It was a lovely morning on the water. Very Alaskan. Very grey. Very wet. We had to earn our wildlife today. As the rain came down in sheets, we ventured out in Zodiacs to explore Grindall Island. We were in search of Steller sea lions and in the rolling Pacific swell we found them. A small haul-out perched on a rock outcrop at the south end of the island. There they were, the largest sea lions in the world, groaning and grunting and bickering with each other coming and going in the crashing waves. This was a small part of a distinct genetic population that was delisted as endangered in 2013. It was incredible to see these animals doing what they do surrounded by the crashing waves of the Gulf of Alaska.
As we returned to the ship, we were greeted with two humpback whales feeding in front of the ship. These whales were focused, doing what they came to Alaskan waters to do, eat. We saw them for a few breaths and then they continued around the corner, on to find more prey.
Meanwhile, the hikers ashore, under cover of forest, explored the interior of Grindall Island. This island was homesteaded in the 1920s and operated as a fox farm until the 1950s. The forest trail was draped with western red cedar boughs and the floor with spongy moss. The low-lying wet areas were dotted with sundew, a beautifully pink carnivorous plant that attracts insects with its sticky, modified leaves. It was a wet morning but most days in Southeast Alaska are. It was still stunningly beautiful.
After lunch we cruised towards our next destination slowly, searching for wildlife. A small group of Dall’s porpoises sped along with us for a short time then disappeared into the waves. Pink and Coho salmon launched themselves into the air in every direction as they moved in hordes towards their natal streams. For a short time, we enjoyed a brief period of sun as we looked for wildlife on the bow of the National Geographic Sea Bird.
Our afternoon destination was the Hump Island Oyster Farm. A locally owned operation outside of Ketchikan that raises oysters from floating docks. We toured the operation, picked through the mussel-encrusted oyster racks in search of tiny invertebrates, and then we were treated to fresh oysters and salsa made with bull kelp!
Our day ended with an all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab feast put on, by the amazing galley crew of the Sea Bird. Tired from the day of exploring and stuffed full of crab, I imagine the idea of the cozy cabin beds were calling to many. It will be another early day tomorrow, who knows what we will find?