as the first eagle of the trip is a novelty, and everyone scrambles to get a photo. Little did we know that this first eagle would be one of the hundreds of eagles we'd see during the week. As the boat eases closer to a picturesque island, eagles perch in the coniferous trees that line the craggy bank. Even more, hang out on the shore as we anchor and prepare for our first eagle photo session.

While bald eagles are seemingly ubiquitous because of the proliferation of their facsimile on money, governmental seals, and in popular culture, nothing beats seeing them in person. In person, you can see the enormity and sense the gravitas of the imposing sea eagle that feeds off fish and carrion and lives near open bodies of water. Adult males and females look identical to one another, but the females are 25% larger than the males. Immature bald eagles (those under five years of age) sport brown plumage with messy white highlights streaked randomly through their feathering.

Alaska Whales and Seaways - Hackberry Farm Photo School
Bald Eagle Diving on Fish

Alaska Whales and Seaways - Hackberry Farm Photo School
Bald Eagle Portrait

Once listed as an endangered species by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, the national bird is a modern conservation success story and has since been removed from the federal government's list of endangered and threatened species in 2007. Today, the eagle is found from Alaska to Mexico and most places in between where their habitat criteria are met.

It's hard to beat a day of work like that.


If you'd like to travel to Alaska and experience the incredible wildlife of Southeast Alaska, check out our upcoming trip, Alaska Whales and Seaways

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