Inian Islands

Jul 18, 2019 - National Geographic Venture

Every day in Southeast Alaska is special; such a beautiful region makes for awesome scenery and wonderful wildlife encounters. Today we explored the Inian Islands, located between the northern part of the large Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay National Park in the mainland. The Inians partially block the waters flowing in and out of the northernmost area of the Inside Passage. As a result, the currents gain speed as they flow through this natural bottleneck which brings an abundance of fish, krill and nutrients. The locals know it: big numbers of bald eagles, blacklegged kittiwakes, pigeon guillemots, Steller sea lions and many other creatures congregate here, making the Inian Islands a Southeast Alaska wildlife hotspot.

We boarded our Zodiacs to explore the small archipelago and observe a great variety of wildlife; the abundant kelp beds near our anchorage were home to several sea otters. We all delighted in watching the creature with the highest-known density of hair, up to one million per square inch! Their presence in the Inians contributes to the well-being of the kelp forest as they eat many sea urchins who devour the largest portions of seaweed. In areas devoid of sea otters, sea urchins proliferate in such numbers that they completely destroy kelp forests and prevent the formation of this very important habitat.

The tidal currents were running, and we had the chance to see the calm surface waters looking like whitewater rivers in some areas. Numerous Steller sea lions rested on rocks and many more were swimming around looking for a fish to eat. Occasionally, they got successful and we witnessed how they tossed their catch out in the air trying to break a big fish into smaller chunks to swallow, while glaucous-winged gulls and blacklegged kittiwakes tried to get some scraps. It was a magnificent display of raw natural beauty. We all enjoyed the Inian Islands, a true jewel of Southeast Alaska!

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About the Author

Carlos Navarro

Undersea Specialist

Carlos J. Navarro is a biochemist specializing in marine biology, a M. Sc. in Environmental Management and a freelance wildlife photographer/author. Carlos has spent most of the last 30 years living along the shores of the Sea of Cortez and participating in numerous scientific, conservation and environmental education projects on the vaquita, marine invertebrates, sea birds, great white sharks, baleen whales, jaguars and crocodiles. Carlos’ six years of jaguar research provided the basis of ONCA MAYA, a non-profit organization dedicated to jaguar conservation based in Cancun, of which he is a founding member and still serves as a scientific advisor. He loves being underwater, either free-diving or using SCUBA gear and have had the chance to explore the underwater realms of Alaska, Mexico, Svalbard, the trans-Atlantic ridge islands, the Caribbean and both coasts of South America from Panama to Chile and Brazil to Argentina. 

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