A sight to behold

by Kieran Mulvaney

August 18, 2007


The shearwaters came first, a steady parade of seabirds skimming the surface of the sea, flying across the water in a seemingly interminable procession. Then, far ahead, close to the horizon, there was a whale blow, then another. Shortly afterward, another.

We grew closer, and the number of whale blows kept growing. Five, six, seven, eight in a row, all stretched out ahead of us, and then humpback whale dorsal fins, and then an occasional tail as a whale dove deep beneath the waves.

We slowed to a crawl and then to a stop as the scene began to play out around us. We had come across a Bering Sea feeding frenzy: dark clouds of shearwaters—and petrels, gulls, and puffins—literally tens of thousands of them, churning up the surface of the water as they feasted on whatever lay just below. There was a constant low-revel rumble as they beat their wings, their feet paddling furiously against the water’s surface, as they landed and took off.

And in their midst were the humpbacks. How many of them, it was hard to tell: fifty, surely, and maybe many more. They surrounded us now, one surfacing and blowing just off the starboard bow, others off the stern. One breached directly in front of us, launching itself out of the water and back again with a giant splash; another breached off to starboard, and another.

It was a sight to behold, a truly remarkable experience, and a privilege to have stumbled across it and to have been able to witness it. It was the beauty and bounty of the Bering laid out in front of us. If ever we needed a reminder of why we are here, and why protecting this region is so important, this morning provided it.

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