The famous naturalist John Muir once wrote: “you should never go to Alaska as a young (person) because you’ll never be satisfied with any other place as long as you live.”
Is it possible to agree and to disagree with a single statement such as this one? It is true that there is no place like Alaska, and we cannot more strongly urge you all, regardless of age, to visit ‘The Last Frontier’ at some point, in whatever capacity makes the most sense for you. Even if you do chance ruining the rest of the world for the rest of your life (kidding, of course).
Not only is Alaska a surreal place to see, but it also provides a cornucopia of photographic delights across the spectrum of nature photography be it with wildlife image-making or landscapes.
We think there may not exist a better way to experience Alaska than by joining Backcountry Journeys’ Marine Wildlife of Alaska: Kenai Fjords photography tour.
At the edge of the Kenai Peninsula lies a land where the ice age procrastinates. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield, which is the crowning feature at Kenai Fjords National Park, located near Seward, Alaska. The Harding Icefield and its outflowing glaciers cover 700 square miles of Alaska’s Kenai Mountains in glacier ice. Created more than 23,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch, the Icefield was a small piece of the vast ice sheet that covered much of Southcentral Alaska.
Kenai Fjords National Park is a land dominated by glaciers, massive rivers of ice that flow out from the Harding Icefield. Today, nearly 51 percent of the park is covered by ice, but all of this land was once buried beneath the ice and still bears its influence. The dramatic coastal fjords and valleys of the park reveal a long history of glaciation.
Designated in 1980, Kenai Fjords National Park spans over 1,000 square miles of icy waters and lush forests where wildlife thrives.
Our Marine Wildlife of Alaska: Kenai Fjords trip is based out of the quaint but lively historical fishing town of Seward, Alaska. Seward features a lovely small boat harbor and is nestled deep in the mountains on Resurrection Bay – you can often photograph puffins, otters, bald eagles, and harbor seals right out of your window!
Each day we’ll board our specially designated photography vessel, and head out into the mysterious bays and coves of Kenai Fjords National Park. The wildlife photography here is truly second to none, and we visit each year when we do so because it is the best time for whales. Common species include Humpback and Orca. We will also have the opportunity to photograph seal, sea lion, and sea otter as well as a variety of seabirds including Bald eagle, Horned puffin, and Kittiwakes.
Wildlife is everywhere on this one, and not just of the marine variety. We regularly see mountain goats and even bears, perched high on the cliffs and on the many isolated beaches.
How about a quick look at some of the wildlife we’ll be hoping to see out there:
The Humpback has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is known for breaching and other distinctive surface behaviors, making it popular with whale watchers. Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating. Found in oceans and seas around the world, Humpback whales typically migrate up to 16,000 miles each year. Humpbacks feed in polar waters and migrate to tropical or subtropical waters to breed and give birth when they fast and live off their fat reserves. Their diet consists mostly of krill and small fish.
The killer whale, or orca, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. Killer whales are apex predators, as there is no animal that preys on them. They are considered a cosmopolitan species, and can be found in each of the world’s oceans in a variety of marine environments, from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas—killer whales are only absent from the Baltic and Black seas, and some areas of the Arctic Ocean.
The Sea otter is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 31 and 99 pounds, making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals. Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter’s primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur, the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter lives mostly in the ocean. The sea otter inhabits offshore environments, where it dives to the seafloor to forage. It preys mostly on marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various mollusks and crustaceans, and some species of fish. Its diet includes prey species that are also valued by humans as food, leading to conflicts between sea otters and fisheries.
Harbor seals are found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines of the Northern Hemisphere. Harbor seals are brown, silvery-white, tan, or gray, with distinctive V-shaped nostrils. An adult can attain a length of six feet, and a mass of 290 pounds. Blubber under the seal’s skin helps to maintain body temperature. Females outlive males (30–35 years versus 20–25 years). Harbor seals stick to familiar resting spots or haulout sites, generally rocky areas (although ice, sand, and mud may also be used) where they are protected from adverse weather conditions and predation, near a foraging area. The global population of harbor seals is 350,000–500,000.
The kittiwakes are two closely related seabird species in the gull family Laridae, the Black-legged kittiwake and the Red-legged kittiwake. Also known as a Seahawk because its wing pattern is similar to that of the hawk. The name is derived from its call, a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake. ‘The two species are physically very similar. They have a white head and body, grey back, grey wings tipped solid black, and a yellow bill. Black-legged kittiwake adults are somewhat larger (roughly 16 inches in length) with a wingspan of 35–39 inches than red-legged kittiwakes (14–16 inches) in length with a wingspan around 33–35 inches. Other differences include a shorter bill, larger eyes, a larger, rounder head, and darker grey wings in the Red-legged kittiwake.
Puffins are a group of diving birds that swim underwater using their wings for propulsion and their feet for steering. Two species of puffins nest in Kenai Fjords National Park, the horned and the tufted. The puffins we see from the tour boats are ready for the breeding season. The horned puffin has pure white feathers around the face, large flashy beak plates, and the characteristic fleshy black horn above the eye. The tufted puffin also has white facial feathers and colorful beak plates, but the addition of two tufts of yellow feathers atop its head distinguishes this species. Both puffins stand 15 inches tall, the tufted puffin is heavier at 1.7 pounds than the horned puffin at 1.4 pounds. The weight difference seems slim, but for a bird that must flap its wings 400 times a minute to stay aloft, it is very big. The Inuit people of Alaska used puffin skins to make feather-lined parkas. Beak plates were collected and strung together to form rattles used by shaman in rituals. Both the Aleuts and the Inuits sewed beak plates for decoration on the outside of their garments.
At the end of each thrilling day while on this tour, we’ll return to port from our adventure spend the evening, and retire to our warm, well-appointed rooms in Seward. Evenings on the town are excellent and our dinners are marked by good company, laughter, image sharing, and stories of the day.
So, why not step aboard and join Backcountry Journeys for the photography trip of a lifetime through the icy waters, forested coves, and stunning alpine scenery of Kenai Fjords National Park?
As of this writing, only four coveted spots remain on our June 6th to 11th, 2021 tour. We’d love to be your host in Alaska this summer – and even if Muir is proven to be correct and experiencing Alaska does end up ruining the rest of the world for you, we say it will be worth it.
Marine Wildlife of Alaska
June 6th – 11th, 2021
with Ben Blankenship
4 Spots Left
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Night Sky Post-Processing
with Ben Blankenship
Tuesday, May 18th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)