Red Bluff Bay | Chatham Strait | Sitkoh Bay

Jul 09, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion


The trees were so near their crisp clean scent surrounded our ship. The water was pure reflection. From our vantage point on the bow, the mountains loomed high above us. We woke as Captain Sinclair expertly guided our ship through the narrow entrance of Red Bluff Bay. Above the trees, clouds obscured the top of the mountains. We felt like we had crawled inside a mystery. Shortly thereafter the bay widened into a secret little cove with a bucolic grassland at the end. Three small boats slept at anchor off to one side. The only sounds were the metallic cascade of the Hermit Thrush’s song and the pounding waterfall. What a waterfall is was. The depth of this enchanted place allowed us to put the bow of the ship almost into the waterfall. Cameras clicked and iPhones held high as David, our photo instructor, offered clues to improve images. Lion’s mane jellies populated the waters with their caressing strides as we exited Red Bluff Bay. Then we were in the wide waters of Chatham Strait. Splashes here and there caught our eyes. Yes, finally the salmon are running. Out of the water they leap. Some leap again and again. As far as you could see, there were intermittent splashes from jumping salmon. Trying to anticipate where they will jump next proved a challenge for the photo minded among us. Then a lunge feeding humpback whale joined the fun. The whale fed close to shore and across our bow for over an hour. Gulls watched from shore and marbled murrelets displayed their prize fish in their mouths not wanting to eat it just yet.

The spouting of whales could be seen against the distant shores as we made our way to Sitkoh Bay. Watercolors were used to capture the experiences as well as cameras and phones. Rich Kirchner gave a presentation on bears to prepare us for our hikes in bear country. Binoculars scanned every rock and shadow for movement. We imagined each dark shape had huge shoulders and a thick fur coat. Alas no bears on the beach. We reached our destination and out came the toys. Kayaks, paddleboards, zodiacs, and walking sticks were at the ready. The sharp angled rocks that made this beach were covered with barnacles and mussels. Carefully stepping on the least of them, we began our hikes into the forest. Here towering Western Hemlocks and Sitka Spruce crowded the Red Alder trees fringing the beach. Avoiding the spines of the Devil’s Club, we mounted the beach berm and found a Forest Service logging road. On each side of the road there were obvious trails, or more likely, highways for bears. The road was littered with bear scat. We found ever fresher bear scat as we walked, knowing that the animals were close by. Berries of Thimble Berry and Salmon Berry were ripe for the picking. We walked, rowed, and paddled all around Sitkoh Bay. The slightly overcast skies gave us the perfect temperature and brightness for our optimum comfort. Some came upon a dead bald eagle. This creature points to the difficulties animals face in the long months of winter. If a run of fish is later than usual it can mean death to those that depend upon it.

Our junior explorers had a kid’s night in the lounge. Pizza and movies were offered. While the dining room was a bit more mellow as a result, soon everyone left their tables and headed outside. Soup was served on the outer decks as we observed humpback whales surface and spout. The dining room opted to serve desert in the lounge as everyone was outside. The setting sun sent orange strokes of light across the water that burst into ripples with each surfacing of the whales. The daylight lingered and so did we.

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About the Author

Marylou Blakeslee

Naturalist

For the past 20 years, Marylou Blakeslee has traveled the world sharing her love of wild places. She lectures on a number of topics from the bears and wolves of the Arctic, to the leopard seals and whales of the Antarctic, as well as the turtles and fishes of the Great Barrier Reef.

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