Pavlof Harbor

Aug 29, 2019 - National Geographic Venture


The hum of the Zodiac’s outboard motor was the only sound as we set out for shore at 6:00 a.m. Mist rose from the water just as the sun rose over the trees. We came to Pavlof Harbor to search for Alaskan coastal brown bears. Bears often use the falls of this salmon stream as a fishing ground, and I felt confident that I would be writing this daily expedition report about our imminent wildlife encounter with these magnificent bears.

We reached the falls and took our seats to wait patiently for the bears to emerge from the woods. We waited. And waited. And waited. We spent three hours at the falls, but the bears did not arrive. It was, in a sense, a quintessential wildlife photography experience. The wildlife is not on our schedule, and getting great views of wildlife requires patience and dedication. So much of wildlife photography is simply about waiting, watching, and enjoying the journey. When we see an amazing photo of a wild animal, we see the result but not the process involved. That process often involves many hours, or even days, of waiting for the wildlife to arrive. As we returned to the ship, I reconsidered the subject of this daily expedition report. Instead of a close view of brown bears, we sat next to salmon carcasses for several hours and watched the tide come in.  But Southeast Alaska had more in store for us today. This is, after all, an expedition.

As the ship repositioned to our afternoon anchorage at Iyoukeen, we saw whale blows from the bow. A group of five humpback whales were feeding cooperatively in the exact spot where we were hoping to anchor for the afternoon. We watched this behavior until the whales moved away from the area. After their departure, guests and staff went ashore to hike in the woods and to explore the bay by kayak. Hours later, the whales had returned and were still feeding cooperatively, using bubble nets to trap herring. We watched as they lunged repeatedly in the golden late afternoon light.

Southeast Alaska is full of surprises, and we never know what we will find. Sometimes we search, and do not find. Sometimes we stumble across something wonderful. That mystery brings me back to this region year after year.

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About the Author

David Spiegel

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

David grew up in the Seattle area, where he fell in love with nature through outdoor sports in the Pacific Northwest. He first picked up a camera during a 14-day Grand Canyon river trip at the age of 18. Little did he know that his hobby would morph into a lifelong passion and career. He moved to Colorado to pursue a degree in International Political Economy from Colorado College. After receiving his degree, he applied his passion for media to documenting watershed conservation issues in the Colorado River Basin states through the lens of a 900-mile-long river expedition in 2012.

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