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Monday, June 27, 2016

Kenai Fjords Boat Tour

Hi Blog!

On Wednesday, June 22, 2016, Dave, Kathy, Tom and Eileen set out on a three hour tour. The weather was anything but rough and thanks to the eagle eyes of our fearless crew, no minnow was lost.

In addition to visiting Denali, the Kenai Fjords National Park was high on our bucket list. The park contains the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States. The park is named for the numerous fjords carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the ice field. The field is the source of at least 38 glaciers, the largest of which is Bear Glacier. The fjords are glacial valleys that have been submerged below sea level by a combination of rising sea levels and land subsidence.
The park is primarily accessible by boat.

Kenai Fjords Tour offers numerous options from 9 hour excursions to 3 hour dinner cruises. Since seeing a whale was high on Eileen and Tom's bucket list, we choose the 4-1/2 hour Resurrection Bay Wildlife Cruise. There were several tours leaving a the same time, so we had to make sure we didn't miss the boat.

Since we would be on the boat for four hours, we found a nice comfy seat inside and watched as we slipped out of the Seward Boat Harbor.

Once we cleared the harbor, we could see all the RVs lined up at the Resurrection Campground in Waterfront Park. While there are no services at the campground, the views are amazing.

Within in the first five minutes the captain announced our first wildlife sighting. This family of sea otter was busy eating their lunch as we motored by.

After spotting a couple whales, we turned our attention to Bear Glacier. Bear Glacier marks the beginning of the Kenai Fjords National Park from the East. It is a Piedmont glacier which occurs when steep valley glaciers spill into relatively flat plains, where they spread out into bulb-like lobes.
Bear Glacier is the longest glacier in the park, measuring 13 miles long. We were unable to approach the Bear Glacier because it is not a tidewater, calving glacier.  Several hundred years ago this glacier laid down a large enough terminal moraine that it cut off its own travel to the tide water's edge.  It now melts into a freshwater lake trapped behind the glacier's old moraine.

We stopped at Fox Island and had lunch at the day lodge. A National Park Ranger joined the group and discussed the history of Fox Island including one of its most famous residents, author Rockwell Kent.

Mr. Kent lived on Fox Island from August 1918 to March 1919. Kent’s primary residence on Fox Island was a small cabin that was part of a fox farm and goat ranch run by Lars Matt Olson.
A true tale of wilderness adventure, Wilderness: A Quiet Journey of Adventure in Alaska describes the day to day experiences of Kent and his 9-year old son living in the remote solitude of Fox Island.

After lunch, we took a stroll on Fox Island's skipping stone beach and tried our hand at skipping the flat stones across the water. Try as we might, we only managed two skips. As we were reaching down for more rocks, Dave discovered this four-legged sea star. We recognized it right away having just learned about them at the Alaska Sealife Center. Unfortunately, when the tide went out, this little guy got left behind.

Fox Island is about 12 miles south from Seward. The island is located in a 24 mile-long estuary extending from the mouth of the Resurrection River to Harding Gateway and Blying Sound. Here we got our first look at the Pacific Ocean.

Humpbacked whales travel all the way from Hawaii to feed in the cold waters of Resurrection Bay. Tiny bait fish form balls that float just under the surface of the water. The shore birds spot them and begin diving. We watched as the birds congregated because a whale may soon follow. Whales can hear the excited chatter of the birds and it leads them to the bait balls.

The two sisters, with cameras in hand, wait patiently to snag their whaley quarry!

Captain! There be whales here! The whale approached the bait ball, scooped up the fish and returned to the water. We could easily see the hump rising and falling.

Fun whale fact - humpbacked whales need to stay partially awake to sleep. Breathing is not automatic. One part of their brain stays awake to remind them to breath. We followed a sleeping whale for a while, but it only broke the surface enough to exhale and inhale. We saw a number of whales feeding. Once they are satisfied, they turn tail and dive. If you see a fluke, chances are you won't see that whale for a while as they can stay under for 15 to 45 minutes.

The rocky shoreline makes a great resting spot for these Stellar Sea Lions. These sea lions are the largest members of the Otariid, or “eared seal,” family. The eared seals differ from the phocids, or “earless” seals, by having visible external ear flaps and long hind flippers that can be turned under, making travel on land easy.

Female sea lions average seven feet in length and about 600 pounds. Male sea lions, slightly longer at nine feet, weigh more than twice as much as females at an average of 1,500 pounds with “beach masters” reaching up to 2,400 pounds. This big guy was definitely king of his "beach."

Before long it was time to head back into port. We had perfect weather for our tour, saw lots of sea life and learned some cool things. Nothing left to do but sit back and relax.  As we passed behind Fox Island, we got a glimpse of this "ghost forest,"  a forest of dead trees that died in the '64 Quake when this area was shaken and its elevation changed.  These trees' roots were exposed to saltwater as a result of the quake.  The saltwater killed them, while also preserving their dead trunks and branches.

Here is a link to our Flickr album with all our photos from the tour.

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