Humpbacks, Eagles and Alaska's Spectacular Herring Spawn

Whales, Wildlife and Landscapes of the Inside Passage

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Southeast Alaska in early spring remains gripped by the last gasps of winter. Coastal mountains are shrouded in snow, the air is crisp, and snow occasionally falls. Yet, as the day length increases from the long, wet winter darkness, in late March it triggers an event that rivals any spectacle in the natural world—the spawning of Pacific herring and the throng of predators that come to feed on them and their eggs.    


"Amazing opportunities for photography! Whales (breaching, bubble-net feeding and overall views), orcas, Dall's porpoises, birds, and waterfalls! What more could you ask for?! "
- D. Jackson
Sitka Sound is the location of one of the principal spawning sites for herring on the west coast of North America. Here they gather by the millions to breed, their eggs and milt tinting the water with a milky green hue. The annual herring spawn hardly goes unnoticed as countless bald eagles and dozens of humpback whales are drawn to the spawn in a spectacular feeding frenzy that is as photogenic as it is spellbinding.

For the eagles it is a time of seasonal abundance following a lean winter. Along the tree-lined rocky shores, the eagles are drawn to the Sitka Sound herring spawn from a wide region to bulk up for the demands of the upcoming nesting season. These “eagle-eyed” raptors launch from the trees as they spot the shoals of herring near the water surface. They descend, ripping out of the sky, talons extended, as they strafe the herring in relentless pursuit. During this time, eagle photography from a boat is extraordinary. In a few short weeks, the spawn ends. The eagles then disperse to mate and nest over a widespread area and become inaccessible to most photographers.

For some humpback whales the herring spawn also plays a critical role in their survival. Humpbacks make an annual migration to their southerly mating and calving grounds off Hawaii and Baja California. They can achieve migration from Alaska to Hawaii in as little as 36 days. The whale migration is not synchronous. They have a staggered migration—some head south in late fall and return in February. Others head south as late as mid-February and return north in late spring. Those that return to Alaska in late winter find a welcome food source from the herring spawn. And we are there to observe and photograph their fascinating cooperative “bubble-net” feeding behavior up close.

Our extremely small photo group, cruising in a private world-class 84-foot expedition yacht, gets to the heart of the annual herring spawn action—with a daily itinerary and agenda that is totally ours to choose! There is no comparison to the intimate proximity to wildlife that is accessible with this type of small boat cruising in contrast to the giant city-sized cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers that normally traverse the Inside Passage. We experience a closeness with the maritime scenery that yields many impressive images.

During our voyage we may also encounter sea otters, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, orcas, and a variety of birds including harlequin and long-tailed ducks, Barrow's goldeneyes, surf scoters, black-legged kittiwakes, and glaucous and mew gulls.

Join us for this unique, world-class photo shoot in the dreamy realm of Alaska's Inside Passage. Each day brings new adventures amidst this pristine Alaskan wilderness. This all-inclusive photo cruise features comfortable en suite accommodations, three hearty gourmet meals each day, all beverages including select wines with dinner and use of a rigid-hulled inflatable skiff for shore excursions. With incredible images created with the assistance of today’s image stabilized/vibration reduction lenses and digital technology, this tour defines some of the best coastal Alaska photography for years to come.

For Trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Mar 26)
Participants should arrange to fly to Sitka, centrally located in Alaska’s Inside Passage. Our hotel offers an airport shuttle. We meet in the lobby of our hotel for a short orientation followed by dinner. (D)

Day 2
Four times the size of Rhode Island, Sitka is the largest incorporated city, by area, in the US. Its total district (including water) comprises 4,811 square miles (12,461 square kilometers). Fortunately, the downtown area is not so big, so we spend a little time this morning photographing the Russian Orthodox cathedral and the waterfront area located within walking distance to our hotel. After lunch we board our boat, Northern Song, and begin cruising scenic Sitka Sound . We should have plenty of excellent photo opportunities as we explore beautiful coastal landscapes while we search for a herring spawning area. (BLD)

