Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alaskan Mammals!

August and September, 2011
Alaska is of course famous for its scenic landscapes, its towering glaciers, the rain forest itself. But without a doubt it is the abundance and diversity of mammals here in Alaska that make photography so interesting. Here a female sea otter has gathered about a dozen sea urchins off the sea floor that she will now casually consume for lunch while using her stomach as the table!

This female sea otter is tending to her newborn pup, converting the dining room table to a comfortable cradle in the process!

A lone black wolf surveys Russel Cut in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

This adult harbor seal has taken a moment away from its nap to inspect our Zodiac and the photographers in it.

Here in Tracy Arm the South Sawyer Glacier calves huge icebergs and bergy-bits for harbor seals to haul out onto to rest and gather for protection against marauding killer whales.

The fastest cetacean on the planet; a Dall's porpoise bow rides just under the surface. Capable of speeds approaching 40 miles per hour we are not even holding this animal's interest!

Pacific white-sided dolphins are often encountered along the coast of British Columbia as we cruise the inside passage bringing the National Geographic Sea Bird home to Seattle.

Black bears are common on the mainland of Southeast Alaska, although they are absent from most of the major Islands in the panhandle. This black bear is looking for sockeye salmon near Mendenhall Glacier just outside of Juneau.

Here a coastal brown bear has nabbed a big male pink salmon for lunch at a little creek on Chichagof Island. In this part of Alaska brown bears populations are very dense, with an average of one bear for almost every square mile of island!

This young brown bear is searching for salmon at the site of an old cannery at Pavlof Harbor. I have seen as many as 9 bears feeding on salmon in this area all at one time!

A close-up of a curious Steller sea lion looking for handouts at the fish cleaning station in Petersburg. These huge males literally run the show here in the harbor, as a few fisherman have painfully realized over the years!
This is a huge Steller (northern) sea lion haul out in the South Marble Islands of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Stellers's are doing well in this part of Alaska, although the populations in western Alaska are mysteriously dropping in numbers rapidly due to unknown causes.

This bull sea lion has stolen away with the carcass of a rockfish from the cleaning table! While it seems like more than a mouthful it really was just a good-sized snack!

Both resident and transient killer whales patrol these waters as well. Although they are the largest members of the dolphin family, Orca can sometimes be seen to attack and eat a wide variety of prey ranging from salmon to large whales and even deer and moose have been verified as occasional meals.

This bull Orca is playing in the bull kelp of Chatham Strait. Perhaps this is part of a killer whale game, or learning a hunting strategy, or just a good old kelp rub because it feels good on the skin!

Fall colors begin to show as summer slips away into September in Glacier Bay.

Humpbacks come from Hawaii and Mexico to gorge themselves in these rich and abundant feeding grounds. Perhaps as many as 1,500 humpbacks visit Southeast Alaska during the summer. Some choose to overwinter here and continue to feed rather than make the long trip to the tropical mating and calving grounds further south.

This group of humpback whales has chosen to cooperatively feed utilizing a most ingenious strategy; they set a bubble-net around schooling herring, then use the bubbles to concentrate their prey into a tightly packed school for easy consumption. Researchers tell us that there are only about 50 humpback whales that have learned this trick, shown here in front of the small fishing town of Tenakee Springs.

Sunset in snow pass as a humpback whale dives in search of more herring. The days are long, but the summer season is short and humpbacks must take advantage of every feeding opportunity they can!

So you can see that the diversity of mammals here is rich, the variety huge. I will be returning in August and September of 2012 to once again lead photography expeditions to this amazing temperate rain forest. For more information please call 1-800-Expeditions or visit us on line at www.expeditions.com

I look forward to seeing you in 2012!

- Michael

Alaska on my Mind

August and September, 2011
At 17 million square acres the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the entire United States. It encompasses most of the Alaskan panhandle and can receive over 200 inches of rain in some places each and every year. Without the rain there would be no RAINBOWS, one of my favorite things in Alaska!

