We live in a very civil world. We smile and nod as we pass each other on the streets to let each other know we mean no harm. We patiently wait in lines for our turn, say please when we ask for what we would like, and say thank you when our turn is done. But in reality this is only a small amount of our world, and some places are still truly wild and filled with wild creatures. Places that are formed by ice and volcanoes shoving their way through to where they want to go, and where all of the creatures spend their days preying on smaller animals while trying to avoid becoming prey to larger animals. This is a rude, brutal, violent, and beautiful world. Alaska is one of these places.
I remember the first time I saw a whale, it was last summer. I imagined that if I hadn't grown up reading National Geographic and watching Nature on PBS I would have had to conclude that the whale that I saw swimming along the coast must have been a sea monster searching for a sailing ship to drag to the bottom of the ocean. Along Alaska's southeast inland passage seeing several whales at once is a daily occurrence. The fist time I saw a whale up here I wasn't sure what I was seeing. "Is that a fire?" I asked Captain Bob. It wasn't, it was a whale spouting along the shore. A few weeks into our trip I'm now very familiar with whales spouting.
Whales are just a taste of the marine life we've seen. As marine mammals go, Bob and I have seen humpback whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, bay porpoises, and most impressively Dall's porpoises. When we first spotted the Dall's porpoises the other day they were about a half a mile ahead of us jumping around the surface of the water in Frederick Sound. Within a minute they were all around us. It was amazing to watch these powerful animals dance and thrust across our bow. Their speed and strength seemed effortless and playful as they cut from side to side under the water in front of the boat, leaping up to catch a quick breath and diving again to ride the bow wake. Everything I've ever witnessed before in the natural world seems a little more unimpressive compared to this encounter.
Some of Alaska's wild creatures that live off of the sea do it from above. The bounty of the cold waters is magnified by the massive amount of light the waters receive in the summer, and this bounty supports a huge variety of sea fairing birds. Most impressive among these are, of course, the bald eagle. In Alaska bald eagles are as common as ravens. I had barely stepped out of the airport terminal when I saw my first bald eagle. In Oregon seeing a bald eagle is a rare gift, in Alaska you can see them hanging out in groups sometimes as large as 15 or more. This abundance can sometimes lead to unfortunate collisions with cars or planes, or wost of all birdshot. While in Sitka Bob and I were able to visit the Alaska Raptor Center where birds of prey of all kinds are brought in to receive medical care and rehabilitation. The ARC takes in everything from pigmy owls to golden eagles, but the majority of it's patients are bald eagles. Some of the birds there have injuries too severe to allow them to fend for themselves, and those birds are either given residence at the aviary or found suitable permanent homes. However the goal for all of the birds treated is to be released back into the wild as viable and healthy specimens.
Land animals seen include many deer, mountain goats, and a porcupine. The mountain goats were among the most impressive, as the youngest ones lived fully up to their name "kid" playfully and awkwardly (yet sure footedly) bounded around on the side of a cliff.
As amazed at the creatures I've seen so far, I'm still looking forward to my first sightings of moose, black bear, brown bear, and orca. With the amount of time we'll be spending in southeast Alaska and British Columbia I'm sure they are in our future.
I have to admit that I enjoy our civilized world. It's pleasant and safe, and fairly easy to get along in. However when you get a chance to observe nature at it's wildest it's hard not to sit in open mouthed wonder at the beauty of it all.