When most people think of productive ocean ecosystems, the colorful reefs of the tropics come to mind. But it’s the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the higher latitudes that are the productivity centers of our oceans. Sunlight and nutrients lead to an abundance found in few other places in the world. To discover this for ourselves, we took to our Zodiacs to explore the Inian Islands, a small group of rocky islands at the threshold of the open Pacific Ocean and the sinuous fjords and inlets of the Inside Passage.

The rising tide funnels incredible amounts of water from the open ocean through the channels around the islands. These currents begin to churn, bringing food from the bottom to feed predators at the surface. And we had the opportunity to see them all.

Steller sea lions thrashed prey while bald eagles lined the trees, waiting to swoop down. Sea otters fed on sea stars in the kelp beds, while sea birds like the pigeon guillemot dove over and over for eel and capelin. Later, as we hiked, paddled, and kayaked around the rocky shores of George Island, we looked at the diversity of the intertidal zones and kelp forests from above.

The rugged abundance of the Alaskan ocean in the summertime. All together in one place.