Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Juneau: Whales {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post has an overabundance of photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Juneau Whales {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}. If you view the whole, I pray it refreshes and encourages your heart today.

Almost one year ago, my parents, Amore, and I spent an evening having dinner and selecting our cruise excursions for our special trip to Alaska. When we got to planning the second port of call, Juneau, my parents were like children writing their letter to Santa in their enthusiasm for the whale watching excursion. Amore and I, never having observed whales in the wild, had no basis for understanding their excitement but gladly agreed.

Not knowing quite what to expect but hoping the afternoon would be as pleasant as the lighthouses and eagles excursion in Ketchikan the day before, we boarded our excursion ship, the St. Phillip, complete with ship's dog (who awaited its masters on the dock). As we settled into benches in the glassed-in lower deck, the captain told us, "If you're here to see whales, the best seats on the boat are anywhere but here. I strongly encourage you to go upstairs and watch from outside."

Knowing how my ankles and back dislike stairs, we climbed up, knowing I at least would be staying there for most of the journey.

The mist-veiled scenery was lovely, and it was hard to grasp that people actually lived there, within view of the mountains and bay every day and all year.

Then the show started. Humpback whales by the dozen, perhaps totaling a hundred or more, appeared in the near, far, and middle distances. Having learned from the Ketchikan excursion the previous day, Amore watched for the spray which meant a whale was about to surface and called out the direction using the clock-face analogy. I kept my eye glued to my camera's view finder and took as many shots as I could find and focus.

Although our guides told us humpback whales are usually solitary animals unless bubble net feeding, we saw numerous mother-calf pairs swimming in parallel.

We witnessed a dozen slow arcs through the water, from spout to blowhole past the dorsal fin to the fluke.

We learned that the underside of the fluke is as unique as a human fingerprint and therefore used to catalog the whales in the Alaskan waters.

Lest we grow bored with the whales, we sailed past an island of sea lions and witnessed what appeared to be an argument.

The light flirted with us, peeking in and out of the clouds and changing the colors of the landscape.

How fitting, then, that my memory verse that week was this:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
(Isaiah 40:12 ESV)

As vast as the surrounding landscape seemed to me, it's nothing compared to the vastness of the God who created it and infinitely dwarfs the mountains and waves that made us feel so miniscule.

A hanging glacier

A few whales waved their side flippers at us as we passed.

A couple surfaced on their backs, showing us their baleen, which filter their food from the sea water, and the deep throat grooves where a chin would be, if whales had chins.

Our favorite, however, by far, were breaches like this one, when a creature as long as a Greyhound bus leapt out of the water, rotating slightly as it rose, and splashed back into the bay like a child doing a cannonball into a pool.

The awe we tourists felt at the display of those few hours was not exclusive to us. Even the crew of the St. Phillip told us that in over 20 years of running these excursions, they'd never seen a day of whale-watching like this.

The LORD of heaven and earth, the sea and all that lives in it, asked Job, "Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?" (Job 41:1 ESV). The implied answer is, "No, Job, you can't." But we tourists from Texas know this God, the same God who told a great fish to swallow up Jonah the wayward prophet and then later to spit him back out on the shore. It was no accident that all these whales converged and showed off for us in that space of time; it was God's gracious providence. Out of kindness, certainly, and for other reasons of His own, He sent them like a coach calling plays, charting X's and O's for players to execute, only with more authority.

Having witnessed it, what could we do but echo the Psalmist,
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great. 
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
(Psalm 104:24-26 ESV)

Y'all, we got to see "Leviathan" at play! I still can't get over it. The sun was declining, and we still had one more stop in Juneau before returning to our ship, but none of us wanted to leave these wonders.

A bald eagle welcomed us back, and we said good-bye to this part of Juneau's waters.

All praise and blessing be to God's holy name!

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