Whales & Wild Isles, Great Bear Rainforest, MV Swell, Aug 17-25, 2015
In the morning some of the group when for a short kayak around the anchorage and we saw a small pack of wolves foraging in the estuary as well as a black bear. We left the anchorage en route to Cetacea Lab at Whale Point on Gil Island.
En route we had to stop as we were entertained by humpbacks feeding and breaching.
At Cetacea Lab we were given a wonderful tour of the lab by one of its founders, Janie, who also explained their studies of Orca vocalizations and their hydrophone network.
While we were visiting, the interns spotted three fin whales (the second largest whale in the world at up to 25 m in length). The whales crossed the bay in front of us and one came in close to the research station. After our visit to the station, we began making our way to Bishop Bay via Whale Channel, McKay Reach and Ursula Channel.
Whale channel was aptly named as we saw several groups of humpbacks, bringing our total for the day to well over 20. At Bishop Bay we took a dip in the hot springs and then made our way to Goat Harbour for our overnight anchorage.
- Mike Jackson, naturalist on board MV Swell
Great Bear Rainforest, SV Maple Leaf, Aug 17-25, 2015
We got off to an incredible start yesterday with resident killer whales (As and Gs?) calling on the hydrophone and fishing around us. We had humpbacks until heading to anchor and and delicious dinner by Yas.
It’s now a beautiful morning with the gulls. What a way to start a trip.
- Update from naturalist Misty MacDuffee
Alaska Adventure Supervoyage, MV Swell, Aug 6-16, 2015
Within minutes of leaving the harbour at the trip’s start at Sitka, we had seen our first sea otter and shortly after that our first humpback whale. Common murres and rhinoceros auklets were all around and we were soon watching four humpbacks feeding.
A strange bird took off beside the boat which we later identified as a long-tailed jaeger – a first for me! What a treat to be cruising in such rich waters.
We took the dinghy to explore De Groff bay where we were treated to marbled murrelets, bald eagles, great blue herons, and were surrounded by leaping pink salmon.
We anchored in Kalinin Bay and went ashore to explore the estuary and then hike to Sea Lion Cove. Though the creek was full of spawning pink salmon, and there were many signs of bear feeding (scat, crushed vegetation, fresh salmon carcasses and “salmon bits”), we did not see any bears. We did see several bald eagels and a pair of greater yellowlegs.
We began our hike over the pass to Sea Lion Cove and passed through forested and boggy areas. In the bogs we found sphagnum moss, the insectivourous round-leaved sundew, labrador tea as well as huckleberries and blueberries. We stopped by the lake in the pass for lunch and then made our way down to the magnificent beach at Sea Lion Cove.
Some of us dipped our toes in the open pacific waves, others explored the expanse of sandy beach looking at sanderlings and plovers, and others investigated the flotsam and jetsam on the beach. Back on board, we made our way to Deep Bay for our overnight anchorage.
We got underway early on our third day as we have a long way to go. Just before breakfast we were treated to a humpback whale spouting and finning, and in the middle of breakfast a pod of half a dozen Dall’s Porpoises came to the bow and played in the bow wave for several minutes. After breakfast, a second group came by for a very brief play in the bow wave before moving on.
After a morning of cruising on glassy calm seas we entered Chatham Strait and sat down to another one of chef Oliver’s marvelous meals. Halfway through, the call came though the intercom from the bridge “three humpback whales ahead”.
We all left our meals and went to the bow. The whales crossed in front of us and made their way to the nearby shore at Point Turbot. Before long we realized they were doing coordinated, group bubble net feeding right at the shore.
We shut down the engines and generator and put down the hydrophone. Over the next hour and a half, we were treated to a dozen feeding events, each preceded by haunting calls. Watching the water erupt with small fish instants before the huge whale gapes came out of the water was utterly amazing.
After our magical experience with these humpbacks, we made our way to Warm Springs Bay and the hamlet of Baranov. A short walk up the boardwalk and we were at the hot springs where we soaked in hot pools by a rushing river. Returning to Swell, we got underway again to go to Woewodski Harbour.
At dinner time, as we passed the southern tip of Admiralty Island, entering Frederick Sound from Chatham Strait, we saw a mother and calf humpback. They were feeding at surface with “lateral lunges”, turning their body sideways to engulf enormous mouthfuls of krill and/or small fish. The calf was copying her mother and we watched and photographed the pair for half an hour. Another meal interrupted!
After dinner, we continued north-east along the shore of Admiralty Island where we saw many more whales feeding on both sides of the boat right up until dark.
Just after sunset we saw the International Space Station pass over us and the sky was clear for star viewing. As it became truly dark, the sky was full of stars and the aurora borealis was visible. An hour and a half after the first sighting of the space station, we saw it come over again. Once at anchor in Cannery Cove, we were treated to several Perseid shooting stars and the sound of feeding humpback whales.
What an amazing day on the Alaska supervoyage!
