Whale watching opportunities in Kodiak rival those offering similar activities in southern latitudes.
Baleen whales, the largest marine mammals found in Kodiak waters include: Fin, Minke, Sei, Humpback and Gray. Whale migration to northern waters begins in April starting with the Gray whale. In June expect to see the Fin, Minke, Humpback and Sei. Fins and humpbacks are common June through November.
Many charter boats are available for whale watching and other marine wildlife tours. You can also spot whales from many cliff sides or beaches on Kodiak Island including Miller Point at Ft. Abercrombie State Park. Surfer Beach and Fossil Beach in Pasagshak are also good whale spotting sights as are many cliffs offering broad ocean views along Chiniak Highway. The whales often swim directly under the cliffs so whale watchers can easily look down on them.
Whale Fest Kodiak, in its 13th year, is a 10-day long festival in April that celebrates the return of Eastern Pacific Gray whales to Alaskan waters. Thousands of Gray Whales following their northerly migration route from Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Kodiak is one of the best locations to see the whales along their migration route. Many people come to Kodiak to participate in activities ranging from lectures, music, art, and environmental forums and, of course, to have an opportunity to spot a pod of Gray Whales.
Endangered and Threatened Species
Humpback Whale (endangered)
The North Pacific Humpback whale population, estimated at 7,000, remains greatly depleted from pre-commercial whaling levels of about 15,000. Humpbacks have been protected from commercial harvest since 1966. Small numbers of humpbacks have been observed in bays of western and northwestern Kodiak Island. Limited data suggests that waters along the south side of the Alaska Peninsula to the eastern Aleutians may be of particular importance to summering humpbacks. Substantial numbers of humpbacks have been sighted between the Kenai Peninsula and Afognak Island with summer feedings occurred in Marmot Bay and Northeast Afognak Island. In the Barren Islands, as many as 50 individuals have been sighted simultaneously with at least 100 present in local areas.
Fin Whale (endangered)
The endangered North Pacific fin whale has been protected against commercial harvest since 1976; the population is currently estimated at approximately 15,000, less than half its number before it was protected. In Alaska, some whales spend the summer feeding over the continental shelf in the Gulf of Alaska including portions of lower Cook Inlet, Shelikof Strait, the outer banks of the Kodiak archipelago and along the Alaska Peninsula. Fall migration occurs from September to November with some fin whales consistently wintering in the Kodiak Island area. Peak occurrence in Kodiak is reached by May.
Sei Whale (endangered)
The North Pacific Sei whale population is estimated at 9,110. This species was protected in 1976. Sei whales are found offshore in the Gulf of Alaska and south of the Aleutian Islands in summer with numbers peaking in May and June. Southward migration begins in August or September.
For information about Whale Fest, visit www.whalefestkodiak.com. This link provides many excellent links to other informative whale sites.
Other Marine Mammals
Dall and white-sided porpoise are often seen riding a boat's waves, unlike the shy harbor porpoise.
Steller (northern) sea lions are year-round residents in the archipelago, often seen in boat harbors and haul-out areas. Sea otters, once hunted to near extinction, can be seen in sheltered waters near kelp beds. Harbor seals are found in protected inner bays and lagoons.
Steller sea lion (threatened)
The adult Steller sea lion population in Alaska was estimated at 28,658 animals in 1998 and is steadily declining, especially in the area from the central Aleutian Islands to the Kenai Peninsula in the Gulf of Alaska. Some of the most important sea lion rookeries in the Gulf of Alaska lie on the west side of Shelikof Strait between Katmai Bay and Hallo Bay including Sugarloaf Island, Marmot Island and Chirikof Island.
Northern Sea Otters (threatened)
In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed northern sea otters in the Aleutian Islands as candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Recent data collected shows that the sea otter population in the Aleutians has declined by 70 percent in the past eight years. As few as 6,000 otters may remain in the entire Aleutian chain, down from a 1980s population of between 50,000 and 100,000 animals. Biologists speculate the cause of the decline may be due to increased deaths by killer whales.
Visit the NOAA National Marine Fisheries website for more information and photos of marine life.