Halleck in Saginaw Bay & Red Bluff Bay

May 30, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Today began with a visit to Saginaw Bay, an area located on the northern coast of Kuiu Island. As we pulled in to examine our new surroundings, the sun peaked out from behind the mist and clouds and several sea otters floated past our ship. Like ourselves, the otters were enjoying breakfast, but instead of steel cut oatmeal and fruit, they were cracking open and eating clams on their chest. Finding otters so early in the morning felt like a treat and at that point we already knew, we were in for a good day.

The shoreline in Saginaw Bay is characterized by a variety of bushes and trees protecting the entrance to temperate rainforest, densely perched against a gradually sloping rocky beach. Though we understood we were arriving at low tide, we were still shocked to see the incredible expanse of the exposed shoreline and upper tidal zone. By 8:45 am, our exploration operations had begun. As we stepped off the Zodiacs, our teams were stunned by the life surrounding our feet. Varieties of colors were abounding, deep blues and greens contrasted magentas and orange. Painted anemones dotted between the bivalves, retracted into their bodies in an absence of water during low tide. The anemones appeared as cylindrical mounds of exploding reds and pinks, patiently waiting for the crest of a high tide wave to return home. When our eyes focused to the land around us, we had thousands, if not millions, of live pacific blue mussels and butter clam shells blanketing the grey, thick silt beach.

Our morning adventures included walks along the shoreline and kayak exploration. Just a few steps from the Zodiacs, clams squirted salty water several feet into the air through the sand. Walks along the shoreline were filled with wildlife from above and below water. Mink scurried across the beach dragging fleshy treasures to feast on in the forest. Chitons were examined on the rocks with their flat, sausage-shaped structure camouflaged by hairs and green algae. We found shield limpets with a tall shell, radiating bands of brown and white. Olive-green colored rockweed isopods were found crawling amongst the maze of algae and small stones. Hiding underneath the rocks, we found saddleback gunnels squirming left and right like hidden eels in a shadowed corner.

Kayaking operations gave the opportunity for us to observe life away from the shore. Paddling into deeper water made it possible to view tall, flowing plumose anemones jetting away from granite walls. Blood-red sea stars were attached firmly to the rocks. We marveled at the flowing tentacles of lions mane jellyfish drifting with the tide. The lion’s mane is an outstanding planktonic creature with a body that frequently provides shelter for a variety of species as it flows through the water.

In the afternoon, we crossed Chatham Strait to reach Red Bluff Bay, a narrow fjord filled with sharp cliff faces that were highlighted by our clear and sunny sky. We explored the thin waterway, finding massive waterfalls, wet fields of wild flowers and mountain goats crossing the tops of the hills. Our senses filled with wild imagery, we headed back into Chatham Strait heading north for tomorrow’s journey.

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About the Author

Christine West

Undersea Specialist

Christine was fortunate to grow up in the Pacific Northwest on the shores of the Puget Sound. After graduating from the University of Washington, she decided to pursue her love of the ocean and exploration. Her passion for marine biology has inspired her through over 4,000 scuba dives around the globe in temperate and cold-water conditions, as well as snorkeling and freediving in extraordinary habitats such as in river beds with spawning salmon, in recently de-glaciated bays and lagoons filled with ice and glacial silt and in deep blue water with large marine animals including humpback whales, hammerhead sharks and pilot whales.

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