ORCA in Alaska - Adventures of a time-traveller and some rather unusual marine mammal encounters..



An update from Alaska – Maria Snell – ORCA Marine Mammal Observer

Hello from Alaska! Now that I am over halfway through the Alaska Marine Mammal Observer season (where has the time gone?!), I thought I would give you a quick update on how things are going.

After I boarded the ship in Yokohama, Japan, we began our seven-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska (crossing the International Date Line and travelling back in time by 24 hours was surreal!). During this time, I provided ship strike mitigation training for the bridge team, part of which involved running through some hypothetical scenarios and discussing what the best course of action would be. The aim of this was to ensure the team had an understanding of how to reduce the risk of ship strike before we reached the whale-rich waters of Alaska.

Since this first voyage across the Pacific, we have been doing back-to-back itineraries in Southeast Alaska and wow, it is absolutely stunning! Abundant marine wildlife coupled with snow-covered mountains, emerald green temperate rainforest and numerous glaciers…it’s paradise!

What my day looks like depends on whether we are in port or not but, whenever we are at sea, I spend as much time as possible up at the bridge maintaining a watch for whales and collecting data. Keeping a look out for whales and pointing them out helps the bridge team to avoid them as best as possible, and this is particularly important in sensitive areas such as Glacier Bay National Park, where these whales gather to feed.

As expected, humpback whales are by far the most numerous species we encounter, and we have been lucky enough to witness a range of behaviours including breaching, tail slapping, fin slapping and lunge feeding. We have also sighted several mother-calf pairs. One thing I’ve learnt is that watching a humpback whale raise its unique tail flukes into the air and perform a deep dive is something I'll never get tired of!

We have also seen a variety of other species including orcas, Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoises. A particular highlight was when a pod of five orcas accompanied us for about half an hour as we sailed into Ketchikan in Alaska We also see sea otters, harbour seals and Steller sea lions on a regular basis, and we have even seen bears from the ship! For each cruise, I keep a record of the species I see from the bridge and update it every day to give the guests an idea of what’s around.

See below for the final tally for our most recent itinerary (and yes, we did actually see two moose swim past the ship!).