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Orca Play Date


Sarah Friedlander, Expedition Guide, Safari Endeavour

Alaska showed us something we see rarely, something we only see once every three or four weeks – orcas. Not only did we see orcas, but we saw them close. Two days later, we saw more and they were just as close.


Guests think we see them all the time, but as soon as the guests aboard the Safari Endeavour see the excitement from the crew, they know it’s a rare event.

We stopped in Bartlett Cove on our way out of Glacier Bay to stretch our legs and explore the park from a different vantage point. Something rare happened – all of the guides had a short break together. The other guides and I headed towards the not yet opened Tlingit House to admire the carvings on the outside of the building.

As we were standing there talking, Lindsey glanced towards the water and saw orcas! I looked, and saw the fins and an exhales from these beautiful creatures. We called the vessel on the radio to alert the passengers on board to the presence of these rare creatures. As we rushed back towards the vessel, following the direction of the orcas, we saw a family from the Safari Endeavour.

It must have looked fairly odd, but when four guides run excitedly towards you, re-directing your path, I suppose you must think it’s for good reason – and it was. We rushed down a short path towards the beach just in time to see the orcas surface again. The other guides and I continued towards the vessel and got to watch the orcas from the dock. As we left Bartlett Cove we saw the orcas again and they chose to swim next to and underneath the vessel. I had a feeling that they were behind us, and I suppose some of the younger kids had the same instinct as me. We got to the back of the boat in time to see an Orca surface just a few feet away.


As if that was not incredible enough, two days later we saw another pod of orcas. Under rare blue skies in Chatham Strait, the watch on the bridge saw a line of whale exhalations in the far distance. As the Safari Endeavour slowed, what initially appeared to be a group of Dall’s Porpoise materialized into a large pod of Orca! This family group ran the gamut: young orca playfully swimming, to female matriarchs, to the straight dorsal fins of large males. The formation held tight as they passed the Endeavour, most of the groups, somewhere between 10-15 orcas, were swimming side by side in a straight line.


Much like the encounter outside Bartlett Cove, some of these orcas decided to swim right next to the ship. It may have been coincidence, but I like to believe that our wild hollering and cheering as they surfaced was taken as an invitation for these beautiful creatures to swing on by for a closer look.


Once the group was past the Endeavour, all of us on the boat were looking backwards, watching the dorsal fins travel away when we were treated to one final goodbye.

By way of farewell, a few of the orcas gave some half-breaching spyhops, eliciting final cheers and waves from the Endeavour.


We then went our separate ways, the Endeavour south to Patterson Bay in Baranov Island for an afternoon of kayaking in the bright sunlight, and the Orcas north up Chatham Strait for an afternoon of hunting, swimming and raising their young in the bountiful blue waters of the Inside Passage.

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