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