USA: Alaska #25 Snow the Whale

After a wonderful day sailing in Glacier Bay National Park, we called into Bartlett Cove Ranger Station to see a memorial to a very special humpback whale called Snow.

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Bartlett Cove Ranger Station © JT of jtdytravels  P1140368

Being permitted to dock here was yet another advantage of being on a small ship; the big cruisers can’t come here… the bay is not deep enough, the pontoon jetty is not big enough for them and the small public area around the Rangers Station and Snow’s memorial just would not cope with thousands of cruise boat passengers at a time.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110674

So what was special about Snow? In July 2001, Snow, a 44 year old female hump back whale was killed in Glacier Bay by a large cruise ship. Not intentionally, of course.

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Snow, named for the white spots on her tail, was a favourite of the park rangers. They’d tracked her each year since 1975 as she returned from her long migration to the south. They knew her well… and all of her babies. As our ranger told us the sad story of Snow and her untimely death, I realised that this story had a special significance to me. I’d heard it before. I was here, sailing in this area on a cruise ship shortly after the drama of Snow’s death began to unfold back in July 2001.

I’d been sailing down the coast from Anchorage on a large cruise ship and I was really looking forward to sailing into Glacier Bay; a definite highlight of any cruise in Alaska. However, we weren’t permitted to enter… no ship was. Snow had been killed a couple of weeks earlier and all ships were barred from entry for quite some time. And that was one reason why I’d come back to the Inside Passage this time… to visit Glacier Bay. Now I had a chance to honour this whale and visit her very special memorial.

 

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Snow was 14 m (45.5 ft) long and weighed 35 ton. These are BIG animals, as you can see from this photo of park personnel beside her beached body.

Snow’s body was left to decompose on the beach for 15 months. Her bones were then soaked in the ocean and later moved into compost pits to allow nature to help clean them. All of this took a great deal of work but many students and community volunteers donated hundreds of hours to help the rangers of the National Park Service. The bones were then transported to the east coast of USA to be properly cleaned and preserved. A settlement with the cruise line that had killed Snow, helped provide the much needed funds.

 

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1140388

Now Snow’s bones form the world’s largest hump back skeleton display. She ‘lives on to teach the world about whales’. The memorial is an amazing example of how tragedy can be turned into triumph.

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1140381

There are many signs around the memorial that teach more about these humpback whales which visit Glacier Bay every summer. The whales come from either Hawaii or Mexico. To get to Glacier Bay they travel 4025 kms (2,500 miles), the journey taking them 5 to 6 weeks. They arrive back in Alaska very hungry since they eat little while in their summer mating and calving grounds. The nutrient rich waters of Alaska provide a virtual ‘all you can eat’ buffet for whales. We had been privileged to spend hours watching them feed in several places during our journey through the Inside Passage.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140400

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140400

One of Snow’s legacies is the stricter rules that govern visits to Glacier Bay. Now the park service strictly limits the number of ships permitted to visit each day. Speed limits are also imposed and the approach distance between ships and whales are strict. Now the whales can swim and feed in peace… and visitors can once more enjoy the natural wonders of Glacier Bay National Park.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1100260

There was one more story our ranger told us about Snow. When the memorial was opened, the park service invited an elder from the local Tlingit tribe to welcome Snow back. At the same time as this ‘service’ was being held, the guests were amazed, and very moved, to see some whales come close into Bartlett Cove as if to welcome her back, too.

I was so glad that I was able to visit the memorial and glad, too, that I’d finally been able to visit Glacier Bay. It had been a very special day.  But there was still just time to go for a short walk in the forest area behind the ranger’s quarters before leaving Bartlett Cove.

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Pyrola asarifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110681

Pyrola asarifolia, the Pink Wintergreen, is the largest of all the Wintergreens in the Tongass Forests.  David found most of the others on his other walks.

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110683

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110683

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia, is known as Sitka Burnett or Canada Burnett. It’s one plant not seen before on any of the other walks. This is a most unusual flower. It has no petals; just long white sepals arranged around a cylindrical head.  Sanquisorba refers to the fact that a concoction made from the  roots have been used to stop both internal and external bleeding. Even today, herbalists recommend that the leaves can be made into a herbal tea.

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Lupinus nootkatensis. © DY of jtdytravels; P1110687

A large patch of Lupins, Lupinus nootkatensis, made a great splash of colour. These were over a metre in height. The flowers open from the bottom to the top

The leaves are referred to as being palmately compound; as you can see, they radiate out from a common point and are not all the same size.

