I’ve been traveling through Alaska on a media trip hosted by Princess Cruises, and reporting along the way. Our second port of call for the Diamond Princess was Juneau, where I got up close and personal with whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and more glaciers.
Alaska ‘s Whales & Mendenhall Glacier Trail
When cruising through Alaska, Juneau is the place you want to go whale watching. There are many types of excursions to choose from, some are all whale watch, others add in a salmon bake or history walk. I picked the Alaska Whales and Mendenhall Glacier Trail tour because it combined a cool wildlife cruise with a hike to a glacier.
We learned that there’s an interesting relationship between whales and glaciers. When a glacier advances, it plows through mountains and forest, obliterating all in its path. After the glacier recedes, it takes many years for the land to recover. Gradually, lakes, streams and rivers fill in the big gorges. These bodies of water are filled with silt from the glacier. Microorganisms begin to grow in the silt, and when the silt gets swept out to sea, another tiny animal called krill feasts on the microorganisms. And guess what mammals like to eat krill? Humpback whales! We learned all this from Julie, our knowlegeable guide, who was born in Alaska and comes from a family who makes their living fishing. She accompanied us on the whale watch and the hike.
The adventure began as Captain Gary steered our small boat out of the harbor onto the open waters in search of whale feeding grounds.
An eagle stood guard.
We saw harbor seals sunning themselves on a small island.
And Stellar sea lions.
They look adorable, but they can be aggressive.
And we saw lots and lots of whales. And I finally got a tail shot!
After 2 hours on the water, we returned to land to begin our hike. Another guide named David joined us, so we could split up into 2 small groups of 6 each for a nature hike along a glacial trail.
David guided us along a quiet path.
This boulder was dislodged from the mountain when the glacier moved through. Now it’s getting covered in moss, as the forest regrows.
The glacier also left a big crater in the land. Water filled it in and now it’s a small lake.
Our first peek at Mendenhall Glacier through the trees.
It’s pretty awesome up close!
On the way back to the trail head we scanned the streams to see if the salmon have arrived yet. They are just arriving to spawn, though we didn’t see any. And when the salmon arrive, bears will follow.
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