Alaska Bear and Whale Trip Report, Trip 2

July, 2021  |  Southeast Alaska

Bear / Whale Trip Report, Trip 2, 2021

If you read the trip report for Bear and Whale Trip 1, you know it was fantastic. So now I immediately begin to worry if Trip 2 can live up to its predecessor. All but one of the guests on this trip would be continuing on with me and doing the Anan / Wrangell photo tour. Spoiler alert; these folks are about to have nearly two weeks of amazing photography! :)

By the way, all the photos here were actually captured during the week.

Flowers and one of the few cruise ships in 2021 in downtown Juneau.

Flowers and one of the few cruise ships in 2021 in downtown Juneau.

Day 1 Juneau. We have everyone staying at the Sheraton Four Seasons hotel since this is the nicest place in Juneau, and an easy walking distance to all kinds of things in Juneau. Juneau can be a fun place, and fortunately everyone arrived a day early and had time to explore the area. We did the welcome dinner at the Hangar where we were able to cover all the details of the upcoming trip, and get to know each other a little better.

Day 2 Departure. Captain Ben met us at the hotel and Ben and I loaded bags while Janine walked with the group down to the yacht. This allows us to get bags into the rooms before the guests arrive. We did an orientation, and then threw the lines and got underway. The first day is typically a little slow as we get into position for the “good stuff”. We did see some humpbacks, and passed by a meadow that in some years can have amazing fireweed, but not this year. Then we pulled into a nice quiet cove and anchored for the night. It works out ok that the first day isn’t action packed as it gives folks a chance to unpack, get situated and get used to boat life.

Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) at the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Sitka black-tailed deer

Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) at the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Day 3. Pack Creek Bears. A scheduling snafu with the Forest Service has us going to Pack Creek today instead of tomorrow. We normally go to shore as soon as Pack Creek opens, but during high tides, the beach and landing area are all under water and so we didn't get to shore until a little later in the morning from usual.

Once on shore, we headed straight to the mouth of the river. The activity was a little slow at first as the tide subsided, but we had a couple of Sitka Black-trailed deer walk right up to us within a few feet!

The tides in this area can be extreme, and the low tide has any activity far from our position, so we used that time to hike to the upper viewing area. The best way to get a feel for the rainforest is to actually hike in it, and it is so green and lush, it really makes for a beautiful hike! Unfortunately there were not any bears at the upper viewing area despite a number of salmon - this is a really nice setting for photography. We hiked out and got all set up for the rising tide which if all goes to plan will push the salmon and bears right towards us. Well it went to plan alright, we had incredible action! At one point a sub adult approached a sow with two cubs. There were a lot of interesting interactions before the sow finally chased the pest away. We saw bears chasing salmon, chasing each other, all in all it was a fun day! Just as it got done it began to rain - perfect timing!

The trail to the upper bear viewing platform at Pack Creek makes it's way through a stunning rain forest environment.

The trail to the upper bear viewing platform at Pack Creek makes it's way through a stunning rain forest environment.

The Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Tongass National Forest

The Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Iphone photo from the upper bear viewing platform at Pack Creek.

Iphone photo from the upper bear viewing platform at Pack Creek.

Brown bear sow with cubs watching for salmon, Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area,  Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown bear sow with cubs watching for salmon, Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Chef taking care of a halibut caught while we were watching bears.

Chef taking care of a halibut caught while we were watching bears.

Day 4 Tracy Arm. One of the crew hooked a halibut last night, so I see fresh fish in our future!

Today we journeyed up the long arm known as Tracy Arm. The weather was sunny and beautiful. The trip up Tracy is wonderful, there are numerous waterfalls along the way, and this year a huge variety of icebergs. We were able to get a great view of Sawyer Glacier, the active tide water glacier at the head of Tracy Arm. The icebergs surrounding us held numerous harbor seals. A guest spotted an orca, but it was one and done and we didn’t get to capture any photographs. We did have lunch in front of the glacier - what a place to eat lunch! On our way out, as is customary, Ben put the bow of the yacht under a nice waterfall where we were able to fill our water bottles! We spotted a few humpbacks before ending the day in a new bay for me, Windham Bay. Some folks downloaded photos while others went for a kayak on this beautiful calm evening. This evening was memorable for me as well. You see our small town of 3,000 people had a young girl swimming in the Olympic finals and we were able to find it live on Sirius / XM and I was able to listen live while she won the gold medal! Not the same as being at the watch party back home in Seward, but still a moment I won’t forget.

Perfect place for lunch, Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Perfect place for lunch, Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Sawyer Glacier

Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Kayaking in Windham Bay, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Kayaking in Windham Bay, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Windham Bay, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Tongass National Forest

Windham Bay, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Chef at work!

Chef at work!

