As we steamed north along Wrangell Narrows in the early morning sunshine, we passed Petersburg and moved into the expanse of Frederick Sound. From the deck of National Geographic Sea Lion, we observed the first of hundreds of orca and humpback whale blows that we would spot over the course of the next 3.5 hours. With this rare opportunity to observe and photograph whale behavior in this spectacular location, we revised our plan to head to Cascade Creek for a morning hike and kayaking. Our hospitality team adapted by postponing breakfast for a little while. When most of us ventured into the dining room, the orcas obliged by swimming beside National Geographic Sea Lion, where we could view them easily. As the morning progressed, naturalists Eric Guth and Kelly Morgan set up the hydrophone, which was amplified by the ship’s microphone. We listened to the orcas communicating over the loudspeakers. Eric and Kelly also provided commentary to explain the types of pods: resident, transient, and offshore. They also explained how pod members are identified using marks and saddle patches on their dorsal fins.
The whale spotting ended, and National Geographic Sea Lion continued its journey north to Thomas Bay. Kelly gave a presentation on whales in the lounge, highlighting what we had just witnessed and giving us more context.
When National Geographic Sea Lion reached Cascade Creek in the early afternoon, we deployed two Zodiacs. The first Zodiac took three members of our crew to explore Thomas Bay. The second Zodiac transported the rest of our crew to the base of the trail at Cascade Creek, which leads to a series of spectacular waterfalls. The first hiking group set out with wellness specialist Lola McQueen and naturalist Tim Martin for an aerobic hike. They ascended the trail that runs alongside fast-moving waters flowing down the slopes from the snow-covered peaks above. Naturalists Eric Guth and Kelly Morgan led the second hiking group along the trail at a slower pace, providing insights into the flora and fauna of a classic Southeastern Alaska forest. Eric and Kelly identified devil’s club, skunk cabbage, sphagnum moss, shelf fungus, bird’s nest fungus, Sitka alder, Sitka spruce, and lichen, to name just a few.
When the lead hiking group reached the beach at the end of the hike, they boarded kayaks to enjoy the warm afternoon sun in the cove. They explored along the banks and kept their eyes peeled for more wildlife.
National Geographic Sea Lion sailed north during cocktail hour as a pod of humpback whales appeared off the bow, putting on a fantastic display that we enjoyed in the fading daylight.
Photographers: Eric Guth, Naturalist, and Luke O’Neill, Assistant Expedition Leader