An “extremely high” number of whales in Alaska’s Glacier Bay has prompted the National Park Service to issue speed restrictions on cruise ships traversing the famed fjords.
As many as 60 whales have been spotted in lower Glacier Bay recently, drawn to schools of small, high-calorie fish such as capelin, sandlance and herring, says Christine Gabriele, wildlife biologist with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “This summer, there seems to be a lot of capelin around, and that is what the whales appear to mostly be feeding on right now” she says. Of course, she notes, it’s hard to tell, as whales eat their meals underwater, out of sight from tourists and scientists alike.
To avoid harming the whales, cruise ships larger than 2,000 tons carrying more than 12 passengers have been asked to slow down to 10 knots because the vessels have a limited ability to maneuver, the NPS says in its release. While other watercraft can continue to travel at 13 knots through the park’s waters, NPS reminds captains that they must slow down to 10 knots if they come within one-quarter mile of a whale.
So how long will lucky Glacier Bay cruisers enjoy this bonanza of breachings? There’s no real way to predict, Gabriele says. “Things can change fast, or last a while,” she says. But she estimates that 60 whales eat an estimated 800 pounds of fish daily — so “presumably the feed won’t last forever.”
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