A few shots

I’m drawing close to the end of another contract (this one was only two weeks), and I wanted to get another post out before I head home. It has been a good week, nothing absolutely amazing, but we did see some bears feeding on a dead whale carcass and we had an amazing sunset one night. Here are some pics!

One week down, One week to go

I’m sitting in a little coffee shop in Sitka, waiting for my latte. It’s grey outside and there’s a light drizzle coming down. We just finished a trip from Juneau to Sitka and it was one of the best wildlife trips I’ve been on in Alaska. We started with the orca hunting a baby porpoise (which you can now see a video of here), then while we were at Fox Creek, I discovered (while taking a “nature break” in the woods) an entire brown bear skeleton that hadn’t been scavenged at all. You could see its skull and teeth, all its vertebrate, matted fur scattered around, and each individual bone in its paw. Another gruesome, but impressive sight. It was impossible to tell how the bear died, but the naturalists guessed that it had been wounded in some way, perhaps by a bullet, and had escaped its tormentor, but was too injured to survive. Brown bear hunting in Alaska is an extremely controversial affair because nobody eats brown bear meat. Thus all brown bears that are hunted are simply shot for trophy souvenirs. So why isn’t brown bear meat eaten while black bear meat is? There is a rumor that it doesn’t taste good, but no one is willing to try it, so all the animals that are shot are left to die and decompose for no other reason than procuring a bear skin pelt.

Moving on… At the Inian Islands, which are always a good place to see spectacular wildlife, we were rewarded by a pod of humpbacks feeding on fish in the swirling Pacific waters. I was onboard watching them, but there were four Zodiacs full of guests who got to see the humpbacks up close – probably no farther than 20 or 30 feet. If that wasn’t enough, one humpback decided to breach several times for the enjoyment of those in the Zodiacs as well as onboard the Sea Lion.

The salmon are still in their staging phase – not quite ready to begin their journey upstream, but congregating in the bays and streams. In Pavlof Harbor we watched as hundreds of the fish jumped repeatedly out of the water for no apparent reason other than to show themselves off to the kayakers. At the waterfall, the hikers were rewarded with a brown bear ambling across the water with a large salmon between his teeth. The bears need to put on a lot of weight to sustain themselves over the long winter, so when the fish begin to amass in the rivers, they become salmon-eating machines.

Orca, porpoises (including the few that joined us at the bow for some bow-surfing), bears, salmon… what else could nature throw at us this week? It was a grey, dreary day in Glacier Bay and we spent the entire morning and early afternoon searching the shores and waters for wildlife to no avail. Most people had retreated inside when we pulled up to humpback whale carcass that has been slowly decomposing for several months. The guests who did remain outside on the bow, however, were rewarded with a brief glimpse of two adult wolves and their five pups! Unfortunately I was in the middle of giving a massage, so I missed them, but it’s still incredible to know that they’re out there!

As you can see, it was a great week for us on the Sea Lion. I have one more week to go and I hope it’s just as exciting!

Swimming? In Alaska?!

Yep. I did. And it wasn’t by accident either! We had a beautiful day at Fox Creek last week – blue sky and warm. After sitting out in the sun for several hours in a black Zodiac with the third mate, watching the kayakers (and rescuing one after he tipped his kayak), I was ready for the polar bear plunge. We had nine kids onboard, and they all wanted to go swimming. So Jen, our expedition leader, loaded them (and me) into a Zodiac and motored us 20 feet away from the ship. One by one we all plunged into the 42 degree water and after surfacing, swam as fast as we could back to the ship and climbed up the fantail ladder. Because the air was warmer than the water, I wasn’t at all cold after getting out of the water. The water, on the other hand, was quite chilly. I didn’t have anyone take my picture the first time, so of course I had to jump in again.

We also had some great wildlife last week too. We saw our first bubble net feeding humpbacks just outside of Glacier Bay National Park. Bubble net feeding is a type of cooperative feeding where the whales organize themselves into different positions. There is a bubble blower who blows a ring of bubbles around a school of fish 20 feet or so below the surface. Then there’s a caller who makes a loud whining noise and comes up in the middle of the bubble net to scare the fish to the surface. The remaining whales come up after the caller with their mouths wide open to catch the fleeing fish and they all surface looking like giant clams. I didn’t get any pictures of the bubble net feeding this week, but here are some from a few years ago.

We also saw a pair of male and female brown bears really close. They were browsing along the shore and we nosed the ship up close without scaring them. Later we dropped a Zodiac and got even closer, maybe 30 feet. Close enough to see the individual blades of grass hanging from their mouths. I could have watched them all day!

Finally, we saw some orcas too! We had just entered Glacier Bay National Park and someone spotted the characteristic dorsal fin of the animals. There were perhaps seven  all together, and they were having fun rolling over, showing their flippers, occasionally spy-hopping (sticking their heads out of the water), and we even saw one of them fully breach just a few hundred yards from the ship. That was their first time I’ve seen an orca breach! So cool.

To finish off the week, we sailed into Sitka early last night to watch 4th of July fireworks. They got cancelled last week in Juneau due to rain (no surprise), so they lit them off a week late. I was exhausted after a week full of hiking, swimming, yoga, wildlife viewing, and 15 massages, so I only watch for 15 minutes. It was still fun though. I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks…

So now I have one more week to go. There will be 18 kids on board, so I’m hoping (sheepishly) that I won’t have too many massages! I’m ready for my two-week break!

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to see bubble netters and orcas, and I did. So this week I’m hoping to see orcas on the hunt!