Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound006Ice-capped mountains towering over the sea, picturesque fishing boats, sea otters, orcas, humpback whales, sea caves, sea lions, puffins, harbor seals, icebergs and a glacier. Our day on Prince William Sound was simply amazing.Prince William Sound001

We love being on the water, we love marine wildlife and anytime we have opportunities to combine the two, we are on it!Prince William Sound002

Two companies run glacier wildlife cruises out of Valdez. We chose the Lu-Lu Belle. First of all, how could we possibly resist that name?  And we got a wonderful report about this cruise at the Tok Visitor Center from two people who had just been on it.

The 75′ Lu-Lu Belle was custom built by Captain Fred in 1979 and has served as both his and his wife’s summer business as a tour boat and as their home in the winter.  Not your typical tour boat this one, she is a beauty.

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Prince William Sound009Captain Fred has a unique approach, he describes it as a 5 ½ to 7 hour cruise, depending on what is seen along the way. His wife told us that “he comes in when the wildlife lets him”. He is willing to stay put to watch the wildlife – and we really loved that approach.

So we booked Thursday’s cruise the night before, when we arrived in Valdez. As it turned out, the place where their office is located also houses a tiny RV park, Little Lu-Lu, in their parking lot. It accommodates up to eight spots, although those are also their parking spots. And somehow, we lucked out and got a rate of about $15-$20 less than others who offer full hookup.

Prince William Sound004Prince William Sound105Prince William Sound106When Hector and I discussed coming to Valdez, the first thing that came to my mind was the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, at the time, the largest oil spill in U.S. waters. I remember the images of the birds covered in oil. It was a defining moment in my life, and I never looked at the environment in the same way after that.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, consisting of three state and three federal trustees, has issued reports every 3-4 years since the spill that provide the recovery status of 28 species, four human services and several archaeological resources.

Recovery is based upon “pre-oil spill levels”. The 2014 report states that 15 of the 24 species studied over this time are “recovered”, 4 “very likely recovered”, 4 “recovering”, 4 “not recovering”, and 1 “unknown”. It is telling that 25 years later, the impacts of the spill are still being felt. But we were going to see how the wildlife recovered for ourselves.Prince William Sound005

The morning of our cruise was quite hazy in spite of a weather report that it was going to be sunny and clear. Megan, Captain Fred’s wife who works the office said that some of the haze might be due to some of the wildfires around.

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Prince William Sound011Prince William Sound008But as we set out, the views were still gorgeous. Captain Fred provided a very informative and humorous narrative throughout the cruise that included information about fishing, a history of the area, and information about the different animals.

The scenery was spectacular, I am out of adjectives to describe it at this point and many others more articulate than I have already done so.

Our first wildlife sighting was some sea otters.  These little guys are so adorable, we always enjoy seeing them.

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Prince William Sound023Not long after we happened upon a couple of orcas. Captain Fred thought these were transient orcas, because they did not stick around for long. Check out our post last year about resident and transient orcas in Vancouver Island.Prince William Sound021

Prince William Sound020Prince William Sound050Prince William Sound052Next, we saw a humpback whale. And another. And another. We think a total of four, but they were never visible simultaneously.

But these whales are always fascinating, and watching their flukes when they dive is such a thrill.Prince William Sound051Prince William Sound048

First, a deep breath

First, a deep breath

Then a deeply arched back

Then a deeply arched back

Marks the beginning of a dive

Marks the beginning of a dive

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Each fluke is unique, like a fingerprint

Each fluke is unique, like a fingerprint

After sticking around for a while with the humpbacks, we continued to an area where there were a lot of sea caves. Captain Fred skillfully steered the Lu-Lu Belle into some of the cave areas so we could get a closer look. This is the northern most temperate rainforest in the U.S., quite lovely with waterfalls and lush green plants.

Prince William Sound045Prince William Sound013And that is also where we found the puffins, one of our all-time favorite birds with bright red little feet.

There were not as many as we have seen in other places, but we did see a few flying around.Prince William Sound046

Prince William Sound047It was the first time that we saw puffins in the place where they nest. A rare opportunity to see them at home.

We just love their colorful beaks and the way they take off from and land in the water.

