The Inian Islands are un"Quest"ionably a highlight of any visit to Southeast Alaska, and good gracious, sea snakes alive, they did not disappoint today! We woke up to a stroke of luck as a predicted massive storm rolled by just to our north, dousing us in periodic rain squalls but none of the expected wind, allowing us to explore this treacherous gateway to the open Gulf of Alaska to our heart’s drenched content.
We toured in our Zodiacs during a very high-flow tidal turnover, with the midday high pouring through the various swirling channels and filling the Inside Passage for the next few hours. Plentiful Steller sea lions were found hauled out all around the island at their classic spots, with many more taking to the water to hunt for errant fishes caught up in current events.
Rounding a corner, huge flocks of kittiwakes, glaucous-winged gulls, and bald eagles announced a dramatic feeding frenzy well underway. We found copious “pop rockfish” on the surface—fish betrayed by the built-in buoyancy compensators, swim-bladders inflated uncontrollably from rising too quickly in the water column. Whether chased into the upwells by sea lions or a fatal lapse of judgment, Boccaccio, rosy, honeycomb, and yellowed rockfish littered the surface, eyes bulging and stomachs protruding from their mouths, having experienced massive barotrauma with no recompression therapy in sight.
The birds and beasts know of this, of course, and they feasted ferociously in front of us. The Inians are as productive as waters come, and these fish made their long living from the same phenomenon that ultimately drove them to their doom. With no fish was this more poignant than the massive sea monster of a 25 lbs, likely 100+ year-old yelloweye rockfish found floating on the surface. No sooner was it returned to the ocean after investigation than a sea lion deconstructed this piece of piscine history…
The divers did a dive, and the hikers did a hike, and we watched humpback whales over cocktail hour before seeing the dive video of the day—but nothing will quite compare to witnessing the true power of the Inian Islands one last time before heading south for the season. Onward to Juneau and Tracy Arm!