BearHead Photography has many images to showcase his expansive portfolio on mammals of North America, and here are his pictures of humpback whales, orca whales, sea otters, sea lions, and other marine mammals.
Humpback whales are usually a solitary animal. The only time they will be with other whales, is during mating season and when food is at its peak. These whales dove at the same time in hopes of rounding up little herring fish.
Humpbacks are a massive whale, and can reach up to 70 feet long. It isn't known exactly why humpbacks jump fully out of the water, but there are some good educated guesses. This whale was part of a fishing group of humpbacks that were not having much success. It likely was a little upset and decided to jump out of the water to release some frustration.
Humpback whales are a huge whale that only show off their tail when they are going to dive. They can hold their breath for over 30 minutes and surface miles from where they dove from. This whale had come fairly close to us while following the fish it was dieting on, and then dove on a calm Alaskan morning.
Watching a group of humpbacks fish together is quite the site. They are normally a solitary animal, and fish by themselves. However, when the herring population reaches its peak, the whales come together for a feeding frenzy called bubble feeding. All of a sudden, anywhere from 5-12, humpbacks appear out of the water with their mouths open and inhale the herring.
The entire coast of Alaska is beautiful. Everywhere I have been on a boat in Alaska, it is just amazing to me how the mountains never stop as far as I can see. These waters create an amazing habitat for numerous marine mammals, and humpback whales come to Alaska in the summer to feed in this paradise.
All at Once
There is a very small time of the year when humpback whales feed together. Some years it can last less than 2 weeks for when the whales bubble net feed. They will circle around the herring and blow bubbles and create a wall of bubbles. The herring don't know they can swim through the bubbles and become trapped. The whales then come up through the middle with their mouths open, and have a meal of herring.
Orcas are a beautiful whale, and can swim hundreds of miles a day. There are many pods that are transients, and roam whatever waters they choose. This pod of orcas was a resident pod in southeast Alaska, and were seen off and on. They don't normally swim right beside each other, but they did this one time with the dramatic Alaskan mountains behind them.
Sea otters are very easy going animals most of the time. They lay on their back and rest, or eat clams and mussels they have brought up from the ocean floor. This young otter was stretching out from a nap, and it looked like it was about to clap its paws.
I don't think I've ever seen an unhappy otter. I've seen some playing and fighting each other, but it still looks like they have a smile on their face. This guy was having a relaxing evening and just enjoying his clams and slowly eating them while swimming backwards.
Humpback whales have many ways of expressing themselves. They will jump, fin slap, and tail slap at different times. When they tail slap, they don't jump out of the water, they just stick the lower half of their body out of the water and forcefully slap it back down against the water.
Large pieces of ice that fall off glaciers make for great resting and birthing places for harbor seals. The seals actually depend on this ice to have their babies. This seal looked so small and almost unnoticeable in from of the large John Hopkins Glacier.
Sea lions will gather in large numbers to rest. In the ocean there aren't that many places that appeal to sea lions to rest, because they all appear to want to rest in the same place. This rock in Glacier Bay National Park is where I would want to rest and have a great view if I were a sea lion.
Humpback whales flock to southeast Alaska during the summer to feed. The summer in Alaska is the only time they feed all year, and they can feed up to 23 hours a day. When the herring fish reaches the peak of the summer, humpback whales form groups to fish in and will bubble net feed. Less than 10% of all humpbacks know how to do this, and it only happens for two weeks or less in the summer. After circling the herring, the whales breach with their mouths open and inhale the herring.
There are only a few places where you can go and see humpback whales bubble feeding. Less than 10% of all humpback whales know how to bubble feed, so it really is a rare treat to see. When this group of whales came up close to feed, seeing how wide their mouths were and the underside of their mouth as they swallowed little herring fish was a real treat.
Sea otters spend a lot of their time on their back in the water. When they come up to eat they lay on their back, and when they are on the water surface they seem to just always be chilling on their back. This was a young otter and was curious about the boat.
The trademark of a humpback is its tail. Researchers can identify certain humpback whales by the markings on their tail. After being with this whale for a little while, it finally gave us a good dive in the direction we were hoping for with the mountains behind it.
Orcas do not jump out of the water very often. They are very skilled swimmers and work well in a team when hunting. Sometimes, though, one will just stick the upper half of its body out of the water while hunting to try and see where its prey has gone.
There are places and views in Alaska that just can't be captured in other places. There are sea otters along most of the west coast, but only in a couple areas can you photograph a sea otter with a beautiful glacier behind it.
Orca whales are an amazing and powerful whale. Watching this pod swim together and move such great distances in a short time was impressive. Finding them after they would dive by their fin was fun. Orcas can travel so many miles a day, so it is always a treat to see them.
Seeing a group of humpback whales together is such a neat sighting. Most of the year they swim alone, and don't want to be near other whales. But when the feeding is at the peak, they come together to be able to eat more at once. Watching 12 whales swim along the coast and see the vapor from their breaths is exciting.
The seas and bays around Alaska are so huge. When you are on a boat, an island that looked only 5 minutes away can take over 30 minutes sometimes. I honestly don't know how far away this whale was when it poked its head above the water, but it made for a nice perspective with the very distant mountains.
Sea Otter Family
Baby sea otters are very small when born. A mother sea otter is very protective of their baby and don't let them get out of sight. Mother sea otters will hold their baby on their stomach as they rest to make sure the baby is safe.
Beluga whales move into the turnagain arm following the salmon in high tide. As the tide begins to flow out they have to leave the shallow waters. Here a couple of belugas venture back out to sea.