May 16, 2018 - National Geographic Quest
This morning National Geographic Quest awoke to another bluebird day in the Inian Islands off the north coast of Chichagof Island. We embarked after breakfast on a Zodiac cruise and soon entered the domain of Cross Sound and its amazing pulse of tides. The view of the Fairweather Range and Brady Glacier as we rounded the coast from the ship was just incredible. Where mountains meet the sea these peaks of 10,000-12,000’ were a rare sighting as the high peaks are normally magnets for clouds and weather. The flooding tide brought life to the surface and we found ourselves in the presence of the largest species of eared pinniped on the planet. The male steller sea lion can weigh anywhere from 1500-2400 pounds and, with a voracious appetite, is drawn to the dynamic flux of prey that come with the changing tide. Our timing was both perfect and thrilling as we rode the tumultuous ebb and flow these animals thrive upon. Thrashing fish and approaching us with great curiosity we could not have asked for a more intimate experience with a species that is highly endangered in part of its range (Western Alaska has lost 90% of its population in the last 30 years). The second round was treated with the apex predator known as the “devilfish from hell”, Orcinus orca. Further down the shore some of us saw sea otters and puffins and were wonderfully awed by the verdant coast that makes Southeast Alaska so unique.
After lunch we explored George Island and while some of us kayaked the beautiful shoreline, the rest of us hiked out to a World War II gun emplacement. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 spurred the economic and military development of Alaska. After Pearl Harbor the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, Alaska in June of 1942 and went on to occupy Attu and Kiska (at the end of the Aleutians) for 11 months. One month later the Navy began to mount the 6” 50 caliber gun at George Island. Luckily the 20 men stationed on the island never saw action but the Aleutians experienced a completely different scene. In May of 1943 11,000 American troops landed on Attu and after two weeks of fighting all but 30 of the 2400 Japanese lost their lives. A few months later 35,000 Canadian-American troops landed on Kiska only to discover that the 5000 Japanese had evacuated. I think most people who hear this story are surprised to learn that the United States was both bombed and occupied during World War II.
The icing on the proverbial cake came after dinner as the bridge found orcas out in Cross Sound. An incredible ending to another glorious day!
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