From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska
May 15, 2012 - National Geographic Sea Lion
Glacier Bay National Park
Glassy water, patches of blue, and white mountain tops in the distance were the most striking part of our morning. After picking up our interpretive ranger and cultural interpreters at Bartlet Cove we started our journey to the north end of Glacier Bay. The ship passed several sea otters and a northern sea lion that was violently thrashing a fish into pieces. Attendant glaucous-winged gulls waited for the scraps. Later in the morning the sounds of gulls from Marbled Island were as conspicuous as the gray rock. Over a hundred sea lions draped themselves over brown stained hunks of the island. Tufted puffins flew by both sides of the ship, bald eagles flushed up noisy flocks of kittiwakes as occasional groups of pelagic cormorants passed. Several sea otters made cameo appearances and were gone. We saw a migrating group of surfbirds that covered the last remnants of marble that appeared above the surface as we continued our journey.
Waterfowl seemed quite abundant with mallards, widgeon, shovlers, green winged teal, long tailed, ring-necked ducks and scoters floating in many of the backwaters and stream mouths. Mergansers and grebes, common, yellow-billed, Pacific and red-throated loons were abundant and added a thrill for birders as strings of them flew by or dove nearby. It’s difficult not to be impressed by so many wings connected in long lines. We not only feel like we are here during migration it’s almost like we are in migration. We feel the sun that changes to mist, that gives way to a chill leading into snow that flies in your face and melts quickly on the deck rather than on tiring wings. Not long afterward it became a bright sparkling day.
Mountain goats seemed to appear in many places we looked. They were in groups of four then eight then seven before we reached tidal inlet. There were several groups of up to six that were looking down on us all the way to the end of the inlet and back. Gloomy knob had several twosomes near the water and many more above us. Farther up bay even more were looking down from just below the mist. It was likely that snow covering most of the park had kept them low and in our view. The alders had not yet leafed out, which exposed them even more. It is the start of calving time but we did not find any newly born kids. One of today’s photographs is of a ewe and a yearling.
Our first bear encounter was of a single adult foraging in the intertidal on an outgoing tide. The photograph was taken later, as the bear walked along on the snow covering the large alluvial fan on the east side of Russell Cut. The scene may help you get the feeling of the mostly solitary life of brown bears in a vast and wild land. We also watched two similar sized bruins in the same area foraging together in a creek mouth covered by seaweed. It was most satisfying to leave them undisturbed as we moved on for more sights.
Marjorie Glacier had small chunks of ice appearing sprinkled about its terminus. The top of the glaciers were covered by unorganized pinnacles sticking up into the sky. The alluring glacier blue is more intense the denser the ice is so some of us searched for the deepest gnarliest blue. It was noisy too. Rifle cracks and groans defied our search for their location and made watching an active pursuit. Glaciers are way cool.
There are some very special places in the United States and through the foresight and perseverance of a few visionaries we all have an opportunity to experience them through our system of National Parks. It seems like such a common and obvious idea that it’s easy to forget what a privilege it is to be here. Glacier Bay is a place so large that one can scan as far as the binoculars can see and find not a trace of civilization, maybe a bear, a few goats and whole bunch of glaciers but no people. That was the backdrop of our day, one filled with wildness totally insured by the National Park System.