Alert Bay, British Columbia

Sep 15, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Our expedition in Alert Bay, the cultural and artistic home of the traditional Kwakwaka’wakw people started with a beautiful sunrise over the surrounding islands. After breakfast, we visited the ‘Namgis Burial Ground, a cemetery filled with colorful totem poles that mark the gravesites of generations of Kwakwaka’wakw Chiefs and family leaders. We then took a scenic stroll along the waterfront to visit the U’Mista Cultural Center. Our two guides provided in-depth explanation of cultural dances and the traditional carved, painted masks (on display) that have been worn by performers for decades. This tour was the perfect introduction for our next excursion – a special privilege to witness the Kwakwaka’wakw dances in their local Big House.

The wooden Big House is built in traditional style and can seat over 1,000 people, more than ample space for our unique glimpse at a wonderful event. With a fire burning in the center of the dirt floor, over 20 dancers from the T’sasala Cultural Group donned regalia, special masks and created a memorable dance experience for us. Following their finale dance, our gracious hosts offered us sockeye and chum salmon along with frybread topped with local jellies.

In our afternoon, with all eyes on deck, we spotted a pod of killer whales as we cruised into black fish sound, a common location for killer whales (orca whales). Camera shutters were in overdrive while approximately eight killer whales breached, played and even dove under our ship. We continued into Johnstone Strait and were met by playful pacific white-sided dolphins, a few of which did some bow-riding. Those wildlife experiences were an amazing way to cap off our day and lead us into happy hour and recap.

Our naturalist, Mike Greenfelder, talked about how to identify killer whales and determined which pod we met today. In addition, our Undersea Specialist, Kayvon Malek, showed us footage from a dive under Alert Bay’s wharf. With another memorable day behind us, we cruised closer to San Juan Islands, our destination for tomorrow.

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About the Author

Eric Kruszewski

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

An editorial photographer and videographer based in Washington, D.C., Eric Kruszewski's multimedia work focuses on reportage and travel. His work is represented by National Geographic Creative, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic's Image Collection.

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