This morning, we arrived at the Inian Islands for our first taste of the weather we were waiting for after a few days of relatively warm, clear weather – low clouds and fog, quintessential Southeast Alaskan weather. We started the day by weaving in and out of numerous tiny islands shrouded in fog. The islands are covered with Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and devil’s club, and their steep, rocky edges plunge down hundreds of feet into the sea.
We anchored at the northern entrance to the Inside Passage, where Icy Strait meets the Gulf of Alaska. This is a highly productive wildlife spot, particularly when the tide comes in. Lots of big water comes in as the Pacific Ocean funnels through narrow Icy Strait into the Inside Passage. The current mixes things up, bringing lots of deep-water fish up to the surface. These fish attract eagles, otters, Steller sea lions, and whales. Humpback whales were observed lunge-feeding. They followed the shoreline of one of the islands for over a mile as they corralled fish against the steep cliffs and captured mouthful after mouthful of the small fish. Steller sea lions caught halibut, too big to swallow whole. The sea lions can’t chew up their prey as we do so they have to get creative, shaking the fish back and forth and flinging them out of their mouths to help tear them apart. These animals were so intent on eating their meals that we had ample opportunity to photograph and video their behavior. For an exciting finale to the morning, our young Global Explorers learned how to drive our expedition landing craft, and they spent the remainder of the morning piloting the crafts around the harbor.
During lunch, we sailed to nearby George Island, part of the Inian archipelago. The fog and clouds had lifted, and guests enjoyed a wonderful afternoon spent paddling and hiking around the island, an important military outpost during World War II. The longer hike took some guests to a cannon and the remains of a World War II outpost on the northwest point of the island. Along with the usual devil’s club and Sitka spruce, they spent time discovering the wonders of the many lichens that blanket the trees and rocks in this temperate rainforest. The short-distance hikers spent some time up close and personal with banana slugs and skunk cabbage as they walked through the forest, ending at a beach strewn with bull kelp and crab shells, edged by otter tracks, and with the snow-capped mountains of Glacier National Park to the north. The hike ended with our guide asking guests whether they wanted to explore their inner child and take a short detour for a swing at the top of a wooded knoll–many did, swinging out through the towering Sitka spruce for a joyful view of this unique, forested ecosystem.