Just like most national parks, wildlife inhabits Glacier Bay. Sea mammals including harbor seals, sea otters, and whales are often seen there. Birds that fly above the bay include numerous seagulls and majestic bald eagles.
We saw sea mammals, both large and small close to the mouth of the bay. Whales can be spotted by looking for the spray of water that they blow out of their blow holes. When they dive, they expose their enormous tail fins as they submerge to the depths of the bay.
Further inside the bay birds were more plentiful. An abundance of seagulls were nesting on the shore near Margerie Glacier. Some of them visited our ship, likely looking for handouts or scraps.
We saw several bald eagles at Glacier Bay. Two of them were resting together on a small iceberg that floated past our ship. Others soared overhead at Margerie Glacier. One was spotted landing on the glacier where he rested for a while.
After entering the Bay, the Reid Glacier was the first glacier that we saw. This is the fastest moving of the tidewater glaciers at Glacier Bay. It is moving at an average rate of about 8 feet per day. The Reid Glacier rises 150 feet above the water line and is three quarters of a mile wide.
The Lamplugh Glacier rises about 150 feet above the water. Like most of the glaciers in Glacier Bay, the Lamplugh Glacier is receding. It is estimated that in less than one hundred years, the Lamplugh Glacier will no longer touch the bay, and would thus cease to be a tidewater glacier.
The Lamplugh Glacier was named by Lawrence Martin of the United States Geological Survey around 1912. He named it afer the English geologist, George W. Lamplugh, who visited Glacier Bay in 1884.
The Margerie Glacier is a beautiful sheet of ice that extends right into Glacier Bay. It is about 250 feet high. Our ship was able to remain directly in front of the Margerie Glacier for some time. We were able to take in the grand view, watch bald eagles soar, and witness the spectacular calving, where the old ice breaks from the face of the glacier and splashes into the bay below. This glacier was the highlight of our trip to Glacier Bay. The glacier is named after the French geographer and geologist Emmanuel de Margerie who visited Glacier Bay in the 1913.
The Bartlett River is notorious for black bear and moose in Glacier Bay. The trailhead is a 1/4-mile toward Gustavus from the beach and runs a mile through the rainforest before emerging into the drainage. Bald eagles are commonly seen overhead, while the incessant activity of pink salmon in the river punctuates the visit in the meantime. At the end of the developed trail, a social trail slogs through the mushier reeds and riverbank farther into the forest, where black bear sightings are more probable.
Brown bears (or brownies, as they are known locally) are more common in the upper bays, particularly the west arm. Campers are urged to keep all foodstuffs and odorous items in their bear canisters, and to remove only enough for immediate use. For those who do not understand what a bear's life is, the coastal browns have the advantage of salmon, foxes, porcupines, seal pups and moose calves for their meat, but otherwise the main activity is foraging. This bear, like all his brethen, is meticulously checking beneath every stone for food, before carefully replacing the stone (like a trapper) to allow rodents or other vermin to seek its shelter for the bear's next passage.
Most of the park activity in Glacier Bay centers in the west arm, but unless you hike or kayak in the east arm, you'll miss an interesting section of the park. The Adams and Wachusett Inlets run perpendicular in respectively eastern and western branches from the east arm (the Muir Inlet) and are reckoned to have their own weather. At the farthest extensions are the Muir, Riggs and McBride Glaciers, at one time tidewater glaciers but since receded (see richiedisc's Glacier Bay page for photos). On the east side both north and south of the Adams Inlet are other glaciers, the White, Dirt and Adams Glaciers, but mightiest of all is the Casement Glacier.
Southern and southeastern Alaska boast the largest moose in North America. Estimates of individual weights in the lower 48 states are grossly overestimated -- the true giants live in the 49th state. Though bulls are harder to spot, cows and calves appear around Bartlett Cove and the Glacier Bay Lodge with no little frequency. This particular animal (though only a cow) is easily the largest moose I have ever seen. Standing 6 to 6 1/2 feet at the shoulder, I can only imagine the size of the monster that sired her calf.
Steller's sea lions are very social mammals that tend to congregate on the rocky cliffs around South Marble Island and a few other islets in the lower bay. Only the largest bulls obtain harems, and the hierarchy is forever fluctuating with new challengers winning positions or prominence within the community. (Note: on the day of this photograph, four women positively swore from the tour boat that two walruses were among the brood on South Marble Island, but two dozen other passengers staring at the same scene from the same distance could not support the assertion.)
Harbor seals notoriously appear around the glacier-bound kayakers. Suddenly surfacing within 100 feet of your prow, their gray heads and deep dark sockets give them a rather ghoulish appearance, like some Sasquatch of the Deep. Seal cows and pups often haul out on floating icebergs to eat, sleep and sun themselves, but they appear throughout the park and often in pairs.
Clear days and short hikes into the trees will reveal in an instant the density of the forests in Glacier Bay. Spruce trees predominate, but birch and cottonwood are also prevalent. As a rainforest, the forest floor is normally carpeted with soft mosses and lichens rather than brushy undergrowth. This photograph gives some idea of the lush forests that roughly cover everything that is not permanently covered with ice.
In a state with roughly 12,000 glaciers, hundreds of all types lie in Glacier Bay alone. Of these, perhaps fewer than twenty actually reach the brine of the Bay (the tidewater glaciers). The rest generally hang in the cols and precipices of the mountain peaks (the hanging glaciers), while others just wind down the valleys as relentless rivers of ice.
Mountain goats thrive in the rocky ledges in the upper bay. Subject to few enemies (bald eagles can kill the young), the goats scarcely venture from their protective cliffs. Strictly herbivorous, the grasses on the rocky outcrops are sufficient to sustain this untold population. (Note: in the photo, a mother and kid rest in the highest grassy ledge -- deliberately given to show scale and the goats' ability to reach almost impossible cliffs.)
One of the longest and most massive glaciers in Glacier Bay is also a tidewater glacier, but given its appearance and position, it gets "none of the respect it deserves." The Grand Pacific Glacier finds its source several miles back across the border in Canada. By the time its lengthy course reaches the Tarr Inlet, the entire river of ice looks scarcely different from another dirty ridge of loose soil. Thanks to the composition of its waterfront, its face is dark with dirt and debris, an appearance that can't compete with the pearly whites of Margerie Glacier nearby.
Though most of the attention in the west arm centers on the tidewater glaciers, the hanging glaciers are just as impressive, and just as blue-white as their lower comrades. Many are unnamed, which makes them seem new and untouched as if discovered for the first time. Keep your cameras poised if traveling on the cruise ship or park concessionaire. Normal water traffic will not pause for these impressive attractions.
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