So far today …. we set off for a long cruise to Windfall Harbor. Humpback whales were breaching in the distance. We then made our way over to the Brothers Islets were we took a dinghy ride to view the Northern (Steller) sea lions at their haul out. The sound and smell of several hundred sea lions is unforgettable!
After our visit with the sea lions, we continued northward,watching humpbacks spout, feed and breach in every direction. We gave up counting the whales seen today after twenty five or so!
A pod of Dall’s porpoises came to the bow and swam with the ship for 15 minutes or so, giving us a great show.
Just before dinner, we entered Windfall Harbor and shortly after spied three brown (grizzly) bears in the estuary of Middle Creek. After dinner, we took our dinghy and went to the estuary of Windfall Creek for a walk. The creek was chock full of spawning pink salmon and a few chum and we saw one more bear who sauntered off after seeing us.
Admiralty Island is famous for its high density of brown bears (the bears here are a very dark brown, almost black) The next morning we landed at Pack Creek. Pack creek is the site of Stan Price’s homestead and the bears here have been carefully habituated to human presence in certain areas. As a result we were able to observe the bears at close range without feeling like we were interfering.
We saw three more bears at the viewing spit site, including one very close (15m?) walk by. After that we hiked up to the viewing platform which is situated above a couple of pools in the creek that were jam-packed with spawning pink salmon. Along the way to the platform we passed by several bear rubbing trees, complete with scratch marks and bear hair. Though we were visited by herons and eagles, we did not see any more bears here, however the salmon put on an amazing show. We returned on board for a hearty halibut chowder lunch and then a few of us returned to the spit for a second visit with the bears. One of the two bears we saw was probably the same young one as one we had seen in the morning, while the other one was a new one to us – an older female. In all we saw eight different bears. As we walked back to the dinghy, we saw thousands of small molted shore crab shells in the tide line.
We are now making our way to Wood spit for our night’s anchorage. Another amazing day in Alaska!
August 11th – Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier
We raised the anchor before breakfast to make our way down Endicott Arm towards Dawes glacier. As soon as we rounded Wood Spit we began to encounter ice bergs. The number of “bergy bits” continued to increase as we made our way and our captain, Steve, had to navigate carefully to avoid them.
The scenery of the steep-sided fjord was breathtaking – hanging U-shaped valleys and waterfalls everywhere. Some of the icebergs were an amazing blue colour, while others were a dirty brown due to the moraine sediment carried by the glacier. As we neared the end of the fjord, we caught our first view of the glacier. We boarded the dinghys and made our way up to within a few hundred metres of the face of the glacier.
The glacier face towers about 200 feet above the sea and was calving large chunks of ice which made great splashes and swell-like waves that caused us to bob about. By the glacier face we saw many gulls flying around as well as some harbour seals and a porpoise.
We spent an hour or more watching and observing the glacier, returning for a late lunch after watching a spectacular calving event.
August 12th -Wood Spit to Thomas Bay
We got under way before breakfast as we have many miles to cover today. By the time we sat down to breakfast we had sighted 15 humpback whales and by 10 AM our tally was at 35! I gave a short talk on rainbows and then our captain Steve gave a talk about the history of the Swell.
As we made our way south we continued to see humpbacks – our total for the day was 48! We had a neat visit with Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation at Five Fingers Lighthouse. Fred showed us around and told us about the work they are doing on humpback whale vocalizations. We had heard bubble net hunting vocalizations on the Swell’s hydrophone earlier, so it was neat to learn more about them and to learn that the whale we had heard was probably the one they know as “Melancholy”. Later in the day, I gave a talk on the physics of Rainbows – we have seen a few of these on the trip including in the blows of whales and porpoises! Coming into Thomas Bay we caught a glimpse of the Baird glacier which comes to within a few kilometres of the shore and then went for a short evening walk.
August 13th – Thomas Bay to Dewey Anchorage
We began the day with an early hike up the aptly-named Cascade Creek trail. The creek seems to be one continuous cascade for several kilometres. One of the highlights of this trip was finding a very large king bolete (porcini) mushroom – this made our mate, Given’s, day! Shortly after leaving Thomas Bay, we entered Wrangell narrows, a 21 mile long channel with several sections that can only be safely navigated at slack tide. Our timing was excellent due to careful planning by our captain Steve. We passed by the community of Petersburg at the entrance to the narrows and exited the narrows into Sumner strait. Here we began to see humpbacks again. I gave a talk about intertidal life to prepare us for our intertidal exploration the next morning. That evening we had a sundowner toast which was followed by an evening of stargazing. We were treated to a good view of the International Space Station passing over as well as dozens of other satellites, followed by as many as 50 Perseid meteors and a great view of the Milky way. After dropping our anchor by Onslow Island in the South Etolin Wilderness area (Dewey Anchorage) we were treated to excellent bioluminesence which outlined our salmon net as we pulled it through the water.
