Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Different Day

I started work Monday by going down early to the river to whale watch. I inhaled some oatmeal and a banana, knocked back a cup of coffee in record time, and got out to the river at 7:10, 32 minutes before high tide. The temperature was in the 20’s and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

At this temperature and low tide, the mud flats up and down the riverbanks were frozen, exposing a dark brown swath of silt 20 feet or more out towards the channel. Tundra swans were already out and about; gulls swooped and called and chattered upstream. Perfect morning sunlight angled in from behind us, a little to our left.
The tide came in fast, cracking and creaking as the thin frozen mud was broken up by the moving water. Far downstream the raucous calling of the gulls became louder as they heralded the arrival of the whales.

Yesterday I was under the impression that the whales were feeding on salmon, but this is not the case (I sit corrected yet again). The whales and the gulls that follow them are feeding on herring and smelt. They don’t travel to feed as far as Naknek Lake but stay within the river for just a couple miles past where we stood.
White backs breached the water, one after the other, again and again and again for the 45 minutes I stood there in the morning chill. Yesterday I heard the song but didn’t see many whales. Today I saw perhaps 30-40 beluga whales and listened as they breathily whooshed their way upriver. I didn’t hear their song this time. That’s OK, though. It was a different day.

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