One of the great advantages of visiting Alaska are the extra hours of sunlight due to being so close to the Arctic Circle – while by the end of our stay we did actually see nightfall (for a few minutes) the rest of the time there was seemingly endless daylight. This provided opportunities for squeezing in multiple activities per day. When I read “Early this evening we board a local boat for a spectacular excursion into Kenai Fjords National Park…” on our itinerary it actually took me a few seconds to realize that darkness was not going to be an issue.
I mention this because it was a chance to see some large sea creatures up close and personal – and since I have had a mixed track record of success in previous whale and dolphin outings locally in NY I wanted the best odds for this “three-hour tour” (actually closer to 3.5 hours, but I couldn’t resist the reference).
Another cause for a little concern was the weather – it had been a rather cool day – perfect for hiking up to Exit Glacier, but being out in open water meant it was going to get downright windy and cold. Although I had packed gloves, scarf and warm vests, I had a feeling the wind/cold might wreak havoc with my ears – so before we boarded I stopped at the dock and purchased a hat. Guide J was particularly entranced with it, and said it had magical camouflage properties that would increase my chances of photographing potential sightings from the boat without startling my subjects. Somehow I don’t think anyone or anything would have not seen me in this most non-couture outfit:
photo courtesy of Lenore
Thus clothed, we boarded and headed out to Resurrection Bay, a deep fjord, nearly 35 miles north to south. Most of the shoreline is rugged and deeply indented, with timbered or rocky slopes rising directly from the beach. The water depth is over 160 fathoms or 960 feet (if I did the math correctly: 1 fathom = 6 feet) at places in the center of the bay. Some background – the Bay was named by a Russian explorer, Alexander Baranov, who was forced by a fierce storm in April 1792 to retreat into the bay. The storm settled on Easter Sunday, and the bay and nearby Resurrection River were named in honor of the date.
The scenery was exquisite –
The shades of blue were endless:
Of course we were treated to many views of glistening glaciers, the first a particular favorite of mine:
Although we were in a Bay that had some protection we were not far away from the open sea, which looked a bit intimidating:
No worries – we soon had lots to keep us occupied.
First up, a number of craggy promontories provided a safe rookery for a variety of birds along the coast of the bay – gulls, tern, puffins and other assorted seabirds use these places for rest and perhaps nesting. Due to the shallower depths we couldn’t get too close – we also didn’t want to disturb the birds:
Speaking of far away – off in the distance, a fin whale decided to tease us with a few splashes but no breach (use your imagination on this one):
This is what a fin whale actually looks like courtesy of Wikipedia:
The fin whale is the largest whale known to breach and is second in total size only to the blue whale. It is also quite fast – it can sustain speeds of almost 25 miles per hour. The fin whale was heavily hunted by whalers and though commercial whaling is now banned, it is now labelled protected endangered species. For these reasons the captain made the right call by not pursuing our fin whale.
We were rewarded for our decision – with a little boy sounding the alert “Orca!” And right beside us and following us for a bit – were these two beauties:
Between the exertion of keeping warm and the adrenaline pump of seeing these orca we were famished – so the boat docked at Fox Island and we dined on freshly grilled Wild Alaskan Salmon, Alaskan King Crab, Prime Rib, etc while our host gave us a short slide presentation on the history of the area – watching the kids in the restaurant listen in awe was a great experience.
On the way back we passed a large rock in the middle of the Bay – where many sea animals haul out to rest during the journey – there were sea lions strewn about and one in particular actually waved a fin at us as we passed by – unfortunately I was out of position for a photo. Enjoy some of the final views of Resurrection Bay:
As we drew closer to the docks we did have some other ambassadors to welcome us home – first a sea otter floated by on his back:
But perhaps this was the most excellent way to end our boat outing – a truly majestic welcome from Alaska’s finest:
There’s more – next week: A river runs through it – and we’re on it!