August 14th – Dewey Anchorage to Cascade Inlet
We started the morning with a couple of kayakers heading out and then the group went ashore to explore the beach on Carlton Island. We had a -1.5 ft tide which was excellent for observing life at the lower tide levels. We saw leather, ochre and sunflower stars, sea cucumbers, a hooded nudibrach, mossy chitons, several crab species, peanut and tube worms, and much more. Many of the organisms we saw were molluscs with a “radula” – a microscopically toothed tongue. Our deckhand, Jeff, was able to show us electron micrographs of these stuctures as well as the ossicles (mini bones) of sea cucumbers, which were taken during one of his marine biology classes at the University of Victoria. Back on board we started a long navigation south to Ketchikan to clear customs. On the way we stopped for a break in Meyer’s Chuck, a quaint coastal community of 150 in the summer and 6 in the winter. We spent a couple of hours exploring Ketchikan, including its historic and picturesque Creek Street and then proceeded on south to our anchorage in Cascade inlet.
August 15th – Cascade Inlet to Melville Island
We weighed anchor early to begin our trip south back into Canada. To get back into Canada we needed to cross Dixon Entrance which is a large body of water open to the Pacific swells. Our captain Steve chose a zig-zag course which minimized the amount of rocking and rolling that we were subjected to. As we neared the Canadian border, a group of Dall’s porpoises came to our bow and escorted us across the border. I think if you looked closely, you could make out their maple leaf tattoos! They stayed with us for almost half an hour to make sure we crossed safely! As we neared the Gnarled Islands, just to the north of Dundas island, we saw our first Canadian humpback. As of leaving Alaska, we have seen over 130 humpback whales on the trip!
- reports by Mike Jackson, naturalist aboard Swell
Whales & Totems, BC, SV Maple Leaf, Aug 5-10, 2015
A trip report from the Maple Leaf:
As we were watching Transient / Biggs killer whales hunt some dolphins, we stopped up the ship. A little later, a harbour seal swam over and ‘hid’ under one of the Maple Leaf’s Polaris shore boats.
We tow these boats behind the ship, and when we’re stopped, we pull them in close to the stern, so that they don’t tangle with one another. The killer whales knew about the seal and they came over to the boat, trying to figure out how to get it. For quite a while they circled around but in the end, with the seal not leaving its cover, they gave up.
Editor’s note: Why did the seal hide under a shore boat and not haul out onto shore? It probably figured out that it couldn’t swim to shore fast enough to get away from the orcas. As to why the orcas didn’t got after it as it floated under an 18-foot, metal-bottomed skiff, possibly it was because orcas often hunt marine mammals by swimming very fast up under them and bludgeoning them out of the water and into the air. Under the shore boat, this technique wouldn’t be possible.
- Report from Capt. Nick Sinclair
Alaska Adventure, MV Swell, July 29-Aug 5, 2015
Great rainy misty days up here in SE Alaska. With a morning spent in the icy waters of Endicott Arm, we filled our morning with ice-tastic spectacles. We travelled in the tenders towards the fortress that is Dawes Glacier. With a rising tide and bergy bits littering the sea and commentary from naturalist Briony, we meandered towards the towering wall of ice. Calving was underway. Rumbling alerted the group to the truth about glaciers: they are not still. They are alive, and ever-moving. Rocks slide, ice falls, and wakes move in the water from the ice. We cheer. Our little flotilla is thoroughly satisfied. We turn back towards Swell, not without witnessing one last massive calving episode, and are delighted by the welcoming warmth of Chef James’ Tomatoe Bisque and elegant grilled cheese.
Bonus ice exploring: from the zodiac, we axed off some ice for cocktails. and deckhand / stew Robyn took to her long johns and stocking feet to plunge into the ice laden water from a small bergy bit. A true Maple Leaf Adventures welcome to Alaska a this crew’s first tour in Alaska.
The previous day had brought the delights of Fredrick Sound, including humpback whales partaking in shallow feeding frenzies. Krill littered the surface of the water brought these gentle giants and their gaping mouths to the air. Later, Captain Dave tells us of a formidable rock where important research is being done and then we are welcomed onto Five Fingers lighthouse to meet the Alaska Whale Foundation. This team of devoted whale researchers shared with us their knowledge, passion, and incredible stories of what it is like to live on a remote rock in the middle of Fredrick Sound. As a group, we were delighted, as individuals were inspired. As we depart, we are waved off by red-footed pigeon gulliemots and the carrot-orange-beaked oystercatcher. We look back towards the lighthouse, a humpback whale blowing in the distance. This place is a coastal paradise, and we are so lucky to know it.
An early rise for the fair ship Swell begins day three of our Alaska adventure, steaming from our mainland anchorage to the day’s destination of Pack Creek on Admiralty Island.
9 am and our guests and crew are well fed and well dressed as they set for shore with great excitement and silent anticipation. We are here to see brown bears and hope that our patience will be rewarded.
It doesn’t take long before we are delighted by entrance of a young grizzly. The animal saunters in a gentle and relaxed manner towards the group, with only the intention to approach the creek. He sniffs the air, aware of our presence, and carries on investigating his creek, the shoreline, and the world around. Quiet and still, we continue to be fortunate enough to see two other brown bears. The morning is a wonder.