Do you remember Roy G Biv? Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet! This is the order of visible light in a rainbow, and of course the color scheme is mirrored in a double rainbow.

The light here is ethereal and ever-changing. Locals proclaim that if you don't like the weather just wait for 5 minutes! As a photographer I appreciate the constantly changing light and the challenges (and opportunities) that come with it!

With vast open vistas like here at Margerie Glacier against the Fairweather Range in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

The stern of the National Geographic Sea Bird reflected in calm water in Petersburg.

A view of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve from the bow of the National Geographic Sea Bird.

Beautiful blue icebergs in Tracy Arm Wilderness Area.

Glacially carved deep water fjords and quiet calm waters make the area a spectacular boating destination. I will once again be returning to Southeast Alaska in August and September, 2012. Perhaps I will see you there?

Franz Josef Land Wildlife!

August, 2011
Were the polar bears bigger than in other parts of the high arctic? I can only say they were much more curious! Huge bears often came right to the ship to inspect our approach...

After determining that we weren't going to make a good meal, the bears became totally at ease with our presence and we got the pleasure of watching some very fun bear behaviour!

I had to often wonder just who is more interested in whom here on the ice. We are perhaps some of the only humans this bear has encountered in its high Arctic home.

What better way to cool off and clean your fur than a nice roll in fresh snow! Of course a little back scratching can reach that hard-to-get itch as well!

There are only 5 countries in the world (Russia, Denmark (Iceland), Norway, Canada, and the United States) that are home to polar bears. All 5 strictly protect and preserve polar bears, but their numbers are dropping in some populations as the Earth's climate is changing. Let's hope that polar bears and other Arctic wildlife will be around for decades to come. The choice really is ours to make!

The bird life here in Franz Josef Land is not so diverse, but very abundant. Here two black-legged kittiwakes are in aerial combat against each other near Alexander Island.

Our Russian ornithologist Maria went absolutely crazy over our newly discovered ivory gull breeding colony on Alexander Island.

Near the ivory gull breeding site we also found black guillemots working to secure nesting sites in the cliffs of Alexander Island.

At Rubini Rock on Hooker Island Adult dovekies make their nests amongst the scree slopes.

Curious walrus inspecting the Zodiac near Apollo Island. Adult males and females protect young calves amongst the ice floes.

Their curiosity at the sight of our Zodiacs led to a game of "I dare you to get closer", much to the delight of all the photographers on board.

The National Geographic Explorer reached an all-time furthest north of 81 degrees 48 minutes, just slightly less than 500 nautical miles from the North Pole! What a privilege to come here to the high Russian Arctic to see and photograph such wild and wonderful animals. Thanks Sven, for the trip of a lifetime!

Franz Josef Land!!

August, 2011
Franz Josef Land! Today (August 3, 2011) the National Geographic Explorer makes a little history as we are the first foreign-flagged non-scientific vessel to land here since 1928!
Our first stop is Cape Flora on Northbrook Island, the main base for many polar expeditions in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A chance encounter occurred right here at Cape Flora between Fridtjof Nansen and Frederick Jackson in 1896.

Modern day exploration team (L to R) consisting of Michael Nolan, Maria Gavrilo, Doctor Jack Putnam, Sergey Frolov, and Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Lindblad Expeditions conducting Zodiac operations amongst the ice off Champ Island.

The famous remains of the camp where Fridtjof Nansen over-wintered with Hjalmar Johansen in 1895-96 at Cape Norway on Jackson Island after failing to reach the North Pole.

The National Geographic Explorer anchored off Cape Norway on Jackson Island.

Photographing a crazy spherical rock formed in a geological process called cementation on Champ Island.

The National Geographic Explorer lies at anchor at Champ Island.

Zodiac tours at Rubini Rock, Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island.

Sunset on the bow as we leave Franz Josef Land...nice shot Marco!