Alaska Sea Adventures

Focus on Whales with Dr. Adam Pack

Trip A153: 8 days / 7 nights, July 23 – 30, 2023

Trip A154: 8 days / 7 nights, July 23 – 30, 2024


Six Humpback Rostrums Pointing Up

In the calm protected waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage you are outside on the front deck of a custom 80 ft private yacht enjoying the crisp fresh air of a sunshine-filled summer Alaskan morning with a select small group of no more than seven other passengers. Snow-capped mountains form a perfect backdrop to the calm sea. The outside speaker crackles with the voice of Captain Dennis Rogers “the depth sounder shows a large school of herring in the immediate area.” Chief researcher Dr. Adam Pack points out the herring “bubbling” at the surface and asks everyone to listen. As the water pops with herring, you hear a faint cry. The cry fades but quickly starts again, this time louder. Again and again the cry sounds. You and your fellow participants take up positions so as to see all areas around the boat. Suddenly, Adam calls out “bubbles, port bow!” All eyes turn as a ring of large bubbles forms at the surface. Then, suddenly ten 45 foot long humpback whales with mouths wide open lunge straight up in synchrony through the surface. Herring leap into the air an attempt to escape, but most fall prey to the enormous leviathans. You have only a few moments to marvel at the choreography of the hunt before the whales begin to dive. With each dive a whale exposes the underside of its tail flukes (the whale’s “finger print”).


Fluke patterns are the “fingerprint” of indivicual humpback whales. Photo copyright Jim Nahmens

Humpback whales are a migratory species that spend winter months breeding and calving in warm tropical waters and summer months feeding at higher latitudes in colder productive waters. Southeastern Alaska is the major feeding area for North Pacific humpback whales from Hawai’i. Each spring, thousands of humpback whales from Hawai’i make the long journey to Southeast Alaska. In 1980, after spending the winter and spring months studying humpback whales in Hawaiian waters, researchers from the University of Hawai’i migrated with the whales to their feeding grounds in Southeast Alaska’s Frederick Sound. There, they photographed individual whales to learn about their migratory trends, habitat use and feeding habits. In the years that followed, these researchers also documented humpback whales using feeding calls, bubblenets, and synchronous lunges to cooperatively hunt schools of herring. How long do the associations between individual humpback whales that cooperatively feed in these groups last? Are the associations between individual whales observed in Alaska also seen in Hawai’i? And do the associations between individual humpbacks in Hawai’i persist in Alaska? Now, some 30 years after those initial pioneering studies, Dr. Adam A. Pack, Associate Professor at University of Hawai’i at Hilo and Co-Founder and Vice President of The Dolphin Institute, a Hawaii-based nonprofit organization, has returned to the waters of Frederick Sound to answer these and other questions.


Humpback whale blows. Photo copyright Jim Nahmens

Working under special Federal Research Permits to Dr. Pack to study humpback whales and other cetaceans, you will assist him in sighting, recording GPS locations, documenting behavior including feeding activities, and photographing the identities of individual humpback whales in Frederick Sound and its inlets and passages. Humpbacks will be studied while feeding individually as well as in groups, and feeding tactics will be carefully documented. Skin samples may also be obtained to determine the sex of individuals and to examine humpback whale health status. In addition to data collection, you will also have the opportunity to assist in data processing and analysis to discover the life histories of photo-identified whales, and to learn about humpback whale ecology through readings, discussions and documentary films.

Humpback Whale

Humpback whale fluking up. Photo copyright Dennis Rogers.

If by chance the excitement of the humpback whale observation and data collection is not enough, there are many additional opportunities to sight other marine mammals such as killer whales, Dall’s porpoise, Stellar sea lions, and sea otters, as well as a variety of birds, bears, and other wildlife. Some other activities that can be included in the daily schedule are shore hikes, glacier viewing, beach combing, sport fishing for halibut, crab and shrimp, sea kayaking and a visit to a natural hot springs or Tlingit village.

No special training or skills are required, only a hearty spirit and an interest in whale research and whale photography. Dr. Adam Pack has been researching whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals for over 25 years. He has published over 40 journal articles and scientific reports on marine mammals, and his scientific discoveries have been featured in newspapers, popular magazines, and television documentaries.


Guide – Dr. Adam Pack

Dr. Adam A. Pack Professor, University of Hawai’i Hilo Co-founder and President, The Dolphin Institute

Adam Pack, Ph.D. is a Professor at the University of Hawai’i Hilo. He holds a joint appointment in the Psychology and Biology Departments and is the co-director of the University’s LOHE Bioacoustics Laboratory. He is also the co-founder and president of The Dolphin Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to education, research and conservation of whales and dolphins.

Dr. Pack has been researching marine mammals since 1983 focusing on humpback whale behavior and biology, bottlenose dolphin sensory perception, cognition, and language abilities, and the behavior of several species of wild dolphins in both the Bahamas and Hawaii. Dr. Pack has authored or co-authored over 50 scientific publications and reports on whales and dolphins. These publications cover such diverse topics as memory and learning in sea lions; male-male competition, migration, song, social and reproductive behavior, mating systems, and the role of body size in determining potential mates in humpback whales; and social cognition, concept formation, symbolic communication, referential understanding, self awareness, imitation, and abilities for cross-modal recognition using vision and echolocation in bottlenose dolphins.

Discoveries made by Dr. Pack and his colleagues have been featured in television documentaries (e.g., National Geographic’s “Wild Chronicles”, PBS’s “Dolphins with Robin Williams”, and the BBC’s “Dolphins: Deep Thinkers with Sir David Attenborough), magazine articles (e.g., Smithsonian Magazine, National Wildlife), and two IMAX films. Dr. Pack is a research advisor to several organizations including the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Cetacean Society (ACS) and the Wild Dolphin Project in Florida.  Dr. Pack also serves as an Associate Editor for the scientific journal Marine Mammal Science and is the former chair of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Happy Whale!

We are pleased to announce that we are participating in a new humpback whale online research initiative, Happy Whale, and now have our own page featuring the whales spotted on our trips and identified by the scientists at the organization. Please go over and check it out!

2023 Summer Whale Watching Trips
2024 Summer Whale Watching Trips
Humpback whale blows in Seymour Canal in Spring

Humpback whale blows in Seymour Canal in spring

“I have lived and worked in over 100 countries. I am a veteran whale watcher in Hawaii and Cape Cod and have enjoyed many group trips. This trip and this group of people is the high point of my travel life. This has been a joy in all respects. Thanks for the dreams fulfilled”.

William S.
Saranac Lake, NY


Copyright Jim Nahmens

“Oh, my God! Trip # 9 with ASA and they just keep getting better and better. And the whales- I think that this week I saw more whales than I have in the past 14 years combined!”

Barbara H.
Miami, FL


Copyright Gina Ruttle

“…being in a kayak with a 60 to humpback whale surfacing and blowing so close to me, was beyond words. These gentle giants blessed us with their presence. And when the junior whale of one pair began frolicking and breaching right in front of us, it made my millennium!!”

Susan & Dick R.
Kauai, HI