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Prince William Sound032There were mostly horned puffins, but we did spot one tufted puffin.Prince William Sound044

Prince William Sound037Prince William Sound039Rounding the next corner were tons of Steller sea lions. Captain Fred is not too fond of these creatures (they eat all the salmon and they stink) but he took us around to look at several groups.

The Steller sea lion is the largest of sea lions, and the bulls are three times larger than the females.Prince William Sound041

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Singing Like Pavarotti

Singing Like Pavarotti

By this time the males have established territories for multiple females that they will mate with. There was definitely an air of territorialism and competition. Or as Hector put it “love was in the air”.

Ah ... romance

Ah … romance

Prince William Sound062Prince William Sound061At last, we were nearing the glacier. I remember telling Hector that I saw a lot of white boats in the distance, thinking they were private fishing boats. They were icebergs!Prince William Sound064Prince William Sound075

Prince William Sound018Captain Fred built up the suspense as we rounded a corner to finally see the Columbia Glacier, the second largest tidewater glacier in North America.

The Lu-Lu Belle gracefully cut through the water full of icebergs to get closer.Prince William Sound072Prince William Sound071Prince William Sound019Prince William Sound090Prince William Sound068

Prince William Sound066We were amazed at how close the captain took us. He gingerly pushed through some pretty dense ice that floated around us in all kinds of crazy shapes. The Lu-Lu Belle is an impressive boat.Prince William Sound067Prince William Sound078Prince William Sound077

Prince William Sound086Captain Fred also described how the glacier has retreated eleven miles since the time he began these cruises 35 years ago!Prince William Sound084Prince William Sound065

Prince William Sound088Prince William Sound085We went right to the place where the melted water comes out of the glacier, the glacial river.  Prince William Sound087

Prince William Sound080The glacier creaked and groaned and calved several times. Whenever the glacier calved, it set off a chain reaction in the water.  Bigger chunks created big swells that sometimes tipped and cracked the icebergs around us.  It was powerful.Prince William Sound076

Prince William Sound073The brilliant blue color of most of the glacier is caused when much of the air is compressed out of the ice. Many of the icebergs were a brilliant blue as well.Prince William Sound071

Prince William Sound081This is the third glacier that we see, but I do not believe that we got this close on any of the previous times. Captain Fred stuck around a while for everyone to get a good look and also waiting for more calving but after a while the glacier stopped cooperating.Prince William Sound079

Oh and did I mention how cold it was by the glacier, it was just above freezing. Brrrrr!Prince William Sound070Prince William Sound089

Prince William Sound099On our way back, we spotted harbor seals and otters sitting on icebergs.Prince William Sound100Prince William Sound098

Prince William Sound097Prince William Sound092Prince William Sound095And, our favorite of all, a sea otter with her baby clutched to her chest. The mamas are so protective of their young, holding them and diving with them if necessary.Prince William Sound094

Prince William Sound093We watched this mama and her baby for a while, until she decided we were too close and dove underwater. Prince William Sound091

Captain Fred spent what I consider to be a small amount of time speaking about the Valdez oil spill. Then, as we neared the town, he provided some interesting details about the terminus of the Alaska pipeline, which was on our right.Prince William Sound104

Prince William Sound103As we reached the boat dock, I felt somewhat heartened by the wildlife that we had seen on the cruise. I wish the best for the continuing recovery of wildlife and other resources in this astoundingly beautiful place.

~ BrendaPrince William Sound102

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “Prince William Sound

    • We were surprised at some of the icebergs he went over, the calving was not scary because the waves themselves weren’t that big, more like swells. Thanks!

  1. Marvelous trip, beautiful photos by Hector of course, but I am puzzled Brenda by your outer wear…I see photos with a gray jacket and then a teal colored jacket. How many layers did you have on? And Angel was missing, not a sea fairing dog I guess…

    • Good catch. I took three layers – a lighter pairing good for rain – hoodie that I could wear with a rain jacket, and a heavier jacket. I wound up wearing the hoodie with the heavier jacket by the glacier. Angel is a sea faring dog and has actually gone whale watching but most boats do not allow dogs. I was fortunate enough that Megan (the captain’s wife) offered to look in on her/walk her during the day. We were parked right next door to the office. I normally don’t entrust Angel to strangers, but my gut told me she was a good dog person.

