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Enlightened Expectation: A Week of Northern Lights, Whales, and Bears


By Allison Shrestha, Expedition Guide on the Wilderness Adventurer

We all arrive in Alaska with high expectations. As guides, not only do we want our guests to experience something amazing, but we want to experience a little bit of that magic ourselves. And some weeks, everything lines up.

This week started off on the very first night with an amazing northern lights show.

It’s just now beginning to be the season where it’s dark enough at night to see the lights if they show up, and with a partly clear sky, the lights exceeded expectation as the entire sky glowed green and for those who were patient, the ribbons of pink and purple beyond the green blasted and danced their way across the sky.

After incredible adventures kayaking in front of the calving tidewater glaciers, hiking up lateral moraines to peer down on the massive ice, and bushwhacking through the lush and thriving temperate rain forest, we exited Glacier Bay National Park to be treated to the whale show of a lifetime.

The whales were doing a behavior that no one (including three guides who had all previously worked as whale watching guides) had ever seen alongside a coveted behavior called lunge feeding. These humpbacks were thrashing their tales around before making lunges, where their giant mouths emerge from the water with gusto.

These whales are known to do a similar behavior called tail lobbing, which is largely considered a form of communication or play, but this was very obviously a feeding behavior. While tail lobbing tends to be a slapping of the tail, or fluke, on the water, these four whales were twisting and turning, showing off their pectoral fins and the sides of their bodies, and then thrashing their tails around before that big mouthy lunge up into the sky. Two of the whales seemed to be doing the behavior, while the other two seemed content to work this behavior on their own. How amazing to stand in their presence, to see something unknown and magical.

We rounded out this wondrous week with an all-day kayak trip, in which eight brave souls took part. It was an incredible journey and we were treated to a misty, mysterious morning with glassy waters and two exciting coastal brown bear viewings in the afternoon. Others chose to experience these amazing things by skiff tour or on a shorter kayak, but all had the week of a lifetime, held present and enlightened by the awe-inspiring moments that nature shares with us if we only take the time to slow down and experience.

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