When we realized that it was time to start dawn surveys… we were apprehensive. Alaskan dawn comes early. In late June early means 3:30 am. We tried to build the schedule compassionately- not repeatedly forcing any one of us into that dreaded dawn spot for too many days in a row.
Attempt one: fog swell, pounding rain. Emma and Lindsey are in the tower ready to face the elements… but noble stead (our precious hydrophone zodiac) couldn’t weather the storm. When push came to shove, no theodolite could find a whale in that visibility. We not so begrudgingly went back to bed.
Attempt two: After a rocky start to the rainy morning (we won’t go into details… there may have been an alarm clock issue) Noble Stead is out in the water and Rapunzel is in the tower! For a moment. Theodolites, we’ve since learned, are disinclined to function when wet. It took a few days of drying out (and considerable controlled panic) before the equipment revived itself (“Can I cancel that rush order please? Thank you so much.”). In the meantime we ate pancakes with apple butter and a blueberry reduction snuggled with the pups, processed data, and huddled near the heater drinking coffee.
Attempt three: I consider myself an outdoorsy type. I’ve seen sunsets off of Honduras, Hawaii, the California coast, Boston, Mexico… But I’ve never seen a more beautiful dawn that this one. Nothing quite compares to the sound of whale spouts echoing across the water under the pale peach of an Alaskan sun. The Alaskan sun doesn’t burn, it blushes. On this morning the thick layer of clouds that perpetually hangs over the southeast Alaska sky were just high enough to reveal the orange orb of the sun break the mountain top. The rays bounced from cloud layer, to mountain top, to ocean.
I can’t prove it statistically (yet), but that morning convinced me that dawn is the best time to watch whales. Trumpets and flipper slaps! Breaches and lunges! As one dove another would surface in its footprint, and so the cycle would go.
It didn’t take long, however, for the sun to transit the swath of open sky between the mountain and the clouds. In a matter of 30 minutes the sun disappeared behind the strata and the whales quieted.
Lindsey and I were the only ones awake to see it (save the lighthouse keeper, who may have been peering out his early bedroom window). We told the other girls about it. I can’t remember of they believed us, or were even impressed with the description. A few surveys in, however, Emma and Jen saw it for themselves. Soon enough we were all fighting to get our names onto the dawn survey