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Monday, June 14, 2010

Rain and Fog in Resurrection Bay

Location: Seward, Alaska
Population: 2830

They had forecast rain for yesterday, but by the evening the skies were completely clear. The view looking across the bay was spectacular as we neared sunset, with a few low-lying clouds hugging the peaks and valleys of the mountains:

This morning I had time to check out the Alaska Sea Life Center, which was far more than just an aquarium. It is a top marine research facility as well as a marine mammal and bird rehabilitation center. While they do have seals, sea lions, and birds on exhibit in addition to fishes, the focus is clearly on education and scientific research. From viewing windows you can overlook their rehabilitation facilities and one of their labs, and informative panels tell you everything from how salmon return to their native stream to spawn to an update on 15 species of concern after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. Great stuff. The coolest part for me was the walk-in aviary where you can observe spectacular sea birds such as Steller eiders and long-tailed ducks from just feet away. Many of the birds were engaged in courtship and nesting behavior, and you could also view them diving down a couple dozen feet via an underwater viewing window.

I had hoped the forecast for rain today would be just as wrong, but it was not to be. The weather deteriorated as the day went on which did not bode well for our five hour wildlife cruise into Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. We were scheduled to see several glaciers including the large Bear Glacier, but in the end we only saw this smaller glacier in Thumb Cove near the beginning of the trip before the fog hid all the mountain tops completely and the glaciers with them:

The main sightings of the trip were in Eldorado Narrows where there were several Steller sea lion haul outs and active sea bird nesting colonies. It was cool to see some sea lions with sea birds swirling around above them, and the larger waves from the Gulf of Alaska crashing the shoreline:

We got one brief look at a mountain goat and her kid before they disappeared above us. It was, however, our closest mountain goat sighting of the trip and hence close enough to photograph, so that was good:

There were lots of both tufted and horned puffins, which was exciting to see after seeing just a few of each in Kachemak Bay. I tried taking some photos but the conditions were very dark which made for a lot of blurry photos! Here's one that turned out okay:

I've shared some photos from earlier in the trip of black-legged kittiwakes, but I thought this one was a little different since it is a view from a little further back, showing just how massive these nesting colonies are:

It may seem like we saw a lot of wildlife, but all of the above were seen right together over a span of about 20 minutes, which made the rest of the trip a bit underwhelming. Of course since I work as a naturalist myself I know the weather and wildlife are out of control of the tour company, but it was disappointing that we didn't stop to see the humpback whale my mom and I spotted (at least we were the only ones on the boat who saw a whale!) or any of the sea otters we passed closer to the harbor.

The seas towards the mouth of Resurrection Bay were pretty rough today, with big swells the likes of which we thankfully don't see in the San Juan Islands. Some trips ventured out further into the Gulf of Alaska, but with the weather and sea conditions I was thankful we stayed in the more protected waters of Resurrection Bay.

On the way back, for those who were willing to brave the cold and wet, you could see a couple of groups of Dall's porpoise riding off our bow. We see them in the San Juans as well, but the Alaska porpoises definitely seem to be much more playful. It was cool to be higher up above them than we are on the Western Prince. It's always hard to capture the thrill of bow-riding porpoises in photo stills, but here are a few of my favorites:

So, today's trip wasn't the best, but they can't all be great. Looking at the pictures I realize we did see more than I felt like we did at the time, but we all came back a little disappointed as we were hoping this would be a highlight of the trip. Ah well.

Here's to hoping the weather improves a bit for our upcoming ventures on the Alaska Marine Highway as we start to make our way back south on the ferries.

1 comment:

Warren Baker said...

You had a better day than me Monika :-)

Lovely pics again.