Chatham Strait and Lake Eva

Jul 05, 2019 - National Geographic Quest


There is always a sense of anticipation when a ship leaves the dock, and the travel prospects seemingly endless. One hopes for grand sunlight, fun shipmates, great weather, up-close (but not too close) encounters with wildlife: And then you wait.

As each day unfolds, we add to the list of wonders we have seen: bald eagles, humpback whales, harbor seals, blue icebergs, tufted puffins, sea otters, tidewater glaciers, mountain goats, and snow-capped peaks.

But to be honest, there are two species that forever occupy the top of the list: brown bears and killer whales. Then you wait a bit longer. It was not until day five that our dreams of seeing coastal brown bears became a reality. No less than five were spotted in Glacier Bay National Park at various stages of life: a lone juvenile on the path to forage for itself, a mother bear prompting her cubs to overturn rocks and the capture of small fish, and a large male munching on his findings in the intertidal zone.

However, it wasn’t until our final day, we got the icing on the cake. It is downright thrilling to encounter a pod of killer whales. These fish-eating orcas were glistening in the morning sun. How many witnessed is hard to discern as they do not all rise simultaneously, but 14 for sure, and maybe upwards of 20! Orcas travel with their families under the mother’s direction. These matrilineal groups often have young sons who will spend their entire lives with their mothers.

We could have called it a day by 11:00 a.m., but there was more to come when our group’s Global Explorers were surprised with an offer of Zodiac driving lessons. Zipping and zooming, hooting and hollering, more than a few grown-ups were envious! However, voyagers all ages later joined in the fun (and jolt) of the polar plunge.

The afternoon brought our final foray – an exploration of the lands and waters leading to Lake Eva, a spectacular setting.

And so we say goodbye to our new friends and National Geographic Quest and wait for the next juncture!

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About the Author

Melanie Heacox

Naturalist

Melanie Heacox has been a career naturalist with the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) for over 30 years. Her assignments included Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Katmai, Denali and Glacier Bay National Park where she met and married Kim. Her career led her across Denali by dog-sled, down the Colorado River in a raft, up the Grand Teton by pitons and ropes, and through Yellowstone by snowshoe. She also served on the NPS Prince William Sound Oil Spill Task Force.

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