Chichagof Island, Icy Strait

Patrick Gilmore, Video Chronicler

  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 02 Sep 2013

Chichagof Island, Icy Strait, 9/2/2013, National Geographic Sea Bird

  • Aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird
  • Alaska

Our day started at sunrise cruising in our expedition landing craft. Pavlof Harbor and a small waterfall were our destination. This is an active salmon stream and we had high hopes of brown bears feeding at the stream. There were no bears to be found, so we occupied our pixels with gulls, eagles, a stunning landscape, and a harbor seal munching on a salmon. It turned out the bear was not an early riser, and a bit later a hefty brown bear came lumbering to the stream, it fed a little and then gave us a fleeting view as it walked across the top of the waterfall.

For the remainder of the morning walks were organized to accommodate all the different preferences of our guests. There was the short walk that went from the portside to the starboard side of the ship, the medium walk went from the 200 level up to the 100 level and the long walk proceeded from the bow to the stern. Diversity, yes, distance, not really. But how could distance possibly matter when there was a group of eight humpback whales bubblenet feeding in front of us? We had searched for these whales all summer long, they have been elusive, perhaps their prey item, herring, has been difficult to find, we leave that to speculation. What we knew for sure was the timing of when the whales were going to pop out of the water, maws agape. 

Justin operated our hydrophone and the whoop, whoop, whoopee call of one of the whales signaled it was busily scaring the living daylights out of, hence, corralling, herring into a tighter ball. Remnants of the bubble ring gave us a visual clue to the arrival of the rocketing whales and a flock of gulls rushing into the fray confirmed suspicions. We became quite Pavlovian in our response to the call from the hydrophone. Check the battery. Memory card still have room? How’s the ISO? Good speed? Oops, time to shoot, they’re up again! The gulls were a perpetual tickertape parade as they would rain down on the whales, opportunistically pick off a few herring that had escaped being eaten by the whales, and then flutter aloft in wait once again. It was a wonderfully exhausting morning.

Right when we thought it was safe to download our images…the killer whales showed up. Dozens of killer whales were liberally sprinkled about Icy Strait. The distinctive six-foot-tall dorsal fins of the males sliced neatly through the water and the dainty dorsal fins of the calves made aquatic paper cuts. There were whales swimming everywhere in every direction, in pairs, in triplets in whatever the name is for a group of five. It was mind boggling.

With an incredible sunset playing through the clouds to the west, we called it a day. Actually, we called it an unbelievable day and went to bed unable to imagine what tomorrow might bring.

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