The best advice we got when planning an Alaska trip was to do what you want to do because you might never get the chance to do it again. And there are plenty of things to do and see in Alaska that you can’t anywhere else.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably noticed a couple of things: we love spotting wildlife, and the weather for our trip had been stunning (locals kept telling us it was the sunniest, driest, warmest — nicest — summer they could remember).
Seward has two main companies running day cruises, each with unique offerings. We decided on the Kenai Fjords Northwestern Cruise — a nine-hour wildlife and glacier excursion that took us down Resurrection Bay and up into the Northwestern Fjord — the only cruise company that takes this route. On July 23, we packed sandwiches (we’d heard the sandwiches they provide wouldn’t be very good), bought coffees before we boarded, and bundled up for the early morning chill:
Captain Mark Lindstrom looked out across the still waters of the bay, checked his special instruments and sources, and announced that we should be in for some great wildlife sightings: the conditions were perfect.
Barely out of the harbor, we started spotting what would be a long list of waterfowl, mammals, and other creatures of the sea, shore, and air… like this pod of Dall porpoises…
…that came close enough to catch one or two nearby, but their speed meant hitting the shutter pretty quickly (hard to do with cold fingers):
One of the birds I’ve always wanted to see are puffins. We always seemed to miss the Atlantic Puffins on the East coast, but here we were nearly surrounded by them. This Tufted Puffin swam along, seeming as curious about us as we were about it…
…while this Horned Puffin watched us warily from the safety of shore:
It was easy to see why this is a Common Murre — rather than a “rare” Murre (!) — they were everywhere:
It seemed that Stellar Sea Lions were everywhere, too. Capt. Mark took us around to see the rookery (where the little ones are raised) and then after some tooling around to see other stuff, we stopped by another spot where there were more. These two seemed to be testing to see what the other was made of…
…while this group convinced me I was a sea lion in my last life, spending much of my day snoozing away:
With so much dazzling scenery to gaze at…
…it was easy to forget that part of the day’s journey was to see glaciers. And we saw plenty of those but when our featured glacier rose up before us, it was blue and huge:
The rarely visited Northwestern Glacier, at the head of the Northwestern Fjord, named by (who else?) explorers from Northwestern University. As we neared the glacier we passed floating bits of glacier. Gradually they became bigger and bigger, and we could see black specks on them:
Seals! Lots and lots of them, and at least one willing to pose for a quick photo before vanishing under the icy water:
We watched for awhile, watching to see if any of the big chunks would drop off into the fjord (“calving”) and though we saw a few small (relatively speaking) pieces fall, we weren’t witness to any of the spectacular scenes we’ve seen on TV. We were sort of relieved: no further depletion of the glaciers while we were there! At least not on a big, visible scale. The Northwestern Glacier was sitting solid at least for that little while.
And there was so much more to see on the water, like this Humpback Whale, which swam, feeding, without much interest in our boat:
It paired up with another Humpback, which made watching them that much more riveting.
The Sooty Shearwater isn’t a rare bird, but it was neat to see it do its shearwater thing across the top of the water:
We did see the rare Kittlitz’s Murrelet, but its small size and distance from the boat made it hard to get photos, sad to say. When that happens, I remind myself it’s not so much the photos that matter but the experience. Like seeing this Pelagic Cormorant, which might not be considered rare by bird experts, but it’s a rare sighting for me 🙂
Or this Black Guillemot:
Early on in the cruise, we spotted this lone jellyfish…
…and about five hours later, Capt. Mark slowed the vessel and said something like, “You get to see something rare and unusual that we don’t have an explanation for. This happens on occasion but experts aren’t sure why. We call it a jelly smack.”
We didn’t see much under the boat at first, and then, the water all around us seemed to glow:
No, I haven’t done a thing to that photo. Thousands and thousands of jellyfish swarm (seemingly spontaneously, though — again — experts don’t know why) like this very suddenly, and just as unexpectedly and quickly, they disperse. Maybe it’s a jellyfish flash mob?!?
And as we were about to head back into the harbor, Capt. Mark steered us near this napping sea otter:
Despite the sound of our boat, the excited chatter of its passengers, and the billions of camera clicks as everyone snapped photos, it slept on. Capt. Mark told us that sometimes an otter will sleep for so long and so soundly it will float all the way out Resurrection Bay. Yep, I know what it’s like to wake up thinking, “How did I get here?” But at least I usually have some memory of the drive we made in the rig to get there 🙂
As we pulled into the harbor, we interrupted a floatilla of seagulls…
…which seemed to applaud our wonderful cruise with every wingbeat.
Thank you Captain Mark and Kenai Fjord Cruises for a memorable day!