Our wakeup call came very early this morning when our expedition leader woke us at 5:50 a.m., bringing many of us to the bow of the ship to observe humpback whales. There was not a breath of wind, the skies were crystal clear and blue, and the seas were as smooth as glass. A few early risers were already on the bow, and many more joined to watch as our floating home, National Geographic Sea Lion, paused to watch four humpbacks doing what humpbacks do in Southeast Alaska. They are here to feed, day in and day out, taking slow and steady breaths while searching for their next meal. They will spend early to late summer fattening up for the return journey to their birthing and breeding grounds, which are a long distance from Southeast Alaska. Their blows hung in the still air. Behind the humpback whales, the islands were backlit by the rising sun. All around us was the beauty of the northern Northwest Coast, a foreground of ocean waters with mountain ranges as far as the eye can see!
Once breakfast was completed, we were ferried ashore on the east side of Chichagof Island for several different hikes on a trail that led to Lake Eva. Long, fast hikers left first, heading for Lake Eva, approximately two miles away. A nature hike left next, taking a little more time to explore and learn about the coastal temperate rainforest. From Southeast Alaska to Northern California, a long stretch of dense forests is found along the western side of the coastal range. The plants and trees change slightly from north to south, but this coastal temperate forest is characterized by large coniferous trees and a very rich and diverse understory of plants. Walking along the edge of the lagoon, hikers made their way to the entrance of the river that exits Lake Eva. Stops were made along the way to look at the early spring plants just making their presence known as the sun warms the northern part of our planet. The very first shooting stars, yellow meadow violets, and various other budded flowers showed their faces to the warming sun of the Alaskan late spring.
All too soon, we made our way back to the main beach and were ferried to the ship for our midday meal. Once lunch was finished, Eric Guth gave a presentation on Expedition Photography.
The day warmed up, and National Geographic Sea Lion continued her northerly route in Chatham Strait. An enormous gathering of bald eagles was spotted over a huge baitball of fish in the sea, and a brown bear lounged on a nearby beach. A humpback whale surfaced right under the huge group of fishing bald eagles! Then a call was made, “Black and whites! Black and whites!” We were in the company of killer whales. Our captain maneuvered our vessel for wonderful views, and the remainder of our afternoon was spent watching for more marine mammals and a short break for another presentation, “Rocks to Rainforests,” a story about the evolution of plant communities after glaciation.
It was an amazing first day. As the light began to fade after recap, dinner, and an evening presentation, we could only wonder at what would be offered next. An extraordinary place, Southeast Alaska is just beginning to show us her gifts. Tomorrow’s destination will reveal new surprises.