Humpbacks can be seen in tours in Juneau, Hoonah, Seward and Homer. The tour boats leave from Auke Bay near Juneau and within a few minutes can be sighting whales. This is one of the most popular excursions for cruise ship passengers and a way to see more of natural Alaska. These humpbacks are busy feeding and seem innocuous about the whale tour boats. They often come close to the boats and seem to be in no hurry to leave. Normal humpback behavior is to arch their backs and show their tails when diving. Bubble feeding,fin flipping, rolling and full breeching are less common but can be very spectacular when it occurs. In Juneau, the boats range from those who take 4-6 passengers to those that can hold more than one hundred.
In the realative new cruise port of Icy Strait Point at Hoonah, whalewatching is available through the local tribe owned tour boat or several small charter boats that also offer more personalized tours. The Point Aldolphus area is extremely fertile and humpbacks can be seen in large numbers on these tours. Fifty or more in a three hour tour is not uncommon. Whales can also be spotted by merely standing on the docks in Hoonah, but the view is not as good as the view from a boat.
Orcas are harder to predict for Alaska viewing. There are some resident pods near Juneau and other transient pods can be seen. Going through the inside passage will give the best chance to see as there are more resident pods near Victoria. Orcas can be spotted in tours in Kenai Fjords NP out of Seward as well as Juneua.
If you are going whalewatching, don’t forget your camera. And be sure to take lots of film, batteries, and memory cards. A telephoto lens of at least 200-400mm will make those humped back and whale tails look a lot larger in your photos. So go enjoy some of the best whalewatching in the world.
Here’s the breakdown on whale watching in Juneau:
All of the tours see basically the same whales in the same area. As a matter of fact, NOAA and NMFS require whale watching operators to act cooperatively to stay out of the way of the whales and other marine mammals. All tour operators have a set of guidelines to follow… things like do not approach closer than 100 yards, communicate with other boats and coordinate your viewing, don’t stay with one group of animals for more than 30 minutes, etc.
Since most of the tours in Juneau are 2-3 hours in length, and they’re all going to the same areas, it comes down to a few more subtle points when making your decisions.
First, try to decide what size of boat you’d like to take your tour on. I put all the operations in Juneau into 3 categories, based on the size (passenger capacity) of the boats they operate. First, Allen Marine operates the largest boats. You’ll be on a tour with anywhere from 60-150 other people. The interaction with the captain will be minimal, but there are usually several very qualified crew members you can grab and ask a question if needed. When the boat is fairly full, the announcements will all be over a P/A system instead of in person.
Dolphin Jet Tours, Gastineau Guiding Company, Adventures in Alaska, Alaska Whale Watching and Orca Enterprises all fall into the medium category with anywhere from 7 to 50 guests on each tour. Usually the boats are smaller than the big Catamarans, and your announcements and narration will usually be in-person. A bit more direct access to the captain/local expert. Ask about the age of the vessels and be sure to see if there is a restroom onboard. Most of these boats deliver a comfortable, clean and well designed viewing experience.
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