This morning National Geographic Sea Lion awoke to an incredible view of the Fairweather Range. The tallest coastal mountain range in the world, Mount Fairweather rises to 15,300 feet, and while not visible from our perspective, we had an amazing look at Mount La Perouse’s impressive scale 10,000+ feet. Captain Cook sailed through this area on his search for the Northwest Passage and left behind a few key place names such as Fairweather, descriptive of the weather he experienced, and Cross Sound, reflecting the day he arrived (Holy Cross Day) on May 3, 1778.
After breakfast, we arrived to explore George Island by kayak and on foot. We were delighted to find an actual trail to walk on and enjoyed more time in the temperate rainforest. At the end of the trail, we discovered a relic of the WWII era.
When the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in June of 1942, Alaska was unprepared for war. Between January-June of 1942, scores of military installations were constructed, including a gun installation at George Island. While the six-foot 50 caliber steel emplacement never saw action beyond target practice, there was concern over the vulnerability of the northern entrance to the Inside Passage and Cross Sound.
After lunch, we explored the Inian Islands via Zodiac and had several incredible encounters with sea otters and Steller sea lions. Our first view of a sea otter was out of water, which from our naturalist’s reaction is a rare sighting. Sea otters are unusual marine mammals in that they lack blubber. What they do not hold in the way of blubber, however, they make up for in fur, with a follicle density as great as 900,000 follicles per square inch.
In addition to their incredible fur coat to stay warm in cold waters, they burn calories three times the rate of humans, eating a quarter of their body weight each and every day. That means that sea otter of 100 pounds requires no less than 25 pounds of subsistence! Further round the bend we found nesting cormorants, and then the largest sea lion of them all: the Steller. Hauled out on the rocks, these pinnipeds are just massive. Watching them clamor out of the water up steep rock faces, we could see these great specimens in motion.
After another incredible day, we visited the Inian Island Institute to learn about this unique location and the courses offered here. Driving the Zodiac back into the Hobbit Hole I think many of us could visualize the dream of living in this amazing piece of wilderness.