Whale sightings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 July, 2009, 12:00am

Off the port bow! That's something we've been shouting out nearly every day lately. As Silent Sound has pointed her bow west and begun crossing the Gulf of Alaska, we've seen several whales surfacing near the boat.

They look like orcas, or 'killer whales', as we can often see a flash of white on their otherwise dark bodies. Orcas are an incredible sight. When they surface to breathe, sometimes you can see the spume and spray of their breath from far away. But you never actually see the whales themselves.

At other times, we get to see their big black tails rise up out of the water as they surface and then dive again. It's a special feeling to be so close to such incredible wild animals in their habitat. We expect to see a lot more whales this summer, and although orcas do go into the Arctic, they're not as common as some other species. Bowheads, belugas and narwhales are all Arctic residents, but we'd have to be pretty lucky to get to see all three.

Bowheads can grow up to 18 metres long, and commercial whaling over the centuries has almost wiped them out in some areas. They are now an endangered species. Belugas are pure white and much smaller than bowheads, and they appear to be smiling due to the shape of their mouths. They stay closer to the mouths of rivers and other shallow water, so we have a good chance of seeing one.

Narwhales look like something from mythology with one long, straight tusk coming out of the centre of their heads, like a unicorn. Their tusks, which grow mostly on males, are only used for defence and to attract mates. We'll tell you as soon as we see another species of whale.

If you have any questions, e-mail them to yp@scmp.com with 'postcards' in the subject field and we will forward them to Cameron. You can follow his voyage in his weekly log book in Young Post and on www.OpenPassage Expedition.com