Two humpback whales—a cow and a calf—seemed to be swimming on a parallel course, approaching within 50 feet. When their paths started to converge, Mike turned off the motor, and they drifted in the flat calm water. While the couple waited, and listened, the whales seemed to disappear.
“It was kind of eerily quiet, at that point, with the fog around us,” Mike says. “And just occasionally you’d hear the blow” of the whales surfacing to breathe.
Suddenly, a large shape passed beneath the boat—the mother whale—rising close enough for them to see the barnacles and scars on its skin. It came again, closer, its great tail visible, its body twice as long as the boat.
“Is your life jacket zipped?” Mike suddenly asked Jen. (It was.)
And then, the whale returned a third time.
“You could see the whale, probably from 20 feet down, starting to rise up and it just rose up right next to us,” Mike says. “You could see its eye.”
Mike has been a carpenter and caretaker for Alaska Wildland Adventures for decades, and was spending that summer doing work at the company’s Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge near the head of Aialik Bay. The couple met in 1990 when Jen worked as a guide at the company’s Cooper Landing operation, and they have spent many winters caretaking and spending time in the Alaska wilderness.
That day, Jen was visiting Mike from their home in Seward, and they took the skiff toward the mouth of the spectacular fiord to sightsee and fish. With the dense fog, they had been traveling close to shore.
As the whale surfaced, the sun seemed to burn through. It swam only inches off the boat, moving slowly, taking its time, looking right into Jen and Mike’s eyes as it passed. (Jen captured the moment with a video, and Mike took the photo.)
Its tail rose to the surface, undulating so close they could have touched it.
“Oh my god!” Mike exclaimed
“Hi, beautiful whale!” Jen called out, her voice hushed.
“She sees us!”
“She totally sees us.”
The whales moved on, and the couple continued their day trip, awestruck by the otherworldly encounter.
“I’ll never know for sure, but I’ll go to my grave thinking it was checking us out,” Mike says.