Monday, July 28, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere -- and Whales!

Saturday was dedicated to an AMAZING whale-watching boat trip out of Seward. We gathered in downtown Seward around 8 am and loaded onto our boat with about 15 other people for a full day of cruising Resurrection Bay, the Gulf of Alaska, and Kenai Fjords National Park.

Even if you never saw any wildlife, the scenery alone would be pretty spectacular -- high, snowcapped mountains on both sides, clear water, etc. On the way out of Seward, you can see "ghost forests" of trees that were killed and then petrified when inundated by salt water when the ground level dropped close to 10 feet and the town was inundated by a tsunami in the 1964 earthquake. They have "Tsunami Evacuation Route" signs along the highway the way we have hurricane signs on the east coast. Resurrection Bay is pretty much ringed by moutains.

And then there are the glaciers. Kenai Fjords (fjord, we learned, means "valley cared by glaciers" and in this case filled in by water) has a large number of glaciers, several of which we were able to see from the boat. The glaciers have an interesting light-bluish color (caused the refraction of the light through the dense ice). We spent some time observing Ayaliak Glacier, which is a tidewater glacier (it comes right down to the water), which is constantly "calving." "Calving," in the glacier sense, means that chunks of ice are breaking off and falling into the water. There is a rumbling, crackling sound when they do this, and when they fall into the water, spray and condensation shoot up. There are chunks of ice, ranging from very small to quite sizeable, throughout Ayaliak Bay near the glacier.

And, lucky for us, we did see quite a bit of wildlife! The Canon point-and-shoot digital camera I am using for the trip is great for close-up shots of people and good for scenery shots. It's not so great for shots of moving objects in the middle distance, so you will just have to take my word for it (and look at the few slightly blurry shots), but we saw:

  • Puffins (they are so cute, and quite small)

  • Harbor seals

  • Doll Porpoise

  • Sea otters

  • Humback whales

  • Sea Lions

  • A bear ambling along the coast line

  • Bald eagles

  • Orcas. Lots and lots of Orcas! At this time of year, multiple groups of Orcas gather in the gulf of Alaska and intermingle for breeding purposes -- this is called the "Superpod". We wandered into the middle of this Killer Whale speed dating scene.

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