Glacier Bay National Park

May 16, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion


Dawn came very early today, at 4:30 AM, and in the form of a wide skein of rich pink cloud cover above the blues of mountains, water, and lower clouds. We were in transit to Bartlett Cove to meet our park rangers and cultural liaisons for a day at Glacier Bay National Park. Mamie Williams, our Tlingit guide for the day, boarded with a song as she walked toward the ship. She was soon followed by Molly Delandsheer, a park ranger, and we set sail for Glacier Bay.

Molly gave a talk about sea birds in Glacier Bay in preparation for our first stop at the lovely set of islands known as the Marble Islands, which are composed of a stretch of granite that is home to a variety of sea birds, including black-legged kittiwakes, tufted puffins, pelagic cormorants, glaucous-winged gulls, and common murres. High overhead, bald eagles soared. Sea lions growled on a huge haul-out as the sun shone through broken clouds.

After observing the birds and sea lions, we continued up the bay toward Tidal Inlet and Gloomy Knob, known as Janwu aani in Tlingit language. There we were treated to a great close-in showing of mountain goats on the edges of the cliffs as they foraged on new leaf sprouts from cottonwood trees precariously stationed along the cliff’s edges. Kittiwakes called out from a small nearby colony as we sat and observed the goats hop from ledge to ledge.

We continued up through Russell Cut, a narrow and relatively shallow channel between mainland and Russell Island. We spotted a few sea otters floating languidly on the current and had stunning scenery to take in as we sailed through and out toward Tarr Inlet.

The day cleared enough that sun shone on all the snow-capped mountains and glistened off the teal-hued water surrounding us. As we neared Margerie Glacier, and the Grand Pacific glacier, Mamie sang her greeting song on the bridge deck. We had smooth sailing right up to the face and sat watching and listening to the glacier groan, crack, pop – and then suddenly a large section of the Margerie glacier crashed through the water’s surface. We watch transfixed as other sections of the glacier’s face calved into the crash of sea below, the sun’s glint reflecting off the glacier as we turned away.

We next headed down the west side of the bay and spotted two coastal brown bears on the shore some distance away. We watched them for a while and then sailed to Lamplugh Glacier, a now-grounded glacier. Rain began to fall lightly, and we headed indoors for warm drinks and a presentation by Mamie about her life as a modern-day Tlingit woman.

It was soon time for cocktails and recaps in the lounge. Our ranger and our interpretive guide closed a great day with final thoughts, while Brenda Tharp gave a recap of the day’s events and findings. What a stunning day we all had!

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About the Author

Brenda Tharp

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

For over 20 years, Brenda has used her photographs of the world to celebrate its beauty, and inspire others to protect what we have. Brenda grew up exploring the woods, lakes, and coastlines of New Jersey and New England and her family traveled regularly throughout the eastern U.S., camping, hiking, backpacking, and canoeing. She spent most of her childhood engaging with nature in some form or another and learning about animal behavior. When her father taught her some photography at 13, Brenda soon combined her love for nature with her newfound passion, and several years later her adventure began as a freelance photographer, teacher, and writer.

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