Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Sound’

Map showing Petersburg © JT of jtdytravels; P1130582

Map showing Petersburg © JT of jtdytravels; P1130582

After lunch on Day 2 of our exploration of Alaska’s Inside Passage, we cruised back along Frederick Sound towards the small fishing town of Petersburg; it was the only town we would visit on this trip. As you can see, we hadn’t travelled very far, but that was the real purpose of this expedition; to take the time to slow down; to really explore and enjoy this wilderness environment far from the busyness of daily life.


Frederick Sound © JT of jtdytravels; P1130763

Once more we were awed by the majesty of snow topped mountains.


Ice chunk in Frederick Sound © DY of jtdytravels; P1100284

Chunks of ice continued to float by; strange, natural sculptures.

Ice chunks such as this were a very important part of the story of Petersburg.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130773

As we turned into a narrow channel off Frederick Sound, a group of houses came into view and a small fishing boat passed us on its way out. Petersburg’s reason for existing is fishing!

The town was built here in this beautiful but isolated part of the wilderness for two reasons; an abundance of fish in the icy cold waters and an abundance of ice.  Before the days of large scale refrigeration, those ice chunks that come from the LeConte Glacier were used to keep the fish fresh until it could be canned or sent fresh to market.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130770

The waters here are tidal and some buildings along the edge are on poles.

Many houses have steep roofs because of the abundance of snow.


Bald Headed Eagle © DY of jtdytravels; P1100566

As we entered the port, our attention was taken by a bald eagle.

They are truly magnificent birds.


Eagle on navigation buoy in harbour © JT of jtdytravels; P1130780

It landed on one of the navigation markers as we went by.


Successful dive for a fish! © DY of jtdytravels; P1130781

As we came closer, it began to feast on its catch.

These eagles are not like the town scavengers we had seen in Juneau.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130881

The waterfront at Petersburg is lined with fish processing sheds in which over 45.5 million kilos (100 million pd) of fish and shellfish are processed annually; canned, smoked and fresh. That’s a lot of fish from one very remote, small village!

The types of fish caught here include all five species of salmon; king (chinook); coho (silver); pink (humpy); sockeye (red); and chum (dog).  Other fish include halibut (a bottom feeder), ling cod, Pacific cod, herring and several species of rock fish. Shellfish such as Dungeness Crab, King Crab, Tanner, shrimp, scallops and clams are also caught in these cold waters.

Just reading that list makes my mouth water. We ate salmon cooked in a variety of ways of during our trip but, on this night in Petersburg, we were promised a fabulous feast of Dungeness crab.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130884

One of the sheds is adorned with a Viking Ship emblem, and for very good reason. This fishing village was founded more than 100 years ago by Norwegian fisherman, Peter Buschmann, after whom the village is named. He arrived in the area in the late 1890s; that’s after the start of the gold rush in the Juneau / Skagway areas. What this astute fisherman noted was the possibilities of this fine harbour tucked away off Frederick Sound with its abundance of fish, an abundance of ice floating by in the Sound and an abundance of timber for building. With other Scandinavian fishermen he set up a sawmill, a homestead, a dock and and a cannery. Today the village is known as ‘little Norway” and is still populated by people who are largely of Scandinavian origin.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130784

Building and boat repairs are other important occupations in the village.

The boat on the right will certainly need repairs!


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130879

Most fishing boats are kept in good condition. They need to be. Fishermen’s lives depend on the good maintenance of their boats. Not long before we arrived there, one boat that had not been properly repaired went down. Fortunately they had done a safety drill before they left port and their radio call brought the rescue helicopter to their aid. All of the men were winched to safety… the last man just as the boat sank from sight. But imagine what it was like in days past, when there was no rescue helicopter; a great many men were lost while fishing.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1130880

The marina is filled with fishing boats of a variety of sizes and purposes. Three different kinds predominate; trollers, which bring fish in using lines with baited hooks; gilnetters, which use large curtain-like nets to entangle fish; and purse seiners, like the one we saw earlier in Frederick Sound, which let out a large net drawn in a circle before closing it at the bottom like a purse. Their goal is salmon swimming near the surface.


Port of Petersburg © DY of jtdytravels; P1100471

There were plenty of smaller boats in the marina as well… the main way to get anywhere here is by water. In fact, apart from flying in, the only way to get anywhere is by water. A ferry system connects Petersburg to Juneau in the north and Ketchikan in the south.  Small ships, like ours, bring visitors to the area although none of the big cruise liners come here… the port is far too small.  Leisure fishermen and hikers arrive by sea plane or by daily commercial flights to Petersburg’s small airport. So although commercial fishing is the mainstay of the economy, tourism does play a part. Fishing tourism is particularly popular here in summer.


“Sea Lion” docked in Petersburg © DY of jtdytravels; P1100565

Finally Captain Shaun brought the “Sea Lion” into our dock for the day and our DIBs were prepared for one of the afternoon’s excursion. While some chose to fly over the glaciers, others took a bike to explore the area. Others met with some of the old ‘sea salts’ of the town to learn more about life in this port. We chose the option of a walk and a plant hunt.


View to afternoon walk site © JT of jtdytravels; P1130874

For this walk, we first had to cross the bay in the DIBs and then climb that hill on the other side. Our goal was to walk up through various areas of forest until we reached a muskeg bog up on the plateau.  We were promised that we would find some very interesting plants… and we did.

