Surrounded by hundreds of common murres, an adult humpback whale shows its pectoral fin as it rolls in the water just outside the Don Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday. An increase in feed fish, herring, pollock and capelin, have been keeping a variety of birds and marine mammals feeding in the area for the last two weeks.

Surrounded by hundreds of common murres, an adult humpback whale shows its pectoral fin as it rolls in the water just outside the Don Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Monday. An increase in feed fish, herring, pollock and capelin, have been keeping a variety of birds and marine mammals feeding in the area for the last two weeks.

Auke Bay’s Wild Kingdom

If you’ve visited Auke Bay’s Statter Harbor in the last few weeks, you’ve seen a world gone wild.

For the past two weeks, hundreds of common murres, marbled murrelets, common loons, gulls and other birds have called to each other and dived for food around Auke Bay. Pods of sea lions surface in a tight raft just feet from the docks as they chase fish. A humpback whale dives beneath boats. Huge schools of herring cluster just below the surface of the water.

“In my 50-plus years in Juneau, I’ve never seen the abundance of birds that are there now,” said Bob Armstrong, a local naturalist, author and retired biologist.

There have been big gatherings of animals before, Armstrong said, such as a few years ago when long-tailed ducks gathered in the harbor to feed on tube worms. Humpback whales have entered the bay before, and seals and sea lions are regular residents and visitors, though not as active as they are now.

On Wednesday, Armstrong watched a whale dive down beneath docked boats, turn around, and reemerge.

On Monday, a “huge number” of herring gathered near the shore. “They just blackened the water,” Armstrong said.

What those watching the phenomenon don’t know, however, is why this congregation of wildlife is happening now.

“It’s a hot spot for foraging right now, for some reason,” said local ecologist Michelle Ridgway. “I don’t know why we have the aggregations of birds in here, unless this just happens to be where food is most highly aggregated.”

The birds and other animals are being attracted by the herring, pollock, sand lance and capelin. Some may also be targeting mysids (small, shrimp-like creatures) and other crustaceans, Ridgway said.

Ridgway suspects the sea lions, of which there are a mixture of pups, adults and “about a dozen young bucks,” are targeting larger pollock.

Water temperatures don’t seem out of the normal range, she said, and the water is clear.

“I’m not sure (why this gathering is happening), but it’s fantastic to watch, though,” she said, “It’s a very interesting time of year. As the weather changes abruptly, it can turn everything over.”

Earlier this week, Ridgway counted 72 marbled murrelets. “We have a wild kingdom here in Auke Bay,” she said.

Audubon Society member Doug Jones was out earlier this week trying to film common murres and murrelets flying underwater.

“Once you come down once, you’ve got to come back,” Jones said. “This is exceptional.”

Andi Story and her son Ryan were out walking on the docks last week when they saw a whale surface. Story returned with friends Gayle Trivette and Cindy Quisenberry on Wednesday.

Two humpback whales have been visiting the bay almost every day for about two weeks

Steve Gilbertson described the “wall of murres” and other animals at the harbor as “the best wildlife show in town.”

That show will probably last as long as the food does, Armstrong said.

• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

More in Neighbors

Battered fish fillets frying. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Fish and chips with homemade tartar sauce

For years I struggled with different fish batter recipes, usually with lousy… Continue reading

Jackie Renninger Park, which is scheduled to receive structural and safety improvements. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Neighbors briefs

See design ideas for Jackie Renninger Park at June 24 public meeting… Continue reading

Students from Juneau Community Charter School listen to a story at the Skagway Public Library. (Photo provided by Clint Sullivan)
Neighbors: Letters of thanks

Thanks to the community of Skagway The K/1 class of Juneau Community… Continue reading

Donna Leigh is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Courtesy photo)
Living and Growing: Small things

Have you ever had a small pebble in your shoe? Very irritating,… Continue reading

Dining out in Croatia. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Almond cake from a trip to Croatia

I should have probably titled this week’s column: “Eating For Pleasure.” My… Continue reading

Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk. (Photo provided by Maxim Gibson)
Living and Growing: A new Alaskan saint

“God is wonderful in His saints: the God of Israel is He… Continue reading

Nick Hanson of the NBC show “American Ninja Warrior” kicks off the blanket toss at the 2020 Traditional Games in Juneau. (Lyndsey Brollini / Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: Celebration begins Wednesday with mix of traditional and new events

Nearly 1,600 dancers from 36 dance groups scheduled to participate in four-day gathering.

“Curiosities of Alaska” by Junnie Chup, which won first place in Kindred Post’s 2024 statewide postcard art contest. (Photo courtesy of Kindred Post)
Neighbors briefs

Kindred Post announces 2024 statewide postcard art contest winners Kindred Post on… Continue reading

Tanya Renee Ahtowena Rorem at age 17. (Photo provided by Laura Rorem)
Living and Growing: ‘My name is Ahtowena’

My precocious two-year old broke loose from my grip and took off… Continue reading

The Pinkas Synagogue, the second-oldest building in Prague. (World Monuments Fund photo)
Living and Growing: Connecting to family ancestors through names of strangers on a wall in Prague

“Prague never lets you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws.” —… Continue reading

Individual eggplant parmesan rounds ready to serve. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Individual eggplant parmesan rounds

These flavorful eggplant parmesans are a great side dish, especially served with… Continue reading