No cruise ships in 2020 gave Glacier Bay whales ‘room to roam’ researchers say

A whale tale above the water in front of mountains
A humpback whale in Glacier Bay National Park. (National Park Service)

Southeast Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve typically gets more than 150 visits by cruise ships each year.

National Park Service wildlife biologist Chris Gabriele said that means more than 600,000 visitors.

But then the coronavirus pandemic erased Alaska’s entire 2020 cruise season. That made waters a lot quieter, and the region’s humpback whales took notice.

We saw them out in the middle of the channels, taking naps, socializing, feeding with others,” Gabriele told a panel at a Dec. 9 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “I heard a lot of long exchanges between the whales including what I think may have been a mother and calf.”

Cruise ship passengers on the deck of the Holland America Noordam vie for the best look at glaciers and whales on July 16, 2019 during the ship’s traverse through Glacier Bay National Park. (Jacob Resneck/CoastAlaska)

Gabriele studies underwater acoustics and their effect on marine mammals. It’s been part of her whale research in Southeast Alaska that’s spanned some 30 years.

In 2020, she and a team redoubled their efforts to make underwater recordings at the mouth and middle of Glacier Bay to observe the effects of relative quiet on marine mammals.

She said while the coronavirus has forced people to socially distance, it’s been the opposite for marine mammals.

It’s like this horrible pandemic confined us humans into really small spaces but gave the whales back a lot of room to roam both physically and acoustically,” she said.

The audio recordings are on the national park’s website. They also include pods of orcas, harbor seals and other marine life.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

Previous articleWithout tourists or in-person markets, 2020 has been hard on Alaska artists
Next articleNTSB investigation into fatal Unalaska plane crash reveals mechanical problem