Day 5 Seward- Otters, Puffins and Whales, oh my!

June 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Well, another early day today.  We had to get up and grab some quick breakfast before walking down to the small boat harbor to check in for our 'Captain's Choice' wildlife tour.  The tour was scheduled to leave at 8:30 and return between 5:30-6:00 depending upon where we went and what we saw.

 

The boat ride started off great with several sea otters playing right in the harbor area on our way out into Resurrection Bay and then towards the Gulf of Alaska.  The first pair were busy playing around and didn't provide great photo ops, but I still managed a few shots.

A little further towards the bay was came across a sleeping otter after spending the morning feeding.  These guys are MUCH more cooperative when they're sleeping!

Otters are the only marine mammal without any blubber.  They trap air in their super dense coat which keeps them warm, but it also means spending a lot of time maintaining their coats.  Even while sleeping this guy would roll around as to not keep any one part of it's body submerged for any length of time.  I happened to get lucky and get a couple of hilarious shots as it was turning, or as I'll claim later as it was clapping at us.  :)

After about 5 minutes watching this guy we left him to be and headed out towards the Bay.  Our captain told us to keep a lookout for puffins on the water, and eagles and mountain goats alongside the fjords.  Sure enough, it didn't take long at all to find 3 adult eagles and numerous mountain goats.  The goats were a ways up the mountains on the side of the fjords, but I managed a few pictures where you can actually tell they're goats instead of a white blob.

We continued out into the bay and Jenny spotted some Horned Puffins, but the pictures for those original ones were awful so I'll spare showing you all (plus there will be more later!). 

Our captain was awesome in calling out all of the seabirds that we encountered along the way, and we can into both Common and Marbled Murres almost as soon as we entered the bay.  Here's a pair of Common Murres.

And a Marbled Murre:

Our first stop after entering the bay was the Horned Puffin breeding grounds.  There were TONS of them flying around, hanging out on the rocks, etc, but the swells around the island was horrible and taking pictures, nevermind staying in the boat, was quite the challenge. 

I also spotted this Pelagic Cormorant hanging around near the Puffin nesting cliffs.  Cormorants are fish eaters, so no, it wasn't after the puffins or eggs even though that bill looks like it could be used for something other than fishing.  It was amazing that this guy was able to hang on the side of the cliff like that, it was essentially a 100% shear cliff!

Our next spot was supposed to be a glacier a few miles away, but the captain got the call on the radio that there were some whales in the opposite direction.  She immediately ditched the glacier idea in favor of the whales and we were off.  The seas at this point had really picked up, and Jenny and I ducked back inside to avoid the spray coming off the front of the boat.  Bad, bad idea.  Within about 10 minutes I was talking to the captain and turned around to see Jenny looking a nice pale-green color.  We'll just say that she helped us chum the whales to us.  :)

We finally got to the reported area and after some careful searching found a pod of....Orcas!

I know, you're probably like 'What the hell, a picture of a fin?  That's it?  I know he's holding back on us!"  Unfortunately, no, that's not the case.  I managed lots of fin pictures, but nothing of the actual whales.  I did see them arch out of the water, but wasn't able to get a picture of it due to the timing of the whales and the 5+ foot swells.  Jenny has already informed me that we will be coming back if she doesn't get to see more of them on the cruise...

After a while we left the whales alone and entered Tufted Puffin areas.  Look at this fantastic picture I managed to snap.

Like most of my pictures today, a perfectly in focus wave and a completely out of focus, or out of frame animal!  Such is trying to take pictures off of a rocking and pitching boat. 

 

We made course towards a different glacier (due to time constraints now) and ran across a small flock of Horned Puffins that were fairly cooperative.  The captain slowed the boat to a crawl to let us get some pics.

These guys are super funny.  As graceful as they are swimming through the water, they are a hot mess trying to get from water to air when spooked.  The phrase 'walking on water' holds true with these guys.  They actually use their wings to get them up on the top of the water before using them to take off in flight. 

We pulled up to the face of the glacier and cut the engine to see if we could hear the glacier 'calving'.  No, the glacier wasn't giving birth, but rather ice calving.  Ice calving is when chunks of ice fall off the glacier and crash into the water below--the sound of which you wouldn't believe.  The calvinb process produces some rather large 'icebergs' in the water directly around the glacier---nevermind that it was FREEZING by the glacier.  Here's a picture of calving in process. 

By this point Jenny wasn't breathing in a barf bag anymore and managed to make it on deck.  She got some videos that are uploading as I type this of the calving process that I'll upload tomorrow morning.

I couldn't resist the urge to snap some photos of some of the harbor seals that were hauled up on the chunks of ice that had been calved.  These guys come in by the glacier to hang out of the youngster, and those guys sure were curious today!

After spending 30 minutes with the glacier and seals we headed off in search of whales and Stellar Sea Lions.  We ended up spotting the whales first...

We ended up seeing 5 different Humpback whales including a mother and her calf a little later on in the day.  On the way between whales the captain spotted this funky guy in the water.  This is a Rhinoceros Auklet, a close relative of the Puffin. 

We finally made our way over to the sea lion haul up and were greeted with 50+ Stellar Sea Lions hanging out on the rocks.  The seas had calmed down considerably from earlier and they provided some good looks.  Jenny also got a video of these guys that I'll upload tomorrow too.

We also managed to find some more cooperative Tufted Puffins on our way back in and I got off a couple shots before we got too close and they flew off.

We some some other stuff on the way in, but nothing else new.  All in all a very productive day with lots of alcids, otters, sea lions, seals, whales and orcas.  Can't complain about any of that!

 

Up next for tomorrow...a hike to the face of Exit Glacier for some more photo ops, and maybe even sleeping in!  After being up past midnight all week and getting up before 6am everyday, I could surely use some extra sleep time!


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