Day 4 - July 22, 2014 - Morning landing at the Semidi Islands
By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist
What a busy yet amazing day!!! We started our morning with a landing and a Zodiac cruise around some of the Semidi Islands.
We split the landing, so we did a Zodiac tour for an hour with half the group while the others went for a hike on a nearby island. I did the Zodiac cruise and the tour was really great, although the wind and swell were significant on the windward side of the island -where all the birds were. The small archipelago is home to 1.3 million Brünnich’s Guillemots, which are some of my favourite birds due to their unusual behaviour of the chick leaping off the cliff into the sea when it is only half the size of the adult and unable to fly. The male then joins the chick and feeds it while they start their journey south to their wintering grounds. We also had great sightings of the tiny Parakeet Auklet, with its beautiful white streamer on its face, magnificent Black Oystercatchers on a rock, and everyone’s favourites, the Tufted and Horned Puffins.
The landing itself was onto a pebbly beach where members of the team hiked up a grassy slope on to a raised beach – now a meadow full of flowers and greenery. Then the path sloped more gently up a rise, with wonderful views from the cliff over the landing beach, and rocky headlands. About half a dozen guests went with Kit across the top of the grassy ‘meadow’ to get spectacular views over the ocean from the other side.
Chris Cutler talked plants and insects; James talked rocks; Victoria talked history -giving everyone a taste of the island.
Back on board, we headed straight to a presentation given by Chris on Sea Otters. What an opportune talk, as we were to see otters later in the day. He gave fascinating details about the life history of otters and how they were exploited for their furs. This led to changes in their behaviour, with otters almost never coming out of the water. The most interesting part of the talk was about how these cuddly looking creatures actually were the villains of the marine world, with the male otters biting females quite badly on the face when mating, kidnapping the pup until the female allows him to mate with her, and stories of otters attacking Harbour Seals and performing some rather dubious behaviour on the seals.
Chris’ talk was followed by our “First Timers Party”, where guests who had not sailed with Silverseas before were welcomed and given an introduction to all the different destinations that we travel to.
After lunch we had an early Briefing on tomorrow’s activities, as well as a Recap on the salmon fishing boat we had seen yesterday, and an overview of some of the birds that we saw today.
There was no time for a break, as soon afterwards we reached our afternoon’s destination of Chignik, a tiny town surrounded by beautiful mountains in a protected fjord. This is where ‘Trident Foods’ have a mobile fish-processing plant. Victoria took tours of the plant with small groups of interested guests with the kind permission from Captain Jim. Friendly workers waved and chatted as fish was ‘vacuumed’ through a large tube into the processing area. The heads were cut off and roe sliced out by machine and the fish cleaned manually. These fish then entered a freezer on a conveyor belt for 8 hours to freeze, then bagged and boxed. The guests also toured the galley, wheel house, break room and deck. The guests all agreed that it was all very shipshape!
A second option of a hike was also offered for those who wished to stretch their legs and although there wasn’t much wildlife on offer, the hike went up to a scenic lookout in lovely volcanic and glacial-carved mountains.
I took interested guests on another Zodiac cruise along the edge of the fjord, where we could look at the volcanic formations and pumice stone along the edge, when I spotted an otter in the middle of the bay. We headed out to see it and found it was a mother with a large pup. I turned the engine off and we all kept quiet and watched the two, when a third otter appeared. It started harassing the mother and pup continually biting and attacking it. There were lots of yelps and squeaking and it was pretty clear that this was a male who wanted to mate with the female and wasn’t taking “no” for an answer -just as Chris had described in his lecture this morning. Eventually, the third otter moved away and, not wanting to disturb the otters more than necessary, we moved away slowly. As we headed towards the entrance to the fjord, I looked over a small spit of land and rocks and saw lots of little heads bobbing in the water. There were lots and lots of Sea Otters only a couple of hundred metres away from us. We went around the spit and the otters moved away a bit being very aware of our presence, but we estimate that there were about 70 otters all in one place. What an awesome end to a fantastic day! The guests in my boat were ecstatic and I couldn’t stop smiling, it was a most magical experience against a backdrop of spectacular scenery with soft, misty light falling on the mountains in the background.
With a ‘last Zodiac’ time of 7:30pm, we were all exhausted, so it was a quick change before everyone headed out to another great meal on the Silver Discoverer. Somehow, I don’t think the bar will be open very late tonight.
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