  2. What an amazing experience and how heartwarming to see wildlife in an area that was so devastated by the oil spill. You obviously chose the right boat for your tour. Gorgeous photos!

  3. It has taken me so long to get through this post. I don’t believe I have ever had to enlarge almost all of the photos before. There aren’t any words left to describe what you just saw on your boat tour. Wow!! I am soooo glad you posted so many photos:) The otter are just adorable and my favorite. I think the baby is actually smiling at you on one of those photos:) How so cool to see the puffin! Their heads look so fake and those red feet are so cute. The whales…Hector, that shot with the waterfall off the tail is spectacular!! Boy, those bull sea lions are huge! Love your captions, Brenda!! I’ve got a thing for icebergs and glaciers. I love the blue color of the ice. How nice that you were able to get right into the thick of it!

    You certainly chose the right tour company for your day:) Just flying up for this tour would make me happy. Thanks for sharing all the magnificent photos. Brenda, your narrative was a beautiful summary of this day:)

    • Thank you, Pam! btw, Hector writes most of the captions – he is the funny one! So glad you enjoyed it!

    • Thanks Shannon! On this day I carried a Canon 24-105L lens on a full frame sensor body (Canon 5DM2) and a Canon 100-400L lens on a crop sensor body (Canon 50D). For wildlife, generally the longer the better as long as you can hand hold it on a moving boat. Feel free to follow up with more questions I’m happy to help if I can. H

    • It was! You know I am not a cold weather person. The new jackets we bought in Reno (Patagonia outlet), and thermals I bought have come in handy! And you’re right, the cold didn’t bother me at all with the spectacular scenery and wildlife.
      Brenda

  4. Thank you SO much for sharing a wonderful cruise. The photos are beyond description. Isn’t it wonderful when you stumble upon a Capt. Fred, his wife, and a spectacular boat, and even a RV spot right at the dock…and everything works out in dreamlike fashion. You and Hector are so fortunate to be able to experience this. You made it happen, and that is SO cool (pun intended).

    • I like your description of dreamlike fashion, that is how it all fell together – so true! We are most certainly grateful for all of it.

  5. As a twelve year old, I was fortunate to experience some of your routes, and it’s been very enjoyable to follow along now. This experience you’ve shared…wow, makes me realize how much more there is. What an amazing adventure…and a cold one!

    • What a wonderful experience for a twelve year old! Alaska has an endless amount of beautiful places to see. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to see a few of them this summer.

  6. What a fantastic cruise this must have been ! Your pictures are gorgeous as always ! Really enjoy reading about your journey, I wanted to comment earlier about your awesome handmade sign you two made and seeing a Hungarian one surprised me.
    Looking forward to see and read your adventures, love it. Z.

    • Yes, it was. Glad you liked the sign 🙂 There were so many signs from so many different places, it was pretty amazing. Glad you’re along for the ride.
      Brenda

  7. What an awesome post! I too associated Valdez with the Exxon spill but your beautiful photos and captions will now help me to think of all the natural beauty there and the amazing and resilient wildlife instead. And, OMG the Mama and baby otter- too cute!

  8. Absolutely spectacular! I, too, remember well the heartbreaking tragedy of the Exxon oil spill, and the devastating effects on the wildlife. I’m glad to see that most of the species have recovered — I hope they all do. Your photos and narrative are enthralling.

    • Thank you, Laurel. I can only wonder what it might have been like if had there not been an oil spill, but I’m glad to see nature has mostly bounced back.

  9. Amazing photos! We were hoping to go to Alaska this summer but we got grounded while I take chemo and radiation treatments. The photos and your descriptions make us feel like we are along for the ride. Can’t wait to see where you go next! We Hope to be back on the road soon.

    • Oh, so sorry that you couldn’t make it. I wish you a rapid recovery and return to the road. So glad that you are along for the ride with us here in Alaska, we truly enjoy sharing our journey.
      Brenda

    • According to the captain, we were 1/4 mile away though it seemed much closer. If I remember correctly, you are supposed to stay twice as far as the glacier is tall. But it felt really close!

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