Where Humpbacks Breach—Alaska

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Availability : Jul 31 - Aug 09, 2019
Petersburg, Alaska
Tour Details
Imagine capturing the peak moment with your camera: a mighty launch rockets 40 tons of twisting whale skyward. Pectoral fins fling sparkling sheets of water, as the 45-foot-long body is almost entirely out of the water in a spectacular breaching display. This is a frequent occurrence during the late summer months in Southeast Alaska where one of the world’s greatest populations of humpback whales resides. 

Chatham Strait, Frederick Sound, and the adjacent waterways of the Inside Passage are the summer feeding grounds for more than 500 humpback whales. Every year whales migrating from their winter breeding grounds in the warm waters of Hawaii, Baja California and southern Japan join the year-round population of humpback whales in the nutrient-rich waters of Alaska. Mothers with their young calves and their accompanying escorts often travel thousands of miles on this epic annual journey.

Our small photo group, cruising in a private world-class 84-foot expedition yacht, follows the largest congregations of these magnificent leviathans—in a boat that is totally at our service!  There is no comparison to the intimate proximity to wildlife that is accessible with this type of small boat cruising in contrast to the giant city-sized cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers that normally traverse the Inside Passage.

Humpback whales offer some of the most exciting photographic moments of all the marine mammals. Besides breaching, they often repeatedly slap their mighty tails or clap their 15-foot-long pectoral fins in the same fashion. Their cooperative feeding displays, including bubble-net and lunge-feeding using synchronous lunges to attack large shoals of herring, are absolutely breathtaking. It’s an incredible scene to photograph, and we are on hand at the peak of the season to experience this amazing spectacle! Dense forests and snowcapped mountains provide a pristine backdrop for classic Alaskan maritime imagery counterpointed with the calm seas.

In addition to humpback whales, there may be opportunities to capture photos of orcas, sea lions, sea otters, bears and bald eagles. We are likely see spawning salmon, possibly being fed on by brown and black bears. Birdwatchers will enjoy up-close encounters with tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, marbled murrelets, arctic terns and western sandpipers.

Join us for this unique, world-class photo shoot in the realm of the humpback whales of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Each day brings new adventures amidst the backdrop of rugged wilderness islands and soaring peaks. This all-inclusive photo cruise features comfortable en suite accommodations, three hearty gourmet meals each day, all beverages including select wines with dinner, and the use of sea kayaks and rigid-hulled inflatable skiffs for shore excursions. With incredible images created with the assistance of today’s image stabilized/vibration reduction lenses and digital technology, this tour defines the best of “topside” whale photography for years to come.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Jul 31)
Participants should arrange to fly to Petersburg, centrally located in Alaska’s Inside Passage.  The hotel offers an airport shuttle.  We meet in the lobby of our hotel for a short orientation followed by dinner. (D)
Day 2
After lunch we begin cruising the scenic Alaskan waterways.  We should have plenty of excellent photo opportunities, including a stop at a Steller sea lion haul out and good sightings of harbor seals, Dahl porpoises and, perhaps, orcas, on our way to the humpback “core” grounds in Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. (BLD)
Days 3–8
We follow the largest groups of humpback whales as they travel throughout the waterways of the Inside Passage. With plenty of “shootable” daylight, we have ample opportunities to capture breaching, tail-slapping and lunge-feeding behaviors. Although whales are the focus of this trip, we also visit a vast temperate rain forest, stroll along secluded beaches, and explore spectacular bays using both skiffs and kayaks. Shore excursions will be undertaken whenever possible and may provide exciting images of spawning salmon, coastal forest landscapes, waterfalls and, possibly, bears feeding on salmon. (BLD)
Day 9
We return to Petersburg in the afternoon and transfer to our hotel. We have time to explore the area prior to our last group dinner. (BLD)
Day 10 (Aug 9)
The hotel shuttle transfers you to the airport for your departing flights. (B)


Joe Van Os has been director of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris for over three decades. His lifelong interest in nature has been the driving force in Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, an enthusiasm that continues to influence new trip development to the world’s most spectacular nature photography locations. Joe is a seasoned tour leader, having led hundreds of tours and cruises worldwide. He is also a proficient and avid nature photographer. Thousands of his photographs regularly accompany advertising and articles in books, magazines and corporate publications around the world, represented as photo stock by Getty Images. Joe lives on rural Vashon Island surrounded by Washington State’s Puget Sound.