ALASKA Glacier Bay NATIONAL PARKS Wildlife

Alaska | Glacier Bay National Park

November 5, 2011

We started the day with yet *another* 4am wake-up call, and as we hurried to get ready and hike down to the dock, we were greeted with the eeriest horror movie-like fog I’ve ever seen. The gray cloak shrouded all visibility, creating ghost-like ships rocking silently in the soupy waters. This didn’t bode well for a 10-hr tour on the water, where we hoped to see, well, anything.Glacier Bay, AKglacier bay, akGlacier Bay, AKGlacier Bay, AK

The odds were not in our favor – the statistics for weather was unfortunately consistent   – in any given month, one can expect about 29 days of rain. Our only hope was that, once away from shore, the micro-climates created by the glacial masses would create less foggy weather. This could have worked either for or against us – either the weather would be better as we approached the glaciers, or it could be worse.Glacier Bay, AKglacier bay, akGlacier Bay, AKGlacier Bay, AKglacier bay, ak

One of the main stops along the tour was Marble Island. As the park rangers told us, this was probably our best shot at viewing wildlife on the tour. An hour in and this was our best shot? I’m not sure I would have made the effort to visit Glacier Bay if I had done my research and known that my ‘best shot’ of viewing wildlife would be birds and seals on a rock about an hour in from the cove.

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We did spot a few puffins, though.

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Perhaps the weather gods decided we had paid our dues. With all the failed whale watching tours we had been on around the world, and after spending a week sleeping in the rain, the weather gods had been appeased.

The rest of the day, we enjoyed uncharacteristically beautiful weather, hitting the one day out of the month when the sun shined, and the snowy peaks of mountain tops were visible. According to the rangers, seeing the mountain tops was so rare, that they can usually count the days on one hand the entire summer when they are visible.

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That day on Glacier Bay also happened to be one of the lowest tides they have ever experienced. Perhaps it was this coincidental conversion of events that made for amazing wildlife viewing. We saw several bears running on several beaches (apparently not very common), moose, eagles, mountain goats, puffins (both kinds – tufted and horned, one of which is more rare than the other, but I can’t remember which as we saw both in plenitude), seals and sea otters.

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Left: tufted puffin, right: horned puffin

Glacier Bay, AK
where’s waldo?

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hi.

In case there was ever any doubt as to how Glacier Bay got its name…

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About half-way through the trip, we reached Marjorie Glacier – another highlight of the tour because it was a great place to watch calving. This was a true highlight of the trip. The sun was shining brightly and we stopped the boat and waited. Sure enough, a loud, thunderous crack was accompanied by a chunk of sliding ice as it fell into the water. The chunks of ice were so large, that when they hit the water they created a bit of a tidal wave, gently rocking our boat.

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I knew that hat would come in handy

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Soon, the ice became too thick to safely navigate, so we turned around and explored a quiet, less icy arm of Glacier Bay. It was in this quiet little place where we spotted about five or six humpback whales. We saw a mother whale traveling with her two cubs, and several more feeding near shore. Apparently, it was late in the season to see whales, but our luck continued.

Unlike most whale watching tours, the whales in Glacier Bay are protected, and therefore boats have to stay a considerable distance from them. The whales have the ‘right of way’ and boats are not allowed to chase or hinder their natural path.

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The previous year, a whale washed up on shore, creating a feeding frenzy. This was all that remained.

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As we made our way back home, everyone was in good spirits having had such an amazing day on the water. We made friends with an older couple from Utah (originally from the DC Area) who were in Alaska celebrating their 25th anniversary.

We saw lots of sea otters (we couldn’t stop taking photos, they were just so cute) and lots more birds.

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We became introspective as we neared shore, quietly absorbing all that we had been so privileged to witness. We were reminded why we seek out such remotely beautiful places for everything seemed perfect then – perhaps even more beautiful and more wondrous, as if looking at the world with fresh eyes.

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