Leaden skies mute the vibrant hues of autumn as the tail end of a cyclone from the Far East brings persistent rain to the Kenai Peninsula.
The overall dullness of the day is punctuated by the white backs of Beluga whales rising to breathe, offering sharp contrast to the pewter-colored waters of glacial flour-laden Turnagain Arm. The Belugas are no doubt snacking on late run silver salmon, both surfing through the tides with ease and grace.
Rising and falling beside their mothers, the darker calves blend with the color of the water.
These gregarious cetaceans are sometimes called sea canaries because of their varied language of squeaks, whistles, twitters, clicks, wails, shrieks, clangs, and honks. A prominent bulb on their heads, called a "melon", is used for echolocation.
They are an Arctic and sub-Arctic mammal, with males up to 18 feet long, and weighing up to 3500 pounds.
For those of us humans who regularly scan the Arm hoping for a glimpse of these enigmatic whales, sighting them brings a smile to our faces and a completeness to our days.
That they appear to be smiling in return makes their sighting all the more special.