Alaska Cruise Report: Inian Islands-Cross Sound

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska, Monday, May 17, 2010.

This morning the National Geographic Sea Lion awoke in the comfort and cove of the Hobbit Hole nestled amongst the Inian Islands off the north coast of Chichagof Island. Embarking on Zodiac adventures after breakfast we were quickly rewarded with views of sea otters in the kelp forests that sustain them. Once on the brink of extinction, this cute face helped with sense of place, learning not only about its importance in the food chain but also the part the species played in the history of Alaska.

Further down the Inian Islands it did not take long to sense the abundance of life in the productive and turbulent waters of the narrow passage. The activity and abundance of gulls, cormorants, eagles and guillemots were testament to rich waters as were the amount of Steller sea lions whose numbers increased on our approach to the haul out. With the ability to rotate their pelvis, like a quadruped, this massive pinniped worked its way up the rock to bask and rest amongst their brethren. 

Rounding the bend we ventured further into unusually calm waters of Cross Sound. Hugging the shores of an emerald island, it wasn’t long before we were rewarded with both humpback and killer whales. A humpback unsuspectingly surfaced between the Zodiacs and shore and caused quite a sensation amongst the happy explorers. Listening to the deep breathing of this baleen whale from the perspective of a Zodiac is an experience we will long remember.

The vaporized breath of “thar she blows” hung in the air long enough for us to encapsulate the image in our memory and photos. The more we scanned our surroundings the more whales we saw, as if this day in the northern portal to the passage was a welcoming home for the “large winged new Englander”. The encore to an already amazing morning of marine mammals was the water suddenly charged with the pulse, play and feeding of killer whales! Full breaches on the approach to the Zodiac were enhanced by orcas in all directions, sizes varying large and small. The water bubbled with activity and we felt blessed to not only have sun in Southeast but the prolific presence of this assemblage of amazing mammals!!

After lunch we explored both the land and shore of George Island and were amazed by the story a small island could tell about the history of war in Alaska. A 6’ navy pedestal gun was placed as an emergency battery from 1940-42, overlooking the entrance of Cross Sound. While 6’ guns were not known for great accuracy or range it could have been placed more for morale than defense. While Dutch Harbor, AK was bombed (6 months after Pearl Harbor) and the islands of Attu and Kiska (Aleutians) occupied by the Japanese, luckily this corner of Alaska never saw any action. After visiting the gun emplacement the group scrambled over rocks (and shooting stars) to bask in the sun, while looking out to Brady Glacier as happy humpbacks beneath the surface fed in the nutrient rich Alaskan waters.

This was the kind of day…that dreams are made of!

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