Utqiaġvik felt unembellished, bordered as it was by the Arctic Ocean on one side and the treeless tundra on the other, and even in the height of summer the temperature was cold and the skies gray. There was one impressive, if haunting, ornamentation, however, that added contrast to the landscape—bowhead whale bones, bleached and enormous. Skeletons were displayed in front of public buildings, and their tusk-like jaw bones, some over 20 feet long, stood erect outside of homes.
Most breathtaking were the massive skulls lying on the beach, seemingly abandoned; in reality, they were left there to dry, the oils gradually evaporating over months and years. Eventually they will be moved to a final resting place, which might be anywhere around town, from a front yard to an office building.
While not the largest animal on earth (that distinction goes to the blue whale), humpbacks are no petite creatures; they’re 50-60 feet in length, which is longer than your average school bus. So when these tractor-trailer-sized mammals stick their enormous heads out of the water, they’re pretty easy to spot. These pictures were taken a few days ago, when we watched two whales (or maybe more; it’s hard to tell) feeding in Resurrection Bay.
“Three more!” I cried, pointing to the birds perched in the tree.
Driving through a neighborhood near the waterfront, we were witnessing something unexpected—a large convocation of eagles. They were sitting atop telephone poles, perched on satellite dishes and rooftops, and even—as we saw when we turned the corner—blocking traffic in the street.