Friday, June 11, 2010

A Kenai Fjords Adventure

This past week I had the great opportunity to stay at our Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island in the middle of Resurrection Bay as well as cruise to the Northwestern Fjord which is the furthest fjord in the Kenai Fjords National Park that has multiple tidewater glaciers. How lucky can one get to have a job that allows them to stay at an 800.00 a night lodge on a remote Island, get fed some incredible food and relax in an unspoiled wilderness. No phones, no Internet and no electricity. Our lodge is solar powered which I think is great and you have a chef cook for the small number of guests that are staying. Wow what a treat and I have to rave about the food as it was outstanding. Being treated like royalty and pampered was most certainly a gift.

I spent most of the day relaxing and hiking along the very rocky beach that fronts the lodge. Most of the beaches here are rocky and of volcanic origin as there are no sandy beaches to speak of. It was most certainly a wonderful treat and I cannot stop gushing about it. The following morning our 9 am boat, The Alaskan Explorer arrived and a few of us that had stayed the night boarded the boat for our cruise to the Northwestern Fjord and glacier. We are the only wildlife cruise company that goes to this area and it is 150 miles round trip to get there. I feel so lucky as that day was truly remarkable, both the weather and the seas cooperated and we saw such abundance of wildlife that I could not stop smiling. The route of this trip follows Resurrection Bay south and continues out into the gulf due west towards the Chiswell islands before reaching the fjord and up to the Northwest Glacier. The Chiswell Islands are teeming with Birds right now, everything from Common Murres to literally thousands of Puffins. I was elated to see this many Puffins, as well as some rare Kittlitz's Murrelets and Red Faced Cormorants. What really got my heart gleaming with joy was when we encountered one of our resident Orca pods. When we spotted them, thanks to another boat that was already out there, they were in rest mode. When Orcas rest, they huddle together very closely and swim slowly. They are actually not sleeping, as they are not involuntary breathers as we are. Anyway at one point they began to porpoise and were more in a faster travel mode, most likely following one of the Salmon runs we have currently. I feel pretty fortunate as I was able to get a couple of good photographs as you will see. We have several family groups that reside the majority of the year in this area, and through some careful id'ying I was able to identify the large bull who was ahead in the group as AK-1 or Skana as he is named. The Orcas stayed with us for quite awhile, yet we had to keep heading west to make our destination. We also had several humpbacks, actually 20 total by the end of the day on our trip, including a mother and a calf. We got lucky to see the fluke a few times, although my camera was not quite fast enough for that photo, however I did get some dorsal shots. That was very exciting to see so many. After about three hours of cruising we arrived at our destination, the Northwest Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord. A breathtakingly beautiful spot, and also an area that is a Harbor Seal pupping ground. I was amazed to see so many hauled out on icebergs that was quite endearing. We stayed at the glacier for about a 1/2 hour and it did calve a few times. Hearing the thundering from within the glacier was quite intense. After our visit with the glacier we continued at a slow pace through the fjord where there are at least three more tidewater glaciers in the area. Also are some hanging glaciers which you begin to wonder if they will come crashing down at some point. In any case this area was truly of spectacular beauty and I was in awe. We stopped at one area that had amazing waterfalls cascading down into these turquoise pools of very icy and freezing water. Although they looked enticing I am sure you would freeze within a few minutes. At this point as you stared out into the gulf of alaska the sun was beginning to shine brightly and deep sea blue skies were looming across the horizon. Since the seas were pretty calm Captain Bog decided to take a different route back and we spent a fair bit of time out in the Gulf of Alaska, perhaps hoping for a possible Fin Whale or other sightings we hadn't yet seen that day. We did have a couple of groups of Dall's Porpoise who often loved to park take in riding the wake of the boat, however these guys were in fishing mode so they were not interested in us. We then headed back into the Chiswell Islands and the captain decided to quietly approach one of Haul outs where Steller Sea Lions have their pupping grounds. We turned off the engine and observed them for a bit, seeing a couple of new pups so that was pretty sweet. Steller Sea Lions are endangered and their numbers have dropped 80% here over the last several years. Alaska Sealife Center does research out here in these islands and looking at all the factors that are surrounding this decline. They are not sure as to what exactly has caused it. A number of reasons could be involved, toxins, predation possibly by Transient Killer Whales, although they are not common in this area, so they do not really know. In any case it was pretty special to see the pups, and hopefully there numbers will continue to climb.

As our day began to come to a closure and we were coming around Cape Resurrection back in to the bay, we spotted Orcas again. Probably our friends from early, yet this time they were Porpoising more and there were more in the family group. Resident Orcas live in much larger family groups than transients and stay together with their pods all their lives. When several families come together usually later in August they call this superpod and months later new little calves pop into the picture. So I am excited to get out then and hopefully see superpod. They were with us for quite awhile, yet we had to continue our way towards home. once we got back into the bay, and were near one of the many coves, the captain spotted down very close to the water's edge a Mountain Goat Nanny and her kid, actually there were two Nannie's and two kids. We watched them for awhile and one of the little kids was struggling getting back up to it's mom that was up a notch on the hill, yet finally after a few attempts it made it... so so cute. Anyway, I have to say that this day far exceeded any of my expectations. So amazing were the thousands of Puffins, Murres and other birds that call this their home, and we must remember that we as stewards are in their home. We are visitors and respect and gratitude for being able to view such beauty is a gift from Mother Earth, that allows us to be so close to the amazing wildlife that this planet has. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to share this with each and everyone of you.

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