Alaska Cruise Report: Chatham Strait and Pavlof Harbor

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska August 3, 2010

It is always wonderful to start the day with wildlife sightings on the National Geographic Sea Lion, but when breakfast is delayed because of them, it must be something very special. Instantly, our flexible itinerary for the day changed and we went to Plan B.

Cruising to the north in Chatham Strait, we spotted a pod of four killer whales (orcas) in the distance. While we were wondering whether they were the fish-eaters or mammal-eaters, they suddenly went in pursuit of some Dall’s porpoises. When a very young porpoise was separated from its relatives by the whales, we knew that the ultimate outcome had already been determined. Now it was just a matter of time. Intermittent bursts of energy punctuated quieter activity. It was excruciating enough for us to watch; we cannot imagine what it was like for the young porpoise. We followed the exciting drama as the porpoise became exhausted and finally fell prey to the transient killer whales. Gulls descended to feed on the scraps as a note of finality. It was amazing to have close observation of the predatory process – from start to finish – and observe the many levels of the food chain in a natural environment without interfering in the course of events.

We cruised into Tenakee Inlet (Chichagof Island). Sara gave an informative presentation about bears in the lounge. From the deck, more Dall’s porpoises, bald eagles, many jellyfish and a couple of Steller sea lions were spotted. Entering Freshwater Bay, we observed our first humpback whale.

We anchored in Pavlof Harbor for our afternoon activities. Groups of hikers and kayakers explored the area. Toward the end of our outings, a young brown bear appeared at the falls and proceeded to catch and eat a couple of salmon that were among the myriad making their way back from the ocean to their natal stream to spawn. The salmon are at the end of a cycle that begins another, nourishing the next generation with their ultimate sacrifice. All entities of the forest benefit from the nutrients that come from the ocean via the salmon.

Some days seem like dreams. Today was one of those. We have to remind ourselves that it really happened and feel grateful to have had the privilege to witness the reality of the natural world.


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