Etolin Wilderness - McHenry Inlet & Steamer Bay, 9/2/2021, National Geographic Sea Bird
National Geographic Sea Bird
It rained today. It rained all day. It’s Southeast Alaska—it’s supposed to rain. We’ve been spoiled by the last two days of warm sunshine but the return to a more normal temperate rainforest day didn’t hamper our excitement. Today was a day of adventure, today we went somewhere new. Somewhere our expedition leader, Sarah Friedlander, picked out on a map based on topography and what little information she could gather. We explored the Etolin wilderness today, and it did not disappoint.
We spent our morning kayaking amongst thousands of moon jellies and then ventured in Zodiacs up a stream teeming with pink salmon. We then continued north to Steamer Bay where we were able to hike along the margins of an active salmon stream, and across meadows filled with evidence of bear activity and into old growth forest. The salmon carcasses were everywhere, having been transported by birds and bears away from the stream. Traffic jams of pink salmon backed up at forks in the rapids, all pushing up the current. The wildlife was as abundant as the rain. We were all soaked through by the end of the day, but it was so very worth it to see Alaska in this way: wild, pristine, untouched. Absolutely the best day of the season.
Jessica is the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator and Data Specialist for the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. In this role she responds to dead, stranded and entangled marine mammals including large whale disentanglement. ...
David Pickar is a native of Portland, Oregon. He studied anthropology at the University of Oregon, then spent several years working as a field archaeologist. Participating in excavations in countries like Jordan, Belize and Italy and in every corner ...
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.
The voyage continues. After navigating through the Lynn Canal and then west to where the Cross Sound and the Gulf of Alaska meet, we anchored in Granite Cove, where our adventures began. In true Lindblad form, we rode Zodiacs from National Geographic Sea Bird to George Island, a former outpost during World War II. Just as we stepped onto the rocky shore, the clouds parted, and sunshine beamed upon us as if to welcome our exploration. Groups set out by foot and by kayak to take in the sights. We found a multitude of colorful lichens in the forest, seaweed on the beach, and sea stars in the tidal zones. No matter where we explored, we were bound to get great photos. Back on board, there was a buzz of chatter during lunch as we compared notes on what we saw. A quick repositioning of National Geographic Sea Bird brought us to “the Hobbit Hole” in the Inian Islands archipelago. Here, the color of the water is a striking teal. It’s the only entrance for the Pacific Ocean to pour nutrient-rich waters into the northern reaches of Southeast Alaska, so the chances of seeing marine mammals and seabirds are good. The afternoon Zodiac runs did not disappoint. We saw sea otters, harbor seals, rhinoceros auklets, and bald eagles…oh my! As we headed back to the ship in our Zodiacs, a light, cool drizzle began and gave way to a brilliant rainbow, uninterrupted by the buildings, traffic, or crowds we’re accustomed to. Lucky for us, we have a couple more days for moments like this one on our floating home.
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.