Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Here There Be Whales
We landed at Juneau about 7:00 a.m. local time. Two prospectors - Richard Harris and Joe Juneau - were the first to establish the town and it was originally to be called Harrisburgh. Juneau could not read so Harris filed the paperwork and claimed the name for himself. Later the name was changed briefly to "Rockwell," but after Juneau complained that nothing in the area was named after himself, the town council rechristened the city after him in late 1881. There is still a Harris Harbor, after Richard Harris, in the city.
We are only docked here for about six hours, and over half of that time was spent traveling to Auke Bay and back for our whale watching excursion. After half an hour of travel by a boat that carried about 30 of us, we finally found some humpback whales that were comfortable enough with boats to stay near the surface.
The photo above is one my wife snapped of a humpback's tail, or its "fluke." We learned that when you see the fluke, you won't see the whale again for about five minutes, as that means it's diving and can stay down for that long before it needs another few gulps of fresh air.
The whales feed in this area from May through early September, growing to weigh between 75,000 and 100,000 pounds. Then, in late September, they begin their southern migration. Some go to Japan, some to Mexico, and most to Hawaii. There they mate and give birth to their young. They will not feed again until they return to the northern Pacific Ocean in May, and will lose between 15 to 30 percent of their body weight in that time.
After our time with the whales, the shuttle bus driver was kind enough to drop us at the Main Post Office (called the Federal Building), where we picked up our passports ... but by the time I had gone through the line and signed for them, we had about 30 minutes to travel roughly two miles - by foot - back to our dock before they closed up the gangway.
Needless to say, we got our exercise in today. We hoofed it. Big time. About five to ten minutes into this very quick walk, we finally hailed down a taxi, and though it already had a fare - two young men from Australia - they agreed to let us share their ride and even drop us off first. We made it back to the ship with less than ten minutes to spare, paid for the Australian's cab fare in gratitude for their generosity, and boarded our cruise ship, adrenaline rushing high.
Whew! Finally reunited with our proper citizenship documentation. I love it when a plan comes together.
This afternoon we spent resting up from all this excitement, got a look at Dawes Glacier in the Endicott Arm of the Inside Passage, and saw some of God's most beautiful natural scenery we've ever seen, and tonight we'll cap it all off with dinner at the fancy French restaurant on board, "Le Bistro."
Tomorrow, Skagway; Alaska's main gold rush city.