Glacier Bay National Park

Jul 12, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion

This morning found National Geographic Sea Lion at dock against a shoreline that was covered by glacial ice only a couple hundred years before. We were at the headquarters of Glacier Bay National Park near Gustavus, a small village established along the former terminal moraine of the Grand Pacific Glacier. During its retreat, this glacier left behind a 60-mile blue channel that lies at the heart of the present-day national park. 

After we were joined by one of Glacier Bay’s national park service interpretive rangers as well as a Tlingit cultural interpreter, National Geographic Sea Lion cast off and headed into the park. The ever-present clouds of our expedition finally lifted as we cruised north, resulting in stunning views of the coastal mountains – including Mount Fairweather, soaring nearly three miles high above us. A photography and viewing stop at South Marble Island allowed our birders to check horned and tufted puffins, pigeon guillemots, and black oystercatchers off their lists. In the waters nearby, sea otters backpaddled while, from the rocks, a raucous group of bachelor Stellar sea lions roared to greet us. 

Even more exciting wildlife sightings were in store, as a side trip into a tidal inlet shortly before Gloomy Knob resulted in our expedition spotting its first bears! As if to make up for lost time, we saw five brown bears from the ship: two juveniles foraging for clams on the shore, and a mother bear with two cubs wandering the slopes higher up. On Gloomy Knob we spotted yet another bear, resting after having gorged on a kill, while a bit further around the knob – and after much binocular scanning! – we were rewarded with the sighting of a mountain goat. 

The climax of our northward journey into Glacier Bay was Marjorie Glacier, a tidewater glacier with the dubious distinction of being the only glacier in the national park that is advancing rather than retreating. Marjorie’s brilliant blue columns nicely mirrored the clear skies above, and the peeling sheets of ice at the face of the glacier calved several times while we watched, resulting in the famous echoing roll of “white thunder” (as well as cheers from the ship). An impromptu bow toast to Marjorie and to a fantastic expedition trip was a perfect end to the visit. 

After cruising back to the national park’s headquarters, we had a couple of hours for an evening forest stroll and a presentation by National Geographic photographer and local resident Kim Heacox before National Geographic Sea Lion’s anchor was lifted. As the sun set in a brilliant orange glow, several of us had the opportunity to add porcupines and a cow moose and her calf to our wildlife sightings: truly icing on the cake to top off a spectacular day in Glacier Bay.

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About the Author

Lauren Buchholz

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Lauren’s wanderlust has taken her from the Appalachians to the Rockies to the Southern Alps.

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