Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Glacier and Wildlife Cruise
Everyone I've talked to who has taken a glacier and wildlife cruise out of Seward has said it was well worth the time and money, so, on impulse, we decided to do one out of Valdez since we were "in the area!" It was very close to the Chilkoot Trail as a highlight of our trip, and I think the memories of this cruise will probably last longer than the Chilkoot for it's "coolness" factor. I think we may have been the only Alaskans on the boat; there were people speaking other languages, and the guest book showed a spattering of people from all over the U.S.
We went on a 9-hour Stan Stephens cruise out Port Valdez to the Columbia and Meares Glaciers, and then back by Glacier Island and Bligh Reef. Meals were provided, and the food was delicious! I don't have the chance to say that often about mass-produced food, but the Oreos for dessert were my only complaint!
These two Stellar Sea Lions are comfortable on Buoy #9. At times there are up to 9 sea lions on this buoy and it sinks, as the sea lions are 650 lbs. (females) to 1200 lbs. (males).
Columbia Glacier is behind 2 miles of floating ice, so this is as close as we could get to it. Here the water is only 30 feet deep, but where the glacier calves the water is 1500 feet deep. The different colors of ice indicates how compact the ice is--the more blue, more compact the ice. The air was cold and I put on my winter hat and gloves and piled on sweatshirt and jacket as we drifted near the bergs.
The six hour cruise only goes to the Columbia Glacier. We went on to the Meares, which was much more impressive, and, amazingly, is one of the few glaciers in the U.S. that is growing (they listed 2 others in Prince William Sound that are growing as well; they don't know why).
Visiting Meares was one of my top favorite glacier visits. We didn't see any huge calving (when pieces of the glacier break off and fall into the water), which was disappointing, but it was still incredible hearing the loud, sharp creaks, snaps, pops and groans of this glacier. There were harbor seals on ice floes all around us at the base of the ice. Once again, the immensity of glaciers astounded me.
I'll be honest, I went on this cruise to see the glacier calf, and if I got any wildlife out of it, then that would be nice. Turns out the wildlife was spectacular. This humpback whale breached 6 or 7 times right next to our boat. Next time I won't spend all my time trying to get a video of it--I'll just watch it and go "wooooow!" with everyone else. My video clips show lots of splashes! There were 3 whales in this area off Glacier Island, and it was funny because although there were dozens of sea lions lounging and playing on shore right by the boat here, all eyes were on the water looking for the whales.
This is a video of the Dall's Porpoises, one of my favorite parts of the cruise. We saw them playing in the water in the distance, and pretty soon they were swimming with the boat (they can go up to 35 mph; our boat went about 23 mph most of the day). I was upstairs and didn't get down to the outside deck in time to see them and was so bummed, but when they came back I was ready! As we watched the porpoises play with the boat, we noticed some incredible jellies? jellyfish? floating in the water. They were all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes, and the water must have been so clear for us to see them.
Near the end of the day as we headed back into Port Valdez I saw a dark gray dorsal fin cut the water next to our boat. I was going to call out to the captain and ask him what it was, but it disappeared too quickly. It reappeared again briefly. When we asked the captain about it he said it may have been a salmon shark,which normally only surface once or twice.
The sea otters were too numerous to count, and were seen floating along with the babies on the belly of the parent. We saw a black bear, a Sitka black tailed deer with its baby, an eagle sitting in its nest, puffins and other seabirds. We saw a harbor seal gulp down a fish, and we saw fishing boats nearly swamped as they pulled in netloads full of salmon. It was just an incredible day. OK, I guess I do have a whale breaching video--slightly more than a splash since they go so fast!
And here are some sea lions playing and hanging out. Enjoy!