Jun 11, 2018 - National Geographic Quest
Today set a high bar for the remainder of this week’s voyage. After a beautiful evening sail away from Sitka, we navigated through Peril Strait and woke up to calm waters in Alaska’s deepest fjord, Chatham Strait. In the distance, we spotted the first characteristic billowing plumes of humpback whales exhaling at the surface. By breakfast, we arrived in close enough range to know what the whales were up to, and watched in awe from the bow as a couple of individuals lunged to the surface with their mouths open wide, and slipped back beneath the surface for more, showing off unique tail flukes as they dove. The encounter seemed almost scheduled, but we would learn through the rest of the day that the wildlife were not aware of any schedule.
Just a few hours later, a photography presentation was put on hold, as half a dozen whale spouts were spotted off the bow, in a tight gathering. It’s early in the season for cooperative feeding, but we assembled on the bow in the hopes that these whales were eager. We were far from disappointed when gulls swarming above the surface, close to where the whales had dove minutes before, were followed by the six open-mouths lunging simultaneously. The group repeated this ‘bubble-net’ feeding routine several times, giving everyone onboard a view of this behavior unique to humpback whales.
After lunch, we set off to land in Pavlof Harbor, to explore the intertidal and coastal rainforests of this remote part of Chichagof Island on foot. We found ourselves instantly immersed in brown bear country, where observations of recently grazed shoreside vegetation were confirmed by the grassy contents of nearby scat. And just beyond the treeline, we found evidence of other vegetation utilized by bears for food, like ground cones dug up from the ground.
It’s one thing to see bear signs and to follow the traces of where they have been, what they have done. It is another to watch them in action. En route to our landing, two sub-adult brown bears appeared on the opposite shoreline and we watched as they foraged in the grasses. And as a grand finale for the day, we made our way to rejoin the Zodiacs on the beach when a mother bear came into view on the forest edge we had just explored. We watched in awe as she combed the shoreline, followed by her two curious and playful first-year cubs.
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