It must be August. It’s 5:30 am and Captain Dave navigates Swell through thick fog. We reach the Brothers Islands and with a great sense of adventure we dawn our PFDs and camera’s and embark on a foggy excursion in search of islands, beaches, and sea lions. Not a minute away from Swell and we see neither ship nor land. Only sea birds whose navigation skill our Naturalist Briony knows to trust, (along with the Captain’s navigation tools). Sure enough we find the shore. The fog lifts enough for us to witness the vastness of a kelp forest on a low tide. We find winged kelp, sea lettuce, and porphyra (brown, green, and red algaes). We are delighted by sea stars, anemones, encrusting bryzoa, and many other intertidal animals.
With our heads down investigating the spineless lifeforms we barely notice the lifting of the fog. Rounding a corner we are made aware as we hear the classic roars of Steller sea lions. We lift our gaze and there they are, both blue sky and the haul out of many 600 lbs- 1 tonne brown, bundled together, bear-like animals. Maintaining a respectful distance, so as not to startle the sea lions’ restful state, Captain Dave moves our zodiac along the shoreline. We round another corner and our eye brows all lift. On the beach in front of us are even more sea lions — one on top of the other, all touching, roaring, groaning, sleeping, waddling, play fighting, or simply attempting to rest as others crawl up and over. We are delighted, and our camera’s are ignited.
After some time a curious bunch of juvenile sea lions “escort” as we move beyond the haul out and make our way to find out own, unoccupied, beach.
The sun is beaming, the sky never looked so blue, and the waters around are lit with a sparkling reflection. We take this beautiful moment to stretch our sea legs, feel the land beneath us and embark on a little treasure hunt. I’m reminded of how calming our human spirit can really be, when we are in a magical natural place and we let ourselves simply experience it.
Lunch awaits, and so with great hesitation we pull ourselves off our island paradise, cruise past our sea lion friends and low tide critters, to return to Swell where Chef James and First Mate Given great us with smiles and homemade BBQ burgers, yam fries, and refreshments.
Our Captain and Mate steer us towards Baranof Island with promise of warm water endeavors. Our journey towards Warm Springs Bay is littered with humpback whale tales, misty whale blows, and endless sun. Some take to the top deck hot tub, while others nestle in for a painting lesson with Naturalist Briony, or settle with a good book. It’s mid-way through our journey together and we’ve all found our place our comfort here on Swell, sailing together.
Good morning sun. Good morning waterfall. Good morning sweet little boardwalk community of Warm Springs Bay. The early risers take a kayak cruise, while others saunter into the main salon for a warm cup of coffee. The pace is slow, peaceful, yet purposeful. A small group of us take to a bowl of cereal as we dress for morning walk to the lake, the bog, and finally the hot springs. “Botanizing” along the way Briony enlightens the guests about the incredible plants that border our path to the lake. A quick dip in the lake for Deckhand Robyn before we turn towards the bog. Our visit is short but inspiring as we find great wonder in the small things that live near the earth’s floor. A hop and a skip back down to the board walk, a quick left turn towards the river, and there it is- a natural hot springs like no other. Mist from the rushing river cools our faces as we dip into the hot water bath.
We rejoin our fellow ship-mates, weigh anchor, and set off for another day. The sun is shining and the humpbacks greet us once again as we cruise along. The youngest of guest, a keen naturalist, had yet to see an orca in the wild. Not moments after saying this, our young friend spots orca off our port side. Small misty blows and tall black dorsal fins: there is no mistake, we’re with a group of killer whales. Maintaining course and speed, with a respectful distance so as not to disrupt this family, we travel with the orca. It’s not long and I notice we are not with just one, but 3 or 4 different groups of orca. At least 20 orca travel between us and the shoreline in the distance. Six large males with 6-foot-tall dorsal fins, and to boot, a humpback whale or two. These animals are clearly fish eating resident orca – with the humpback whales calmly paying them no mind at all. Our excitement is ecstatic as we discover mom and babe traveling together in the group nearest in view. The family bounds of killer whales are so clear, as they travel in family groups always.
An early evening stop to Nismeni Cove, first mate Given and naturalist Briony have taken the guests ashore to forage. They harvest fungi, ferns, berries, and sea asparagus, to the galley’s delight. Tonight this little ship will eat well from the land.
The day’s begun with a stunning transit over to Kruzof Island for a day of exploring. Rolling seas lulling us around the corner and into the deep bay. On shore we’re embarking on a diverse exploration of the coastal environmnet – through estuary, rainforest, wild Alaskan blueberry patch, bog and lake, and out to west coast sandy beach. A full day of endless discovery.
Our morning is tranquil. Still waters, high tide, roaming seabirds. We take in our final morning in this beautiful place. It is so calm, and we are so content.
- Update from deckhand/stew Robyn Hutchings
Whales & Wild Isles, SV Maple Leaf, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, July 24-Aug 1, 2015
A quick recap of some highlights on the Whales and Wild Isles trip over the last couple of days. After several encounters with humpback whales, including witnessing the remarkable coordination of cooperative bubble net feeding in Caamano Sound, we headed to Fjordland.
