Most of us have had a visual experience in our lives that is so meaningful it seems as if it was presented as a gift from beyond. It is exceedingly difficult to describe this experience, both verbally and with the written word. Photographs provide a somewhat better description, while a video is best, but still falls short.

This morning each of us was gifted with such an experience. It began at dawn (0500) when the early risers ventured onto the bow and saw several whales. As the day and light developed, many of the whales started to form a group of 10-12 and began bubble-netting, the Holy Grail of sights for whale watchers. The whales were oblivious to our presence, sometimes drifting close to National Geographic Sea Bird and other times drifting further away. But the bubble-netting was beyond spectacular, especially as we frequently saw breaching whales in the background.

We spent the entire morning absolutely enthralled by nearly 20 separate bubble-netting events. During lunch we moved to a different area where we were treated to several whales lunge-feeding and an especially energetic calf who breached nearly continuously over a period of 30 to 40 minutes. Time after time it emerged from the sea like a rocket and fell onto its back, creating a huge spray of water. After several breaches the calf reluctantly heeded mom’s vigorous and loud lob-tailing call to return home, but even when home, it continued to breach. Indeed, the calf behaved as if it was having a zen-like experience, aware only of its inner self. Finally, mom and calf (who should have been near exhaustion at this point) slowly swam away.

Under a clearing sky we traveled a short distance to the Inian Islands, where we Zodiac cruised. The ripping tidal currents forced deeper dwelling fish to the surface, which were then rapidly captured by patrolling and ever-vigilant sea lions. As soon as one would surface with a fish in its mouth, a flock of gulls would descend, eagerly searching for small morsels. Other sea lions lounged on the nearby rocks, lying next to or over adjacent neighbors.

As we continued to cruise, we saw sea otters, harbor porpoise, several species of sea birds, and of course, eagles. Gulls strolled on the kelp canopies, foraging on small mollusks. And we were able to view the open Pacific and imagine the next stop: Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia.

It was a day that left many of us slowly shaking our heads in near disbelief at what we were so privileged to experience. A day that has been burned into our mental RAM. A day to share with others, even though our words, photos, and videos can never capture our genuine and raw wonder. Indeed, we were given a gift.