Alaska Cruise Report: Glacier Bay National Park

From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska, June 10, 2010

South Marble Island is a Steller’s sea lion haul-out and an amazing seabird breeding colony. Not too long ago, the glaciers covered the entirety of the landscape. As the glaciers retreat, the barren rocks come back to life as plants colonize them. Seabirds take advantage of the narrow window in time, where exposed rock with a few plants provides them the perfect nesting environment, before the landscape turns into forests. Steep rock cliffs are colonized by black legged kittiwakes and common murres. The higher parts of the rock are the nesting sites for glaucous winged gulls, and the patches of short vegetation provide a good place for the tufted puffins to dig their burrows to raise their chicks.

As we sailed north, we stopped to take a look at a humpback whale carcass that washed ashore about two months ago. The inert giant has been known to attract a variety of carnivores to the shore, where they scavenge on it. Today we found several bald eagles, common ravens and a coastal brown bear who feasted on the deceased leviathan.

Today we traveled as far north as Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. Here we could admire these two giant rivers of ice that flow from miles away into the fjord. Grand Pacific may not seem like a glacier right away, due to the enormous amount of rocks and gravel that is embedded in the dark ice. Margerie Glacier contrasts its neighbor, exhibiting deep blue ice, white towers and very dark lateral moraines.

On our way back, another brown bear was seen. This was a special sighting since we saw it at a fairly short distance from the ship. Even more interesting was the unusual place where the brown bear was found: a cliff with very little vegetation, which resembles a good habitat for mountain goats, more so than for bears.

Finally, on our way to Bartlett Cove, we stopped at Gloomy Knob. This rock is where we often find mountain goats comfortably feeding near the precipices. Today we had amazing views of these interesting animals that were seen from the intertidal zone, all the way up to the highest points.


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