Viewing Alaska’s Marine Wildlife off the Coast of Seward

“There are orcas breaching at our location,” came the call over the radio. I was sitting next to Dan Olson, our captain on the Misty during our Kenai Fjords boat cruise. The morning had started with a drizzle and the weather deteriorated as the day progressed. We were crossing 3 foot swells just beyond Resurrection Bay. I was glad I was wearing my acupressure bands and had taken 12-hour bonine as an added precaution. Dan circled back and headed near their other cruise boat’s location so we could see the whales.

I left my spot in the bridge, pulled on my rain hood and headed out on the deck to get a better view. During the next half hour we watched Orcas, or Killer Whales, that are really large dolphins and Humpbacks. When the black and white Orcas would hump high, we knew its next move would be to dive. As it lifted its tail flipper and slapped it against the water, we yelled, “Fluke.” The Humpback would hump, and then disappear when it dove. When it humped, we watched for the water spray from its spout. It was quite a show.

While it rained steadily, the seas were calmer in the morning. As we left the harbor, two Bald Eagles were perched on a tall buoy as if they were guarding the harbor entrance.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

Before long, we began to see nesting sea birds. I was able to stand under an awning to observe Horned Puffins and Black-legged Kittiwakes flying in and out of their cliff-side nests

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and both Marbled and Kittlitz Murrelets swimming in small groups as the boat slowly cruised next to the islands. In order to get a good look at the Tufted Puffins and Red-faced Cormorants, we had to stand on the bow. I covered my binoculars with my hand to protect the lenses from getting wet, focused with my eyes, and then raised the binoculars to look. The objective end of the lenses kept fogging up and I had to wipe them off carefully. The puffins looked like windup toys when they flew, whereas the cormorants would fly straight out from the cliffs, their bodies straight, as if they had been shot from a bow.

“You can tell which puffin is flying by looking at their underside,” Mark pointed out. “The Horned Puffin has a white underside, while the Tufted Puffin’s underside is black.”

I was glad I had spent time visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center, a working research, rehabilitation and educational facility. In addition to perusing exhibits on marine ecosystems, I spent considerable time in the naturalistic exhibit where sea birds where swimming, mating, sitting on nests, and flying between rock perches. An eider seemed to enjoy sailing from his perch towards the visitors, only veering at the last moment, splashing us as he landed in the pool. We were able to stand close enough that we could have reached out and touched the birds. It was a wonderful opportunity to see each of their features clearly.

As the boat sidled up to one island, Harbor Seals were piled on top of each other as they rested on the rocks. When I looked closely, I could see seal pups nursing. Further on, we came up alongside Chiswell Island, containing a Steller Sea Lion rookery.

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We had watched these 1,200 plus pound sea animals on the live streaming video in the Alaska SeaLife Center the previous afternoon. It was a thrill to see them up close. The video cameras, easily visible on the rocks, aid the SeaLife Center’s marine biologist researchers who are studying the endangered sea lions.

As we headed back to the Seward harbor area, a Sea Otter was floating contentedly. Andrea, the Misty’s co-captain and a marine biologist, explained that the thickness of the Sea Otter’s fur enables it to float, keeps it warm in the cold water and prevents its skin from getting wet.

Sea Otter

Sea Otter

While our trip was not treacherous, we empathized with the Russian governor, Baranov who traveled through bad weather to Alaska in 1792. When he entered the bay, the waters were calm and he knew he would be safe. Since it was Easter, he named the body of water Resurrection Bay. He felt its calm waters saved its life. We were out of the storm and the rain had slowed to a drizzle as we headed to the dock.

Sharing the sea with whales and sea birds was a thrilling experience.

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