Icy Strait and Mud Bay , 7/8/2021, National Geographic Sea Bird
National Geographic Sea Bird
Today’s explorations around Icy Strait were filled with wildlife and wildflowers. Whale viewing provided bookends to our day, with killer whales in the morning and humpback whales after dinner. The intoxicating scent of bog orchids filled our morning excursion into Mud Bay, while our afternoon in Fern Harbor provided opportunity for walks into the temperate rainforest and wildlife watching from our small inflatable excursion crafts.
The dining room provided entertainment throughout the day. A lunch, our ship slowed as a large group of Stellar sea lions put on a show out the windows (perhaps enjoying their own fishy lunch), while dinner was a feast of Dungeness crab.
The informal education of a childhood among frogs, hardwood forests, and intensely
snowy winters of northeast Ohio established Chelsea’s passion for the natural world.
Indulging her curiosity about the world through formal education, she added a
Today we woke up to a gorgeous day here in Southeast Alaska aboard National Geographic Sea Bird . The waters were glass calm as we enjoyed a delicious breakfast. Right as we were finishing up, the bridge spotted a lone male orca swimming around us. We all went out on the bow and were able to see the massive six-foot dorsal fin of the world’s largest dolphin species as it swam around the ship. After we watched this majestic creature fade into the distance, we began our sail up the breathtakingly beautiful Endicott Arm fjord. This area is hard to put into words. We sailed past icebergs with granite walls rising 3,000 feet out of the water directly on either side of the vessel. Waterfalls cascaded down from hidden snowfall and hanging glaciers. Glacial silt coming from the rock flows and mixes with the sea, creating a beautiful green hue in the ocean. Shayne, our Certified Photo Instructor, gave a presentation on smartphone photography and taught us all the settings for these incredible devices. It could not have come at a better time as the Dawes Glacier came into view. After a wonderful lunch, we headed out in our expedition landing crafts to explore the ice field in front of the glacier. Being this close to icebergs and the face of an active tidewater glacier is life changing. The blue of the ice, the crackling of icebergs, the haul outs of harbor seals, and the crash of calving is an experience that will not soon be forgotten. Back on the ship, we were treated to yet another amazing meal before heading into the lounge for a dual presentation by Naturalist Frankie Wilton and Certified Photo Instructor Shayne Sanders. They taught us about "The Story of Southeast Alaska" by talking about the important forest ecology and how to incorporate composition to capture this magic through the lens. It was an amazing first day, and we cannot wait for what is to come.
Overnight, National Geographic Sea Bird brought us through Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage from the Kuiu Islands to Holkham Bay. We crossed the bar–an underwater, terminal glacial moraine–at Holkham Bay in the late morning, and we enjoyed cruising through the tall, glacially carved walls of the dramatic Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness on a rare blue bird day. As we made our way up the fjord, naturalist and geologist Nicole Yamagiwa taught our guests about the glaciology of Tracy Arm from the bow of our ship. Is there any better way to learn about U-shaped valleys, moraines, cirques, hanging valleys, and roche moutonnée than with a geologist holding a whiteboard whilst sailing through the features you are learning about? I think not! It was incredible! A stop at Hole-in-the-Wall Waterfall was an incredible addition to our day. Upon arrival at our heave to location, our able crew lowered inflatable boats to the water, and our team of naturalists and photographers took our guests out by small watercraft to the South Sawyer Glacier terminus to explore icebergs, seals, glacial calving, and even mountain goats! At the end of our day, our guests enjoyed a last dinner aboard National Geographic Sea Bird , followed by a photography slideshow prepared by our photo instructor Lisa Hornak. It has truly been an incredible journey these last six days!
Simply put, today was a whale of a day. It started even before the early risers’ breakfast when two humpback whales, a mom and calf, slowly swam around the ship, seemingly with no place to go. For several minutes, they were just below the surface, probably sleeping. After watching the tranquil scene for nearly an hour, we ate breakfast while sailing to Saginaw Bay for a morning of hiking and kayaking. The sea was glassy…the sun was bright…the sky was clear. A beyond perfect day for both activities. And for some, an opportunity to sample and evaluate the culinary delights of three species of kelp! During lunch, we sailed to the Keku Islands for an afternoon of cruises, and the magic continued. En route, several Dall’s porpoises rode the bow of National Geographic Sea Bird for several minutes. During the cruises, we saw another humpback whale swimming close to shore in the kelp beds, a Steller sea lion, several harbor seals, many eagles, a black bear, and of course, kelp. The water was exceptionally clear, allowing us to see to the bottom at 30 feet as the attached kelp rose to the surface. As we got closer to shore, it was possible to view many sea stars and sea anemones through the clear water. But wait! It got better! Just after dinner and before dessert was served, we were called to the decks to view some distant humpbacks. As we inched closer and closer, we saw fantastic lunge feeding! Time and time again, for over an hour and well past dark, the whale lunged horizontally again and again on the surface for, presumably, krill. A few times, the action was close to the vessel, allowing all to view the expanded throat, open mouth, and baleen extending from the upper jaw. Screams and shouts of joy erupted from the assembled guests (and staff and crew!) after every lunge, which soon evolved into a collective ‘wave’ of appreciation. As if this wasn’t enough, just as we started to pull away, the whale erupted from the sea in a magnificent breach, followed by a ‘blow’ before flashing its flukes as it dove. The fitting finale drew enthusiastic applause from us all. Applause was also given to recognize the captain’s skill which allowed us all to observe, but not disturb, this wonderful whale. So the day was ‘bookended’ by humpback whales, and it truly became a day etched forever in our memories.