Bear and Whale 2022
Bear / Whale Trip Report, Trip 1, 2022
I think these trips reports are helpful at giving folks a real feel for what we actually see on one of my photo tours. All these photos (except one as noted) were captured on my actual Alaska Bear and Whale Photo Tour. By the way, we have a little bit of space left for 2023.
Juneau was looking nice right now with lots of fireweed in full bloom. That could come in handy in a day or two. Along with a hike / run on my favorite Juneau area trail, the Perseverance Trail, we also visited the hatchery for the first time. It was very interesting, and will be added to the list of things to do for folks who arrive in Juneau early, which is almost everyone.
We had our welcome dinner at The Hanger, which is just a short walk from our hotel, the Four Points Sheraton, and everyone seemed to really like the food. I used to skip this popular restaurant because of the crowds and noise, but I’m glad I have changed it up and included it since they have great Alaska seafood. There are many familiar faces on this trip, and it is always fun to reconnect and talk about the upcoming week.
Sunshine! Captain Ben arrived at 10:30 a.m. with the van and met the group. Ben and I took the van down to the yacht while Janine accompanied the group on a casual walk along the waterfront to meet us. This works well as it gives us time to get bags into the rooms before everyone is on board. The crew untied the boat, and we got underway!
I always warn people that these first few hours can be uneventful and are more about traveling to the good stuff, but wouldn’t you know it, we did see a humpback whale. Normally we don’t stop unless there is a large group of humpback, or they are doing something interesting like breeching, but there is no going by the first one. I like to circle the Midway Islands for the bird activity, and it was exceptionally good this time. Eagles at a nest, huge flocks of harlequin, oystercatchers black turnstones and more.
From the islands we moved to a spit of land at the head of Tracy Arm. Some years, this location can have great fireweed, and with all the fireweed in Juneau, I was hopeful, and it did not disappoint. By now, the weather turned a bit rainy, but the clouds lifted just enough to show the surrounding peaks and hanging glaciers so we were all able to enjoy a landscape session on shore.
We anchored in a nearby cove putting us in perfect position to make the long journey up and down the dramatic Tracy Arm tomorrow.
Beautiful sunny day! We headed up Tracy Arm after breakfast. We got a good look at a brown bear on the beach. There were lots of seals hauled out on icebergs near Sawyer Glacier, possibly hundreds. There was also one of the most beautiful icebergs I have ever seen, including from multiple trips to Antarctica! Before we left Sawyer Glacier, we had a couple of large calvings, the last one was really big!
As we left Tracy Arm, we came across a number of humpback whales before pulling into Windham Bay for the night.
It rained during the night, but it was just cloudy this morning. We got underway after breakfast and headed to a sea lion haul out on Sunset Island. The sea lions were great, very active!
Then we turned towards Seymore Channel where we saw many more humpbacks. One breached right next to the boat! Always amazing to see and hear. In Seymore, we had a number of Dall porpoise swimming on the bow. Finally, we dropped anchor in Windfall Harbor. This puts us right next to Pack Creek Bear Observatory for the morning.
Once we were at anchor, I took half the group on a skiff ride, while the other half went in kayaks. The tide was really high, allowing us to get back into a meadow where we saw eagles and deer, but surprisingly, no bears. This is a pretty place to spend the evening.
Unfortunately, we woke up to hard wind and rain. We headed over to Pack Creek Bear Observatory where we headed to shore right at 9:00 a.m. as soon as it opened. I was hopeful the weather would improve as the day went on.
As soon as we got to shore, we saw a sow with 3 spring cubs along with another bear further off in the distance. This was a good sign, especially since the incoming tide should push any bears towards us. We walked to the bear viewing area and set up, but before long, the rangers said the wind was too hard and they would have to close for the day. The rangers stay on a nearby island, and if seas grew any higher, they wouldn’t be able to make it back to camp in their small boat. I have never had that happen before.
That was disappointing, although the group handled it well noting you can’t control nature. Just a few minutes after pulling anchor, another boat gave us a heads up about a large pod of orcas just on the other side of a nearby island. We quickly headed that way and wow! There must have been 20 orcas, and they were incredibly playful and active. Often breeching and tail slapping right next to the boat. I mostly shot video with my phone since they were so close, and sadly can’t post those here, but we had an incredible show for a good hour or more! In the end, everyone was glad we got pushed off of Pack Creek, because otherwise we would have missed this amazing show, something much harder to find in nature. I think it was my best orca experience.
We went a short ways down Seymore Channel, but seas were rough, so we took cover and anchored in Short Finger Bay. This was a new bay for me and Ben and we both decided it was a great place to stop with a beach perfect for a bbq in the future if the weather was better.
Fortunately, the wind had let up some by morning. This is what I think of as humpback day as we traverse Frederick Sound. We did see a fair number of humpbacks and Dall porpoise.
We ended the day in my favorite bay, Takatz Bay. It was nice to get in a little early as I was able to take some folks on a skiff ride, while others went for a kayak.
Woke up to a beautiful, sunny morning!
Today we would be visiting what should be our best bear viewing location. There was some extra pressure today since Pack Creek was a bust. Well, this place came through in a big way! It was fantastic! We had lots of salmon with brown bears catching salmon after salmon. The fishing was so good that they were just discarding the males and only keeping females and eating the roe. There was a sow with a spring cub, and another sow with three spring cubs. Not to mention, lots of eagles. Everyone was thrilled!
After the bear viewing, we came across a group of humpback whales bubble net feeding. Wow, what a day!
We arrived at our anchorage for the night, a beautiful setting with a waterfall backdrop. In the late evening light, I could see salmon jumping and at least one bear on the beach. Should be good for morning.
Unfortunately, the morning brought with it rain. We waited until after breakfast to go to shore since it would be a more favorable tide. The rain really started coming down hard at this point and since the bear photography was so good yesterday, no one was overly motivated to sit it out in the rain. We spent some time in the rain forest before heading back to the boat. As we motored back to the boat, we could see one bear near the falls, but everyone was fine to skip it.
We did come across another group of bubble net feeding humpback whales, so that was fun.
We tied up for the evening in Taku Harbor.
The photo above was captured on an earlier trip - you can see why I like to return to this amazing location.
We had a short trip back to Juneau, where the luxury bus picked everyone up for a trip back to the airport. Despite maybe the worst weather I have ever had on a Southeast Alaska trip, we still had numerous wonderful photo opportunities. We had the best orca show I have ever seen, along with one of the best brown bear salmon fishing opportunities, not to mention bubble-net feeding humpbacks. The Inside Passage just keeps on giving!
Here you can see more Alaska Inside Passage / Tongass photos.