Hanus Bay, Baranof Island and Sitkoh Bay, Chichagof Island, 8/1/2021, National Geographic Sea Bird
National Geographic Sea Bird
A few arching humpbacks and backlit blows led us to our anchorage at Hanus Bay, where we explored the forest service trail along the stream to Lake Eva. Sockeye salmon and their anadromous relatives mustered and rested in the waters past the cascade they ran, on their way to spawning and contributing their bodies’ nutrients to the “salmon rainforest” along the streambed.
Kayakers paddled into the lagoon below the cataract among lazing harbor seals, chattering kingfishers, and swooping eagles, before the falling tide precluded entry. Hikers experienced the splendor of the temperate rainforest and the massive spruce and hemlock trees that grow large on oceanic nutrients courtesy of the spawning salmon. The translucent green leaves of devil’s club and other understory plants juxtaposed with the bright orange ‘chicken of the woods’ fungus on decomposing trees, and on the pink orchid stalks of the saprophytic coralroot.
Across Peril Strait, on an afternoon excursion in the rectangularly cut Sitkoh Bay, we hiked along an old logging trail. We passed thimbleberries, blueberry bear scats, and banana slugs, emerging onto a vast meadow at low tide where eagles and gulls perched along streams and a distant bear grazed in the vegetation.
On our evening passage we sailed lavender seas up Chatham Strait around Chichagof Island towards our next day’s destination. The mighty Fairweathers, the world’s highest coastal mountain range, emerged silhouetted against a sublime orange post-sunset sky.
Steve is an international science educator, expedition naturalist and whale research associate. He has worked a range of polar to tropical destinations for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, since 1999. Steve lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where ...
Weather: Cloudy and misty with periods of sunshine Fog blanketed our area of operations as we anchored early in the morning. It only showed signs of lifting as we encountered a bull orca swimming alone on the edge of Cross Sound. We watched with bated breaths as the power and grace of this animal held our attention. We eventually carried on and shortly thereafter, guests and staff alike were treated to a show of perhaps the most thrilling display of bald eagle activity this naturalist has ever seen. An incoming tide rushed through the narrow channels and along the benthic topography around the Inian Islands, bringing with it a wave of nutrients through upwelling currents. It’s hard to overstate the volume of water that was spilling onto the surface from the chilled depths. Any unfortunate rockfish or halibut caught up in said current met the awaiting wildlife above. Steller sea lions by the dozen worked the swirling waters and were rewarded handsomely. Their harvest didn’t go unnoticed as a sizable convocation of bald eagles plucked their bounty from the sea. Among other species observed were several humpback whales and harbor porpoises. The day continued as we entered Port Althrop, nestled in a mountain-rimmed cove of Chichagof Island. The island is home to xóots or coastal brown bear as evidenced by their trails in the intertidal sediment. Encountering these tracks is a humbling experience, and Naturalist Linda Burback captured the moments with her plaster casting kit. The hikes were a perfect way to enjoy the remote wilderness that surrounded us. Moreover, a paddle on the kayaks offered a peaceful conclusion to the operations of the day. Stay curious. Stay inspired.
