Month: June 2013

Even More 6/5: “We are Just a Crouton in a Bowl of Whale Soup…”


Dick made the comment in the title of this post as we were surrounded by humpbacks; he said he’d heard one of the guides use the phrase last week. It was most appropriate this evening.

It was now 6:20pm, and no one was thinking about dinner.  We watched the line of humpbacks, not sure how many there really were; Three? Four? Five?  At times, maybe six.


Oops, there’s one close to the ship:



Remembering to check out the scenery, and not just the whale show:



We also saw a barge toting boats, trucks, and other goods – probably the only option for some, since so many areas in Alaska are not connected by roads:



One thing that stood out about this evening’s adventure was how often we saw at least two whales close together.  At times, it looked like they were playing follow-the-leader.





It was time to go in for a quick bite to eat, and then hurry back outside.  Another quick look at the mountains and the blows against the shoreline:



Wait a minute?  What’s that?  Ha!  You didn’t get away this time:



Let’s straighten you up:



We kept scanning for another breach – sometimes a humpback will breach more than once – and rarely more than a hundred times! That didn’t happen, but that’s okay.  Scientists don’t know for sure why whales breach – it may be to wash off parasites, to communicate, or just because they’re feeling frisky.

We enjoyed the next hour watching the fun.  And, in case you’re wondering, I did put the camera down every so often to just enjoy the sights.  A few more photos:






At 8pm, we saw the Island Princess arriving.  They were late to the party, but maybe they’d seen whales elsewhere, since there seemed to be so many.



No time to worry about the cruise ship, we had more buddy activity to watch:






The Island Princess came close enough so we could see they were watching the new Disney “Oz” movie on their big screen. There weren’t a lot of people out on deck or at their balconies.  One good thing about this interruption – Lou said we did get a cell phone signal while they were in the vicinity.



It was almost 9pm when we said good night to both the Island Princess and the whales.



A goodnight shot from the last dynamic duo of the evening:



Another day exceeds expectations! Thank you, Lou – this has been the best birthday present ever.


I went to bed with visions of leaping whales …


More 6/5: Triple Play in Icy Strait


Back out on the bow of the boat, we were watching the Kittiwakes – they were just sitting there, then all of a sudden there would be a big ruckus and they would fly around.  Jeremy, one of our expedition guides, explained there was a Parasitic Jaeger bothering them.  The Jaeger’s M.O. is to wait until the kittiwake has done the hard work of catching a fish, then it goes after it – trying to get it to drop the fish.

I focused on different kittiwakes, hoping to get them in the act of catching a fish:



No luck, but I did finally see the Jaeger and started tracking him:



Son of a gun – Jeremy was right!  Didn’t even see the fish in the Kittiwake’s beak until I was looking at the photos.  Here’s another lucky shot:



About this time, we spotted the National Geographic Sea Lion.  We were curious about how long it would hang around, wanting to compare it to our Un-Cruise style.  But, we got distracted and forgot to notice when it left the area.




WARNING:  The rest of this post and the next one are about whales.  There are lots of photos.  If you are tired of Whales, you can skip ahead to the post after the next one.


After fun with Jaeger, it was time to get back to serious business – watching the whales.  Where to look?  There were blows in several directions.  This one caught my eye:



That’s 4 whales, maybe 5, in a row, and possibly some back by the shore line.  This is almost too much.  We watch the conga line for a while to see what happens:





That was fun – just one whale tail after another.



This looks interesting:











Wow – a Triple!  Synchronized fluking for the win.  Unbelievable.

A different type of triple:




Shall we go for a quadruple play?


Not lucky enough to see that, but it was still awesome:


And then, the whales are practically on top of us:









They’re circling – maybe we’ll see bubble net feeding:



Lou stepped in to help out and take a few wide angle shots, showing the circling throng:



No luck with the bubble net, but who cares?  This guy showed us his pretty side:



They just wouldn’t stop  …



Everyone is mesmerized:



Let’s take a break, and when we come back, we’ll finish up the night in Icy Strait.


6/5: A Rainy Day in Idaho




Lou confirmed we were going to be in Idaho Inlet for the morning, then headed to Icy Strait later in the afternoon.  We were still moving at 5am, and the weather didn’t look too promising.



