Alaskan Whale-watching Adventures while Deafblind

Whale watching tours may seem purely visual, but thoughtful guides create interactive experiences that are fun even though I can’t see the whales!

Descriptive Transcript

Experienced guide Laurie Clough approaches Haben holding a three-feet long, orange sea star. Haben gently studies the star with her fingers. Hundreds of tiny tube feet, yellow on the ends, spike out from each arm. Parts of it look spiny and other parts look soft and sticky. A small group of people gathers around Laurie on the boat.

Haben: Most sea stars have five arms. This one has 17! It’s a sunflower sea star that climbed into the research crab pot.

A still photo shows Haben touching the metal bars of a large black crab pot. Laurie is holding it up and smiling at Haben.

Haben: We released it back into the waters.

Black and white orcas break through the glistening surface of the ocean. Their noses erupt first followed by their dorsal fins and large, curved bodies. They cut gracefully through the water, invisible again each time they dip below the surface. Tall, green spruce trees line the shore behind them.

Haben: We’re in Juneau, Alaska. And I was wondering: As a blind person, would I enjoy going on a whale watching tour? Our guides very creatively explored: How do we make this more accessible?

Haben, again seated on the boat, is holding a black and white model of a humpback whale.

Haben: Finding tactile models of humpback whales and orcas. Sharing delightful descriptions!

Stellar sea lions nap, play, and talk around a red and green buoy.
Laurie: Sounds that are more arr arr arr, that’s a California sea lion. These guys are more that low ooohhh, bellow kind of thing. And these guys are a fair amount bigger.

Haben: Thank you Laurie Clough, Cam Byrnes, and the Gastineau Guiding team for helping to make Alaska more accessible.

A still image of Laurie smiling and holding the sea star pops up. It’s followed by an image of Cam tying the boat to a metal pole attached to a long wooden dock. The video returns to a clip of Haben meeting a sunflower sea star.