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Posted by on Aug 10, 2011 in Environment, Nature | 0 comments

The Best of Juneau Alaska – Glaciers and Whales

Some of today’s sights —

First, the stunning Mendenhall Glacier, on a steady retreat

 

Mendenhall Glacier

 

Bald Eagle

Like most of the glaciers in Alaska, the Mendenhall has been retreating– that is, melting off the front faster than it’s been adding ice from the snowfields behind it.  99% of all Alaskan glaciers are either retreating, thinning, or stagnating.  These glaciers can be viewed as canaries in the coal mine, indicators of climate change.

Bald eagles are ubiquitous here.  We saw 4 or 5 on our 2 hour boat trip. According to the naturalist on board, it is not uncommon to see eagles in the water “swimming.”  This happens when the eagle dives for a fish, misses, and soaks its wings. Unable to fly, the bird tries to propel itself to shore by windmilling its wings on the surface.

Harbour Seals are also very common in this area.

Harbour Seals

We got lucky today and came across 5 or 6 humpbacks feeding in one area. The naturalist

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale

said this was unusual, so we were fortunate to see this many in a group.  We didn’t approach them too closely and it was rainy, so the pictures are a bit blurry. It’s harder than you expect to get photos of them since they only show themselves on the surface for brief seconds. Sometimes all you see are the plumes of water as they exhale.

We saw a few great tail fluke displays, but those only happen when the whales launch themselves on a deep dive (up to 400 feet or more). Once they do that, you won’t see that whale again for some time. Happily, most of them seemed to be feeding near the surface.

Humpbacks can eat more than a ton of krill and small fish every day. And while they can open their mouths 90 degrees and take in hundreds of gallons of water at a time, their throats are small and they can’t swallow anything larger than a

Humpback whale tail flukes

Humpback whale tail flukes

grapefruit.

Steller Sea Lions

And finally, a group of Steller Sea Lions, basking on a bouy (no idea how they get themselves up there!).   Males can weigh up to 1245 lbs and be over 10 feet long.  These threatened animals are disappearing from Alaska in great numbers over the last 40 years and scientists are puzzling over the cause of the sudden decline.

All for now. Apologies for the awful formatting of this post. Am paying by the minute for a barely-existent internet connection. Just want to get these pics up. Will clean it all up when I get home.

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