After a morning visit to the port of Dutch Harbor, our captain navigated the Clipper Odyssey towards the pass between Akutan and Unalaska Islands, our passage from the Bering Sea into the North Pacific. The upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water around the Aleutian Islands is legendary, and its productivity was evidenced by the huge flocks of birds swarming around the ship.
Short-tailed shearwaters, which nest in southern Australia, make the long journey north to take advantage of the productivity of summer in the North Pacific. Meanwhile, whiskered auklets nest exclusively along the length of the Aleutian chain, taking advantage of tidal currents that support their main prey, zooplankton.
A Zodiac cruise around the Baby Islands highlighted the sheer power of the tidal currents that rip back and forth through the gaps between the islands. Harbor seals and sea otters loafed in the protected waters of kelp forests, while tufted puffins rafted in huge flocks on the exposed sea just off their breeding sites.
But the productivity of this region didn’t come into clear focus until an after dinner announcement came from the bridge that huge numbers of humpback whales had been sighted up ahead. We bundled up and lined the outer decks to witness a wildlife spectacle that could only be described as awesome. The whales were spouting, fluking, and even breaching all around the ship. Their feeding activity was driving prey towards the surface, which had attracted tens of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters to the area. Shouts of excitement rang from one side of the ship to the other as the whales surfaced right beside us. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, a pink sunset illuminated the whole scene, and we came to fully understand the utter magic of the Aleutian Islands.