Day 5 Fredrick Sound, Whale Day. High clouds and no rain or wind equals perfect conditions. First up, a stop at a very popular sea lion haul-out. These guys can be very very noisy and animated, very fun to watch. It wasn’t long after this that we came across a nice group of humpbacks. I have an iPhone video on one swimming right up to the boat, and then diving underneath it at the last second. Finally, we had a group of Dahl's porpoises swimming in the pressure wave on the bow; another fun wildlife encounter. At the end of the day we anchored in a beautiful bay, a bay that contains a wonderful meadow and salmon stream, perfect for a hike in the morning. Plus, the week before there was a ton of bear sign, this would be a great place to finally photograph them!

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Beautiful spot to anchor for the evening.

Beautiful spot to anchor for the evening.

Day 6 Frederick Sound We were up early and on shore before breakfast. This is such a beautiful setting, and would make for an awesome bear photo. Since there were lots of salmon in the stream, and dead ones along the shore thanks to the brown bear activity, I thought our chances were good. Although it wasn’t to be on this trip. It is still a beautiful place to sit quietly and take in the scenery and do some landscape photography. After a bit Captain Ben took a few of the guests a fair ways up the creek for some exploring before we all headed back to the boat for breakfast.

We headed back out into Fredrick Sound, and again conditions were calm and perfect. It didn’t take us long to find a giant group of humpbacks and had one breach very close to the boat! To see and hear something the size of a school bus shoot out of the water and splash down is amazing!

We finished the day in my favorite Southeast Alaska Bay and did a fun skiff cruise while some folks did some kayaking.

Beautiful meadow and stream with lots of salmon and bear sign, but no bears this week.

Beautiful meadow and stream with lots of salmon and bear sign, but no bears this week.

Enjoying the meadow, making photos and watching for bears

Enjoying the meadow, making photos and watching for bears

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Day 7. Bear Day! Weather is still beautiful! There was some bear activity at the head of the bay, so off we went in the skiffs. The quickly dropping tide kept us from getting a good view of the bears, but it was still a beautiful ride.

From here we headed off to one of my favorite bear viewing places in Southeast Alaska. It was great last week, and just as good this week! The sow with the three spring cubs hung around for quite awhile. There were some older cubs, and large adults. Three sub-adults played for an extended period of time in the shallows of the bay. It was a blast!

Not long after leaving the bears, we ran into a nice group of orcas coming the other way. Captain Ben quickly turned the boat around and we were able to follow along with them for a while. At one point we had orcas on all sides of us!

We got back on track but then ran into a large group of bubble-net feeding humpback whales! Captain Ben picked up a hydrophone in Juneau and we put it overboard. It was very fascinating to listen to the calls, and to hear how it changes the closer they get to the surface. In the past I would use my stopwatch to get an idea when the group was about to resurface, but that isn’t always useful as they can be unpredictable. With the hydrophone we knew right when they were going to surface!

After the humpbacks, we made our way to another favorite bear viewing location. It was getting dark and too late to go to shore, but at least we are ready for morning.

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown Bears Fishing

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Grizzly Bear with Cubs

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown Bears Fishing

Brown bear, Baranoff Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Killer whales, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Killer whales, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback whales, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Humpback whale, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Day 8 More Bears! I love this location because of the scenery - waterfall with a mountain backdrop, and in the morning it is perfectly lit. We got to shore early and waited for a bit until the sow with the spring cub we saw last week showed up! They worked their way back and forth catching a number of salmon. We stayed until the last possible minute, but at some point we needed to hit the “road” so that we could be within striking distance of Juneau the next morning.

Typically our final night has us anchored near some remote cabins or summer homes. It is always a bummer to see civilization at the end of such an amazing trip. This time, thanks to favorable winds, we were able to anchor at a new bay for me. A bay without any sign of civilization! Alan and I took a few folks to shore for a hike and to check out the wildflowers, while the rest of the group relaxed on the boat. Looking at a chart program I had on my phone I could see what looked like a lagoon at the next bay over and wondered if it might have salmon / bears. We were able to enter a beautiful lagoon and could see all kinds of salmon darting from our Boston Whaler. As I rounded the final corner into the lagoon we spotted a brown bear along the treeline to our left. Much to our surprise, the bear dropped and charged! A very unusual behavior considering the size of our group. We yelled and hollered and the bear came to an abrupt stop. Once he realized we weren’t going to run, he did an about face and headed back to the trees. It was likely a sub-adult trying to figure out its place in the world. We decided this was a good time to head back to the boat for one last amazing dinner!

Brown bear, Chichagof Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown Bear with Cub

Brown bear, Chichagof Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska.

Brown / Grizzly Bear Fishing, Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Griizzly Bear with Cub

Brown / Grizzly Bear Fishing, Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Alan keeping an eye for any shallow spots for me.

Alan keeping an eye for any shallow spots for me.

The Brown bear that came running at us fortunately came to a quick stop!

The Brown bear that came running at us fortunately came to a quick stop!

Day 9. Another beautiful day for Southeast Alaska. We had an uneventful ride into downtown Juneau. We were met by a luxury van which brought us all to the airport - I will be using this service in the future. Always sad to say goodbye, but fortunately myself and six others were all continuing on for the Wrangell / Anan Photo Tour, so those goodbyes could wait!