The Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia is life changing for anyone who dares to visit this exceptional area. John Muir summarizes it best from his 1915 Travels in Alaska, ” To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
What an honor to work for National Geographic Expeditions in one of the most beautiful places on earth with some of the best naturalists in the world. One role as a Photographer on board Lindblad Expedition ships is “provide enriching and immersive experiences that inspire participants to care about the planet and solidify their support of the Geographic by enhancing our travelers’ appreciation of the destinations they visit and giving them an opportunity to get to know a representative of the Society.” What a dream occupation to be able to share exciting experiences with inspiring guests in unique places with the common language of photography.
This fall I spent three wonderful weeks aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion for two Inside Passage Photo Expeditions. The late season voyages provided abundant wildlife sightings and visits to glaciers that are usually inaccessible due to ice or wildlife protection. The highlight was a “colossal calving” of ice from the rapidly retreating South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm – Fords Terror Wilderness. A series of smaller calves from the face triggered an enormous “city block sized” blue iceberg to “shoot” several hundred feet above the face before imploding under the laws of gravity. The sound was indescribable as the ice crashed, growled and snapped around our small expedition craft.
Wildlife highlights were certainly the rarely seen Humpback Whales “bubble-net feeding” off of Chichagof Island. This behavior requires all the members of this cooperative feeding group to “fluke” in unison then blow a ring of bubbles around their small prey before the pod erupts out of the water with mouths agape. We watched this event for a few hours and sometimes as close as 50 feet from the ship. Throughout our adventure we also observed salmon-eating pods of “resident” Orcas playing with humpback whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins.
While our ship was transferring south to warmer waters, this offered the guests a biannual exploration of coastal British Columbia. Visiting Alert Bay just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island was the cultural apex of our trip that included the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation people invitation to their Gukwdzi or Big House for a presentation by the T’sasala Cultural Group. What an honor for our guests to experience a traditional dance in a real Big House around a cedar fire, concluding with smoked salmon and fry bread.
I would like to close with an appropriate Alaskan quote from Henry Gannet, National Geographic Society President and 1899 Alaska Harriman Expedition member; “There is one word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska for pleasure. If you are old, go by all means. But if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of the kind in the world and it is not well to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first.”
Special thanks to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.