Monday, May 31, 2010

Alaska Holiday - Day 14, Seward

For our last full day in Alaska and learning from past holidays where we start to get itchy feet and want to get home, I booked a 'finale' boat trip for the last day, a six hour Kenai Fjords National Park cruise. We hoped for a quiet trip, it turns out the boat was full but actually that didn't impair the experience at all.

The Captain, Tim, had a very dry sense of humour and kept everyone entertained, he is also a very experienced eye at spotting wildlife.

To start with, then, some views taken at various points on the cruise through the Park:

The first wildlife spotted on our cruise was the Sea Otter:

These were nearly hunted to extinction by the Russians, who, once they could no longer find them, had no further use for Alaska, hence their willingness to sell to the United States...

A creature encountered reasonably regularly was the Steller's Sea Lion, though according to the skipper their numbers are down by 85%-90% and they are now a protected species (unless you're a native of course where, outside of national parks, they still have hunting quotas, the same insane situation facing the Polar Bear):

As well as the mammals we did of course see plenty of birds, including Tufted Puffin:

Nesting Pelagic Cormorants:

Tim knew where to find the Orcas as he was in radio contact with a long time (30 years plus) researcher who was out on his boat. The Orca pods gather together into super-pods at this time of year for breeding, so we got to see at least two distinct groups of them during our trip:

Our next encounter was the wildlife highlight for me, Humpbacked Whales, spotted by the mother spouting used air:

And with her calf spending a lot of time leaping from the water, and apparently really enjoying itself:

We didn't see much of the mother apart from the occasional tail:

Please, please, please stop hunting them. There's no scientific basis for the sham research programmes and whale meat is increasingly unpopular even in traditional communities. Put the guns down and go grow some crops or do something else useful instead....

Other sightings included Pigeon Guillemot:

and a new species, Horned Puffin! We'd really wanted to see these on St Paul Island but had arrived just a day or so too soon, around the Park though we saw plenty of them, in the water:

and on rock faces:

Where there are nesting sea birds there are scavengers and predators to be found, like this Glaucous-winged Gull:

I had hoped we go to the glacier which is frequented by the Kittlitz's Murrelet but due to floating ice hazard we had to go to a different one:

The colours in the ice are fantastic:

As we approached we could hear loud cracks from the glacier. My next blog post includes a series of clips taped as I thought this would better capture the experience. More Glaucous-winged Gulls along for the show:

We did also get to see some land animals from the boat including Mountain Goat (thank you Linda), here a mother with kids:

Thankfully for the sheep, this Black Bear was in another cove altogether:

And more seabirds, including these Common Murres:

and Black-legged Kittiwakes:

The entire voyage was fantastic. It wasn't cheap but the crew were excellent, the boat good, the Captain superb and very knowledgeable; all in all a fabulous way to round off our first visit to Alaska.

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