Gray whale watch: Spring deals on sale now

Alaska's gentle giants are coming home, and you won't want to miss their annual appearance. The gray whale migration is ready to begin as the 50-foot, 40-ton marine mammals prepare to depart Mexico's Baja Peninsula for the chilly Arctic feeding grounds. As these enormous creatures make their way north during March and April, eager visitors flock to Pacific coast shorelines and on board cruise vessels from California to Alaska for a glimpse of the sleek, silvery whales.

Undertaking the world's longest migration is a lot of work; gray whales travel between 5,000 and 7,000 miles each season, and females with calves must spend the winter in Mexico acquainting their young with the rigors of traveling so far. And yet they somehow manage to make it, year in and year out, proving that nature has a plan and inviting we humble humans to join the party.

By the time the grays reach Alaska waters, the whales have nearly reached their destination and are already taking advantage of the rich food supply available for these baleen (filter) feeding animals. Often, whales can be found close to shore, taking pit stops in areas like Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay. It is here, near the coastal community of Seward, where spring whale watching is abundant, and for early-season visitors, very affordable.

Just about anyone with a pair of binoculars has the ability to view whales from shore (gray whales typically stay within the contours of land, and can be seen quite easily), but it's aboard a boat that whale-watching visitors truly capture the essence of life as a very large, water-going mammal.

Two larger companies and a host of smaller ones offer gray whale tours between March and May when whales are transiting to the far north. Most tours operate out of Seward's Resurrection Bay, where whales spend time feeding on small fish and krill before continuing their journey. Whale-watchers should know that, as is typical of an Alaska spring, weather and conditions can vary widely between sunny and stormy, so being prepared for either is a must. That said, it is rare that trips are canceled due to weather, so dress in layers, add a hat and gloves, and break out the camera. You won't be disappointed.

Major Marine Tours has a gray whale special continuing through May 13, 2018. The four-hour cruise departs Seward at 1 p.m. and returns at 5 p.m. and passengers are treated to a variety of other wildlife as well, like birds, sea lions, otters and even an orca or humpback whale.

The fully-narrated tour includes use of binoculars. Day cruise prices are $84/pp adults; $42/children age 3 to11; infants two and under are free. Travelers will be able to enjoy complimentary coffee and tea on board, and snacks are available for purchase.

Major Marine also is offering a Spring Fever Package, with a day cruise, overnight at the company-owned Harbor 360 Hotel, and tickets to the Alaska SeaLife Center. March and April prices begin at $109 per person, and May prices begin at $123 per person. You must phone Major Marine for this package, however. Call 907-274-7300.

Kenai Fjords Tours also operates from Seward, and is offering a four-hour tour departing Fridays through Sundays until April 8; then daily between April 13 and May 17. Vessels leave the dock at noon and return at 4 p.m. and include lunch: Adults are $80 per person, and children age 2 to 11 are $40. Looking for wildlife is certainly the goal on this cruise, but Kenai Fjords trips also include glimpses of Bear Glacier and towering mountains visible from the water.

Find more information about gray whale tours and springtime lodging and activities in Seward by visiting the Seward Chamber of Commerce website,

Erin Kirkland is an Alaska author and freelance travel journalist.

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