Today's expedition took us deep into stunning Tracy Arm, a fjord renowned for its magnificent ice formations. Our mission was to explore the unique and captivating world of ice, documenting its mesmerizing beauty and uncovering its secrets. Little did we know that our day would also include an exhilarating afternoon polar plunge, adding an extra element of adventure to our icy exploration. Filled with anticipation, our expedition team got started early in the morning. Tracy Arm greeted us with breathtaking views of towering glaciers and pristine blue waters. The air was crisp, carrying a hint of excitement as we set sail towards our icy destination. As we ventured into the fjord, the presence of ice became increasingly apparent. Massive icebergs, sculpted by the forces of nature, dotted the icy waters. Their varied shapes and sizes created a surreal landscape that glistened under the sunlight. The hues of blue radiating from the ice formations cast a magical ambiance, captivating our senses. Our expert glaciologists provided invaluable insights into the formation of these ice structures. They explained that the ice originated from the Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers, slowly calving over time and giving birth to the majestic icebergs that grace Tracy Arm. The process of calving, where chunks of ice break off from the glacier's edge, is a mesmerizing sight that constantly shapes and reshapes the environment. As we ventured deeper into the fjord, our captain skillfully navigated the vessel through a labyrinth of ice formations. We marveled at the intricate patterns carved by nature with each iceberg displaying its unique artistry. The silence was occasionally interrupted by distant crackling sounds as the ice shifted, reminding us of the dynamic nature of this frozen landscape. In the afternoon, our expedition took an unexpected turn as we offered our guests the opportunity to partake in a polar plunge—an invigorating experience that would forever be etched in their memories. Adventurous individuals, equipped with proper gear and under the supervision of our experienced staff, voluntarily dove into the icy waters of Tracy Arm. The guests, with a mix of excitement and trepidation, braved the cold and immersed themselves in the frigid depths. Their courageous leap into the icy embrace of nature served as a testament to the indomitable spirit of exploration. While the guests reveled in their polar plunge experience, our team continued documenting ice formations and its intricate details. Using specialized equipment, we collected data on the ice's composition, temperature, and characteristics, contributing to ongoing glacial research efforts. Understanding these frozen giants is essential for comprehending the complex dynamics of our planet's changing climate. As the day drew to a close, we bid farewell to Tracy Arm, leaving behind a captivating world of ice. Guests were satisfied and exhilarated. Our expedition had unraveled the beauty and grandeur of this icy realm, highlighting the delicate balance of nature and the endless wonders it holds. In conclusion, today's expedition to observe Tracy Arm's ice formations provided us with an extraordinary opportunity to witness the marvels of nature. The captivating beauty of the ice, combined with the adventurous spirit of a polar plunge, created an unforgettable experience for all involved. As we continue our journey, we are reminded of the importance of preserving these icy landscapes and understanding their role in the larger tapestry of our planet's interconnected ecosystems.
Daybreak aboard National Geographic Sea Bird was cool and misty, setting an ethereal attitude that would linger throughout the day. Though us naturalists were scattered all over the bow, guests were nowhere to be found. Much to the delight of wellness specialist Ava Davis, most of the guests had joined her stretch class on the sundeck at 0700, eager to shake off the rust of their long travel days to the Last Frontier. Having worked up an appetite, they all poured into the dining room and began to mingle with the friends they had made the night prior. There was little time to chitchat after the meal had ended, however, as two humpback whales surfaced off the ship’s starboard bow. As the whales approached, the bow was swarmed with guest and staff alike. In that moment there were all noises of all sorts - oohs! and ahhs! and eeeees! But not a word was spoken until the naturalists passed the mic around to add interpretation to the situation. As the boat slowed to a standstill and the whales cruised by, there was a mass exchange of information, hugs, and photographs. It is these moments that separate expedition travel from the standard vacation. As the whale show concluded, I remained on the bow to scan for wildlife while guests were treated to a photo talk by Certified Photo Instructor Jamie Ramsdell and Naturalist Linda Burback’s introduction to the temperate rainforest. Such an introduction was well timed, as the post lunch activity was a hike around Lake Eva. The well-groomed trail is an abnormality in Southeast Alaska but one we welcomed with open arms. The hike provided glimpses of the region’s diverse botany and entomology. Of fascination to myself were the birds of the lake. Common mergansers bobbed on the surface, listening to the songs of the varied thrush and ruby-crowned kinglets of the forest. Hikers were given the option of kayaking after they returned to our landing site, paddling under the watchful eye of our safety boat and a curious harbor seal. We cruise now fo r the Inian Islands, a favorite among the natural history staff. As the night draws to a close, we retreat to our cabin with full bellies but a hunger for adventure.