  More of that walk in the next post.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

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When I woke early on the morning of 22nd June, 2015 and popped my head out of the door to see where we were, I saw that we were in a very special place.


In the dawn’s early light © JT of jtdytravels; P1130527

The dawn’s early light was just enough to pick out the snow covered mountains beyond the channel we were passing through. The air was fresh and the peace of the place filled me joy.

As I stood there in my reverie, and I might add, dressed only in my nighty, I was startled to hear a voice beside me. ‘Why don’t you get dressed; whales ahead!’ I turned to see one of the ship’s officers standing beside me. I don’t believe I have ever thrown clothes on as quickly in a long time. Leaving David slumbering, I was soon standing in my special spot, on the walkway just in front of the wheel house looking at some bubbles in the water!


Whale surfacing © JT of jtdytravels; P1130535

A spray of water, a grunt and a hump slowly arose from the water right in front of the ship. Then, quietly and gracefully, the whale slipped away again.


Curtain of water drops © JT of jtdytravels; P1130536

A few seconds later; another whale; very close. A flick of the fluke and a curtain of water droplets, and it too was gone beneath the water. How good was that for early morning of our first day aboard “Sea Lion”. But that was just the start!


Sun rise © JT of jtdytravels; P1130528

I hurried back to our room to waken David as others appeared on deck, most with a warming cup of coffee in hand, or a very long lens camera. It was now 5.46am. The sun had risen over the mountains and was sending a long golden shaft of light across the water.

I was standing just outside our door at the railing of the deck. The ship had all but stopped. Everything was very quiet. Then something magical happened.


Whale tail in morning sun © JT of jtdytravels; P1130530

A whale appeared right in the midst of the sparkles of sunlight on the water.

Then, silently, it was gone.


Golden shimmer on water © JT of jtdytravels; P1130533

But it left behind a golden shimmer on the still waters…

the water seemed to turn to molten gold.


Whale spouting © DY of jtdytravels; P1100241

David was quick to catch the next whale spouting in that golden light.

How many people only see whales spouting far out to sea?

Here, they were right beside us.

We could hear them.


Whale tail in sunlight © DY of jtdytravels; P1100275

Very soon we realised that we were surrounded by whales.

Seventeen were counted!

This was a truly remarkable experience.

And the early morning sunlight just added an extra special touch.


Sunlight on predominantly white fluke © DY of jtdytravels; P1100261

Sunlight seemed to make this fluke glow!

It’s a predominantly white fluke with just touches of black.


A white with black fluke; © JT of jtdytravels; P1130537

Another white fluke but with more black. This is an important difference.

Scientists recognise individual whales by their under fluke patterns; for these are the whale’s ‘fingerprint’. Each whale is different. These distinctive patterns allow the story of each individual whale to be documented. Young whales, brought all the way from Hawaii to South East Alaska by their mothers, will always make the annual return to South East Alaska. And they, in turn, will bring their calves. So the tale of whales relies heavily on patterns on tails!


Black and white fluke pattern © JT of jtdytravels; P1130550

Other flukes are more black than white in pattern.


Black and white fluke pattern © DY of jtdytravels; P1100244

A very different black and white pattern; it’s quite distinctive.


Sun on black and white fluke © DY of jtdytravels; P1100254

And yet another; we did have seventeen different whales around us.


A black fluke © JT of jtdytravels; P1130540

This all black fluke is not so easily identified. Researchers have found that almost 50% of flukes recorded are all black. So they have to identify them by the the width of the notch between each fluke.

Whale Fluke Patterns

Whale Fluke Patterns from Humpback Whale Research Program

Whale researchers of the group “Humpback Whales of South East Alaska” are compiling a Fluke ID Catalogue. Since they began the project in 1979, they have compiled a photographic record of 1,900 different whale flukes. That’s pretty impressive. These are just nine of them.   Every fluke sighted is given an identification number. This research group encourages visitors like us to send in our photos of whale flukes with place, date and time of the sighting. Every sighting and photo adds greatly to their research data. Who knows… we may have found a new whale amongst our sightings as there were mothers and babies together in the group.

You can see more flukes and more about the life of humpback whales on the web site for ‘Humpback Whales of South East Alaska”. (Link at the end of this post.)


Top side of whale’s fluke © DY of jydytravels; P1130556

How amazing to spend a couple of hours with whales so close. The big ships sail through at night and miss out. Even if they see whales, they just keep going to meet their next port deadline. Not us! We had no real deadline. Our Captain could respond to whatever the day brought. He, too, enjoyed the encounter. We had time to quietly observe these wonderful animals; animals so big, they are a third the length of our entire ship! What a priviledge.


Curtain of water droplets © JT of jtdytravels; P1130544

Like everyone else on board, we were mesmerised by this display. But eventually, our Captain called “Time!” and turned the ship towards our next destination. Breakfast was ready and it was a very happy group who farewelled the whales and trouped down to the dining room.

What a way to begin an expedition!

Our thought for the day comes from Pierce Brosnan

“We owe it to our children to be better stewards of the environment.

The alternative? – a world without whales.

It’s too terrible to imagine.


Jennie and David

All photographs copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

Photographs taken near Five Fingers Lighthouse,

at the confluence of Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound

in the Inside Passage of South East Alaska

More of our travels on:


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“Humpback Whales of South East Alaska” Research Project


Photos of flukes with place, date and time of sightings can be sent to:



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