May 28, 2009, from the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska
Today we had the pleasure of visiting one of the gems of our National Park system. First set aside in 1925 as a national monument, Glacier Bay became a National Park in 1980. We are fortunate to have many such places preserved today, not only for visitors like us to enjoy, but also for the habitat it provides for the wildlife that live there.
Our introduction to the wild residents of this place began immediately after breakfast at South Marble Islands. These giant rocks are a Steller’s sea lion haul out and sea bird nesting colony. The Steller’s sea lions that we became familiar with yesterday were joined, unusually, by one of their southern cousins. Mixed in with the characteristic growling of the Stellar’s sea lions was the barking of a California sea lion. It seems he did not read the range maps! Puffins, gulls and other seabirds also call this rock home. We enjoyed the handsome (in a comical sort of way) plumage of the tufted puffins, and also got some glimpses of the less abundant horned puffins.
As we continued on up the bay, we traced the steps of a glacier that retreated just over 200 years ago. As the habitat changed, so did the critters that inhabit it. Our first land mammal sighting was of 2 black bears roaming a rocky hillside. Not far away, but on a steeper and therefore safer (for them) hillside was a nanny mountain goat and her twin kids!
The highlight of the morning, however, was getting the ship in close to the shore to watch a brown bear eat breakfast. It was low tide, and as Sarah Betcher our Park Ranger said, “The tide is out and the table is set.” The bear never walked more than a few steps without turning over shoreline rocks to look for food beneath. Small intertidal critters hiding under rocks to await the return of the tide were suddenly nourishing a hungry bear instead.
As the day unfolded, so did the spectacular beauty of the park. The further up bay we went, the higher the clouds lifted, revealing more and more of the mountains, the glacially carved valleys and the glaciers themselves.
After lunch, we drifted for 45 minutes and admired Margerie Glacier from just one half mile away. Our patience was rewarded with several calvings. By the time we started back south, we felt like we had changed latitudes entirely. Jackets and hats were shed as we jokingly complained about it being too hot outside!
Now we have finished dinner, but our day is not over. We are headed ashore for a sunset hike. The slate gray shadows of the distant Fairweather range will be a nice backdrop for the sunset. Sunset may be at 9:45 pm, but twilight will last much longer than that. It is the beginning of summer in the north and we plan to make the most of it!
— Sue Perin, Expedition Leader