Days 3–9
There are numerous photogenic highlights during our voyage. The herring spawn, with its attendant whales and eagles, is our highest photographic priority. In addition to dozens of humpback whales—bubble-net feeding, sounding and occasionally breaching—we have extensive opportunities to photograph the throngs of bald eagles along the shore as they catch their fill of the abundant herring. Dramatic eagle images—flight shots, portraits, birds diving on fish, and as part of the coastal rainforest landscape—are all on our agenda. We scope out mountain-studded seascapes, shoot the dormant snow-clad Mount Edgecumbe volcano, visit an off-shore Steller sea lion haul out, keep our eyes open for orcas and sea otters, and explore spectacular bays using our skiff. During a low tide we will go ashore for macro photography of masses of herring roe that cling to the seaweed in the exposed intertidal zone. As the tide drops, gulls and scoters swoop in to gorge themselves on the eggs. Depending on fishery conditions we may shoot the activities of the commercial herring fishing boats and get close looks at the subsistence fishery of local Tlingit natives who harvest the roe by placing hemlock branches in the water. A thick layer of sticky eggs adheres to the submerged branches. The roe, often dipped in seal oil, is highly prized as a nutritious, high calorie protein source. (BLD)

Day 10
We return to Sitka in the afternoon and transfer to our hotel. We have time to explore the area prior to our last group dinner. (BLD)

Day 11 (Apr 5)
The hotel shuttle transfers you to the airport for your departing flights. (B)

About Our Vessel
Our delightful private expedition yacht is the 84-foot Northern Song, a rugged steel cruiser built in 1997, perfect for exploration of Alaska’s legendary Inside Passage. It is the only vessel to offer this exclusive herring spawn photo voyage. Northern Song offers an ideal balance of public and personal space with ample outdoor areas for wildlife observation, plus a spacious salon with a fully equipped media suite. The huge pilot house can seat 10 for wildlife spotting and general sightseeing. Best of all, the boat is well-suited for photography in both fair and moderately inclement weather with a great deal of bow space for shooting marine mammals, birds, and landscapes. We believe Northern Song is among the finest boats available for whale photography in Southeast Alaska!


Click to Enlarge Photos:

Northern SongBridge of Northern SongDining RoomLounge AreaDeck PlanMain Deck, SuiteMain Deck, Suite - View 2Lower Deck Stateroom - Upper/Lower BerthsLower Deck Stateroom - Double Bed
Rate Schedule
The spacious Master Stateroom on the Main Deck features a queen bed and en suite bathroom with separate bathtub/stall shower.  $15,995 per person (The boat has one of these suites)

The three Guest Staterooms are on the lower deck and feature private bathrooms with showers.  Each of these staterooms feature double lower beds and single upper berths.  $14,995 per person


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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Humpbacks, Eagles and Alaska's Spectacular Herring Spawn

Mar 26, 2023 - Apr 05, 2023


A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa or MasterCard. Final payment of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
A deposit of 25% of the trip fee is required. Full payment of the trip fee is due 180 days prior to departure date. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:
If Written Cancellation is Received:                                                Cancellation Fee:
150 days or prior:                                                                                100% of deposit
149 to 121 days prior:                                                                          50% of entire trip fee
120 or fewer days:                                                                               100% of entire trip fee
Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft or other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics and outbreaks, or other causes.  All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Humpbacks, Eagles and Alaska's Spectacular Herring Spawn: Easy Activity Level

Luxury yacht transportation.  Seventy-five percent of our photography will take place from the boat.  Expect mostly calm water but seasickness prophylaxis is recommended for those who may be affected until you “get your sea legs.”  Shore excursions will be undertaken whenever possible to stroll secluded beaches and explore rain forest trails. Kayaks are available.

Trip Details
Mar 26 - Apr 05, 2023
Fee: From $14,995 depending on cabin selected departing Sitka, Alaska -Tour includes two hotel nights in Sitka
Deposit: 25% of cabin fee
Limit: 7 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy
Cabin Fees
Lower Deck Guest Stateroom: $14,995
Main Deck Master Stateroom: $15,995

  • Nine days on board a luxurious private yacht designed to get “up-close and personal” to wildlife
  • Cruise Alaska’s legendary and unspoiled Inside Passage at prime herring spawning time
  • Towering snowcapped mountains provide dramatic backdrops
  • Photograph humpback whales and bald eagles and other coastal wildlife up close
  • Very small tour group size—limited to 7 participants—provides plenty of deck space for photography
  • An exceptional small boat cruise a non-photographing spouse will thoroughly enjoy

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Tour Leaders
Joe Van Os

Joe Van Os