One of the most strikingly unique aspects of the Alaskan wilderness is the connection between the land and sea. Over the past few days we have encountered whales swimming alongside the trees of the temperate rainforest and salmon making their way against the current up to their natal freshwater streams. Today, we woke up early to get a glimpse at one of the animals that directly links these ecosystems: bears. The coastal brown bears that live here in Alaska eat hundreds of salmon over the course of a summer, and in doing so, take nutrients from the ocean and fertilize the forest floor. So, we decided to explore the shores of Pavlov Harbor on the east coast of Chichagof Island to get a glimpse of this phenomenon ourselves. Here, guests patiently sat and waited in silence along the edge of a rushing waterfall and were eventually treated to an up-close encounter with an adult brown bear actively feeding in the stream. Later in the day we continued our explorations of Chichagof, this time by kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and bushwhack hike, in an area called Iyoukeen Cove where we ended our exciting day in Southeast Alaska with a different perspective of the land-sea connection.
National Geographic Quest
Our morning began with beautiful sunshine and calm seas. Southeast Alaska has been treating us to ideal weather and plenty of animal activity, and today was no different. The Inian Islands are always home to a hotbed of action. Our first mode of exploration utilized the quiver of Zodiacs we carry with us. Guests and staff eagerly loaded into our inflatable chariots, excited for the possibilities of what interactions we could become a part of. This area of Alaska is a mixing ground where open ocean swells enter the Inside Passage and the relatively confined inter island waters get a chance to flush and flow out to the expansive Northern Pacific. The cold, nutrient-rich deep water is upwelled via displacement by surface currents, creating prime feeding ground for various fish and the predators that feed on them. Among these hunters are Steller sea lions. We watched from our small boats as they lounged precariously on rocky coastline used as “haul-outs.” Their groans and seemingly awkward postures were as entertaining as they were fascinating. A favorite subject of photographers on board are the sea otters. These furry marine mammals are often found picking through the kelp forests for whatever unsuspecting invertebrates they can easily pluck from the ocean floor. Numerous bald eagles flew overhead or perched in trees waiting for their turn to nab a meal from these waters. Our afternoon adventure was divided between kayaking and hiking with options for both. Guests donned their boots to hike the island through a mossy forest. This area was used as defensive post during World War II. A gun battery was established pointing out toward the open ocean. Though thoroughly rusted and out of commission, it can be visited at the terminus of the trail hike. For water enthusiasts, we loaded into kayaks and paddled as a group to visit a magnificent sea arch. This rough, rocky feature is only accessed by water and, with favorable conditions, we paddled through the arch and emerged out the other side. Returning to the pebbly beach we landed our kayaks, but the water fun wasn’t over. Today was the day for the infamous polar plunge. With the crystal-clear water at a balmy 47 degrees Fahrenheit, more than a dozen guests dipped into the frigid water and came out the better for it. After hot drinks and treats on the beach, we headed back to our floating home away from home, grateful for the time we spent in this magical place.