In the garden, the early bird may get the worm, but today in Stephens Passage, early risers aboard National Geographic Quest got the whale! While visiting the bridge around 4:30 this morning, some of the more crepuscular guests observed a far-off splash and begged for a closer look, which lead to a deviation from our course. Soon, we were a couple hundred yards from a playful humpback whale whose repeated dives, breaches, and slaps of its fifteen-foot-long pectoral flippers, delighted onlookers. All those present agreed that awakening at dawn was well worth it.

Our Southeast Alaska adventure continued as the ship eased through Holkham Bay and into Tracy Arm, where we cruised past brilliant blue icebergs drifting in the chalky, aquamarine water between sheer rock walls carved by glaciers on our way to South Sawyer Glacier.

A couple miles from the face of the glacier, we launched Zodiacs for a closer look. A half-mile from the glacier, a nursing mountain goat stole the show until the brilliantly blue glacier began calving in grand fashion. Huge chunks of ice sloughed off the face, shooting broad plumes of brine into the air, triggering rolling waves that washed seals from their resting spots on icebergs, and rocking our inflatable landing craft.

A light rain fell as the last Zodiacs returned to the Quest. As we cruised back out of Tracy Arm, the rain stopped, and calm seas welcomed this ship full of early birds, eager to greet another sunrise—and whatever new surprises the wilds of Southeast Alaska hold.