Feeding whales put on show for Ketchikan residents

HUMPBACKS: Onlookers see a bubble net formed.

Ketchikan Daily NewsOctober 29, 2011 

Humpback whales feed on herring and provide a show for photographers and other onlookers toward the end of October 2011, in Tongass Narrows in front of downtown Ketchikan.

TOM MILLER / KETCHIKAN DAILY NEWS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

KETCHIKAN -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee Mark Hanzlik was one of many Ketchikan residents who were treated to a close look at a group of humpback whales feeding in Tongass Narrows last week.

"I'd been working hard for three hours and took a break to walk down to the dock," said Hanzlik, who works at the Federal Building in downtown Ketchikan. "I saw two spouts the first time."

Then he saw more spouting near the north end of Pennock Island and could see there were more than two whales.

Hanzlik realized there were at least four whales when he saw them surfacing near the bow of the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Columbia, which is moored at Berth 3 for the season. Humpback whales were feeding and providing a show for photographers and other onlookers Monday in Tongass Narrows.

"I waited to see if they would start bubble net feeding," Hanzlik said. Bubble net feeding is a group technique that uses bubbles to capture small schooling fish. Hanzlik wasn't disappointed. But even better, he said, the whales moved close to his location on Berth 2, just south of the dock construction zone. He saw a large-diameter ring of bubbles pop to the surface. The close edge of the bubble net was only five to 10 yards from his position on the dock, he said.

"You could look down, and the bubbles were right there," he said.

Hanzlik has lived in Ketchikan for about five years and has watched whales from his kayak in Clover Pass, he said.

"It's incredible to see," he said. "They're big, interesting animals to watch. I mean they're bigger than elephants. And this time you could see the herring.

"It was a nice break from work," Hanzlik said.

Nick Polasky, an assistant district attorney, said he and co-workers looked down from the southeast side of the State Office Building and noticed a crowd of people gathering on the dock. That was a sign, he said. Then gulls seemed to be gathering.

"Then we saw the whales coming up, right next to the dock," Polasky said. "It was nice. This time they came out over my lunch break."

Polasky called his wife, Kelley, and she brought their three boys, John, 4, Zachary, 2, and 3-month-old Mike to the dock.

Mike was too young to comment, but the older boys were excited, Polasky said.

"They got to see the whales pretty close and saw them do the bubble feeding thing," he said.

Heidi Ekstrand was driving on Front Street when she glanced in the direction of the docks and saw people pointing toward the water.

"You know something is going on when you see people pointing at the water," she said. "I glanced again and saw the whales coming up, feeding, and I pulled over and parked. I guess because the tide was high, I could see them from the car. They were almost right up to the dock."

Ekstrand said, "It's just amazing to live in a town where you can just be downtown and see a sight like that."

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