Ice-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.
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.
Captain 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.
When 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.
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.
But 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.
Not 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.
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.
We just love their colorful beaks and the way they take off from and land in the water.
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”.
The 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.
This 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.
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.
As 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.