Our last morning in the wilderness brought us to the protected inlet of Ushk Bay. A humpback whale repeatedly breached, slamming its pectoral flipper on the surface of the water before its tail smashed the sea’s surface. Over and over, this extremely active whale leaped and twirled as we delighted in its performance.

The Zodiacs launched. Once again, we bundled into our rain gear and headed to shore for forest walks and strolls along a salmon stream. A wide meadow with braided streams ran through the thick forest. Random, rusting iron equipment from a long-forgotten enterprise was half buried along the pebbled shoreline. We crossed small, rushing streams.

The stream on the far side of the meadow shivered with the fins of pink and chum salmon. We watched these creatures, driven beyond self-protection, as they completed their life cycles by spawning. We saw females turn on their sides and in a spasm of enterprise, writhe their tails along the pebbled bottom of the stream to make a perfect indentation for their precious eggs. Attendant males stayed within inches of busy females. The walking path was heavy with the bodies of salmon. Life and death in the Alaskan wilds surrounded us.

We returned to the warmth of our ship and traversed the narrow passages toward Sitka. Mist hugged the trees as we saw night descend on our final evening in Southeast Alaska.

Photo caption and photographer: Humpback whale. Photo by Rich Kirchner