Tracy Arm | Holkham Bay | and Frederick Sound

Jul 21, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion

“We have so much to be grateful for. It was a wonderful way to start an amazing journey,” exclaimed guest Mary Korkor, referring to our day full of ice and whales.

National Geographic Sea Lion sailed deep into the transboundary mountain range of Tracy Arm, a 25-mile glacially carved snaking fjord. Huge blue pastels of icebergs calved off the face of South Sawyer Glacier dwarfed our Zodiacs. We floated in a sea of ice before the glacier under sunny skies, sharing the scenery with harbor seals and arctic terns. We spotted mountain goats, hummingbirds, puffins, and explored meltwater waterfalls.

Amid the beauty, we paused to consider that both Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers have retreated markedly in the past 15 years. For those of us who have been here over the course of years, the stark rock walls, a new island in the fjord and the recessed positions of the ice fronts remind us of the retreat and deflation of most of the world’s glaciers in this human age of warming.

Outside Tracy Arm, we encountered our first company of whales on this trip, a trio of humpbacks surfacing and diving in Holkham Bay, no doubt in pursuit of food. Shortly after, a group of three transient killer whales entered the scene, including an imposing male with a massive dorsal fin. They were heading into Endicott Arm, perhaps to snack on newly weaned harbor seals coming out of their icy birthing environment. After dinner and a photography presentation, we found ourselves surrounded by more than a dozen humpback whales, blowing and fluking in repetition in still airs in Frederick Sound off Admiralty Island. As the light faded, it was as if there was never a moment without a whale at the surface, before heading to our dreams.

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About the Author

Steven Zeff


Steve is an international science educator, expedition naturalist and whale research associate. He has worked a range of polar to tropical destinations for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, since 1999. Steve lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where he teaches science and coordinates international school programs. When not in the classroom or out on expedition, he enjoys kayaking and birdwatching in the Swedish countryside from a stereotypical red summerhouse.

Steve lived ten years in Hawaii where he was involved in marine conservation programs, taught naturalist training programs, and researched and swam with humpback whales regularly. He was the Director of Scientific Communications for the Center for Whale Studies, a long-term whale research project working for the protection of the humpback whale. Steve has observed more than fifty of the world’s whale, dolphin and porpoise species in the wild.

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