Water. In the space called Frederick Sound, the water waits silently. There’s a grey – or even silver – hue to the air and the frosted breath of everyone on board seems to add to the tension, frozen puffs of cloud suspended in the sky.
We hear it again. From somewhere beyond the stillness comes a soft moan, a slow-motion splash and a spray of white foam.
A humpback whale. Then another. Further away to begin with, but then gliding closer and closer. They move with slowness, as though their prehistoric appearance allows them to play with the boundaries of time. Slowly, slowly, slowly, rising into that languid curve, that hump that gives them their name, then slowly, slowly, I can’t hold my breath any more, they slowly submerge. There’s a missing heartbeat before the moment I’ve been watching for arrives…
The tail, that majestic symbol of all the monsters of the deep, rises, pauses, holds, waits, lingers above the water before plunging down again, throwing up a signature of spray.
It’s hard to explain why this moves me so much: one animal, moving as normal. The sight of an earthworm, for example, sliding through mud, wouldn’t fill me with anywhere near this much joy.
Yet sometimes there’s a place for suspending questions and forgetting analysis. And I think that place is Frederick Sound.
I travelled on the “uncruise” between Juneau and Ketchikan in Alaska. You can read a full account of the uncruise experience in Alaska and find booking details over here.
Whales begin leaving the warm waters of Mexico in February, arriving in the cooler Alaska waters in April. They tend to stay until September, which is the main cruising season in Alaska anyway. Roads and rail are limited if not non-existent in Alaska so seaplanes or cruising are the best ways to get around.
Frederick Sound has the highest concentration of humpback whales in the northern hemisphere, so your chances of spotting a whale are pretty good!
Disclosure: I went whale watching in Frederick Sound as a guest of American Safaric Cruises and Inner Sea Discoveries. The trip also involved kayaking, hiking, walking on glaciers and more. I’m completely free to write bad things about them if I want to – but in this case, there’s nothing to say. I’d highly recommend either cruise for whale watching and more in Alaska.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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