During our first full day onboard, National Geographic Sea Lion gave our guests a preview of the days to come. We awoke to the sounds and sights of our first marine mammals of the trip: humpback whales. Puffs of mist shot straight up into the air like beacons, beckoning our vessel to approach and take a closer look. After we watched these gentle giants for the better part of an hour, morning briefings and breakfast were in order. Today’s mission: kayaking and hiking through the Tongass National Forest with our group of lively students.

Beautiful greys and greens were in our sights as we approached the rocky beach via Zodiacs. The weather at Lake Eva was unable to make up its mind. Wind and rain were prevalent during our afternoon operations, but they were not excessive. The hiking trail led us through a dense forest full of large Sitka spruce and western hemlock as well as to a stream known to have salmon running later in the season. Kayakers were the masters of their own crafts, choosing where to go and when.

After dinner, as if by design, our bridge team spotted a group of orca—or killer whales—off Morris Reef in Chatham Strait! We were able to get wonderful views as they came close by, unbothered by our vessel. After a few moments of studying them, our naturalist Adam identified them as resident killer whales. These animals prey on fish and tend to live within a certain range, giving them their name. Today was truly a fantastic start to an amazing trip. We could not have asked for a better introduction to Southeast Alaska.