George Island and the Inian Islands

Jun 30, 2014 - National Geographic Sea Bird

George Island and the Inian Islands
Orca and Stellar sea lion.
George Island and the Inian Islands
Stellar sea lions hauling out.

The National Geographic Sea Bird sailed through Icy Straits early this morning and arrived as the fog lifted to expose the silhouette of George Island. This quintessential Southeast Alaskan Island located in Cross Sound and exposed to the Pacific Ocean was the location for our morning activities of hiking and kayaking. One of the highlights of the short but undulated hike was the cannon installation as part of the United States defense during World War II. The extreme low tide allowed for an active tide pool interpretive walk where the guests discovered many of the fascinating invertebrates that live in these cold waters. The photo walk concentrated on macro photography of the variety of orchids and other wildflowers that we found in this lush temperate rainforest. The glassy calm waters around the island provided a great kayaking experience along the rocky shoreline with sea lions and sea otters.

For the afternoon, we relocated the ship just to the north at the Inian Islands where we explored a few rounds on our small boats in the open ocean with Stellar sea lions investigating our boats and bald eagles soaring overhead. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of our amazing day! As we heading east down Icy Strait we encountered a pod of killer whales gliding along the glassy waters as the clouds hung low over the mountains of Chichagof Island. In the golden light on this last day of June, a group of Stellar sea lions porpoised out of the water with intent as the same pod of killer whales erupted into a frenzy of breaching, tail slapping and cooperative feeding. Were these a resident pod of killer whales that feed strictly on salmon or a stealthy hunting pack of transient whales that prey on sea mammals? Nobody was sure what really took place below the waters, however, we witnessed one of nature’s finest spectacles.

Continuing down Icy Strait just off of Point Adolphus, our expedition leader announced over the speakers that we should all meet on the bow. At this point it was 10 p.m. and the entire ship was on the bow watching the last of the Southeast Alaskan summer sunset gleaming on the water as a pod of humpback whales were bubble net feeding while a pod of killer whales, including a small calf, were feeding on the herring. What an incredible day!

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About the Author

Rich Reid

National Geographic Photographer

Award-winning photographer and filmmaker Rich Reid has specialized in environmental and adventure photography for over two decades. On assignment with National Geographic Adventure magazine, he cycled Alaska’s Inside Passage by ferry and explored California’s Gaviota Coast by bike and kayak. North American Nature Photography Association elected Rich as a Fellow for his significant contributions to the nature photography industry, and he was a finalist for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his time-lapse video documenting forest fire ecology.

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