Chatham Strait and Sitkoh Bay

Aug 20, 2018 - National Geographic Quest

At 6:00 a.m., our expedition leader announced our first wildlife sighting: killer whales!  We assembled on the bow (wearing fuzzy slippers) carrying cameras, binoculars, and coffee mugs. There were more than a dozen animals in the pod, and it was hard to know which way to look. One of the whales breached 50 meters off the bow, and one surfaced very close to the ship’s starboard side. Groups of two, three, and four animals swam side by side in perfect unison. It was mesmerizing to watch. Wellness specialist Lola led an early morning stretch class (and whale watching) on the aft sun deck.  

Following breakfast and briefings, we found humpback whales! Initially we saw three or four humpback whales diving in synchrony, not far from shore. Other humpback whales joined that core group, and we guessed they might be searching for prey. By the time we had to leave, 13 humpback whales were swimming together.

We spent the afternoon exploring Sitkoh Bay, at the southeast corner of Chichagof Island. This seven-mile long bay has a very long human history–including archaeological evidence that people lived here 13,500 years ago. We went ashore for long and moderate walks along a well-maintained logging road, and along the way we had our first look at the coastal temperate rainforest. Long walkers reached a huge meadow at the bay’s end, and found that salmon had recently arrived in the stream. In the forest, along the road, and in the meadow, we saw many signs of brown bears—huge scratch marks on large trees, scat, and shallow holes in the dirt where bears had dug up edible plant roots. Several of the kayakers saw a bear on the far shore! Our Alaska expedition is off to a wonderful start.

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About the Author

Berit Solstad


Berit grew up on the rocky shores of Marblehead, Massachusetts. In the tidal cove behind her family’s home she found horseshoe crabs, eels, and feeding frenzies of fishes and birds. Low tides exposed clam flats, crabs, mussels, and snails. She explored this marine environment through changing tides and seasons, nurturing a love of natural history and marine biology.

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