A breezy, misty morning greeted us as we anchored in Portage Bay in front of the small, coastal Alaskan town of Haines. Quintessential Southeast Alaskan weather brought wind-whipped low clouds, swirling and broken mid-level clouds, and small little pockets of blue with glimpses of the high mountain peaks surrounding the valley. Located on a long peninsula between Lynn Canal and the Chilkat River, Haines is the self-billed “Adventure Capital of Alaska.” Haines is also the historic marine terminus of trading trails into the interior of the continent. We disembarked National Geographic Sea Bird, riding the wind and waves to the town pier as we prepared for the variety of adventures the day would bring.
National Geographic Sea Bird
Pavlof Harbor and Chatham Strait
Our final day aboard National Geographic Sea Bird began in Pavlof Harbor. The first coastal brown bear we sighted was a lone juvenile resting at the mouth of the stream, nestled amongst the rocks. We slowly headed to the falls to find a burly adult stalking salmon in the middle of the stream. As the season winds down, these bears are over double their spring weight. While they have been foraging all spring and summer on sages, grasses, berries, and more, the true calorie loading comes from their end of summer salmon feast. Every few minutes, this adult caught yet another salmon, only to gorge on the brains, eggs, and skin. The remaining bits are too muscly for the bears. Strolling along the edge of the stream after its nap, the juvenile joined in the salmon feast. While the adult patiently stalked its next salmon, the juvenile was less patient, often losing focus and staring around. It even appeared to avoid getting too wet by sitting, frog style, on a middle rock. A few minutes into our second round of bear sightings, we observed as a mother and two cubs approached! One quick swipe in the water, and this momma bear caught her first female salmon. She took a clean bite of the tail end, and out poured fresh salmon roe. The two cubs pushed in for a share of mom’s catch, each taking a chunk of the skin for themselves as well. While mom was willing to share, it seemed like one of the cubs was quite talented in the art of fishing. After a few tries, this new cub had already caught its first salmon. With a look to the right, the juvenile was still sitting above the rock, maybe afraid to intervene, or perhaps less of a hunter. Either way, the bear sat, still looking around and waiting for an easy target. We began this week with glacier carved fjords, stunning and close views of glaciers, and moments with marine mammals. We completed our journey at the stream along with the salmon. They come here to spawn and die, and their nutrients are recycled into the forest and animals around us. With such documentary worthy moments captured in our memories and in our photos, we headed back to the ship with an overwhelming sense of awe. I know that you are probably thinking nothing could make this day any better. Alas, this is Lindblad, and during the afternoon, we cruised the area in search of humpback whales. A few hours into our search, we found a relatively fast group of bubble-net feeding whales. With their surface feeding visible from the bow, naturalists and guests alike were shouting for joy. Later in the evening, we identified four of the six whales we sighted, learning that most of them have been sighted migrating to Hawaii for the winter. The evening closed with one final recap, our guest slide show, and conversations into the twilight. I could not think of a better send off from our time here in Southeast Alaska. Until next time! Photo caption: Visiting Pavlof Harbor and Chatham Strait.