Ladysmith’s Bruce Whittington is a passionate naturalist who is sharing his love of the great outdoors with those travelling the coastline from B.C. to Alaska.
He recently published Alaska Cruise Wildlife Watch, a book that provides information on many of the spectacular sights and sounds cruisers can expect to see as they make their way north. The book is an updated version of his popular 2007 guide, but with some additional information and improved photographs.
As the on-board naturalist on well over 60 cruises to Alaska on ships large and small, Whittington became familiar with the sights and sounds passengers encounter along the way and the questions they tend to ask. Alaska Cruise Wildlife Watch anticipates those questions and seeks to answer them in a format that is portable, approachable and easily accessible, even for wildlife novices.
“I would have people come up to me and they would ask the same questions on every trip — why is the ice so blue, what is that bird doing, what kind of flower is that — all those same questions used to come up and I thought, ‘there must be a book about this.’ And there wasn’t that I could find,” said Whittington. “It’s all based on what a cruise passenger in Alaska is likely to see.”
He said there are a number of natural history books on the market, but most cruise passengers aren’t likely to cart a large reference book around with them.
“My intent was to produce a book that somebody could have with them, in their pocket, when they’re on deck,” said Whittington. “Alaska is just such an amazing place, and for people to not be prepared for what they might see, to me, is a wasted opportunity.”
The previous version of the guide proved popular, selling all 5,000 printed copies, and the new version has been picked up by Alaska Geographic. That company supplies books to American national parks visitor centres and to park rangers who go on board Alaskan cruises to provide information to passengers.
On his numerous journeys up the coast, Whittington has seen plenty of stunning events, but he said one of the most memorable is a humpback whale feeding technique called bubble net feeding.
Working in groups, humpback whales herd schools of fish by circling around them and exhaling from their blowholes to create walls of bubbles. Once the fish are trapped one of the whales, typically an older female, uses a trumpeting sound to signal to the others to begin feeding. The whales then shoot up from below, mouths open, trapping the fish and breaking the surface all at once.
“It’s just stunning to see it; it’s so breathtaking,” said Whittington. He hopes that by sharing some of his knowledge, he can inspire others to help conserve the environment.
“When you give people a bit of information about something, they take some ownership of it and it becomes more important to them. So when you see people with their mouths open having just watched a humpback whale breech or an iceberg crashing into the sea, it just opens up all kinds of questions about, ‘Are we looking after this? What do we need to do as a species to live in harmony with this amazing ecosystem?’”
Whittington has also written another book entitled What’s That Island? which provides information on the sites one can see from the ferry between Victoria and Tsawwassen.
Alaska Cruise Wildlife Watch and What’s That Island? are available at select stores, including Ladysmith’s Bayview Framing & Art and Salamander Books, as well as online at www.strayfeathers.ca, for $14.95.