During our time in Seward last week, we did a wildlife tour with Kenai Fjord Tours. For ten hours or so, we cruised around the Kenai Fjord in search of wildlife (aka whales) and pristine landscapes (aka glaciers). We were able to see a lot of wildlife, but the whales were rather elusive. We caught glimpses of humpbacks in the distances, but they were far off and infrequent sightings. Much to Amanda’s dismay, there were no orca sightings. I was very grateful for the many orcas sightings in Iceland earlier this summer.
We saw a bunch of sea otters, twirling around and collecting air bubbles in their pelt to stay warm (that water was cold, very cold). We saw sea otters also twirling around in kelp, using it like a pool noodle and anchor. We saw many, many, many birds, including more eagles. We saw harbor seals, perch on ice and giving use side eye for disturbing their rest. We saw sea lions, many sea lions, even some pups playing on the rocky outcrops. We had two rare sightings of black bears swimming. One was swimming right next to the boat, as surprised by us as we were of him. Our captain (who was awesome and incredibly knowledgable) told us it was a real treat to see not one but two black bears swimming, as they seldom encounter swimming bears. Black bears are excellent swimmers whereas brown bears (aka grizzlies) are not.
One of my favorite parts of this tour was visiting a glacier. Now, this summer has been special. I’ve been in a glacier lagoon. I’ve toured a glacier via snowmobile. I hiked to glaciers. Glaciers, glaciers, glaciers. Our boat pulled up along a massive glacier terminus and were able to get pretty darn close. Again, the colors were great, nothing beats the shades of glacier blue. We were initially entertained by resting harbor seals on the ice, but the ice wall itself ended up being the main attraction.
In our time at the glacier, there was so much to see and hear. Melting water and breaking ice. You could hear the booming cracks of ice breaking off in the distance and next to the boat. The ice changed right in front of us, as small piece broke off and new waterfalls appeared as others subsided. I was most drawn to the sounds. The creaking, the cracking, the hissing, the familiar sounds of flowing water.
As in all areas of the world, Alaska’s frozen areas are affected by the mounting concern of climate change. The majority of our planet’s fresh water is tied up in glaciers, so the fast melting of this ice leads to an increased introduction of freshwater into our seas and a loss of available freshwater. The rising sea temperatures means these warming waters are lapping at the ends of glaciers like this one, increasing the melt. With the decreased ice in some areas, this means less habitat for some creatures like polar bears. For the Kenai Fjord and other areas, the introduction of more freshwater in the ecosystem can distribute the delicate food webs. I don’t think people pay attention to the details. The water warms, and perhaps some small organisms like zooplankton or phytoplankton aren’t as successful, since they require cold water. Then other organism, like fish and whales do not have enough to eat. If the there’s less fish, then there’s less birds. All the organisms in an ecosystem are connected in a delicate balance. Sometimes the removal of one organism can have devastating effects on the others. The captain said he’s seen significant decrease in the ice over the years in this area.
We had a great day out on the water. As you can see, I was grateful I packed my warm gear and worn those silk leggings under my pants (thanks mom for lending them to me). This area of Alaska is gorgeous. Wild and frozen. Let’s work to preserve areas like this and others so future generations can come explore as well. What can you do in your everyday life to counter act climate change?