It is spectacular with its high granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush green estuary. While exploring some of the plants in the meadow, we looked up to see a grizzly bear, and watched it foraging on sedges, swimming across the river, and making its way up the bank into the forest!
Today’s highlight was just as amazing. We watched two coastal wolves frolicking together on a beach after traveling from different directions to meet and greet each other. A remarkable wilderness experience.
Anchored at some islands hanging onto the outer edge of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Today after the epic journey of rounding Cape Caution, we were welcomed in the most fitting way to the Broughton Archipelago: a visit with the A30 family of northern resident orcas (killer whales). This family is the most commonly seen family in this region and has been witnessed welcoming other families of whales back here each summer. It was our honour to be escorted in by them.
- Updates from naturalist Barb Beasley and first mate Ashley Stocks
Alaska Adventure, MV Swell, July 19-27, 2015
On the first day we spent time with a pod of Orcas – 45 minutes after we headed out of Sitka at the start of our trip. By then we had also already seen sea otters. We also had a couple of harbour porpoises pass by and lots of sea birds.
Today we had an amazing encounter with a sub-adult brown bear from a good proximity. He lay down in the creek in front of us. He rolled over in the creek and stuck his feet in the air! We were treated to an excellent viewing of him fishing for crabs, grooming and entertaining us royally. He wasn’t perturbed and we spent the better part of an hour watching him until he got bored and wandered off.
We hiked up to a bog and a lake and picked blueberries before we made our way back through the rainforest. Later, after raising anchor and heading out, a gray whale in the bay breached 3 times!
Sergius Narrows and a warm sunny day made for great viewing along the way. We did some kelp 101 at Fairwinds and found some gigantic gooey duck clams and other musical sea instruments. Lots of baby guillemots as well as marbled murrelets all “keering” away to their parents. At Warm Springs Bay we stopped for a dip in the springs and a zodiac exploration around the lagoon to harvest some sea asparagus and licorice root to go with our fresh salmon dinner.
Steamed to the Brothers Islands and hit whale soup. Got into the zodiacs at the sea lion haul out and were treated to sealions and humpbacks feeding together in the shallows with oystercatchers, black turnstones, pigeon guillemots, eagles and scoters all watching on. The low tide provided some fantastic viewing too. It was hard to know where to watch. Alaska provides these times of grace. Mole Harbour for the night. No moles in Alaska but we did find a shrew [day 6], possibly Dusky.
Pack Creek for meeting up with Dana of the Forest Service. We sat and watched a new female with her three cubs in their second summer feeding out in the estuary for the morning. The rain didn’t daunt the bears or guests but the viewing platform gave us a bit of a break and we had two young bears feeding on the chum and coho in the afternoon. Lots of brilliant red elderberries, bunchberries and devil’s club berries for photo opportunities in the forest. Anchored in Windfall.
Walked the whole estuary following bear trails at high tide and lived the life of a bear for a morning, then at lunch we watched a young bear occupying his home. Coho leaping in the bay like crazy. Steamed to Woodspit with more humpbacks and a huge beautiful iceberg enroute. Gin and tonics with 30,000 year old ice to celebrate Jon and Judy’s 32nd anniversary.
Gorgeous day travelling Endicott Arm and geologizing. Lone mountain goat watching over us as we waited for the glacier to calve. Few terns but the gulls were out in force and the seals hiding out in the ice pack. Had lunch then a walk in the estuary and found another grizzly stomp, the shrew and some stunning glacial waterfalls and features. Some great humpback tail fluke flapping feeding round the boat.
Headed south to Five Fingers and ran into whale soup again. This time they were all doing single bubble net feeding all around the boat. We nicknamed one whale Mr. Universe because of his “starry” tail. They must be feeding on krill because there was not a herring bit in sight, nor a gull. They weren’t lunge feeding much, mostly this quiet, relaxed bubble netting.
At Five Fingers, where they are now running the Alaska Whale Foundation with Fred Sharpe, the researchers told us that this group are working the east side of Frederick. They had recorded their feeding calls, which were the same as the ones that we recorded on the ship’s hydrophone — very chatty calls, and all over the place. We had a great visit at the lighthouse and then we headed to Keku Islets for the night. Beautiful limestone configurations with fossils and wildflowers embedded in the cliffs. Sea otters, sea lions and seals playing in the kelp for us at Flattop Island.
- Reports from Capt. Dave and naturalist Briony Penn
Alaska Adventure, MV Swell, July 8-17, 2015
Can you imagine a day that begins with Dall’s porpoises riding on the bow? And for those who missed the ones who came before breakfast, another group showed up after breakfast.
A little later we were floating in the skiff with curious sea lions all around us and a few humpback whales near by.
Our day ended with a few brave souls taking a dip in a glacial lake, and then we all headed to a beautiful hot spring for a soak right beside a beautiful waterfall. It was so wonderful, many did a repeat in the morning.
The morning also had a fabulous low tide, and we looked at the abundant sea life from the skiff and from kayaks. We had a great look at a young brown (grizzly) bear from the skill some time later and are now anticipating a great hike in the morning.
