08 September 2011

Kenai Fjords National Park (Day 4)

On our second day in Seward, we went out on a boat trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park. Most of the park is accessible only via boat or float plane, and some of the best viewing in the park is a long ways from Seward. Unfortunately, a float plane was completely out of our budget, but we did go on the longest boat tour we could find. We took the Kenai Fjords Tours Northwestern Glacier tour, which is a 9 hour long boat ride with some scenic wildlife viewing and other cool stops along the way.

The highlight of the tour is, of course, Northwestern Glacier. This is a particularly active glacier (our boat captain said it moved several meters a day), and it was continuously calving while we were there. We hung around for about a half hour, watching the glacier slowly break itself to pieces. The water near the glacier was full of cool icebergs which had fallen off the main glacier itself. Most of them were quite small, but there were a few larger chunks of ice that supported seagulls and harbor seals. This was definitely worth the long ride out to the glacier. We saw a lot of glaciers (both on this trip and others), but none were as active as Northwest Glacier. Our ship captain had said that this particular glacier had retreated almost thirty miles over the last century, mostly due to being exposed to sea water.

The other cool part of the trip was all the wildlife we saw. We were extremely lucky on our wildlife tours in Alaska. Normally, the Alaskan ocean is a bit quiet in August, but we managed to see several humpback whales, sea otters, and tons of birds -- cormorants, puffins, and more -- on the trip. In terms of wildlife, the highlight was definitely a baby humpback that we saw breaching. We'd seen a humpback breach in Hawaii several years ago, but I actually managed to get a picture of this one. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event. Other cool wildlife that we saw included a mountain goat, stellar sea lions and bald eagles.

The Kenai Peninsula coastline was an absolutely fantastic backdrop for the boat tour. The day of our trip was a rainy day (August is typically fairly rainy in Alaska), but the rain clouds only seemed to make the backdrops more dramatic. Eventually, the rain let up and the sun shone for a while. This happened when we were going through the particularly beautiful Alaskan Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, which includes quite a few islands just outside the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Lots more pictures (particularly of the glaciers) are in my Picasa.

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