Yesterday we had a wonderful day, and one that we thought would be difficult to top. Well, today we did it! We arrived at a very special group of small islands known as the Inians. Located between the large Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay National Park in the mainland, the Inians partially block the flow of water in and out of the northern portion of the Inside Passage. A huge volume of water passes through the area several times a day according to the tides, carrying nutrients, fish, and invertebrates. The extremely strong tidal currents flow with the strength of a river as they gain speed and create a bottle-neck effect. The local fauna is aware of this and congregate in big numbers, taking full advantage of the abundance of food.
We boarded our Zodiacs in order to explore the small archipelago more deeply and admire its inhabitants. We did not need to travel very far – right next to where National Geographic Venture anchored, we saw the first of many sea otters resting peacefully on kelp beds. Sea otters were nearly eradicated from Southeast Alaska due to hunting in the 1800’s, but their population has bounced back significantly today. Sea otters have a healthy appetite for several highly valued species of shellfish like the Dungeness crab, thus making them unpopular among fishermen. Nevertheless, the sea otter is a keystone species that keep sea urchin numbers under control and allows the kelp forest and dependent ecosystem to flourish without the overgrazing that sea urchins can cause.
We saw a great variety of birds, including pigeon guillemots, tufted puffins, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons as well as a few humpback whales and harbor porpoises. The ones that stole the show were the huge Steller sea lions we watched swimming around our Zodiacs and resting on the shoreline. Their immense bulk moving with grace and ease in the water with the snow-covered peaks of Fairweather Range in the background was a memorable sight. Such an exuberant display of life and beauty made for a truly exceptional day in Southeast Alaska!