Yesterday morning, I sat on the edge of our rocks. Cats paws rippled the water’s still surface; pale sunshine bathed the mountains and me, while wisps of cloud shrouded their heads. I sipped coffee from my favorite mug. Sea lions a few miles across the water at Gran Point growled and howled, as ever. Three ruby crowned kinglets interrupted each others songs in the trees behind me. Somewhere across Lynn Canal an avalanche banged its way into a ravine. The morning’s freshness, salt tang and warming spruce and hemlock, with a touch of birch and alder bud, sweetened my morning “mug up.” Every so often, spaced just enough to make me start slightly with its sudden appearance and deep “whoosh” of breath, a humpback whale surfaced beneath me, slowly, almost lazily working its way through our bight in large loops.
The herring run has started!
We’ve been expecting it, but “the Next Big Thing” took us a bit by surprise on Thursday. Since the herring fishery closed in Sitka, we’d been watching for signs of approaching shoals: gathering whales, excited sea lions, and clouds of sea birds. Usually, all of these appear in increasing numbers, and excitement builds until, at last, the herring begin to gather and spawn.
This year, things happened a bit differently. We’d seen a whale or two, recently. Sea lions had only just begun to swim in larger, noisier groups. I began to think about overhauling the nets. I’d guessed we had another week at least, perhaps more, before the herring arrived.
The night of the 14th, and again the next morning, we heard whales. Around 10:30 a pair of them swam north, where a large pod of harbor porpoises joined them. The whales began feeding, and the porpoises raced through the water around them. As we watched at the water’s edge, a small shoal of herring swam past our feet.
Aly and I scrambled. We didn’t run for the nets; the shoal was too small. Instead, she grabbed her hydrophone and recording gear. I’d been thinking about how to improve its performance, and tried several ideas. As a reward, we listened to the herring (which make a clicking sound, like a Geiger counter) and the two whales as they passed close by. They apparently don’t vocalize much while feeding, although if we’re lucky, they might bubble net later on. We heard slight sounds and the rush of water as they passed. Excitement enough for now!
Our urgency to catch herring will increase soon. Until then, yesterday brought plenty of other jobs to tend to, and soon I had to break my reverie and move on. But to sit for a while and enjoy my morning coffee in the company of a whale was heavenly!