From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska July 8, 2010
Author Wallace Stegner had it right when he called National Parks “America’s best idea.” Today Glacier Bay certainly lived up to that billing. What a day!! ! We were on our way to South Marble Island, hosted by Park Service Naturalist Emma Johnson, when the call rang out that Orcas were seen just off the north end of Strawberry Island. Chief Mate Hana DeLapp pointed the Sea Lion’s bow towards at least four Orcas that put on quite a show for over an hour, including a complete out-of-the water breach so close to the boat you could almost touch it.
After the Orcas left us, we resumed our trip to South Marble where Ranger Emma, a resident of Gustavus –the small town next to Glacier Bay, shared her vast knowledge of Glacier Bay’s evolution from a mass of ice 100 miles long and thousands of feet thick just 250 years ago to what we see today. Emma was also able to share with us her knowledge of the many birds we see in Glacier Bay.
South Marble Island is a sea lion haul-out and a bird rookery where black-legged kittiwakes and glaucous-winged gulls both nest. But we’d seen those birds earlier in the trip, so the focus was on new birds and South Marble didn’t disappoint. Black oystercatchers appeared as silhouettes on the north end of the island and though they were hiding their notoriously red bills, we were still very glad to see them and add them to the trip’s bird list.
About this time, Mount Fairweather started teasing us with its top showing above the only clouds that were on the horizon. By the time we were in Tidal Inlet, where we added surf scoters to our trip bird list, Mount Fairweather and the Fairweather Range were fully out in their jagged, snow-capped glory. The staff worked over-time to let everyone know that a day like this in Glacier Bay is a rare treat. Fairweather would stay out the rest of the day, watching over the National Geographic Sea Lion as we continued our trip up bay.
Gloomy Knob brought us mountain goats and further up bay on Russell Island, a rotting carcass of a humpback whale brought everyone on deck for a look. And then there were the glaciers. First a visit to Lamplough, then a peak around Jaw Point at Johns Hopkins and a little further up bay to Grand Pacific and Margerie. These four great, grand glaciers gave everyone multiple opportunities to digitally capture Glacier Bay’s blue ice to share with friends and family back home – complete with the many peaks of the Fairweather Range as a backdrop.
As we left Margerie Glacier to headed back to Bartlett Cove and a bit of time in the rainforest stretching our legs at the end of the day, both horned and tufted puffins were there to say thanks for visiting and to wish us a safe journey to our next amazing Southeast Alaska adventure.
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