Southeast Alaska: Holkham Bay | Tracy Arm

Jul 14, 2019 - National Geographic Quest

Southeast Alaska is a land that changes from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day. Each journey is unique and unpredictable. We never know what to expect or what we will see. Every corner turned or island rounded is a surprise. Casting off the lines in Juneau last night signaled the beginning of something elusive evolving before us.

This morning we woke in Holkham Bay to humpback whales diving and feeding below the hanging Sumdum Glacier. Glass-calm waters reflected the rich blue of icebergs scattered along the shore. A large pod of transient mammal-eating killer whales surprised and delighted us as they passed by on their way up Endicott Arm in search of harbor seals.

Bonaparte’s gulls and arctic terns flew overhead, leading us towards the entrance of Tracy Arm. Sheer gray walls rose 4,000 feet around us flecked with spruce trees clinging to ledges. We followed the narrow glacially carved fjord towards the glacier faces. The water became gray-green, icebergs appeared more frequently, and the rock bare as we got closer. After lunch we boarded Zodiacs to approach the face of South Sawyer Glacier. Mountain goats looked down from mossy perches, harbor seals watched us pass while balanced upon low bergs. Giant pieces of ice calved from the face, exploding against the surface of the water with thunderous splashes. Ancient ice and sheer rock walls dwarfing National Geographic Quest, much less our Zodiacs.

A second group of transient killer whales surprised us at dinner, milling around the steep shorelines before swimming on in our wake. We leave Tracy Arm spoiled by the amazing wildlife and excited for what the rest of this journey will bring us.

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About the Author

Tamsen Peeples


Tamsen was born and raised among the wild woods and shorelines of Juneau, Alaska. The ocean and mountains became an integral part of all aspects of her life, and she has never been far from either. Growing up in Alaska gave her a deep love of exploring the natural world and piqued her scientific curiosity at a young age.

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