Alaska Wandering Part 2 – Glacier Bay and Bartlett Cove

Alaska Day 2

We had an early morning start to Bartlett Cove at the entrance to Glacier Bay.  It was a fantastic travel day filled with wild life on the way here.

Orcas – We spotted another larger pod of Killer Whales, about 7-8.  There are several different species or families of Killer Whales that frequent the area. Some are trained by their families to only eat fish, others eat seals and tend to stay off shore (often referred to as the more aggressive transient pods).  Some are year round and others are seasonal. I suspect with the amount of Salmon jumping that we were seeing a more local pod.

Sea Otters – rarely go ashore and are shallow water divers.  They have relatively little body fat as their fur is so thick.  They eat shellfish crabs and clams. They are just as cute as the pictures where they float around on their backs with their food (or their baby) on their stomach.  Did you know they have a pouch in their fur at their chest and they carry a rock tool in there?  So cool! They sort of curl up with their feet and hands out of the water and often hold on to each other while they sleep in a little floating group.  While at one point almost extinct in Glacier Bay, the comeback is strong and we saw hundreds of them.  Several holding babies.

Otter mama and baby. The baby fur is groomed and fluffed by the mother so much it is full of air and the baby floats like a cork!

Otter mama and baby. The baby fur is groomed and fluffed by the mother so much it is full of air and the baby floats like a cork!

Dall’s Porpoise – A shy porpoise that comes up to breath and rarely interacts with boats.  Typically we see 2 or 3 in a loose group swimming along.  Unfortunately they don’t follow the boat or swim in the wake like Flipper.

Humpback Whales – We saw humpbacks at the shoreline getting active with some breaching and tall lobbing, but from a distance.  Impressive until day 3 and 4 when we REALLY saw the whales.

Salmon were jumping all over and the commercial trollers were out.  We had a closeup look at how ‘wild caught’ is happening. Our fishing fanatic friends would be disappointed that we didn’t drop in a line and slow down to troll.  But we had things to see and the freezer is already jammed full of fish.

Eagles – While our last visit to Alaska in 2006 the eagles were like pigeons and everywhere in wild flocks.  Now we are seeing several a day, but no mad groups like on San Juan Island.

Humpbacks – Our moorage was easy access to Humpback Whales as they fished all night long just off the stern.  Far enough away for so so pictures, but close enough to enjoy the swoosh of the breathing.  I spent several hours waiting for the perfect shot and even went out in the dingy to try and get a closer picture (without harassing the whales).  I have to admit that getting too close scares me.  Humpbacks have no sonar and it is not unheard of for them to crash into boats!  My little dingy is not near big enough to save me from the whack of a Humpback tail!

Humpback fluke - tail reflections in the setting sun.

Humpback fluke – tail reflections in the setting sun.

Our arrival into Bartlett Cove was smooth and relaxing.  We anchored out, put the dingy in the water and buzzed off to the lodge.  We signed up for a commercial trip into Glacier Bay on the Baranof Wind with a ranger guide.  Bartlett Cove is at the mouth of Glacier Bay and has lodging, a restaurant and a great nature display, movies and lots of ranger talks.  We watched a movie about the area and went to a ranger talk about ‘Snow’ a humpback whale killed by a cruise ship.  Her body was claimed, a lawsuit ensued between the cruise ship and the rangers.  The rangers won and the funds are used for education and establishment of a special whale protection area (where the boats have to slow to 13 knots and carry rangers on board to help passage through the area).  Only 2 cruise ships and 12 pleasure boats are allowed in the bay at any one time.

We did not go into Glacier Bay National Reserve and Park (3.3 million acres) in our own boat because the distance is great and the moorage is limited.  Going with a guide who knew what to look for and could travel the distance quickly was a relaxing and productive way to see the bay.

Alaska Day 3

An early morning rise and departure to the dock for boarding the Baranof Wind.  Captain Cook took us out for the day (seriously Captain Cook who was the 2nd person to navigate and document the area after Captain Vancouver )  Thankfully our Captain Cook was a few years younger than the historic Captain Cook.

As we moved through the whale protection area we saw several Humpbacks at a distance.  With help from the ranger we spotted birds galore.  The only one I took a shine to was the Puffin – so cute!

Puffin

Puffin

Steller Sea Lions fighting for dominance.  One of the boat guests was overheard ‘Oh look, they are playing’   Not a chance…

 

We spotted Grizzlies (brown bear) twice down on the beach turning over rocks digging for food.  The Tlingit Saying, the tide is out the table is set.  A very accurate description as the bears and soon Mountain Goats were spotted at the tide line nibbling away.  Tlingit are the native residence of the area who were driven away by the glacier from Bartlett Cove to Hoohah.

The Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier were at the turn around point.  Margerie is the more impressive of the two.  She is moving 7 feet per day and is loud (lots of cracking sounds, calving (sections of ice breaking off) and fun to watch.  We didn’t see any major calving but lots of smaller pieces.  At 250 feet of ice showing above water and another 900 unseen below water our perspective is probably a little off from sea level.  It is very hard to believe we are looking at 250 feet of ice.

Captain and Crew

The Captain, navigator, mechanic and dad. Me aka deck hand, cook and photographer, Dave 2nd mate. backup navigator and dishwasher. (Redundancy is good on a boat)

Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay. Caught just little piece calving. A stable glacier it still shrinks 7 feet each year and grows as much during the winter.

Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay. Caught just little piece calving. A stable glacier it still shrinks 7 feet each year and grows as much during the winter.

The return trip through the Whale Protection Area revealed another few Humpbacks, birds and lots of Sea Otters.  As we pulled into Bartlett Cove the resident Humpbacks were active. Wow – we had one surface right next to the boat in a lunge feeding —- mouth open and fish spilling out.  They force the fish up to the surface and then come in form below to catch them in their huge mouth.  I missed the lunge, but shot the chomping down of the GIANT mouth.

This is the chomping down of a Humpback Whale after thrust feeding. That is coming up form the bottom, mouth open and catching his dinner. I caught this shot from up top the ship looking down into his mouth. This guy will eat 4,500 pounds a day for 120 days and then take the rest of the year off.

This is the chomping down of a Humpback Whale after thrust feeding. That is coming up from the bottom, mouth open and catching his dinner. I caught this shot from up top the ship looking down into his mouth. This guy will eat 4,500 pounds a day for 120 days and then take the rest of the year off.

Another close to a great day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.