Glacier Bay National Park

Aug 18, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion


We rose at dawn this morning to magical, ethereal light pink clouds and clear skies at the very top of Glacier Bay, in Tarr Inlet, face-to-face with the Grand Pacific Glacier and Margerie Glacier. The water was glass, mirror really in the early light, and the sun slowly poured over the mountains above Margerie Glacier, slowly washing over the river of ice. The only sounds were the “white thunder” of cracking glacial ice under pressure, melting…We waited, holding our breaths, for a great big calving event. Within minutes, a piece as high as 2 football fields and as wide as one broke off and collapsed with a fantastic splash that sent a large swell our way and the whole ship rocked back and forth feeling the force of the glacier! We imagined then how less than 200 years ago Glacier Bay – bigger than 600,000 football fields -- was completely covered under nearly 4,000 feet of ice.

As we continued sailing south in the morning, we saw a mountain goat atop Gloomy Knob, but a greater spectacle was unveiled as we tucked into Tidal Inlet: two harbor porpoises followed by the spouts of a gentle giant – a humpback whale making shallow dives while feeding. We all woooaaaa-ed when the whale fluked for a deeper dive – there is always something fabulous and climactic about whales fluking. Not even five minutes after spotting the whale, we saw a mama bear with this year’s cub far in the distance ashore in a glacial gravel stream roaming for food and probably teaching the cub how to get food on its own. And just when we thought that’s all Tidal Inlet would offer, a beautiful big bull moose was spotted in a meadow at the end of the inlet, really completing our wish list for mammals for the day.

But we still had seabirds on our wish list! So we headed to South Marble Island, a much protected nesting area for as many as 10 seabird species. We saw pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres, but what put big smiles on our faces were the goofy clowny horned puffins and tufted puffins! Steller sea lions were also hauled out in large numbers on South Marble Island, as usual scratching themselves and fighting for the prime rock sunning spot.  And all of that before lunch!

In the afternoon, we learned more about the natural history of Glacier Bay from the visiting Park Ranger, Chelsea. From Memi, who is a Tlingit interpreter, we learned some fascinating cultural history about the Tlingit people who have lived in the Glacier Bay region for hundreds of years. We had a chance to stretch our legs in Bartlett Cove and hike through the forest or along the river. What a beautiful sunny day, full of wildlife, spectacular landscapes, great natural and human stories, and a sense of appreciation for this area where rocks, plants, animals, and people have incredible resilience. Glacier Bay is ever changing, ever inspiring!

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About the Author

Lida Teneva

Naturalist

Dr. Lida Teneva grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria, in Eastern Europe, and wanted to be an explorer from an early age. Today, she is a coral reef scientist, marine conservationist, and educator, with 13 years of experience accumulated in Barbados, Dominican Republic, Australia (Great Barrier Reef), French Polynesia, Palau, the Northern Line Islands (Palmyra Atoll), Hawaii, and Fiji. She has worked on ancient and modern coral reefs, reconstructing past climate change and predicting future changes to reefs. 

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