Admiralty Island has an extremely high concentration of brown (grizzly) bears. Over the last two days we have watched bears galloping through streams chasing salmon, standing up on two legs, settling down for a nap, and scratching their itchy places.
We have also watched salmon making their way up their natal stream to spawn a new generation and eagles and ravens have joined in the feast. We finished today with a pair of killer whales surfacing beneath a beautiful rainbow.
It was a great day for one of our guests to celebrate a birthday!
- update from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold
One of the special things about coming to Alaska is the opportunity to visit towering walls of ice and hear the thundering rumble as chunks break off and fall into the ocean to drift away as icebergs.
We were just heading away from our visit to Dawes Glacier (where we experienced all of this), and after drifting in the skiff among icebergs, some thought it a good idea to warm up in the hot tub. As they soaked in the warm water with the glacier in view, they spotted transient killer whales on the hunt for seals.
We turned Swell around and all the seals had come out of the water on to the small icebergs. They were aware these stealthy predators were in the area. We never did see them again, but came away with a bigger understanding of life in this challenging environment.
- update from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold
It would be an understatement to say we had a whale of a day. As we cruised through Frederick Sound, were surrounded by these gentle giants for the last couple of hours. One whale gave us an amazing bubble net demonstration by blowing bubbles off our bow!
We eavesdropped with the hydrophone and were treated to some wonderful grunts and calls.
As if that wasn’t enough some curious sea lions swam right up to the boat to check us out. We are headed up to our anchorage now and will be on the lookout for icebergs!
… 90 minutes later this came in:
Well I signed off too soon. Just as we approached the next point we encountered a large group of killer whales. We had humpbacks on one side of the boat and killer whales on the other!
Arriving at the point we saw two moose right at the water’s edge. If that wasn’t enough, we then saw a sea otter swimming nearby eating a red sea urchin. Slow progress getting to our anchorage!
- reports from naturalist Sherry Kirkvold
Haida Gwaii and Emily Carr trip, SV Maple Leaf, July 5-13, 2015
Just in from a fabulous trip in Gwaii Haanas. Seems like the warm waters are sweeping some unusual critters in this year.
The guests were intrigued by Vellela, the blue-rimmed By-the-Wind-Sailor jellyfish, which have tacked up onto the shores of SGang Gwaay by the thousands. Also sighted, the weird and wonderful Mola Mola, or Sunfish.
Had a great rounding of Cape St. James, on calm though current-raked seas, past teeming Steller’s Sea Lion rookeries– lots of sleek chocolate-brown pups, nursing and bleeting. And plenty of birds of course, Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres; I was thrilled to see both Horned and Tufted Puffins!
Spent the evening of our final night visiting the village of Cumshewa, our last stop in “the footsteps” of Emily Carr.
She has been with us in spirit in our readings from her wonderful tales of travelling here in the early 1900’s, in the images of her paintings and especially in our sketching expeditions. I like to think she would approve of our attempts to draw the poles and deep green forests of Haida Gwaii that she loved.
- report from naturalist and art expedition leader Alison Watt
Anchored as the sun sinks, butter yellow, over Burnaby Narrows. Pretty much a perfect Maple Leaf day—started with a sail into Juan Perez Sound, with warm 12 knot winds, through a beautiful flock of Sooty Shearwaters, resting in the gentle troughs.
We carried on south—we had a tide to keep—3 feet in Burnaby Narrrows. Piled into the zodiac and drifted through the narrows, looking at kelp crabs, a spectacular, golden-mottled sculpin, and a rainbow of bat stars.
Spent the rest of the day nestled in a glade, drawing the moss-hung cedars, mixing greens on our paint palettes and talking over of how much Emily Carr herself would have loved to draw in this spot!
- Report from naturalist and art leader Alison Watt
Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, June 26-July 3, 2015
The trip is epic….getting in all the major experiences, only K’uuna / Skedans left. Sun everyday pretty much.
At 18.30 July 1 we transited through Richardson Pass looking for orcas that had been seen earlier and we found them! A pod of 6 with 2 young. I will be giving away 2 Maple Leaf Adventures ball caps to the spotters during our hot tub deck, pre-dinner Canada Day celebration, with Sea Cider and Maple Leaf beer!
- report from Capt. Steve
Haida Gwaii, Schooner, June 23-July 1, 2015
Weather so calm we overnighted at Woodruff Bay (exposed beach at southern end of Haida Gwaii) and enjoyed breakfast at the Cape.
Humpbacks, puffins, albatross, mola mola, Cape St James sea lions, afternoon at hot springs with artists Elsie and Ken. Swimming and hot pools with Elsie; our short sail (no wind!); making it to all 5 Haida watchmen sites (SGang Gwaay, T’aanuu, K’uuna (Skedans), Windy Bay, Hot Springs); Low tides explorations…abalone searching ( and finding). Great food. And Louise Narrows on the first afternoon. On our way to Sandspit.
