Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kenai Fjord Cruise Tour

There was no Gilligan, no Mary Ann, no Professor or Howells, but there was a Skipper who knew pretty much and was good at finding wildlife on this 6 hour tour around the Kenai Fjord, Resurrection Bay, and Aialik Glacier, part of the Harding Ice Field- the largest ice field in North America. Aside from a few notes, this will be primarily a photo post. The weather was perfect. The sea was calm. And we saw almost everything that was possible to see.
A convention of the endangered Qaiguaq harbor seals was one of the first animal groups we came upon.
There were puffins, hundreds of them, everywhere, both horned and tufted.
Murres are the closet thing the northern hemisphere has to penguins. They look like them, they walk and swim like them. They sound like them, and actually, they pretty much smell like them! I had never seen them in the wild before.
Love the roar of the Steller Sea Lions...
Animals on the check list but not pictured here: Cormorants and dozens of other bird species, bald eagles, sea otters, Dall's porpoise, and much more.
It wound up being a great day for whales. We saw several humpbacks, a couple fin whales, and an entire group of Orcas or Killer Whales. We got lots and lots, and I do mean lots, of fluke shots, some rolling, some breaching, some blowing and some spyhops (where the whale pushes his head out of the water to survey the surrounding environment).
Click on the photo below to enlarge to get a first hand look at the color pattern of this fluke. Whales are identified by these patterns- they are much like finger prints are to humans. The Skipper knew some of these whales by name or number- or both.
In the next several shots, you can see a mother humpback whale teaching her calf some life lessons. She signaled non stop for over 20 minutes with her tale in the air while the calf imitated her tale waving and slapping, breached, rolled, and spy hopped up to check us out. It was a most amazing display and a rare opportunity.

Below, the sail like fin of the male Orca...
A pair of Orcas play near our cruise boat.
The rest of the shots are of the Aialik Glacier. It is truly amazing, but driving the boat nearly right up to it does not give you the true sense of the glacier. The glacier is a mile across where it meets the see. It is a half mile deep (thick) in places, but a mere 300 feet tall where it faces the sea. Our boat pulled to within 1/4 mile of the face- to allow for escape if too large a calf were to fall, creating too large a wave for the boat to handle. Even at the 1/4 mile distance, large pieces of ice falling off the face of the glacier (or calving) looked small. That is of course until you heard them hit the water below in what can only be described as a canon shot going off nearby. When the larger pieces calved, the roar was deafening. And even when the ice was not falling visibly, the creaking and cracking and slipping and sliding of the glacier sounded like we were in the midst of a tremendous thunder storm. With the boat engines off for a short time, the sound of the glacier was even more impressive than the sight of it- if that is possible- and we all fell silent aboard the ship in shear amazement. It was, perhaps, the most amazing single sight we have seen so far on the trip.

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