The plants die back in winter and are thus able to survive the harsh, cold winters.

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Nuphar polysepalum © Dy of jtdytravels; P1110708

On the pond were some beautiful flowers and leaves of Nuphar polysepalum also known as   Yellow Pond Lily, a common name that one might expect. But its other local name is rather more unusual: Spatterdock Cow-lily.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110711

A robin hopped around on logs among the lilies, insect catching , no doubt.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110713

Various lichens and mosses adorned both rotting logs and rocks.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110716

Equisetum sp. is a strange looking, but quite striking, small bog plant.

Listera cordata © DY of jtdytravels; P1110717

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110717

The tiny white flowers of Listera cordata hold their heads high on stalks above their heart shaped leaves… which give the plant its common name of Heart-leaved Twayblade.

Listera caurina © DY of jtdytravels; P1110723

Listera caurina © DY of jtdytravels; P1110723

The Northwestern Twayblade, Listera caurina, has different shaped leaves.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110735

All of these plants grew around this small pond and bog. It was quite lovely in the evening light with the forest reflected in the dark, still waters.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110743

On leaving the forest, David noticed this eagle Tlingit totem carving.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1140456

Tlingit totem art takes many forms. This was on a poster back near the dock.

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1140443

Darkness was closing in as we made our way back to the dock.

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‘Sea Lion’ © DY of jtdytravels; P1110761

‘Sea Lion’ was waiting to take us to our evening anchorage outside of the National Park, to an area where we’d be able to take one last walk in the Tongass Forests.

More of that anon

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

 

 

 

 

 

USA: Alaska #20 George Island WW11 Gun Site

From the beach, the walking group made their way up through the forest to the Pacific Ocean side of George Island. There, they would find an almost forgotten gun site from WWII.

Signpost for Gun Site Walk © DY of jtdytravels; P1110257

Signpost for Gun Site Walk © DY of jtdytravels; P1110257

The pathway up to the gun site was only completed in 2012. Before then, this was a rather forgotten part of World War II history in Alaska and the USA.

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View back into a bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110271

The walk went by some delightful rocky coves.

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Rain drops © DY of jtdytravels; P1110264

The rain that had been threatening all morning began,

but it was only a light shower.

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Climbing to the top © DY of jtdytravels; P1110273

The path was steep at times, but there was always something to see;

a chance to stop for a bit of a rest.

The group spared a thought for the men who pulled the gun up this hill.

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Rocky Bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110272

The higher the walk, the craggier the inlets.

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Another Rocky Cove © DY of jtdytravels; P1110281

Rock ‘stacks’ were left by the pounding waves of many a storm.

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Aster sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1110278

There were indeed big vistas, but there were also small plants to enjoy.

This Aster sp. was delightful.

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Moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1110280

As with all of the forest areas that we had visited, there was plenty of moss.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110296

Another rocky bay came into view through the trees.

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Platanthera stricta © DY of jtdytravels; P1110284

The Slender Bog Orchard, Platanthera stricta, is one of the Rein Orchards; stricta means slender. This one differs from the White Bog Orchard (photographed on an earlier walk) because it has green rather than white flowers.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110286

Another beautiful orchid found along this forest path was Listera cordata, commonly called  Heart-leaved Twayblade. The pale green to purplish brown flowers have a long lip that is divided into two lobes. Each plant may have between 5 to 16 flowers that grow in a terminal elongated cluster. It grows well in a mossy, moist part of the forest.

Apparently Charles Darwin was fascinated by this orchid because of the way it blows its pollen away in a explosive puff. The pollen, which is held within a drop of sticky fluid, glues itself onto whatever insect it lands upon, often a fly or a fungus gnat. The flowers lure these insects by having an unpleasant odour. So, they may be delightful to look at, but don’t touch or smell!

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© Dy of jtdytravels; P1110289

One very different moss in this forest is Hylocomium splendens or Step Moss, so called because its stems are twice pinnately branched. The 3-5cm long, step-like annual increments are clearly visible in this closeup photo. The age of a step moss can be estimated by counting these annual ‘steps’. This moss likes calcium rich soils as opposed to the the Sphagnum Moss , that prefers acidic, organic soils.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110299

Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1110299

Deep in the forest where little light penetrates, David found the lovely Moneses uniflora. This plant, which is called WaxFlower, has two, perhaps more appropriate common names ; Shy Maiden and Single Delight. The latter refers to the single, white, fragrant nodding flower on top of a leafless stalk. The name Moneses derives from the Greek; monos meaning one and hesia meaning delight. And I think you’ll agree, it is a delightful flower.

