Inian Islands and Port Althorp, Southeast Alaska

Alex Harper, Naturalist, July 2021

  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 22 Jul 2021

Inian Islands and Port Althorp, Southeast Alaska

  • Aboard the National Geographic Venture
  • Alaska

Do you remember growing up watching National Geographic specials on TV? Those memorable musical notes meant we would be transported to some remote part of the world. As children we sat in awe watching humpback whales, blue glaciers, giant icebergs, baby seals, deer with fawns, sea otters noisily munching shellfish, and the wolves of the sea, orcas. We kids never dreamt that we might grow up to see these things up-close and personal. But we’ve seen them all – on the National Geographic Venture this week.

 

Today, we added another marine mammal to that impressive list – Steller sea lions and wow, did we see them close! The Inian Islands sit adjacent to the open Pacific Ocean. Here, the wide ocean pours through a narrow passageway the locals call “the washing machine.” As the tide changes, an 8-knot current swirls the calm waters into eddies and whirlpools and the salmon catch the tide, and the sea lions catch the salmon. Sometimes a sea lion gets a fish and breaks it into smaller chunks by slamming it onto the water’s surface. It doesn’t take long for the gulls to swoop in for leftover scraps. We hardly knew where to look – the action was all around and it was downright exciting!

 

In the afternoon our childlike wonder took a different focus. Instead of looking out to sea, the magic was under our feet. The intertidal zone was in full view. As the indigenous Tlingit people often say, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” And it was a feast for the eyes: limpets and sculpins, mussels and crab, periwinkles and barnacles, cockles and whelks and seaweed as far as the eye could see! Experiences like we had today – lost in the magic of the wild world – take us back to the awe and wonder of being a child once again.

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