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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Greenland: Humpback Whales Among the Icebergs of Ilulissat

Wherever we went in Greenland, we saw whales.

We really got to see first-hand where the expression "Thar she blows!" comes from.  Under the right conditions, when a whale blows, it's visible over a mile away.

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We saw whales from the land, and we saw whales from the air...

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

This is the fourth in a series of photo-essays based on our trip to Greenland in July 2016.  The others were an aerial perspective, puppies and villages, and icebergs kayaking in the midnight sun .]

This is the boat that took our group of about 14 on a whale-watching trip, but any boat trip in Greenland could be considered a whale-watching trip.  It's almost funny.  We saw our first whales in under 1 minute.  The guides were laughing that it was a record.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing



These humpback whales were hunting together.  I don't think we ever saw a whale by itself.  There were usually two or three together.  They would surface and dive at the same time.  They never seemed to be in a hurry all the time we watched them.  The would surface and dive smoothly and slowly over and over, making a loud "ffffffff" out their blowholes every time they surfaced.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

First thing we would see was their heads blowing mist ten feet or more in the air, then the fin would slide into view.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

After they took a breath, they would slip back under the water.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

This was the best ice arch we saw the entire trip.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

The same arch after we had gone around the other side.  The seagulls perched on the ice and flying by give it scale.

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While we were watching the peaceful, relaxed whales, a sheet of ice the full height of the iceberg sheered off and slammed into the water, creating a dramatic splash.

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As the resulting wave rushed our boat, the guide deadpanned - "You know those life vests under your seats?  Now would be a good time to put them on."  :)

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

Yes, we could have died, but not really.  The wave was sort of  disappointment.  

When the whales came up, the last thing to go under was their tail.  I love the sheets of water pouring off the whale tail.  The shiny facets on the freshly-fractured face of this iceberg are pretty neat too.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

Sometimes, we weren't the only boat in the area.  The guy standing on top of the roof of the boat cabin is probably a crew member.  I'd have climbed on top of our boat if they'd let me!  His body language says he's a bit bored.  All of this, the cold pure water, the whales, the crystalline icebergs, are completely ordinary.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

The undersides of their tails and fins are mostly white, with speckles.  The patterns are unique, which allows individuals to be identified.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

The boat captain had a book of identifying photos of the whales' tails compiled by guides and biologists tracking the local population.  I should probably mention that the Inuit tradition of hunting and eating whales continues today, though they coordinate annual hunting limits, based on the population of each type of whale.  So, tracking the populations is more than an academic exercise.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

After following various groups for hours, we headed back to port at full speed, only to find two more on the way.  This one is winding up for the dive.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing

Here he is from the side, going under as we passed him.  The many white spots on his side are barnacles.

greenland iceberg humpback whale seagull beauty beautiful spectacular pristine nature wilderness natural sea ilulissat travel adventure tourism tour vacation traveler traveling boat ice ocean bay cold freezing tail

I hope you've enjoyed your virtual whale-watching tour.  Please share with your friends if you'd think they'd enjoy.

Next time, we're off to see the nine hundred foot-tall face of Eqi glacier drop thousands of tons of ice into the bay.




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