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Penguicula vulgaris © DY of jtdytravels; P1110295

Another beautiful flower is the Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris.  This plant grows in moist areas which low in available nitrogen. So it supplements its nutrition by trapping insects. The purple flower plays no part in catching prey and it’s held high above the leaves by a long stem, well away from the sticky insect catching leaves. The plant doesn’t want to catch its own pollinators by mistake! One of those amazing survival tricks of nature.

Another one of those survival tricks relates to the way this plant catches and digests its food. The leaves have two special glands on the upper surface. One, the peduncular gland, produces a wet looking secretion that forms droplets on the leaf surface, hopefully luring a small insect in search of water. But it’s not water; it’s sticky and traps the insect. As you might expect, the insect begins to fight for its life, but that only triggers more glands to secrete more sticky droplets. This secretion begins the digestion process and that triggers an initial flow of nitrogen to the plant.  And that brings into play the second type of gland, the sessile glands, which lie flat on the leaf surface. Those glands excrete enzymes which further break down the insect into digestible fluids that can be absorbed into the plant through special holes in the leaf. And that just leaves the insect’s exoskeleton on the leaf. And that’s just another example of what makes learning about plants so fascinating, don’t you think?

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Cornus canadensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110305

In that same moist area, covered yet again in moss, there were more of the lovely Dwarf Dogwood; Cornus canadensis.  This perennial plants forms a wide mat of oval leaves borne in whorls above the moss on erect stems. White, oval bracts surround tiny greenish flowers. These are followed by the red berries, locally called Bunchberries.

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An ocean side rocky cove © DY of jtdytravels; P1110296

The Butterwort and Dogwood were growing beneath trees above this rocky cove.

And out beyond the cove, the Pacific Ocean stretches thousands of kilometres.

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The gun © DY of jtdytravels; P1110309

And here at last was the gun; an eighteen ton (36,000 pounds) steel gun.

Yes. ‘Twas indeed  mighty effort to get it up here.

But this gun was never fired in anger.

It was fired but four times after they eventually got it in place in 1942. A target was set up to test the gun. On the fourth shot, the the gun mount sheered and the gun jumped back a few inches. The stand came down on one of the men’s foot and broke his toe. And that was that. The gun was covered over and never fired again. It was also almost forgotten. All of the other guns that the US set up in Alaska to target a possible invasion by the Japanese have gone; broken down or pushed into the sea for the fish to swim around. This is the only one that is left standing. And only very recently, the path to the gun was restored; a piece of history

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The mount of the gun © DY of jtdytravels; P1110315

The gun mount looks sturdy enough!

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Looking down the barrel © DY of jtdytravels; P1110323

Isn’t it amazing, that even in a place like this,

people can leave their trash behind!

What happened to the wilderness etiquette? Pack it in, pack it out!

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The magazine  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110313

The ammunition was stored here. Not much was used!

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Inside the magazine © DY of jtdytravels; P1110322

At least they removed the ammunition when they left the site.

There’s not much to see here now.

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What’s left of an accommodation hut © DY of jtdytravels; P1110307

The accommodation quarters have seen better days. Life was tough for the gunners who were posted here.  It’s a blustery, windy, often cold and wet place. Despite the rain, there was very little water; none in the winter, because it would freeze. Most of the men went back to Sitka. Two men remained but it wasn’t long before they also locked up and left.

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View from gun site © DY of jtdytravels; P1110312

Looking north from the gun site.

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110317

One last look out across a bay to snow topped mountains beyond.

Across the ocean, by about 4,000 kms, is Kamchatka where David explored a couple of years ago. His experiences of the many volcanoes in that part of Russia, and the wonderful variety of plants and mushrooms he found there, are written up with photos on our other web site: www.dymusings.com

 

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Back at the beach © JT of jtdytravels; P1140016

As the walkers returned from the gun site, the kayakers also came back to the bay.

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Returning the kayaks to ‘Sea Lion’.© JT of jtdytravels; P1140018

One last task for the crew; return the kayaks to “Sea Lion’.

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1140021

The weather closed in again, but no one was concerned. Lunch was served.

More anon

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

.