Saturday, August 6, 2011

Salmon and Humpbacks and Orcas - Oh, my!

I came to Alaska with a fascination for bears, and I left with a fascination for spawning salmon and breaching whales. Our time in Seward was spent looking for all of the above, and the salmon and the whales were found in abundance.

Clay had read that there was a good chance we might see some bears in the wild near a certain salmon spawning site so, ever aiming to please, he made sure we stopped there on the way to Portage Glacier.  We took a very short walk to the edge of a river and there they were -- not the hoped-for bears, but the brightest and liveliest salmon I could imagine.  It looked like they were having the time of their lives doing synchronized swimming but, in fact, they were coming to their end.  If salmon are not caught by man or beast, they experience a spell of fasting in preparation for laying their eggs, and then they die!  This being salmon spawning season,  maybe they looked so happy because they had escaped the fisherman's hook and the bear's jaws but instead were facing a more natural death.  No bears near these shores, but oodles of large, sparkling pink fish!

The following day we had the adventure of a lifetime, kayaking Aialik Bay heading toward the vast Aialik Glacier.  Yes, it was cold and, yes, it was wet, but the experience was incomparable.

Not only were the sights breathtaking, but the sound of the glacier repeatedly calving was akin to the scariest thunder clapping over and over again.  We watched the ice come crashing down, feeling the rumbling very close to the glacier when in reality we were probably a half-mile away.  This, of course, was impossible to photograph since the timing was completely unpredictable, but I will not need a photo to remember the sensation of being in a kayak, hearing a loud crack, Clay yelling "Look straight ahead!" and seeing a wall off ice come crashing down into the bay.

In order to get back and forth to our kayaking trip, we took a rather long water taxi to our launch site on Aialik Bay.  The bumpy ride was quite entertaining, though, as we saw Humpback whales on the way out and Orcas on the way back.  We actually were able to video one of the humpbacks breaching (watch the left hand side of your screen at the very start),


and our captain told us that this pod of Orcas was the most playful he could remember. There were six or eight of them swimming around our boat, prompting me to quote the infamous and lovable Sheriff Brady (aka Roy Scheider): "We are gonna need a bigger boat!" Again, the photos cannot do justice to the experience, but Clay captured a bit of footage that includes the utterances of the whales as caught by the captain's hydra phone.


We never could have done this without the leadership and guidance of the folks at Kayak Adventures Worldwide.  Under the leadership of Wendy and Dave Doughty, and the expertise of our guide, John, we were safely shepherded around an environment that we knew nothing about.  We could not have been in better hands and it was a trip we will never ever forget.  Wendy and Dave also run the lodge that we stayed at, Bear Paw Lodge, where we had all the comforts of home despite the rather unfamiliar setting.

Finally, I report that we saw those much desired bears in the wild on three occasions, and each one was a thrill.  The final one was near Bear Paw Lodge, just running along a stream, and I got a kick out of seeing this 400 pound creature run 5 times faster than I ever could.  Happy memories, all, and here is just one that I will never forget (and thank goodness for zoom lenses!).

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