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One of the more bittersweet ironies of the summer travel season in Sitka is that whales, while fairly common and easy to find out in the Sound in summer, practically park themselves in front of Sitka's harbor through most of the fall and early winter. From mid-September until mid-January or so, the waters in the Sitka vicinity are home to as many as eighty whales. Biologists believe the intently-feeding whales are building up food reserves prior to their mid-winter migration to the tropics, where they will fast, breed, and give birth.
The high concentration of whales in Sitka in the autumn and winter has not been widely publicized by Alaska's largely summer-oriented travel industry. Since much of the Alaskan mystique depends on ice and snow, the state's image-makers have been reluctant betray this disturbing truth: winter in Sitka is often pretty nice. What would you expect in the heart of one of the world's only temperate rain forests? True, summer is a fabulous time to tour Alaska, but a winter vacation up here can be spectacular. Here are a some suggestions:
WhaleFest offers visitors and Sitkans alike to not only view whales, but also to attend symposiums by scientists sharing their current research of these amazing and littlet understood mammals, a marine market, concerts and more. For information on WhaleFest call 907-747-7964, email email@example.com or visit: www.sitkawhalefest.org. For planning winter travel to Sitka and other Southeast Alaska destinations call the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau at 907-747-5940.
Don't be alarmed by the term "festival." This is an unparalleled opportunity to see two impressive natural spectacles in one trip. Fly to Juneau aboard Alaska Airlines, then catch the Alaska Marine Highway ferry for the three-hour, very scenic trip to Haines and the Haines Bald Eagle Festival. Observe the largest concentration of bald eagles (about 4,000) in the world as they feed on the last salmon run of the season in the Chilkat River. Attend lectures and programs on the eagle, and witness the release of birds back into the wild by the Alaska Raptor Center.
More fun than ever depicted in the History books. On October 18, 1867, Russia formerly transferred its Alaskan colony to the United States right here in Sitka. Residents from all over the state visit Sitka for the reenactment ceremony, plus a full week of activities including a parade, races, and a costume ball, and many other special events and performances. Despite the October chill, Sitka is never a warmer place to visit than during the Alaska Day Festival.
For experienced divers who are looking to get off the beaten path, winter diving in Southeast Alaska offers some incredible possibilities. Great water clarity plus an abundance of marine wildlife make winter diving the season of choice among Sitkans. For more information contact Island Fever Diving and Adventures (907-747-7871).
Beginning around the third week of March, dense herring schools return to Sitka Sound to spawn. Whales, sea lions, eagles, and fishermen all follow close on their heels (or fins). The harvest will be worth millions when the egg sacs are stripped from the herring and sold to the Japanese, who treasure raw herring roe as a New Year's delicacy. Both the Alaska Raptor Center and the University of Alaska Southeast offer natural history programs that take advantage of the unusually high density of wildlife in Sitka during herring season in late March and April. In mid-April, you can cap off your trip by attending the Alaska Folk Festival. Take an eight-hour cruise on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Juneau (or fly on Alaska Airlines). Fly home (or sell everything and buy a herring permit).
For information about skiing, eagles, and accommodations in Haines, Alaska, please contact:
Alaska Bald Eagle Festival
P.O. Box 1449
Haines, AK 99827
For information about the Alaska Folk Festival, go to their website or please contact:
Juneau Convention & Visitors' Bureau
134 Third Street
Juneau, AK 99801