Fox Creek and The Inian Islands

Jul 17, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion

Today began with a visit to Fox Creek, an area located on the western side of the Idaho Inlet, directly south of Glacier Bay National Park. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we stepped out on the bow of the boat with our morning coffee – the sun was shining, and the skies were opening up to a bright blue clear of clouds. The water below us was calm and dotted with a variety of sea birds including marbled murrelets and black-legged kittiwakes as well as sea otters floating calmly on the surface. The incredible weather was only the beginning of what became a spectacularly memorable day filled with wildlife in Alaska.

Our explorations took advantage of the classic extreme tidal shifts that are experienced in Southeast Alaska for a few days of each month. First, our adventures took off during low tide with opportunities to both kayak in the glassy waters surrounding Shaw Island and hike from the Fox Creek shoreline into the forest.

By hiking in this diverse area, we were able to start in the exposed upper tidal zone covered in thick sheets of ribbon and bull kelp, painted anemones, blue mussels, limpets, sea stars and many other invertebrates, then cross through untamed wildflower meadows into a verdant temperate rainforest. While in the forest, we found a set of bear tracks that were certainly extraordinary. The tracks were permanently depressed into the moss with the forest and repeatedly used by different bears for many years. These “perennial bear tracks” can occasionally be found at trail junctions and leave scent-marks which can share individual identity, sex, reproductive status and more. A rare find!

Our time spent paddling was challenging yet rewarding. As we circled Shaw Island, we found several coves with a blanket of kelp at the surface…but then realized that there was much more than just kelp. Harbor seals began carefully peeking out from under the edges of the seaweed to investigate our presence. We quietly observed the seals, but it felt more like they were observing us.

In the afternoon, we moved our ship to the Inian Islands, a set of islands on the eastern edge of the Gulf of Alaska. It was a perfect time for our visit as the ocean tides had shifted, flooding the impressively narrow inlets between the islands with swirling pools of nutrient rich waters that attract a wide variety of marine life. In groups, we set off in small boats to search for some of these treasures along with outstanding views of birds. It was unbelievable. The abundance of life was breathtaking. Just a short distance from our ship, we were surrounded by bald eagles, mew gulls, pelagic cormorants and pigeon guillemots. Over twenty sea lions were draped across smooth boulders, hauled out in a rocky beach cove. Sea otters swam on their backs, and embraced their pups as they floated amongst the kelp. It was a magnificent day on this very special voyage.

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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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