Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 67 – Prince William Sound Cruise

Today was spent on a seven hour Prince William Sound Cruise aboard the Valdez Spirit.

The pipeline from Prudhoe Bay terminates in Valdez. An average of 52 tankers per month dock in Valdez, each tanker averages 1.2 million barrels of oil. All oil is presently shipped to American ports. The current administration has the pipeline operating at 1/3 capacity due to limits of oil exploration in Alaska. Yet Obama claims he wants America to become energy independent.

Part 1 Video – Leaving the harbor

We left Valdez Harbor and soon came by a group of sea otters resting in the Valdez Arm. Sea Otters are known as the “Old Man of the Sea”. They consume nearly 25% of their weight each day. The rest of the time they float on their backs grooming and resting as this group was doing.


We next came above a fairly large group of fishing boats that are based at Valdez. The boats are individual own and fish for various fish a good part of the year. This time of year they are fishing for salmon. When a boat has a full load of salmon, he sells the load for cash to one of the waiting tenders. The tenders are from different fish companies based in Alaska and Washington State. They bid on the load from the fishing boat. Once a boat has sold and emptied his load, he redeploys his nets for another catch. The current going price for today was 37 cents a pound.


Part 2 Video – Salmon Fishing Fleet

Next on our cruise was Bligh Island, named for Captain Bligh who explored the area as Master of HMS Resolution, under the command of Captain Cook. Today Bligh Island is home to the pilots that guide the large ships through the Valdez Arm and Prince William Sound.

One of the major lessons of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was that the spill prevention and response capability in Prince William Sound was fundamentally inadequate.

The U.S. Coast Guard now monitors fully laden tankers via satellite as they pass through Valdez Narrows, cruise by Bligh Island, and exit Prince William Sound at Hinchinbrook Entrance. In 1989, the Coast Guard watched the tankers only through Valdez Narrows and Valdez Arm.   

Two escort vessels accompany each tanker while passing through the entire sound. They not only watch over the tankers, but are capable of assisting them in the event of an emergency, such as a loss of power or loss of rudder control. Ten years ago, there was only one escort vessel through Valdez Narrows  

Specially trained marine pilots, with considerable experience in Prince William Sound, board tankers from their new pilot station at Bligh Reef and are aboard the ship for 25 miles out of the 70-mile transit through the Sound.  Weather criteria for safe navigation are firmly established.


Part 3 Video – Bligh Island


A little farther out, we passed by a flow of ice from the Columbia Glacier.

Part 4 Video – Passing through Ice Field


Steller Sea Lions average 1,200 pounds for males and up to 650 pounds for females. They eat during the night and, sunning and resting on rocks during the day. Bull Head is mostly a bachelor colony.


Part 5 Video – Bull Head colony Sea Lions

Next we came above a Humpback Whale and her calf. These whales are baleen feeders, consuming nearly a ton of food a day, mostly plankton and krill. They migrate 6000 miles to reach their summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Humpbacks average 45 feet and weigh 35-45 tons.

Unfortunately I was only able to catch the mother and calf spouting and did not catch them breaching out of the water. The video does include a Horn Puffin. Puffins are deep divers and fast swimmers. Unlike other birds, they have solid bones instead of hallow bones so that they can dive deeper. This does have one drawback as sometimes they eat too much and cannot take off from the water. They than just have to wait until they become light enough to fly. Usually they can avoid predators by swimming fast and diving until they are light enough to fly.


Part 6 Video – Humpback Whale & Puffin


For Loren: Sailboat in Prince William Sound

I guess they like cold water sailing vs. Gulf of California.


Columbia Glacier

The Columbia Glacier was the last of Alaska’s tidewater glaciers to go into retreat. The retreat began in 1978 and by 1983 it had moved off of its terminal moraine, losing an increasing amount of ice. In 2002, it had retreated for a distance of 7.5 miles, leaving approximately 18 miles to go before reaching bedrock on shore. Glaciers retreat and proceed in cycles. The cycles are not related to global warming as Al Gore and President Obama say is evidence of global warming. As a matter of fact several glaciers in Alaska are in their proceeding cycle.


Part 7 Video – Columbia Glacier


Sea Lions resting on a buoy – Actually showing off for us.

Anderson Falls is created by melting ice from Anderson Glacier that is east of Columbia Glacier. Anderson Falls brings our cruise to an end.

Part 8 Video: Sea Lions and Anderson Falls

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