Our agenda for today included just one activity.  As usual, we picked the Skiff Tour (predictably boring, I know).  I had considered switching to one of the hikes, but thought better of it.  Good thing – today one of the groups got stuck by a tidal change and had to ford a waist-high stream.  We probably wouldn’t have enjoyed that.


Here are a couple more photos as we cruised to our anchorage:





June5-10Cinnamon French Toast was a good start to what was going to be a rainy day.  I think Lou slept in this morning – I know he decided to skip the Skiff Tour, having had too much fun the previous day.  I was excited about today’s tour.  While waiting, we heard the guides talking on the two-way radios about seeing three bears along the shoreline.

Here goes one of the hiking groups: June5-11


June5-13My Skiff Tour didn’t leave until 11:30am, so there was time to take a few more photos of the kayaks.  I asked one of the crew members if he would mind putting the green one in amongst all the red and yellow ones (see photo on left) – he looked at me strangely, but said, “sure.”  I explained I was just kidding, but it was nice that he actually considered it.



Two groups were doing a serious kayak paddle and hiking trip today.  They took a boxed lunch with them, and after kayaking to some distant point on shore, they further punished themselves by hiking in the rain.  The plan was for us to pick them up on our way to Icy Strait after lunch.

Finally into the Skiff Tour, and we’d heard the bears were still out there.  Here is Indy, our guide, looking for the bears:



On the way to the bear hunt, we saw both an otter and a curious harbor seal – not sure if the photos show it, but it was raining now…




Indy spots one of the rumored bears:


That’s not a very good photo, is it?  I wasn’t worried, we were planning to get much closer (but still maintain a safe distance and not disturb the bears).

Ker Plunk !!!  Uh Oh !!!  We hit something out in the middle of the small cove – don’t know whether it was a rock or a tree root, but that put the kabosh on trying to navigate any closer to the bears.  Oh well, time to go back to the ship and dry off.


After lunch, we were cruising out of Idaho Inlet.  We passed some kayaks on the shore … hope nobody got lost.



It was close to 2pm when we spotted some wet, but apparently happy, kayakers hitching a ride.  Someone (one of their spouses, I believe) suggested taking a vote to see if we should pick them up or not, but consensus was they deserved a ride after all their hard work.



We saw more otters as we cruised towards Icy Strait – the waterway was not too wide, so it was easier to spot the otters:



Thar She Blows !!!  At 4:30pm, we saw our first humpbacks.  It was still raining, but not too much – not enough to keep the serious whale watchers inside, at least.



We had a good show for the next 10-15 minutes as there were several humpbacks diving near the shore.  And then, I saw something just a little bit different.   This humpback wasn’t diving; he was slapping his fin – also called a peck slap.  I’ve read this can be a form of communication.





I may just be easily amused, but this made me happy – we’d now seen tail slapping and fin slapping.  And then there was that breach we almost saw last week …

Just five minutes after the fin slapper, we had a humpback come fairly close to the ship.  While there are separation distances you must maintain when watching the whales (and other wildlife), the whales don’t always follow the rules.  This one did the classic gather up and dive routine:

We’d seen this before – many times.  But, this one gave us the best look at the pattern on the underside of its fluke; like our finger prints, the fluke pattern is unique to each humpback whale and allows researchers to identify them:



Less than five minutes after the fluke display, we heard a cry for “Orcas!”  They were in front of the ship – not close, but we could see them with a lot of zoom:


As we got closer, we could see there were at least 5, maybe 6.  The sea lions slumbering on the buoy didn’t seem in the least concerned as the killer whales circled them.


More shots of the Orcas:

Several of us got a photo of the little one, when he popped out of the water for just a second:


Not bad for a rainy day that didn’t start out too promising.  I put the camera down and took a break for a while – Lou enjoys wildlife photography, but he confessed to me later that he found the whales on the boring side: “They come up, they go down … over and over again.”  He was a good sport, and did pop out every so often to see what was happening.  We heard we were going to hang around Icy Strait into the evening, so there might be more action later on.

6/4: Being Geeky @ Geikie Inlet


The day didn’t start out like the view in the panorama above.  At 6am, it was foggy and a little bit drizzly.  It was supposed to clear up, so we weren’t too worried.  Today we were going out on a hike and also doing an afternoon skiff tour.







We were anchored in Geikie Inlet, still part of Glacier Bay National Park, but not in the immediate vicinity of the glaciers.

