Why do we, as naturalists, return to Southeast Alaska year after year? Well, take day one aboard National Geographic Quest as an example. Our morning began transiting the narrow and scenic Peril Strait before our first landing and kayak operation at Sitkoh Bay, featuring numerous brown bears. These bears were foraging in a broad meadow, eating mussels and grasses, and otherwise paying us no attention while going about their daily routine. At the meadow’s edge, banana slugs were lurking on the forest floor while massive Sitka spruce trees towered overhead.

The evening took us northbound towards tomorrow’s activities in Glacier Bay. But before the sun set, southeast Alaska had one more surprise. While the light began to dip, we found two humpback whales foraging extremely close to shore. Clearly, they were corralling fish against the steep cliff walls, their large mouths and baleen plates dripping with seawater, giving away their actions. For an hour, we watched this pair zigzag back-and-forth within mere feet of the rocky coastline, our young humpback even managing a few breaches.

Not a bad start to Southeast Alaska. Yet again.