Visit Sitka to Observe Humpback Whales
Sitka has been home to Russian, Tlingit, and American inhabitants for years. The influences of these different cultures still remain in the region. The beautiful village of Sitka is situated between magnificent mountains and the glorious sea, where art and native culture is still alive and well.
Sitka, Alaska’s bountiful, serene waters are home to many gentle giants, including orcas, sea lions, porpoises, gray whales, and humpback whales. Sitka, Alaska, has over 89 living species of whales that can be separated into two parvorders.
The first are the toothed whales and comprise around 70 species, including the orca, porpoise, and sperm whales. The second category is called the Mysticeti or the baleen whales. This category consists of the gray whale, minke, and our favorite, the humpback whale.
Humpback whales are enormous, reaching lengths of up to 17 meters. Their massive, black bodies are supported by huge white flippers that can reach a third of the length of their bodies. Their flippers are highly maneuverable and used to slap the water for hunting, swimming, and controlling their body temperature. Their distinct trait is the massive tail which contains marks on the underside, visible when they fluke up and dive. They vary in color from all black to all white to everything in between. Humpback whales have weird knobbles on their heads called tubercles and contain a single strand of hair, like a cat’s whiskers. This hair act as a sensory instrument to pass information regarding the whales’ surroundings.
Humpback whales are seen in Sitka during the summer months between March and April, where they come to feed in the nutrient-rich water of Alaska. Here they find calorie-rich herring, and it is the best time to witness Humpback whales, where you can see as many as 50 whales in an area as small as 50 square miles. They all feed together as a family, and this behavior is called bubble-net feeding.
They are experts at traveling, and many of their lives are devoted to it. Once they feed and fatten up during the summer months in Alaska, they head to warmer, tropical waters of Hawaii or Mexico to socialize, mate, and look after their young. Humpback whales are continually exposed to various risks and must navigate a variety of life-threatening dangers since they travel such great distances. Whalers, fishing nets, and ships are among them.
Humpback whales are known for their friendly and playful behavior. Some of their friendly actions include rolling, tail lobbing, flipper slapping, breaching, and spy-hopping.
The masters of melody, humpback whales are known for singing some of the animal kingdom’s longest, most intricate songs. Male humpback whales are especially vocal during mating season, and scientists assume it is to attract female partners.
Due to the gigantic size of humpback whales, the amount of food they need to survive is also enormous. An adult humpback whale can devour up to 1360 kg of food a day! They consume large mouthfuls of their prey that include an entire school of fish, tiny crustaceans, plankton, as well as seawater.
Humpback whales, however, have caused concern amongst scientists after a recent observation of whale behavior in Sitka. Scientists noticed that there were fewer calves and skinnier whales. More whales were seen staying longer in the winter to dine on herring, not migrating at all, or migrating halfway and returning.
These observations were synonymous with reports from Hawaii officials, who noticed fewer sightings of whales during the winter seasons.
If humpback whale numbers are falling in Hawaii, it could signify a broader spectrum of concerns in Sitka. It’s possible that the availability of prey for humpback whales is changing across numerous feeding sites. The lack of food and energy resources may be causing the whales to stay back longer during the winters or not migrate at all. However, direct conclusions can’t be drawn with little information. Scientists need to stay out in the sea for longer periods of time to notice the duration of humpback whales migrating all the way through or not, and this requires more technicians, funding, and documentation.
There is still much to learn about these magnificent giants, their migrating and breeding patterns, and more. If you ever visit Sitka, book a whale watching tour between mid-March to mid-April, and if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of some of the world’s most fascinating mammals in their natural environment.