Day 7 |
Jul 25, 2014

St. Paul Island

By Kit van Wagner, Marine Science
Co-ordinates: N57º07'523", E 170º16'745"
Weather: Foggy and partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 7ºC
Pressure: 875 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

The officers on watch early this morning brought the Silver Discoverer into her anchorage just outside the harbour of St. Paul Island – our first stop in the Pribilof Islands as we steadily work our way north up the rugged Alaskan coast.

With a light fog on the water this morning I fired up my handheld GPS unit to aid in navigating my Zodiac in and out of the harbour during the disembarkation. It’s always a little surreal to head off into a wall of fog while navigating by compass and GPS, and requires a degree of faith in technology and seamanship.

Once everyone was ashore, I hopped on the shuttle bus to head up to the bird cliffs and seal rookery at the eastern edge of the island. On the way there I noted that the fish and crab processing plant near the water and the Russian Orthodox Church standing above the town dominate this no-frills town.

As the bus slowed to a stop I could see we were at the high edge of a cliff on one side of the island and on the other side lay low sloping green fields rolled down to the water and cobble shores below. I opted to check out the seals first on the low side of the island and headed down to the seal blind.

I discovered a narrow deck enclosed with wide slats of wood that allow viewers to peer out into the busy seal rookery without disturbing anything. There were several large sub-adult male Northern Fur Seals lying on the grass in front of the blind, passing time until they would be large enough to stake out their own territory down on the water’s edge and collect a harem of females of their own.

On the far side of the blind, the view opened up to the ocean and every once in a while the fog lifted enough to uncover the ship at anchor in front of St. Paul’s working waterfront. In the foreground however, were close to a thousand sea lions barking, wailing, posturing and rushing one another. Hundreds of pups were waiting in groups for their mothers to return from the sea and fill their bellies with fat-rich milk.

Turning my back on the seals’ cacophony and hub of activity was no easy feat, but eventually I headed up to see the bird cliffs and was rewarded with stunningly close views of Tufted Puffins and Common Murres perched on the rocky ledges. It was not difficult to get great photos of the seabirds and even an Arctic Fox curled up on the rocks far below.

Finally it was time to head back to the harbour and I reluctantly climbed back onto the shuttle bus for the short ride back downhill and eventually out to the ship. The afternoon was spent giving my presentation about life in the deep seas around the Aleutian Islands followed by Claudia’s talk about seabirds. She pointed out many incredible features of the local species and their natural history.

One final treat for the day was thousands of wheeling fulmars around the ship during the Recap and Briefing and on into dinner. It was almost as if the birds were escorting us on our journey north for a little while. With a solid week of intense activity thus far, I’m sure everyone aboard is (like me) looking forward to a two-hour time change tonight and a little extra sleep tomorrow morning. We’ve earned it!