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​The Rarest Trifecta

08-22-2017

Dai Mar Tamarack, Expedition Leader, Safari Quest

The hunting trifecta is almost impossible.

It’s a mythical goal to set for a trip to Alaska as it is such a rare occurrence. However this week on the Safari Quest, we saw magic.

The hunting trifecta is a natural spectacle that includes seeing humpback whales bubble net feeding, bears catching salmon, and transient orcas taking down a marine mammal, all in one week.

Just seeing these three animals on one trip would be considered a lucky success. So you can imagine how surprised the crew of the Safari Quest was this week when we saw the trifecta.

First on the list was the rarest of the trifecta; spotting transient orcas on the hunt for their next meal.

Orcas hunting in Alaska

Also known as killer whales because of their ability to kill other whales, this family of orca was hunting Dall’s porpoise. We watched the speedy porpoise kicking up a rooster tail of water moments before a huge orca appeared right behind it.

The orcas surrounded the porpoise. They made it look almost too easy. The chase culminated in an orca exploding out of the water and knocking the porpoise sideways in the process.

Orca hunt in Alaska

Next came the holy grail of whale watching in Alaska; bubble net feeding.

This is when multiple humpbacks coordinate an attack on dense schools of bait fish, like herring.

Bubble net feeding in Alaska

It’s a hunting strategy that exhibits incredible social structure and intelligence and is amazing to witness. After corralling the herring in a circle of underwater bubbles the whales rise to the surface in unison bursting forth with open mouths, gulping as much as 16,000 gallons of water before straining it through their baleen.

Whales bubble net feeding in Alaska

The last event on the hunting trifecta can only be witnessed during the late summer months in Alaska when the salmon start returning to the birth streams.

The final gauntlet they face before making it up the cascades to their mating grounds is a line of hungry bears. We made a stop to tour a salmon hatchery at Hidden Falls on Baranof Island, one of the famous ABC islands of Southeast Alaska.

Bears fishing in Alaska

Known for its population of brown bears, we were not surprised to see several working the salmon stream. They would pick out the returning female salmon, instinctively knowing the nutritious value they contain in their thousands of eggs.

Bear fishing in Alaska

We watched from a distance as a mother bear emerged from the forest and proceeded to teach her three cubs the art of salmon fishing. It was a fitting end to our hunting trifecta and a week I won’t soon forget.

I wonder what we’ll see next week?



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