Cruising Chatham Strait & Hanus Bay

Jun 16, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion


Some days start out as a real bear, but, wow, today turned out to be an especially bearish. After cruising overnight from Sitka through narrow passages between islands in southeast Alaska with a number of Sitka Deer along the shorelines, we found ourselves in the early morning exploring the inner recesses of Sitkoh Bay. We first found a mother brown bear with two yearlings. They were ambling along the shore and grazing on the beach rye above the high tide line. Aware but unconcerned with our presence offshore, they went about their own important business as we quietly watched nearby. Soon another lone bear was seen further down the beach, and even another far in on the grassy plain at the head of the bay.

The rest of the morning was spent in Chatham Strait in the vicinity of Angoon, a modern Tlingit town with a difficult history of interaction with Russian and American traders and colonists. It is uniquely situated on Admiralty Island, known in Tlingit language as “fortress of the bears,” in an area with significantly less rainfall than either Sitka to the west and Juneau to the east; today though, was damp and gray. Now it is a center of revitalized Tlingit clan culture, supported by fishing and tourism, and an important part of the cultural pastiche that makes up modern Alaska.

The afternoon was spent at Hanus Bay and on the Lake Eva trail, in the northwest corner of Baranof Island. The outflow from Lake Eva is a beautiful freshwater stream that flows into a lagoon on the edge of the bay, in the midst of a rich forest with numerous large Sitka Spruce and western hemlocks. Understory plants were lush and green, many with flowers. Bald eagles flew overhead. We saw a number of salmon congregating in the downstream pools, freshly in from the ocean and adapting to their natal stream waters before their final life effort to produce the next generation. Some of the hikers and those touring in inflatable boats spotted more mother brown bears with cubs, teaching their youngsters to forage in the lagoons and shores of this incredible forest. As the last explorers were back on board warming up and drying out, yet again a mother bear and her cubs were visible along the shore.

How better to finish a day full of these grizzled, gruff, and powerful bruins—11 in total!—than with a special Father’s Day dinner, giving us all a moment to contemplate the debt we owe and appreciation we have for dear old dad.

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About the Author

Robert Edwards

Naturalist

Growing up in the Appalachian foothills of the Garden State, Rob instinctively knew it made a lot more sense to head over the hill into the fields, forests, lakes, and streams behind his house, rather than down the road to the shopping mall in front of it. The natural world piqued the inherent curiosity in all of us and set his life course based on these questions: how does the world work, and how do we as humans fit into it?  

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