Petersburg, Southeast Alaska, 7/8/2021, National Geographic Quest
National Geographic Quest
We spent an active day exploring the area around Petersburg, a fishing village with Norwegian roots. Activities included short and medium walks through the muskeg, a bog with unique plants, including dwarf shore pine trees and carnivorous sundew plants. A longer bog walk was offered during the afternoon.
There were three rounds of guided Zodiac tours and bike rides offered during the morning and afternoon. The bike rides covered 5.5 miles roundtrip through town and along the coast with a short stop at Sandy Beach for photos. Later, our young Global Explorers participated in a plankton tow, collecting a water sample from 30 feet deep to examine under a microscope and found thousands of invertebrates!
This morning, National Geographic Quest anchored in the Inian Islands. While wellness specialist Sokie started her early morning stretching class on the sundeck, we had the first surprise of the day – three humpback whales came close to the ship to greet us. After breakfast, Zodiacs were deployed, and we made our way to explore the islands. We went to Bird Island first, a rock full of seabirds, including glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, and pigeon guillemots. We passed by an enormous colony of Steller sea lions that came close to the Zodiacs, swimming underneath us and playing with the strong waves and currents. Our guests enjoyed this abundance of life as we continued to the north side where we saw a blow. Two humpback whales were feeding in the area, and Dall’s porpoises moved quickly in the distance. Everywhere we looked was full of life. The whales went for a deeper and longer dive, and while we waited for them to come back up, we saw more blows farther away. This time it was orcas! We got closer and saw a pod of four transient orcas passing. Our guests couldn’t have been happier or more astounded. In the afternoon, we repositioned to Fox Creek to go kayaking and on different hikes. A photo and bird walk were led by photo instructor Iván and naturalist Zoey. Our guests really enjoyed exploring the lush temperate forest. They had opportunities to practice the photography tips learned throughout the voyage and to hear the bird calls they have come to recognize. It was a spectacular day in Southeast Alaska.
Early morning promised to provide some relief from the wet weather experienced over the past two days. Sunlight streamed through scattered clouds as National Geographic Quest sailed south from Petersburg toward the Keku Islands, west of the small town of Kake, Alaska. Promise delivered: we had sunshine and just about everything else Mother Nature could throw at us as we kayaked and toured by Zodiac within the calm waters of the Kake island chain. By midmorning, the clouds were back. A short but intense rain and hailstorm pummeled both guests and guides as we paddled and Zodiac cruised along the coastline. No matter, as this is all in a day’s work for anyone exploring the wild coast of this temperate rainforest. And as they say: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes, and it’ll change!” It did, and the wind dropped enough for our young Global Explorers to learn the skills required to drive the Zodiacs. Adventures completed, we returned to the ship for lunch and some downtime before afternoon cruising. We sailed west through Frederick Sound and followed a single humpback whale feeding placidly mid-channel. Before moving off, it dove deep, showing the underside of its tail flukes. This provided whale researcher and naturalist Amy Venema an opportunity to make a positive identification by matching the “fingerprint” pattern on the fluke to a database at the Happy Whale website. We learned that this whale was last seen, or at least recorded, in Alaskan waters back in 2004! Around four o’clock, we arrived off the coast of Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island where we met Dana Bloch of the Alaska Whale Foundation. Dana spoke to us about her research on humpback feeding behaviors and the interplay between humpback whales and a healthy marine ecosystem.
We began our day anchored at Thomas Bay, where guests chose between hiking Cascade Creek or taking a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline. Hikers entered a forest dripping with rainwater, fragrant pink spruce cones, and hanging lichens. Zodiac adventurers got up close and personal with the rushing power of the creek as it met the sea, later skirting along walls covered with rockweed and colorful intertidal life. Petersburg, Alaska was the site of our afternoon activities. As we transited toward town, field instructor Zoey Greenberg hosted an activity for five young Global Explorers during which they measured their wingspans and found birds that matched their size, including the greater snow goose, herring gull, and black-legged kittiwake. Petersburg options included a bike ride, a cultural tour, muskeg hikes, an ambitious hike to Raven’s Roost, and / or the option of exploring town independently. This was our first visit back into civilization since setting sail. There was, of course, a mad dash to a clothing store selling Ray Troll shirts, a quintessential fashion statement for Alaskan travelers and residents alike. The day concluded with recap presentations, including a lively Ray Troll fashion show and a replay of the Pacific wren’s song — slowed down to 200 individual notes! Following a robust crab dinner, undersea specialist Tamsen Peeples delivered an evening presentation on what it’s like to grow up Alaskan. The day began and ended with rainfall, a true sign that we are traveling within the temperate rainforest: a lush, green, and special place.