Coffee With a Whale

By , April 17, 2010

Yesterday morning, I sat on the edge of our rocks. Cats paws rippled the water’s still surface; pale sunshine bathed the mountains and me, while wisps of cloud shrouded their heads. I sipped coffee from my favorite mug. Sea lions a few miles across the water at Gran Point growled and howled, as ever. Three ruby crowned kinglets interrupted each others songs in the trees behind me. Somewhere across Lynn Canal an avalanche banged its way into a ravine. The morning’s freshness, salt tang and warming spruce and hemlock, with a touch of birch and alder bud, sweetened my morning “mug up.” Every so often, spaced just enough to make me start slightly with its sudden appearance and deep “whoosh” of breath, a humpback whale surfaced beneath me, slowly, almost lazily working its way through our bight in large loops.

The herring run has started!

We’ve been expecting it, but “the Next Big Thing” took us a bit by surprise on Thursday. Since the herring fishery closed in Sitka, we’d been watching for signs of approaching shoals: gathering whales, excited sea lions, and clouds of sea birds. Usually, all of these appear in increasing numbers, and excitement builds until, at last, the herring begin to gather and spawn.

This year, things happened a bit differently. We’d seen a whale or two, recently. Sea lions had only just begun to swim in larger, noisier groups. I began to think about overhauling the nets. I’d guessed we had another week at least, perhaps more, before the herring arrived.

The night of the 14th, and again the next morning, we heard whales. Around 10:30 a pair of them swam north, where a large pod of harbor porpoises joined them. The whales began feeding, and the porpoises raced through the water around them. As we watched at the water’s edge, a small shoal of herring swam past our feet.

Aly and I scrambled. We didn’t run for the nets; the shoal was too small. Instead, she grabbed her hydrophone and recording gear. I’d been thinking about how to improve its performance, and tried several ideas. As a reward, we listened to the herring (which make a clicking sound, like a Geiger counter) and the two whales as they passed close by. They apparently don’t vocalize much while feeding, although if we’re lucky, they might bubble net later on. We heard slight sounds and the rush of water as they passed. Excitement enough for now!

Our urgency to catch herring will increase soon. Until then, yesterday brought plenty of other jobs to tend to, and soon I had to break my reverie and move on. But to sit for a while and enjoy my morning coffee in the company of a whale was heavenly!

4 Responses to “Coffee With a Whale”

  1. Paula says:

    I read the first paragraph and all I could think was “this is one lucky guy”. How amazing. I know that for most people, your way of life may be the “hard” way. (What- no malls?), but for me…..ideal. Thank you.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    If they had whales in the malls, I might be tempted to hang out there, but until then . . . !

  3. Barbara Fix says:

    Born in Alaska and living off-grid, I enjoyed your posting; “Coffee With A Whale”. It brought me back to Alaska, while my home is now in northern Idaho. Thank You! Would you be willing to share some of your experiences with our readers at The Sovereign Life? Hope so–so many will never know the wonder of Alaska. If you would allow it, I would like to add a link of your choice, for our readers to visit as well. Please let me know. I can be contacted at:

    Thank You for making my morning a bit brighter,

    Barbara Fix
    Manager of Sales and Marketing
    The Sovereign Life magazine

  4. robert & Carol Platt says:

    Alaska truly the last frontier. At our place on the mountain we have black bear, mule dear, white tail, elk, mountain goats, big horn sheep, pack rats, assorted rodents, blue grouse, coyote, pine fisher, bald eagles, other assorted birds, mountain lion and an occasional moose. No sea animals though. Bummer

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