• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 54s

Episode 86: Humpback Whales, Wolves and Bison

By KTVA Alaska 5:45 PM December 18, 2016


By Emily Carlson

Warm Springs Bay is not easy to access. From Anchorage, we hopped on a quick flight to Juneau, then had to hire a charter. There are no regularly scheduled flights to the community. With about 60 summer residents, only one or two people call the community their full-time home.

The community is also home to a research center focused on studying humpback whales. The center is housed in an old general store where the floors are sagging and you can find expired canned goods on the shelves.

The three researchers who live there want to be there so badly, they’re working for free. The application was arduous and extensive: nearly 200 students from across the globe applied for the coveted positions. The group’s lively leader, Canadian Andy Szabo, chose an international team: Maeve O’Connell from Ireland, Margarita Wilson from Germany, and Davide Ascheri from Italy.

The big draw in Warm Springs Bay, of course, is the humpback whales. Chatham Straight is one of the premier places in the world to study the giant mammals. We found out that humpbacks are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Back in the early 1900s, humpbacks were hunted to the brink of extinction. However, in 1982, the International Whaling Commission outlawed the hunting of the species.

Researchers in Warm Springs Bay say in the past 20 years, the population in Southeast has quadrupled. However, they don’t have a good estimate on an exact number, so it’s the research center’s job to count.

On our second day in Warm Springs Bay, we left mid-morning to start a long day of monitoring humpbacks. At the first point, we spotted two humpbacks. On our way to the third, something extraordinary happened. The researchers started screaming and pointing and acting like kids. Suddenly, I saw dozens of fish flipping out of the surf, then part of a whale lunging out of the water. It happened again just a few minutes later, just a few feet from the boat. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on.

Solo bubble net feeding is unusual in southeast Alaska. Szabo says it started happening about a decade ago and is becoming more and more common. The whales are eating different kinds of food and they are adapting their behavior to survive in a different kind of environment.

However, lately it’s been clashing with others who live in the area.

This week on Frontiers, you’ll get a front row seat to the so-called whale renaissance. We take you to this remote and beautiful spot in southeast Alaska where you’ll get a view that few people have ever seen. My photographer Emily Landeen and I agree: this is the most special experience we have had since we moved to Alaska. It’s tough to describe the chills you get when you encounter one of the giant beasts so up close and personal. I hope this episode gives you greater insight into the world of whales right here in Alaska.

We also get an update on the wood bison relocation project and hear how the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has helped to play an important role in the process.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Fairbanks finds police chief conducted other business on job

    by Associated Press on Jan 23, 8:41

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) – The Fairbanks mayor’s office says a former city police chief did have a conflict of interest that barred him from the job. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday Mayor Jim Matherly’s office said in a news release that the investigation into former Fairbanks Police Chief Randall Aragon’s personal security-survey business is complete […]

  • Lifestyle

    Arctic Valley gets enough snow to open for skiing

    by Daniella Rivera on Jan 22, 22:43

    With more than a foot of fresh snow, the Arctic Valley Ski Area opened Sunday for the first time this season. “Me and my buddies came out thinking we’re just going to get a couple turns, a couple laps in,” said snowboarder Reynaldo Perez-Figueredo. “It ended up being an all-day affair and some deep, awesome […]

  • Weather

    Records fall as snow accumulates across Southcentral

    by Melissa Frey on Jan 22, 13:40

    The latest round of snow across southcentral Alaska is setting new records. The snow started falling in Anchorage around 6 p.m. Friday and continued to fall through Saturday night. As of 9 p.m., 12 inches of snow had fallen at the National Weather Service office in west Anchorage, with more on the way. Most of […]

  • Politics

    Consultant raises concerns about Alaska gas project

    by Associated Press on Jan 22, 12:34

    A legislative consultant is raising red flags about Alaska taking the lead on a major proposed liquefied natural gas project, even as Gov. Bill Walker has said he’s comfortable with it. Legislators are scheduled to hear a project update Monday. In a recent report to lawmakers, consultant Nikos Tsafos outlined challenges threatening the project’s potential […]

  • Sports

    Pete Kaiser wins third consecutive Kuskokwim 300

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/Ben Matheson on Jan 22, 12:24

    Pete Kaiser made it three in a row Sunday morning, winning the 2017 Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race. Kaiser crossed the finish line in Bethel at 10:37 a.m. to loud cheers from his hometown crowd, according to a story published by KYUK Public Media. His leader, Palmer, brought home the nine-dog team. Brent Sass, who […]

  • Sports

    Soldotna hockey captain suspended for racist Twitter posts

    by KTVA Sports on Jan 22, 12:21

    Racist comments posted on Twitter recently by the captain of the Soldotna Stars hockey team created a firestorm on social media and have cost the player his spot on the team. Soldotna High School student Ethan Brown used his personal Twitter account to denigrate Alaska Natives and homosexuals while also making a racist remark about former first family, […]

  • News

    4 more survivors pulled out of Italy’s avalanche-hit hotel

    by CBS/AP on Jan 22, 11:57

    Emergency crews pulled out four more survivors from the rubble of a hotel crushed by an avalanche and were searching Saturday for more who may still be alive as family members awaited word if their relatives were among the lucky ones. The overnight operations raised to at least nine the number of people found alive […]

  • News

    Alaska National Guardsmen take part in presidential inauguration

    by Bonney Bowman on Jan 22, 11:30

    Forty-seven Alaska National Guardsmen took part in Friday’s presidential inauguration, representing our state on the national stage. Capt. Jason Walter, area security force protection officer with the 297th Regional Support Group, told KTVA it was a long day for the Guardsmen. They started at 1 a.m. and were on duty until after the parade. The […]