Thursday, July 26, 2012

Prince William Sound

Prince William Sound

What an absolutely amazing experience! Tuesday we took a 9 hour Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruise. The cost was $155 per person, but it was well worth it as we were able to observe steller sea lions, humpback whale, sea otter, dall’s porpoise, harber seal, and a wide variety of birds, including puffins. The destination of the trip is the Meares Glacier with a view of the Columbia glacier, but the entire trip was filled with beautiful views, as well as the opportunity to observe and learn about commercial fishing that is so important to Alaska.

We left the Valdez harbor at 10:00 am and returned after 7:00 pm. The boat has a capacity of over 160 and was about half full, so we had lots of room to move around. When we left the harbor, the clouds/fog was so bad that we were wondering if we were going to have a good trip. About the time we got past the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal, it started to clear.

We had a really good narrator and he did a great job of providing us with the history of the pipeline and the oil spill. We were able to see where the tanker had run aground and he explained the circumstances of the grounding. He also gave us a lot of information about navigation and how the spill changed the way traffic is now handled in the harbor.

As far as the amenities of our boat trip, we were provided free coffee and hot tea with a variety of snacks available for a small charge. The crew that served us was composed of high School and college guys who were quite knowledgeable and courteous as the served us. We had a lunch that consisted of baked chicken with alfredo sauce over a bed of rice, vegetables, a large rolls and oreo cookies. Late in the afternoon, we were served a bowl of clam chowder with crackers. Our lunch was warm when it was served, but just as we started to eat, the narrator told us that whales were just up ahead. We then spent about 30 minutes whale watching and returned to a cold lunch that by that time was not very good. That’s OK because I certainly did not want to miss seeing the whales.

As we began to approach the Columbia glacier, we observed increasingly larger chunks of ice in the water. The ice from that glacier was nothing in comparison to what we saw as we approached the Meares glacier. This was so amazing and the views of the glacier were just as you see on postcards, etc. The Captain got us very close and although we did not get to see any huge calves, we did see and hear several small ones. We stayed at the glacier for about an hour.

On the way to and from the glacier, we saw hundreds of commercial fishing boats and the narrator gave us a history ofAlaska fishing and the current status. It was really neat to watch the process. A small boat is attached to the net and it moves out to make a circle back to the large boat as the fish is captured in that net. Then, the fish is loaded on that boat. Some of these boats just go back into harbor, but some off load to a tender and remain out on the water. It is my understanding that they can fish 12 hours a day and that time is closely monitored by the coast guard. The boats take turns getting lined up to fish certain areas. It is an honor system and I’m sure they deal with any violation amongst themselves.

If you are ever in Valdez, I highly recommend this trip. We were constantly watching wildlife or seeing other things which are unique to this area. At first I was reluctant to fork over that much money, but in the end it was certainly worth it.

Guess which TV show?

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