The menu was always posted first thing in the morning, and you checked off the option you’d like for dinner each evening, so the Chef knew about how much to prepare of each entree. Today’s menu looked promising.

After breakfast, we made an executive decision to scratch our shore walk and just hang out on the boat – it looked like a good morning for a latte and a good book.



Those adventurous folks who braved the elements (it didn’t rain very much, although it had rained heavily the night before), seemed to have a very good time and enjoyed their hikes and shore walks, even if there was a stream to ford:

source: Un-Cruise

source: Un-Cruise

source: Un-Cruise

source: Un-Cruise











The kayakers didn’t have it quite as smooth as the day before, but they gave it a go:



The weather cleared up shortly after lunch and we had some good views from the boat:



We were ready to go for the 2:30pm Skiff Tour, and got a chance to talk with Ranger Fay and some of the other passengers while waiting for our little boat.  Lou also spotted a black bear walking along the shore:







This was not one of our better Skiff Tours.  Lou spotted some Mountain Goats waaaayyyy up on the mountain, we saw a few eagles, some other birds, and the same bear we’d seen from the ship.  The scenery was also good, but the problem was the wind.  It was rougher than it looks out there, and we all (especially Ranger Fay) got sprayed as we moved along.  We can’t complain too much, given our run of almost perfect weather for the last 2 weeks.



Here is a shot of the docking platform – usually it was a simple hop on, hop off procedure.  Today, we had a “hot” landing coming in and we had to duck to make sure everyone was safe.



We enjoyed a quiet day until near the end of dinner, when Orcas were spotted:







During dinner, the crew brought up the anchor and we headed out – we needed to go back to Bartlett Cover to drop off our favorite ranger – Ranger Fay’s time with us was coming to an end.  She told us it’s not a requirement for ships to pick up a park ranger if they have a certified naturalist on board, but almost all of them do get to enjoy having a ranger on board while cruising Glacier Bay.  We enjoyed the chance to talk with her about life as a ranger.

We watched the sun rays come through the clouds as we cruised back to Bartlett Cove:





We also saw several otters floating in the water; this one is most likely a female.  The pink scars on her nose are a gift from the male otter during mating.



We didn’t dock at Bartlett Cove; Randall took Ranger Fay to shore in one of the skiffs.  



There goes Ranger Fay, pulling Miss Elizabeth behind her in a large suitcase:



You can see how light it is, even though it’s now after 8:30pm:







We continued cruising overnight towards tomorrow’s destination – we are going to Idaho!


More 6/3: An Afternoon Stroll on the Beach

After lunch, we watched the Grand Princess visit the Grand Pacific Glaicer:


And then, the Grand Princess met the Diamond Princess.  The large cruise ships are on a fairly tight schedule when entering Glacier Bay – no more than two are allowed at a time, and they are scheduled to be in different viewing areas.   Being on the small ship, I don’t believe our schedule was as restricted, although we did have permits to be in the Glacier Bay and we made sure to follow the rules regarding not disturbing wildlife.



Our shore walk wasn’t until 4pm.  By this time, it had cooled down considerably and we got a few sprinkles.  There wasn’t as much to see as there had been on last week’s walks – maybe it’s too cold for some of the little intertidal creatures.  But it was interesting being so close to the ice.  Getting ashore was a tad tricky, since the boulders were slippery:



June3PM-9Like our other walks, we just strolled along, looking for interesting things.  The only rule is to not get far from the group.  Remember – there could be bears here, or even moose!  I am convinced this is a bear track in the snow – I was, however, the only one so convinced.

We did see evidence that a moose had been here in the recent past.  There was also similar evidence to substantiate my bear paw sighting, but I’ll spare you the photo of bear scat.



Lou gets down closer to check out a rock in the stream (?) – don’t ask me, he really likes rocks:



A few more photos from our afternoon ashore. For both skiff tours and shore walks, it wasn’t always about seeing specific things or wildlife, sometimes it was just about being there …

Before leaving the shore, we had a chance to pose in front of a large chunk of ice. This is the second photo on this trip showing us together – two more than we usually get!



As we made our way back to the ship, it looked like it was aground.  Just perspective, everything was fine:



Back to the ship in time for a shower and Happy Hour:



Before dinner, as usual, Randall told us about tomorrow’s destination and the activity options.  Randall is the Leader of the Expedition Guides.