- Report from Capt. Russell
Haida Gwaii, SV Maple Leaf, June 19-27, 2015
Puffins and Rhinoceros Auklets before breakfast, a marvelous tour of the monumental poles and houses in the ancient Haida village of SGang Gwaay with Reg Wesley (a Haida Argillite carver) and then surrounded by Humpback whales breaching and surfacing in a glassy calm Pacific Ocean.
How could this day get any better?
One of my favourite and wildest places on earth is Cape St. James. Here the currents converge and upwellings support thousands of nesting Tufted Puffins, Cassin’s Auklets, Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots and a breeding colony of Northern Sea lions (also known as Steller sea lions). Cape St. James has the highest recorded sustained winds in Canada, but on this day it was sunny and relatively calm which allowed Captain Greg to navigate carefully through the Kerouard Islands to give us spectacular views of new born sea lion pups, puffins and the wild rocky islands at the end of the Haida earth.
On this longest day of the year, there were more adventures to be had!
Maple Leaf anchored in a beautiful bay on the east side of Kunghit Island, affectionately known as “Hawaii” for its crystalline blue waters and fine white sand beach. “Dinner on the beach!” A gourmet picnic of beef tenderloin, roasted vegetables, Caesar salad, Spinnakers Maple Leaf brew and Sandhill Syrah was served by our lovely chef Yasmin.
Greg packed up the marine plastic debris we had collected for Parks Canada to remove, the heartiest of our crew had a swim in the sea and we reluctantly headed back to the ship. It wouldn’t be bad to be marooned at this lovely beach, but there were more places to go yet!
We anchored for the night in Keeweenah Bay, enjoyed dessert of blueberry tart and sunset followed by a waxing quarter moon and Jupiter and Venus rising in the indigo sky.
- report from naturalist Trudy Chatwin
Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, June 18-26, 2015
June 20: The beautiful weather continues. We’ve come from a great visit at Windy Bay (Haida site) this morning and it’s flat calm around Burnaby Island. Signing off as we’ve just spotted a whale.
June 21: After the spectacular intertidal life and rainforest ecosystems of the Burnaby Narrows area, we’ve cruised all the way down the east coast of Kungit Island and around the tip. We’re anchored in Luxana Bay on the southern end of Haida Gwaii, facing south. It’s 10 pm, the sky still has some light, and we’re headed ashore for a beach bonfire to celebrate the summer solstice.
- reports from expedition leader Kevin
Haida Gwaii with Canadian Geographic and Wade Davis, both ships, June 10-18, 2015
Read the full report with photos – coming this week.
Haida Gwaii, MV Swell, May 30-June 8 (ongoing)
Today at a sea lion rookery we witnessed numerous newborn pups, with gulls eating up the fresh afterbirth. The sound and smell were also quite a sensory experience!
- update from naturalist Sherry
Great Bear Rainforest and Kitlope, SV Maple Leaf – May 23-30
Started the trip with a conversation at Kitamaat village with elder Cecil Paul. Everything we talked about with him stayed with us throughout the whole trip and we referred back often to his words and concepts.
Some other highlights included the scenery & waterfalls of the Gardner canal [the coast's longest fjord], travelling up the Kitlope River and making it up to the lake as per Cecil’s guidance; finding tracks of bears, wolves, cats, deer, moose & river otter in many places that we explored; seeing a spring bear.
Seeing mountain goats high in the hills. Soaking in 2 hotsprings. Seeing a group of close to 20 orca in a mini superpod with lots of playful activity & vocalizatons that we picked up on the hydrophone … possibly even some mating behaviour.
A great sail in Caamano Sound. Seeing fin whales including a group of 6 that came rushing towards the Maple Leaf. Many humpback whales, including a group of 6 that were doing coordinated group bubble-net feeding. We put the hydrophone down again, and listened to the ‘otherworldly’ bubble-net feeding calls. WOW!!!
[special bonus photos above and below of the Kitlope region from the airplane by John Zada - thank you, John]
- report from Capt. Greg
Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Is), MV Swell – May 13-21 and May 22-30
Beautiful highlights as usual from Haida Gwaii, including the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site, SGang Gwaay.
We had an amazing Orca show in Richardson Inlet, a pod of about 5 to 8 feeding.
The weather was sunny every day, some folks did some kayaking in Island Bay and we mounted an expedition far up Rose Inlet.
We had an amazing inter-tidal show at Burnaby Narrows (aka Dolomite Narrows). Afterward the walk in the ancient rainforest to a culturally modified tree was a hit.
We had breaching Humpbacks at Scudder Point, and a huge line of moon jellies in Crescent Inlet and as always beautiful intertidal and sub-tidal life at Burnaby Narrows.
One evening in Bishchof Islands we decided to be a Pirate raiding party and jumped into the skiff and went to a float house in the inner bay and found a rat eradication work party of Parks Canada employees. They gave us a Rat-Pack of traps, poison and stickers.
The raiding party was successful, we returned with booty.
Also at Bischoff Islands we found a nesting pair of bald eagles. A good photo op.
