While glaciers may be the focus of Glacier Bay National Park, wildlife is abundant and exciting to watch. Fortunately, most of the wildlife became visible after the glaciers were well in the rear view mirror so a decision on what to watch was not required. For some time whales were surfacing with some regularity with a spout over here or the back of a humpback off in the distance. A highlight was when you would see a tail reach out of the water. After a little while of whale watching we observed several spouts together indicating a number of whales close together which was abnormal with every other whale we had seen up to this point.
Zeroing in on this group with binoculars confirmed a group of whales until one of them came out of the water further. The distinctive white oval on the nose of this whale told of a pod of orcas coming our way. I had really hoped to see killer whales while exploring Alaska and couldn’t believe this was what I was looking at. In the picture above, several dorsal fins of these orcas are seen swimming together. Very exciting! Fortunately there were two more pods of orcas which could be seen from the cruise ship during the short time near Alaska. Unfortunately there where no real great pictures of these to show here. Especially since one of the killer whales came up out of the water creating a spectacular sight. It will have to live as a memory.
Another creature that became plentiful near the entrance to Glacier Bay were sea otters. They almost look as though they are just out for a casual swim enjoying the day. Maybe they were. Fun to watch as they troll along in the water not really paying attention to this huge cruise ship passing by. Probably have seen plenty of these ships throughout the summer as this was the last week in August.
Our most impressive memory from the wildlife in Glacier Bay National Park was seeing a humpback whale breach. I understand that this photo below is not all that spectacular but seeing in unfold with your own eyes is. Keep in mind that this photo was taken about 13 stories up using a wide view since you never know where something will happen. While cruising along in Glacier Bay we decided to set up a GoPro using the time-lapse function which allowed us to catch this event. Some of that time-lapse follows below.
Glacier Bay National Park is a phenomenal place to explore. That’s why it is so unfortunate getting there can be a bit of a challenge. There are only two ways to get there – by boat or by plane. The most common mode of transportation are cruise ships to experience this beautiful park. Overcoming the challenges to get there are worth it once you’re surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and abundant wildlife. Serenity and excitement overtake you as the rest of the world fades into the back of your mind. As you listen to the sounds of nature and view this amazing landscape a calmness sets in. It’s almost impossible to think about someplace or anything else in this untouched wilderness. The spirit of Glacier Bay burrows inside of you to bring a calmness difficult to find.
What’s the main reason for exploring this area – the glaciers of course. There are a number of glaciers most of which are currently receding. Fortunately there is one that is maintaining and that is Margerie Glacier. This sheet of ice moves on average six to seven feet each day providing those lucky enough to be there at the right time a show of falling ice that can’t be imagined. Even though this photo below shows the interesting and spectacular mix of colors, it is still not the same as being there. These colors change as the clouds shift moving the suns rays onto different pieces of ice. As those rays are moving, the ice begins cracking making thunderous noises that tell of the power of a moving glacier. It is at that point you realize how a massive sheet of ice moving can carve the landscape.
Watching this glacier finally allowed me to understand how glaciers work. All that snow during the year piling up onto itself, compacting, melting, compacting further until that snow becomes such a dense sheet of ice that the earth below starts to crush under it. Underneath all this ice, streams and rivers form from the melting ice and snow above creating a sort of waterslide which enables this huge sheet of ice to slowly move toward the water. As you watch the glacier from the water you can see places under it all where water is is running and have created tunnels in the ice itself. Amazing force of nature. And to think, all it takes to destroy this is constant moving water.
To give a perspective on the size of this glacier, this ship is 15 stories tall floating next to the Margerie Glacier. All this ice stand 250 feet tall so you can imagine how impressive it can be when a piece of ice falls off crashing into the ocean below creating large waves. Unfortunately we did not get to witness this in the short time allotted to experience this glacier. The views and sounds gave lasting memories without the calving ice.
Less than 100 feet away is the Grand Pacific Glacier. This is an entirely different story and it is receding. Difficult to imagine. So close to the Magerie Glacier yet does not receive enough snow each year to maintain itself. At first glance it appears like a piece of the mountain. Further inspection shows the melting ice underneath all that debris captured as it carved its way through the mountains. An amazing view it’s leaving!