Dinner tonight was one of my favorites; I picked the halibut, and Lou went with lamb chops (he said they were “fine.”).  The ships also have a small selection of wine for purchase if you’d like.  If you don’t finish the bottle, they will hold it for you until the next night.

A look outside after dinner – looks like it had sprinkled off and on:

Usually we would be headed to bed about now, since it was 8:30pm.  But, an announcement was made that we’d picked up a very special visitor this afternoon, and this stranger had a presentation for us. We gathered in the lounge, and awaited our Mystery Guest:



Miss Elizabeth was here to tell us about early travels to Glacier Bay:





June3PM-41Miss Elizabeth entertained us with stories about what it was like to be one of the first visitors to Glacier Bay National Park, as she recounted her voyage on a Steamship to Glacier Bay in 1883.  Everyone enjoyed the presentation.

We did notice a resemblance to Ranger Fay, but have to say Miss Elizabeth played the part perfectly.  We found out later this is a program Ranger Fay developed on her own, and she presents it to passengers on the small ships cruising Glacier Bay.  She even made her own period costume.

There is a summary version of her program on the Glacier Bay National Park Website – in the Ranger Minutes section.

This had been another full day – not as packed with wildlife as yesterday, but still a totally new experience for us. We didn’t get to visit Johns Hopkins Glacier, because the inlet was closed to protect the many harbor seals who go there to have their pups – just another reason to go back in the future.


The photo below was taken as we pulled away from Reid Glacier just before dinner:



6/3: Checking Out Glacier Bay


We woke up to another nice day – slightly overcast and cloudy, but the calm water and the stunning views made us appreciate why Glacier Bay is so special.

As I was stumbling out for early morning coffee, a nice gentlemen told me to look across to the shore – “Oh, it’s a bear!”


How’s that for a good start to the day?  We watched the bear for a while as it scoped out breakfast:

After our morning brown bear, and some coffee, it was time to take a closer look at the views from the ship:







Folks take off for one of the first morning activities; we were scheduled for a Skiff Tour in the morning, and a Shore Walk in the afternoon.


After breakfast – a buffet similar to those served on the Wilderness Discoverer – we suited up for our Skiff Tour.  We were fortunate – Ranger Fay was going with us, and Jen was our skipper (Jen was the ship’s Bosun, and made a point to learn people’s names and always greeted us with a smile).

Our Skiff Tour started at 9:30am;  the first thing you have to do is get hooked up into your PFD.  These are kept in a storage cabinet on deck, and each person grabs one before heading off in the small boats.



The prize for the most colorful boots:



We saw waterfalls, glacier views, and a few eagles once we were out on the water.  Having Ranger Fay with our group was a plus, because she could tell us more about Glacier Bay.



A look at the Grand Pacific Glacier – it is yellow since it has lots of dirt mixed in as the ice has moved forward.  This Glacier sits on the Canadian border:



The wake from our small boat made interesting patterns in the water as we skimmed along (note- several galleries follow, but the photos should be large enough so you can skip opening the gallery if you prefer – I know it can be annoying waiting for the galleries to load) :

Here are two of the eagles we saw from the skiff:

We had a closer look at Reid Glacier, near where we are anchored.  Reid Glacier is about 3⁄4 mile wide, 150 feet high, 10 to 30 feet deep at the waterline and over 10 miles long.  Both the eastern third and western third of the glacier is now grounded and basically terrestrial. Only the central area with its deep blue ice is affected by high tides when calving may occur. Water here is about 30 feet deep next to the ice face. (from the NPS Publication on glaciers in Glacier Bay)

More photos from our Skiff Tour:

Back on board before lunch, we had a chance to watch some of the folks out in the kayaks:

We also tried for the perfect kayaks-sitting-in-the-bay photo – still need more practice!

Lou decided to work on his photos before lunch – at least that’s what he said he was doing; seems he sneaked in a nap:



This gave me the perfect opportunity to verify something; “Yep, just what I thought, he is of the genus Grumpy Bear”  *smile* (he did not find the humor in this as he woke up and I was taking a picture of his foot):



June3-38It was lunchtime, and a good opportunity to review the menu for the day.  Today’s lunch of chili and corn bread was perfect after a somewhat chilly outing on the water.



This leads us into the afternoon, but we’ll save that for the next post.