Close Encounters of the Ocean Kind

One of my favorite ocean animals is the Dall porpoise, or Dall’s porpoise, if you prefer. We see them regularly in Kenai Fjords National Park. One reason they’re a favorite is because they make it easy for us to see them. We don’t have to spend hours quietly waiting or sneak up on them: They come to us.

Two Dall's porpoises

Dall’s porpoises. They look like little orcas, don’t they?

They enjoy playing in the bow wake of boats, so it’s not uncommon for groups to approach tour boats and travel with them for a bit, giving passengers a nice show. Who doesn’t like a playful wild animal eager to interact with humans—or at least their boats?

They’re pretty, too. They’re black with white patches on the belly and flanks, so they look like little orcas, but they’re only about six feet long and 300 pounds. Yeah, only! And they’re fast, reaching speeds up to 35 miles per hour, able to zip along beside boats.

Until recently, I’d only ever seen them from a tour boat. I’m generally on smallish tour boats, but, still, they’re close but not exactly within arm’s reach.

Back in May, while visiting Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, Mike, his brother, and I took our little skiff out to the mouth of Aialik Bay. Last year, it took an hour to go that distance, but this year a new motor makes that a significantly faster trip. Another unanticipated benefit of our faster boat is that it is now attractive to porpoises!

Me, all wet

Soaking wet from Dall porpoises splashing in our bow wake.

I leaned over the front of the boat and was within arm’s reach of a bunch of porpoises, zipping through the water, back and forth, up and down in front of the boat. I didn’t actually try to touch them: It seems intrusive, and you know how I feel about that. Plus, we were all moving fast, and my morbid brain can conjure all sorts of ways that could end in frightening, bloody disasters. I did, however, get splashed a lot. I was soaked, as was Mike—and the camera.

Twice, as we were floating, drifting, fishing, and baking in the sun, a group of porpoises approached and swam around us. “Wanna play?” they seemed to ask. When we continued to just sit there, all boring-like, they moved on. I hated to disappoint them. The tour season hadn’t started, so there were no other boats out, no one else to play with. But we had another purpose.

Mike holding the halibut we caught.

It’s not a big halibut, but it’s yummy!

A table full of just-caught halibut, rockfish, and shrimp.

Halibut, rockfish, and shrimp from Aialik Bay.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had close encounters with sealife while out in our boat. Remember the humpback whale? I hope this won’t be the last encounter, either. I love our little boat.

Categories: Alaska

1 reply »

  1. Sure enjoyed my vicarious ride with the porpoises! I do think it is amazing how fast they can go without a motor!!!