2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 5, Day 10 Foot Island to Thomas Bay | NW Explorations


2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 5, Day 10 Foot Island to Thomas Bay

Morning unfolded with flat calm seas, no winds, a slightly overcast sky and a LOW tide! Anchor chains were shortened to pull us into deeper water, the water below was crystal clear, making it easy to see colorful anemones, sea cucumbers, urchins and all sorts of bivalves (shelled critters) as if we were at Monterey Bay Aquarium! The density and diversity of organisms has everything to do with the pristine conditions and intense currents that flood through these areas providing a constant source of plankton for these filter feeders. Upon departure, we untied the stern lines and unzipped the raft one boat at a time and headed out into Fredrick Sound.

Five Fingers Light House marks the center of the channel where Stephens Passage joins Fredrick Sound. Foot island is on the shore on this boundary. Places where two large bodies of water meet create lots of currents and tide rips resulting in lots of food. Sea lions played briefly in the wake of our boats as we left Foot Island. Five Finger Light House was right in the middle of the channel and as we approached it, we spoke to someone in charge who invited us in for a tour… sounds great but where we would we leave seven boats?!

It wasn’t long before we two spotted humpbacks swimming and making shallow dives. A bit further south we noticed a lot of activity, as we approached it was clear that this was a group of six humpbacks bubble net feeding! This is a real treat to witness. It is a coordinated feeding technique that is employed by some humpback whales, especially those in SE Alaska. The whales swim together at the surface and then all at once, they dive down and swim in a circle as they descend. They blow a sheet of bubbles that form a cylinder around the school of forage fish, and they swim around the fish holding the white underside of 15-foot pectoral fins facing the cylinder. This confuses and corrals the fish into a tight ball. Suddenly, in one coordinated movement, they all plunge through the surface with their huge mouths agape to capture as many fish in one gulp as possible. At the surface we are never sure where they will appear, so we need to remain aware.  We watched this process at least ten times (about 45 minutes) before we decided to continue on our journey to Thomas Bay.

The entrance to Thomas Bay is similar to Tracy Arm because, this too had a tide-water glacier at one time. As we traveled over the moraine, a tide rip filled with birds offered a chance to see scooters, Bonaparte gulls, terns among others.

After rafting, we dinghied to the opposite side for a hike to the waterfall. It is a well-maintained trail that offers a choice of all levels of difficulty depending on how far you care to go. The entire hike could be up to eight miles round trip and the Theresa gang decided to go as far as time would allow. There were intermittent rain showers in Thomas Bay, as there often is, so after the hike we all returned to make dinner and dry out a bit. Tomorrow we are off to Petersburg. It has been an amazing adventure that included all sorts of wildlife every day. We have seen brown bears, sea otters, a mink, sea lions, Sitka deer, many bird species, as well as fabulous scenery, glaciers, and waterfalls.

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