Wow. That was the word that both first-time guests and longtime naturalists alike used to describe our day aboard National Geographic Sea Bird. The awe-inspiring Alaskan landscape and the majestic wildlife held nothing back, and on just the first day of our expedition, we shared several incredible experiences that one can only hope will happen on a trip, or even over the course of an entire season.
We started our day in Endicott Arm, a deep fjord in the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area that stretches over thirty miles to the Dawes Glacier. We set out in our Zodiacs to the glacier face, taking in a veritable sculpture park of icebergs and bergy bits while curious harbor seals spied on us from afar. The overcast skies brought out the stunning blue color of the ice, which gleamed like sapphires in the silty, teal-colored estuarine water. Pausing at the glacier face, we were lucky enough to witness a tremendous calving event when an entire spire of ice collapsed into the saltwater below, creating an enormous splash and sending submerged ice rocketing towards the surface.
As we cruised out of Endicott Arm and north toward the town of Haines, we caught a glimpse of a lone wolf trotting through the grass near the shoreline, a truly rare and spectacular sight. Not long after, we spotted not one but two coastal brown bears picking their way through the intertidal zone. We all watched, delighted, as one of the bears swam across a river and proceeded to shake off the water on the other side. Cruising further as the evening rolled in, we saw the dark shapes of the dorsal fins of killer whales in the distance, and our captain steered us closer for a better look. It wasn’t long before the whales were on either side of us, and we shifted our engines to neutral to let them pass. Dropping the hydrophone into the water, we could hear their high-pitched calls and occasional echolocation clicks. In the distance, the feathery blows and occasional flukes of humpback whales dotted the horizon. Just before we were about to pull away, one of the killer whales swam beneath the ship and breached right off our starboard side, a brilliant punctuation to an incredible day in Southeast Alaska.