Great Bear Rainforest September Report

Fraser Reach, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Sept. 5, 2012

Alison Watt with a spawned salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest

A very beary hello from the Great Bear Rainforest–running down Fraser Reach with the warm sun on our backs.

We spent the morning on one of the islands with our Gitga’at friend and guide, Marven, and were treated to a beautiful big spirit bear who emerged a little way downriver and then ambled past the viewing platform and upriver.

Not to be outdone by the glamorous blond, a Black Bear appeared an hour later, and gobbled down a pink salmon.

And we had thought it would be hard to beat the grizzlies we watched for several hours in another inlet a few days ago! The stars that day were a mom known as Panda, with her lovely blond cub, who sports the same dark eye patches which gave Panda her name.

The grizzly bear that some call Panda, when she was a cub herself.

It’s been family week here: lots of moms and cubs, as well as a mother Humpback and her calf who treated us to breaches and pectoral flapping (the calf was hitting the breaches but the pectoral flaps still need work!).

We’ve got a coupleof cubs aboard as well — among the guests, a family with two kids: Hannah, 13, and Liam, 11 (who are collecting some pretty good stories to bring home to their friends, who started school this week.)

They agree enthusiastically the Maple Leaf classroom rocks!

— from naturalist Alison Watt, aboard the SV Maple Leaf

Alaska Adventure Cruise Report

Frederick Sound, Ford’s Terror Wilderness, Admiralty Island, July 27, 2012

Looking down an Alaskan fjord from close to the glacier

Frederick Sound honoured its promise of charismatic marine mammals. Humpback whales provided lots of company and delight, as did sea lions.

Then the great fjords of Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area provided awe. At the end are calving glaciers, ice bergs and wildlife.

After a day exploring the icy world, the ship headed to Admiralty Island, to Kootznoowoo Wilderness Area – “fortress of the bears”. Thanks to our very special permit from the Alaska Forest Service, we were able to spend a day and a half in restricted-access areas where brown bears fish for salmon.

The ship is heading south to explore the rainforest and some more historic Alaskan towns, including Petersburg.

Interested in experiencing something like this yourself in Alaska? Learn about taking the Maple Leaf’s Alaska Supervoyage Cruise.

Baranof Island, July 23, 2012

Click for large size. Resident killer whales in Alaska (taken in another year).Capt. Kevin Smith telephoned from the ship today with an update 4 days into our second Alaska Supervoyage of the year.

Yesterday, guests and crew spent time with a superpod of about 40 resident killer whales, where Peril Strait meets Chatham Strait at the NE corner of Baranof Island. Party time!

Seriously, though, a super pod is kind of a party. It’s a giant social gathering of one or more family groups of killer whales. Just as you like to meet up at holidays or restaurants or clubs with family and/or friends, the whales form and maintain social bonds through getting together in super pods. Likely there is a lot more going on here, too, but we’re only beginning to understand the culture of whales.

Click for larger view. A southern Alaska resident killer whale calf practices the pectoral slap, as viewed from the Maple Leaf.

One of the more well understood key activities at these meet-ups is sexual activity. This is because killer whales swim most of the time in close family groups …and whales have rules about mating with family members, just as we do! So a superpod is the perfect time to check out new mates.

It’s a very exciting thing to witness. Capt. Kevin said there was lots of tail lobbing and socializing going on, and lots of vocalizing that the Maple Leaf picked up on the ship’s hydrophone for guests to hear.

Over the few days before the superod, the group had observed brown bears in an estuary meadow, done a great rainforest and beach hike, visited an amazing seabird colony where hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest, and explored the cultural history of Alaska through the town of Sitka (Shee Atika)’s many layers.

Click for larger view. Southern Alaskan resident killer whale calf does a nice tail lob, next to its mum.

Then it was on to soak in natural hot springs next to a roaring river, at a tiny hamlet on the east coast of Baranof Island. Last night, they dropped anchor at the end of a spectacular inlet that twists through towering granite mountains, with crashing waterfalls, and that terminates at a lush, green meadow frequented by more brown bears, whom the group observed this morning.

Now the Maple Leaf and her guests are cruising the humpback-whale haven of Frederick Sound, looking for whales and for some wind for sailing. On to days 5 through 13 …what will Alaska treat them with next?

Interested in experiencing something like this yourself in Alaska? Learn about taking the Maple Leaf’s Alaska Supervoyage Cruise.

(You can learn more about the southern Alaska resident killer whales here.)

NB: The photos here are from other years’ Alaska trips, as we don’t have photos available from this trip yet. – Maureen