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!

Killing Killer Whales

I’ve seen a lot of amazing things while working on the ships, but this morning was by far one of the best wildlife sightings I’ve seen yet. One of our naturalists spotted a pod of killer whales just before breakfast and we slowly made our way over towards them. I was in the middle of my stretch class when I saw a huge black dorsal fin right off the starboard side, so I abruptly dismissed everyone and we all hurried to the bow to get a better look at the orca. Humpbacks are common and we see them every trip, but killer whales are so elusive that weeks may go by before seeing another pod.

There were four killer whales in the pod we were following and it wasn’t long before we saw them turn their attention to a small Dall’s porpoise they had separated away from its pod. For an hour and a half we watched the orca chase, nudge, hit, bite, and play with the Dall’s porpoise before they finally (and mercifully) ended the hunt. It sounds gruesome, especially coming from a vegetarian, but it was incredible. So incredible, even, that I didn’t want to run down to get my camera in fear that I would miss something. Killer whales are incredibly smart and just watching them hunt gave me goosebumps.

I haven’t written since I got back on board, but everything is going well. It sort of feels like I never left. Only a week and a half left, then I’m back home to do some more mountain biking and head up to Portland to visit Will.

Time to go… we have humpbacks off our bow.