The first morning of an expedition is always full of excitement. We got to meet everyone and learn where they are from as we familiarized ourselves with National Geographic Sea Bird, our expedition vessel for the week. After a delicious breakfast from the galley, briefings were held in the forward lounge. Descriptions of loading the Zodiacs, kayaking tips, and bear and hiking safety were all addressed to make sure all had a clear picture of the exciting adventures ahead.
National Geographic Sea Bird sailed underway from the port town of Sitka through the Sergius Narrows to our first anchorage in Hanus Bay. We went kayaking in the calm, protected bay. The weather was out of a catalogue with blue skies and beautiful white, puffy clouds. The temperature was in the 70s, which isn’t typical Southeast Alaskan weather, but we were not complaining. While kayaking, we observed bald eagles soaring in the sky and landing in western hemlocks. Curious harbor seals poked their heads up from under the water to spy on us, their big, round eyes glancing in our direction. We approached a freshwater stream and observed how the mixture of freshwater and saltwater create a beautiful, oil-like mixture in the water. A small number of salmon were present in the stream. Judging by their bodies, they had already spawned and were approaching the end of their life cycle. Salmon are an important part of the ecosystem of Southeast Alaska for bears and other animals, as well as for soil and trees. Once the fish start to decompose, they add nitrogen to the soil, which helps trees in the Tongass National Rainforest grow.
After lunch, we went for our first hikes ashore. We broke into groups for moderate, aerobic, and photo walks. The photo walk was hosted by on-board photo instructor Gemina. The hikes were on well-maintained trails that follow a salmon stream to a watershed named Lake Eva. Through second growth Sitka spruce and western hemlock, we enjoyed our interpreted hikes with ferns, devil’s club, and skunk cabbage, among the varied understory flora. One group got to watch a coastal brown bear sow and her two cubs play and fish in the stream. This was an incredible moment. Luckily, the group was on the opposite side of the creek, so mom and cubs had plenty of space to be admired from a safe distance.
Once we were all aboard, we had a fun cocktail hour and shared our tales of the day before going to bed and dreaming of more adventures to come.
Text written by Karson Winslow, Naturalist