Autumn passed through Alaska in the blink of an eye, and now the snow is falling and the days are getting shorter. It’s only been a few weeks since the end of our cruising season, and we already can’t wait to be back on the water next spring. This was Major Marine’s 33rd season in Seward, and one of our best yet based on our amazing crew, new and upgraded vessels, and wildlife encounters!
With the nationwide hiring and housing challenges, we were extremely fortunate to end up with such an enthusiastic and dedicated crew. This season we brought all of our deckhands to Seward earlier in the spring, and had them do extensive training with the captains, as well as fire and safety courses at AVTEC. All of our captains, and the majority of our deckhands, are planning on returning next season too!
Captain Laura recounts the amazing season, “We were spoiled with an epic first half of the summer with everything from constant ideal weather and epic wildlife. From many days bubble-net feeding groups of humpbacks to orca sightings galore. The second half of the summer was a lot wetter, as it should be in a rainforest, but we still had so many incredible encounters. From spotting black bears swimming near glaciers to continued frequent orca sightings and other whales and lots of other wildlife. Probably one of the best days this season for me was while we were out in the Gulf observing a Fin Whale. I had stopped the boat and been waiting for several minutes to see where the whale was going to surface next and the animal decided to surface barely ten feet in front of the boat. I looked straight down the blowhole of a Fin Whale. Blew my mind. Then it decided to linger there very near the bow of the boat for several minutes. Unusual for a Fin Whale and just awesome to watch. We were gifted a summer of abundance and mind blowing encounters. Rainbows in front of glaciers a couple times were pretty amazing too. Oh, and the beach belly rubbing orcas that I happened upon on right after briefly spotting elusive transient orcas on one of the worst weather days of the season helped make that day into an epic tour. And toward the end of the season, one day while sitting stationary near Cape Aialik looking for a whale, hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters were flying around us! Witnessing the mass migration! There were so many amazing days that I’m sure I am actually forgetting some other spectacular thing. A cherry on top was overall having the best crew we have probably had in a long time.”
As for wildlife, it was another great season of killer whales and bubble-net feeding! During peak orca season, from mid-May to mid-June, we saw orcas on 86% of our daily trips. This time of year coincides with the king and chum salmon run in the convergence zone between Resurrection Bay and Aialik Bay. We also saw a late season spike in orca sightings, with over half of September trips getting to see the apex predators.
Humpback whale sightings have changed a bit over the years. While we used to see humpbacks well into September, we have noticed a trend of them leaving the area earlier in August, potentially going out to open ocean to feed due to warmer coastal waters. August humpback encounters have slimmed, but the activity earlier in the season has dramatically increased. We saw more cooperative, lunge, and bubble-net feeding in June and July than we ever have before.
Captain John has the opportunity to visit Northwestern Fjord on the 8.5 Hour Cruise for the majority of the season, both a crew and passenger favorite trip. “A well-known favorite sight on the trip is Cataract Cove. For good reason. Cataract is home to a wall of cascading waterfalls dropping off a cliff over 2,000 ft high. This particular day we rounded the corner on approach to the cove and spotted a humpback near the falls. This is not a place I’ve seen or heard of seeing whales in the past so we were all excited. We stayed back hoping to get a look of the whale. When it resurfaced, it was right in front of the waterfalls a few hundred yards ahead. A few breaths then a dive…headed our way. We shut down the boat and drifted. Listening to the cascading waterfall a passenger notices the humpback is directly below the boat feeding! Eventually surfacing on our port side, then back to starboard. The whale was often coming to the surface with its mouth wide open, a lunge feed. This continued for nearly 10 minutes before the humpback made its way farther down the coast. To share this space with a humpback whale, so willing to be near us, and just existing in that moment was one of the most memorable days of my career with Major Marine Tours.”
From Captain Nicole and crew, “One of the highlights I experienced with the crew this summer was when we cooperatively wrote a poem onboard. It was a dreary day and as I walked down the dock, I made up a little rhyme in my head about the weather. Once I got aboard, I wrote down the first line and told the crew that we should each write a little bit throughout the day. By the end of the day we had all contributed to create a masterpiece. Well, maybe not a masterpiece of poetry but an outstanding attempt anyhow – and when I read it aloud to the passengers who had experienced the day with us, they broke out into applause.”
Today was even grayer, grayer than the rest.
We are not poets but we will try our best.
To live in Alaska you have to be an optimist.
Today was gray.
Now the sun has broken through.
We were stunned into silence by sunshine, this is true.
From the shiny sea, a fin of black emerges.
The whales and the glaciers soothe our wild urges.
As we cruise along the rugged coastline, our soulful spirits surge.
Oh what a sight ye black and white,
So beautiful and violent.
Be warned all you blub’ry sea mammals,
These hunters will find you,
So smart and so silent
Toward siren song we speed along,
O’er swell and chop and spray.
Through rolly Gulf, around the Cape,
Waypoint: Ailaik Bay
We can’t forget to mention that we built a brand new boat this year!
This is our third new boat in the last four seasons, and we are thrilled with our state-of-the-art fleet specially designed for passenger comfort and wildlife viewing. Last season we welcomed the Spirit of Matushka, and this year we built her sister ship, Skana. As the Spirit of Matushka’s sister ship, we wanted to keep the same local killer whale theme for the Skana. Last fall, Major Marine did a company wide vote on several different boat names after orcas that are seen in Kenai Fjords National Park, and Skana was the favorite. Skana is a 29 year old large bull male orca in the AD8 resident pod, a group that is frequently seen feeding and socializing in Kenai Fjords. We also sent one of our older vessels, the Glacier Express, down to Washington State where she was built to get an extensive list of upgrades.
Here at Major Marine Tours, Harbor 360 Hotel, and Gateway Hotel, we can’t wait to welcome back our crew and visitors with the best teamwork, newest fleet, and once in a lifetime wildlife viewing in 2023!
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