Another amazing day in the Bering Sea! The morning began as we anchored just off St. George, the southern island in the Pribilofs. Thousands of murres flew overhead in large V-formations heading to the nearby nesting cliffs. We embarked on Zodiacs for a couple hours of bird watching. The cliffs rose steeply from the sea in layers of basalt columns (cooled lava flows).
The number of birds was utterly astounding. Almost 80 percent of the world's population of red-legged kittiwakes and gulls nest on these cliffs, and many birders were thrilled to see so many individuals in a species that can be difficult to check off your American bird list. Common and thick-billed murres crowded onto narrow ledges, many with large blue eggs. Red-faced cormorants had a few fuzzy awkward chicks in their nests. Kittiwakes boisterously called from cliff nests and plunge-dove into a bait ball of small fish. A handful of auklets were seen as well. The birds were truly incredible – overhead the sky swirled with seemingly endless whirring wings.
A small group of fur seals bellowed, roared and squealed with dominant bulls, mothers and pups. A few curious animals swam around the zodiacs to get a close look at us – and provide excellent photo ops for photographers! Another highlight this morning was the Arctic foxes: A couple of families had dens at the base of the nesting cliffs. One adult was seen taking a murre egg from a nest and carrying it delicately home. Many kits played on the beach and curiously watched us watching them. There were also several harbor seals hauled out on low rocks which gazed at us with big eyes. All in all, it was a fantastic morning!
Once back aboard, we encountered a handful of fin whales. These huge animals circled in the water, along with uncountable numbers of birds. Clearly, the feeding was good! We then departed St. George, cruising south toward Dutch Harbor. This afternoon we had presentations on marine mammals and WWII in Alaska. The seas remain calm and we cross our fingers for more excellent conditions tomorrow.