Prince William Sound is a large inlet in the Gulf of Alaska along the southern coast of Alaska. We fortunate to see two humpback whales while on our day cruise in Prince William Sound. An astute passenger first spotted the whales in the distance, and our boat “chased” the whales from one spot to another for about 15 minutes until we finally got a closeup view of the two majestic creatures. When a whale breaches the water with its tail, as shown in the photo above, it typically means the whale is diving deep down and may not surface again for a while, so I was lucky to get this shot before the whales disappeared.
Humpback whales are mammals that breathe air and therefore must regularly rise to the surface to catch their next breath. A whale breathes through a blowhole in the top of its head, similar to how humans breathe through nostrils. When a whale breaches the water surface, it exhales a combination of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, mucus and water vapor. Ejecting from the warm insides of the whale to the relatively cooler and lower-pressure atmosphere outside, the water vapor condenses into a white “blow” that’s visible from a distance.
We selected the 26 Glaciers day-cruise by Phillips Cruises. We rode aboard the Klondike Express, the largest and fastest catamaran in Alaska. The stable catamaran on the protected waters of Prince William Sound ensure a smooth ride that’s guaranteed against sea sickness. The two indoor decks have large picture windows that offer terrific views.
The weather in Alaska the past few weeks had been mostly cloudy, cold and rainy. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a fogged-in cruise, so we avoided making advance reservations and waited for a nice day. The weather forecast looked great, so we drove through the tunnel to Whittier and bought same-day tickets. There’s still some risk because the weather can be completely different on the other side of the mountain in Whittier (after paying a $12 toll) and change in an instant, but we were rewarded with clear blue skies. We spoke to a woman who arrived on a bus, and she said the bus driver told her that the weather in Prince William Sound was nice and sunny for only 3 days in the past 3 weeks, so we felt quite blessed to enjoy this perfect day. This photo shows a fishing boat passing in front of Tebenkof Glacier.
Dozens of sea lions were resting on small rocky islands in the Egg Rock Sea Lion Rookery. Sea lions have large front flippers and can walk on all fours. Male sea lions are typically at least twice the size of females and can reach up to 700 pounds and 8 feet long.
This was our second cruise in Prince William Sound (we last visited in 2006), and this cruise was much better than our first because the Klondike Express catamaran was very smooth and fast on the water, reaching speeds in excess of 40 knots. This allowed us to travel 135 miles on the 4-hour cruise and see many more glaciers and wildlife than we could on a slower ship.
This cruise is one of only a few that travel through the relatively narrow but beautiful Esther Passage.
We passed a large group of sea otters floating on their backs in the Sound. Sea otters are much smaller than sea lions, growing to about 100 pounds max and 5 feet long. Sea otters are very buoyant because of their large lung capacity and air trapped in their fur. They rest on their backs and often hold their front paws together as if they are praying to conserve heat in the icy water. Their metabolism is 2-3 times greater than comparable sized land mammals, and sea otters must consume at least one quarter of their weight in food each day to counteract their loss of body heat.
The Harvard Glacier is a large tidewater glacier (a glacier that terminates in the sea) with a 1.5-mile-wide face that calves into the College Fjord. This aptly-named fjord contains at least 10 glaciers named after renowned East Coast colleges, including Yale, Dartmouth, Vassar and Wellesley.
Even though it was a 70-degree day, we were glad we brought our winter coats. Theresa spent a lot of time on the top deck where she had to brave the cold headwind while the ship was travelling at top speed.
One of the (many) highlights on the cruise was Surprise Glacier, so named because it surprised early explorers with its frequent calving into Harriman Fjord. And it did not disappoint, as the Surprise Glacier calved continuously almost the entire time we were parked in front of it.
Glaciers can be deceptively large because you can see them for miles, and it’s not until you’re standing or floating right next to them do you realize how massive they are. Case in point, click on the photo above to see how tiny the cruise ship on the right appears next to Surprise Glacier.
Sea lions rested on the floating ice that calved from Surprise Glacier into Harriman Fjord.
To the east of Surprise Glacier rose a beautiful mountain with waterfalls streaming down its slopes and covered by the Baker alpine glacier.
Next we headed toward the Barry and Coxe glaciers.
Here we are standing in front of Coxe Glacier. The weather was perfect, the sights were spectacular, and this was one of the best days of our entire trip.
The Kittiwake Bird Rookery is located just across the bay from Whittier. Kittiwakes are coastal breeding birds in the gull family. Over 10,000 Kittiwakes nest on these cliffs each summer to lay eggs, raise their young, and bulk up for their long trip south for the winter. Each white dot in the photo is a bird. As you might imagine, this is a very noisy place.