– reports from Capt. Dave
Vancouver Island to Great Bear Rainforest, SV Maple Leaf – May 6-13 (updated)
Just got the anchor down behind the Walkem Isles in Johnstone Strait.
It’s been an epic day, with 3 great shore trips, including an exploration of Vondonop Inlet, a hike up to a favourite hidden lake, and then two hours of a low-tide, intertidal float through, with naturalist Barb in a wetsuit and snorkel, in a high current pass / beach area.
The afternoon’s highlight was a pod of 4 transient / Bigg’s orcas, that seemed to be headed for Hole in the Wall at the same slack tide we were heading for.
[editor's note: The Orca Navigators & Hole in the Wall
On the BC and Alaska coast, huge surges of water through narrow passageways, as the tide rises and falls each day, create very strong currents, and sometimes whirlpools.
These currents are dangerous to navigation and some of them should only be transited when the current is 'slack'. Slack is the small time between the ebb (when the tide goes out) and flood (when the tide comes in). The water is not really moving at slack, so there is no current. This is a safe time to transit. There are usually 4 slacks a day.
All competent navigators keep track of these moments of slack, and plan their trips to go through passes at slack tide. The time of these moments of slack changes every day by about half an hour.
When I said all competent navigators above, I mean all competent navigators ...whether they are human or another species! People on the coast have observed for a long time that the orcas also know when slack tide will be at these passes. One of coastal boating life's great joys is to transit a pass in the company of a family of orcas -- who are so clearly seeming to be doing the same thing you are, for the same reason.]
Today, we accomplished a big travelling day, with stops, the entire length of Johnstone Strait and out to Queen Charlotte Strait.
We had great Pacific White-sided Dolphins with us for a long ride today up Johnstone Strait.
Then a great hike in the Broughton Archipelago, from a place called Pig’s Ranch (no pigs or ranch now just rainforest) up to spectacular views at Eagle Eye, on on a hot afternoon.
Naturalist Barb was great with entertaining info and I even got our chef out for the hike, complete with an epic picnic lunch we provided for everyone at the look-out on top.
Tonight, en route to our anchorage, we spent time with a lovely humpback whale. Anchoring in Sunday Anchorage tonight.
- report from Capt. Kevin
A morning spent with charismatic sea lions. Then some fishing en route to a beautiful cove on Northern Vancouver Island. Here’s a photo of one of our guest’s catches: a ling cod.
- Photo by Kevin Smith
An epic day as we left the islands of southern BC and in flat calm weather crossed to the mainland and rounded Cape Caution. Heading to the Hakai Recreation area and a great beach.
- Reports from Capt. Kevin
The last couple of days have included exploring an offshore island group we rarely get to – always exciting to see who and what is living in these rugged and remote places that nonetheless have plenty of food for marine life due to strong currents bringing lots of nutrients through.
On our last morning, a gift from the Great Bear Rainforest: One of the elusive coastal wolves allowed us to see her or him, and to spend time together in the estuary.
- Reports from Capt. Kevin
Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), MV Swell – May 5-13 (updated)
Weather is absolutely GORGEOUS in Haida Gwaii, yesterday, today, and in the forecast for a few more days at least. Pinching ourselves and enjoying the moment!
After the land day exploring northern Haida Gwaii and the Masset and Skidegate areas, last night was spent at anchor in Thurston Hbr.
Today we did a skiff tour around the Tar Islands – very impressive intertidal life.
Enjoyed 4 hours ashore at Windy Bay – beautiful new Legacy pole, friendly watchmen, very informative, plus a forest hike with the watchmen through old growth and the old village site.
Several breaching humpbacks (including a mother that seemed to be teaching her calf how to breach) on the way to Ikeada Cove.
Anchored here overnight for early departure to SGaang Gwaay tomorrow morning.
- Report from Capt. Alex
Another epic day!
Whales at Garcin Rock. Puffins at Flat Rock.
Great low tide beach exploration. Skiff tour up Louscoone Inlet. A real paradise cove found at North end of Skindaskun Island.
SGang Gwaay in the evening. Brilliant day!
- Report from Capt. Alex
The anchor is down Carmichale Pass, and we’re putting on a last night wine and cheese party (and smoked sablefish), with a slideshow.
This morning we visited K’uuna (Skedans), and as we approached we had another humpback whale on the starboard side.
We counted 100 bald eagles at Skedans Islands.
Another great day today!
- Report from Capt. Alex
Captain Tavish reported it was a beautiful trip, starting in the very south of the southern Gulf Islands National Park reserve and finishing at Campbell River.
The trip started with a humpback whale feeding in Boundary Pass (the boundary referred to is the Canada – USA boundary), and abundant marine birds and mammals in the outer Gulf Islands.
Days of beach-combing, some epic sailing, rainforest walks and hikes, waterfalls, porpoises, beach bonfires, island explorations and 4 cool transient orcas (killer whales) rounded out the trip.
Photo of the Maple Leaf on this trip sailing in Georgia Strait with all five sails up is by Tavish Campbell.
- Report from Capt. Tavish.