Alaska RVing: Glaciers and marine wildlife in Kenai Fjords

On Wednesday night (August 5th), we settled in at Seward for our first multi-night stay of the trip. We had 2 major activities planned for Seward – a marine wildlife tour and a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center, and then whatever else might come up.

On Thursday morning, Cathy and I were at Major Marine just after 9:00 to get tickets for their 10:00 cruise, 7.5 hours through Kenai Fjords National Park. We hadn’t made reservations. The cost is normally $169 each, but any of a long list of things (AAA, veteran, etc), gets you 10% off, so $332.50 for the 2 of us. MJ and Jim had decided not join us, but to just chill out at the campground, so they woud take care of the dogs.

After editing, I have 401 photos from the cruise, and because of the incredible variety of scenery, glaciers and wildlife we saw, I only managed to get the number down to 33 for this post 🙂

We only had a few minutes to wait before boarding, but I could spend hours taking photos around Seward’s large marina.

Seward marina
We would be on the MV Orca Song, a 70-foot monohull boat that carries 60 passengers. Our main criteria for picking Major Marine was their smaller boats (as well as great experiences on previous cruises with them).

MV Orca Song, tour boat at Seward, Alaska
I had hoped to hike Mount Marathon during this trip, but it looked like there wouldn’t be time. Every July 4th, there’s a race from downtown to the 931-meter (3,022-foot) summit and back – the winning time this year was 41 minutes, 48 seconds! Excluding the road approach, the vertical gain is about 2,675 feet in 0.9 miles, with the slope averaging about 34 degrees (see the race course).

Mount Marathon - Seward, Alaska
Looking across Resurrection Bay to the boat yards, behind which is the Spring Creek Correctional Center, with the Godwin Glacier above.

Seward, Alaska
It didn’t take long to find the first wildlife of the day, a male Northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) who wasn’t too worried about our presence.

Northern sea otter near Seward, Alaska
Once you pass Caines Head, the topography changes quickly, with dramatic cliffs along the shore becoming much more common.

Seward, Alaska
Bear Glacier is the first one seen in Kenai Fjords National Park proper. The Harding Icefield is the park’s most overpowering feature – nearly 40 glaciers flow from it. Bear Glacier used to be a tidewater glacier (flowing into the sea), but now flows into a lake created by its terminal moraine (the gravel pushed up by its furthest advance).

Bear Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The sea spires in Spire Cove are stunning, but I was a tiny bit disappointed – the rather nasty weather during my 2012 cruise made the cove even more impressive.

Spire Cove, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Seeing orca was Cathy’s main priority for the cruise, and we soon saw some. Please come closer!!

Orca in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Yes, just like that 🙂 Seeing a mother and calf orca was what I wanted most, and here they come.

Orca with her calf in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The dorsal fin on the male orca must have been close to 6 feet high. Very impressive!

Male orca in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
As happened 3 years ago, the whales came right up to us. The time stamps on the 86 photos I shot show that they were only with us for 12 minutes, but it felt like longer. Everything else that happened during the day would just be a bonus – my day was now a “10” 🙂

Orca in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The Aialik Glacier was the first tidewater glacier we visited.

Aialik  Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
There were a couple of good-sized calvings while we sat in front of the glacier. Nobody wants to see glaciers retreat but everybody wants to see them calve! These are really small compared to what we’ve seen from big cruise ships at Hubbard Glacier, but the sound and sight is still impressive.

Calving at Aialik  Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Having another boat there gives you a better idea of the size (and they’re still a long way from the face of the glacier). I’ve been unable to find out how large it is – perhaps 3/4 of a mile across and 400 feet high, but that’s just a guess.

Aialik  Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
It’s margarita time! They mix up the best $4 margaritas in Alaska, mixed with glacier ice 🙂

Margarita time in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Holgate Glacier was the next tidewater glacier to visit. It’s a bit smaller than the Aialik Glacier…

Holgate Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
…but has this cool river flowing from the face.

Holgate Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
This 1-minute video I shot will probably give you a better idea of the power of the river than the still photo does.

On the cliffs beside the glacier, I was rather surprised to see a mountain goat and her baby.

Mountain goat and baby in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Look up – look waaaay up! There are glaciers of various sizes pretty much everywhere you look, even almost straight up.

A hanging glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
This is the only humpback whale we saw, and we didn’t attempt to get close.

Humpback whale in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Several Dall’s porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli) were surfing our bow wake for a couple of minutes. They look rather like mini orcas, and are very fast.

Dall's porpoises in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
On our slow, wandering route back to Seward, neither the scenery nor the wildlife lessened. What I would really like to do is get out here with a kayak for a week…

Spectacular scenery in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
This was wildlife encounter that I hadn’t expected – a little bay teeming with moon jellies or jellyfish (Aurelia labiata). One of the crew members stuck a GoPro video camera on a long pole and filmed them underwater for a few minutes.

Moon jellies in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
I never get enough of puffins, in this case Horned puffins (Fratercula corniculata). This wall was loaded with nests – note the one at the lower centre of the photo preparing to land.

Horned puffins in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The captain told us early in the day that he had a special sea lion haulout in mind to take us to later in the day – this spectacular little island was it.

Sea lion haulout island in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The base of the spire to the left in the photo above was full of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). The big bull in the rear wasn’t happy with our presence, and let us know with impressive roars.

Steller sea lions in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
I find it quite incredible that animals that look as clumsy and awkward on land as sea lions will make the effort to climb as high as they do on these rocks.

Steller sea lions in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
I haven’t mentioned birds other than puffins, but we saw, and I photographed, many different species, including this one, which one of my blog readers quickly pointed me in the right direction to identify (thanks, Don!) – it’s a sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus).

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Park Ranger Tom Osborne was excellent. He’s very knowledgable and enjoys talking to people – having him on board made a big difference in the experience.

Park Ranger Tom Osborne - Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Almost home, at 5:30. Two ultra-luxury cruise ships spent the day in Seward – Silverseas’ Silver Shadow, which carries 382 passengers and 302 crew members, and Compagnie du Ponant’s L’Austral (built in 2011 and sailing Alaska for the first time this year), which carries 264 passengers and 139 crew members.

Silverseas' Silver Shadow and Compagnie du Ponant's L'Austral at Seward, Alaska
A final look at Major Marine’s office now that the light was better for a photo, and then we drove the 6 miles or so back to the campground. What an incredible day that had been!

Seward, Alaska

The next day in Seward would be much quieter, with a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center being the main planned activity.


Alaska RVing: Glaciers and marine wildlife in Kenai Fjords — 4 Comments

  1. Seeing puffins and orcas are on my bucket list!! Loved the video of the glacier! Thanks for sharing Murray 🙂

  2. Surprised you didn’t mention the smell of the bird and animal haulouts…one that we loafed close by nearly caused me to lose my lunch…wind, sun, all magnified the smell!

    The animals, the whales, the birds, the views…all stunning!

    Great walk out to Caines’ Head SP at low tides or a light backpack and overnight…now 30 years since I did that.

    When you do Homer it will be interesting to see which fishing town you prefer.

    • LOL – I didn’t even notice any smell (on this cruise or on others).

      I got most of the way out to Caines Head many years ago, but would like to hike the entire trail.

      Picking Seward over Homer was my decision – it’ll be interesting to see if Cathy agrees with my choice when we do get to Homer 🙂