Alaska: The Orcas Visit Tracy Arm Fjord
Beginning about 5:30 in the morning, the Solstice entered the Tracy Arm Fjord and got fairly close to the South Sawyer Glacier. Once again, our good luck held since favorable weather and ice conditions have allowed the ship’s Captain to navigate this far. Often ice issues require ships to head in another direction. We had wonderful commentary from the public areas, by our on-board naturalist Brent Nixon. Once in position, the ship paused for a bit and about 120 of us got on a smaller boat for a very special five-hour excursion. I left my mom to relax, and continue listening to the great commentary from the comfort and warmth of the “mother” ship.
Once on board, I grabbed a seat in the smaller (heated) upper cabin, so I would have quick access to the outdoor platform for optimal photo-ops. And wow, what a day it turned out to be for photography.
We immediately went as close as legally possible to the South Sawyer Glacier. Surrounded by incredibly blue glacial water, floating ice bergs, a few playful fur seals and terns flying around we were rewarded with seeing the glacier calve (when portions of the ice fall off). To hear the big boom and see the ice fall and water beneath explode on impact was a rare treat. We saw lots of the beautiful blue ice which is indicative of old ice that has been compressed for a long, long time.
The morning was incredible. Clear skies and very cold; you are essentially standing inside an ice box.
As we headed to the North Sawyer Glacier, our good-looking, young British naturalist (who was quite experienced), explained the geology and the wildlife of the area. He told us they rarely saw the elusive mountain goats and about 10 minutes later we spotted four, three quite close to the water’s edge, among the rocks. On the trip we also saw a black bear climbing on the steep side and a pair of eagles observing their territory from high atop a spruce.
But the most incredible experience for me was seeing Orcas! We had no expectation of seeing any whales at all and then, out of nowhere, we were next to a pod of about 7 whales. There were several females, a baby and at least two large males. One of the males, who stayed a little farther from the main group, is well-known to naturalists from this area, due to the curved deformity in his large dorsal fin; he is called “Captain Hook”. I found out from the ship-board naturalist that this was a “transient” pod that was visiting the area to hunt, specifically seals. Transients are one of three types of Orca pods that travel in these waters. We stayed with the pod for quite some time; they seemed oblivious to our presence. I had tried several times in the past to see Orcas (generally in the heavily Orca-populated San Juan Islands area off Victoria/Vancouver) and every time have been skunked. Finally seeing them when least expected was an absolutely incredible experience.
(Meantime, back on the Solstice, four Orca were spotted near the ship).