Alaska Cruise Report: Glacier Bay National Park

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska August 19, 2010

The gift that keeps on giving continues to do just that, to our awe and fascination today in Glacier Bay National Park. A humpback whale carcass has been washed up on Skidmore Beach on the west shores of Glacier Bay for the entire summer, and has provided a summer-long protein feast for Alaskan brown bears, black wolves, and certainly many other scavengers. Motion-sensitive cameras that were set up by the National Park Service have revealed that the primary feeding takes place at dawn and dusk, so we were ready with a gentle ship-wide wake-up call at 0550 as we approached the carcass and saw five bears feasting and a wolf waiting its turn in the distance. Everybody was on deck with the bow of the ship looking over the scene that seemed straight out of a National Geographic special. In fact it was, as the wolf then approached and boldly sniffed a giant, sated sleeping bear, and then moved on to join the other four bears on the carcass. We watched in awe as the bears gorged, then swam and wrestled in the water, then returned for more prime whale. The wolf departed at a quick pace and then showed itself in the tall grass again a half hour later. It almost certainly had brought others, for it kept turning its head back and forth, monitoring the feeding of the bears.

By breakfast time at 0730, there was nothing more that Glacier Bay National Park Ranger Andrea Markell needed to say to convince us of the wildness and importance of the entire Glacier Bay ecosystem. But this was only the beginning of our day in this National Park that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Glaciers dominated the rest of the morning, and what spectacular glaciers they were! Lamplugh (“the Blue”) Glacier was a stunning introduction. When the National Geographic Sea Lion made the turn around Jaw Point in Johns Hopkins Inlet, and the tidewater Johns Hopkins Glacier provided a backdrop of mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, we were mesmerized. The scene was enormous, and the ship was still six miles away! We were able to get within ¼ mile of the glacier with beautiful visibility and ice conditions. There was enough calving activity to keep our eyes glued to the face, only distracted by strange shapes of ice or the hundreds of harbor seals that hauled out on the smaller pieces.

The rest of the day was an alternation of coming out to the decks for viewing, or grouping in the lounge for presentations and discussions of various aspects of the park and Alaska. The calm conditions enabled us to get some good looks at a group of precarious mountain goats at the dolomite outcrop of Gloomy Knob, while the late afternoon drift past the seabirds and Stellar sea lions of South Marble Island delighted everyone with excellent lighting and the charm of numerous tufted puffins. As this text is written, most guests are off on an after-dinner hike near the Park headquarters, where a female moose and a black bear with cubs are reported to be roaming the area…

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