Scott spent a couple days on a boat in Kenai Fjords National Park photographing landscapes and wildlife, which exists in abundance there. After sorting through the resulting several thousand images, a dozen stood out as his favorites. Take a tour with us and learn about some of the glaciers, marine mammals and birds that define the park.

The Seward Harbor is the most common access point for the fjords as there are no roads or airports in the park.

 

The park is dominated by glaciers, massive rivers of ice that flow out of Harding Ice Field. The glaciers form with abundant snowfall, cool summers and gravitational flow of ice, all of which are present at the Fjords. Though at one time the park was entirely covered in ice, today about 51 percent of the area is icy terrain.

Aialik Glacier, about 15 miles from Seward, is the largest glacier in Aialik Bay. During May and June, the glacier is most active and visitors can see massive chunks of ice plummeting from the glacier into the sea below. The floating icebergs in the waters provide a startling sight, as some of the ice is so condensed the light shines through it revealing endless bubbles in the glacial ice, as in the photo captured by Scott below.

However, icebergs are not the only items of interest in the waters of the Kenai Fjords.

There are three types of orcas seen in the Kenai Fjords: resident, transient and offshore orcas. Residents eat fish and have a range of 800 miles, while transients eat marine mammals and have a range of 1,500 miles. Less is known about the feeding habits of the offshore orcas that live in the open ocean, though they have been seen feeding on baleen whales and even sharks.

Orcas are easily spotted when surfacing by their distinctive dorsal fin. While they are known colloquially as killer whales, they are actually the largest member of the dolphin family. The misnomer comes from what is most likely a mistranslation of the name given to them by 18th century Basque whalers who saw orcas attack large whales. The whalers named them ballena assasina, which means whale killer.

The Dalls porpoise is a member of the phocoenidae, true porpoise, family. Their name comes from American zoologist W.H. Dall who wrote about and sketched two specimens taken off the coast of Alaska in 1873. The word porpoise comes from the Greek word for pig-faced, due to the animal’s blunt snout and stocky body form. Porpoises have small, spade-shaped teeth and distinctive rigid, protruding growths called gum teeth that are used to grasp slippery prey such as squid.

These animals are one of the fastest smaller cetaceans, known to reach speeds of about 35 miles per hour. They can be seen playing around ships and riding on bow waves.

Dalls porpoises are often mistakes for small orcas, measuring six feet in length and 300 pounds in weight, due to their similar coloring. Though they have been seen feeding on salmon with orcas in the Kenai Fjords National Park, the porpoises often eat herring, anchovies, squid and crustaceans.

The Stellar sea lion, named for the 18th century naturalist George Wilhelm Stellar who thought the males’ large neck and shoulder regions resembled a lion’s mane, can be spotted around the park, especially during the summer breeding season. These large marine mammals, which are part of the Otariid eared seal family, are also known as seevitchie and sivuch to Aleuts and Russians, respectively, both of which translate to seawolf. Sea lions in Alaska eat pollock, mackerel, pacific herring, capelin, pacific sandlance, pacific cod, and salmon.

Female sea lions average at seven feet in length and 600 pounds, while males average at nine feet long and 1,500. However, some male sea lions known as beach masters reach up to 2,400 pounds. Females live up to 30 years, but males have a shorter lifespan at 15-18 due to the competition for territory. Aside from size, females and male can be distinguished by color — females are darker in color.

Harbor seals are part of the Phocidae, or true earless or hair seal family, as only a wrinkle in their skin denote external ears. Unlike the sea lions, harbor seals back flippers cannot turn forwards and are mainly used for locomotion underwater. On land, harbor seals laboriously wriggle and hunch to move. Whenever possible, they will opt to roll or slide to save energy.

The average harbor seal in Alaska is over five feet in length and weighs about 190 pounds. Pups are 25 pounds at birth and can enter the water almost immediately. Harbor seal pups stay with their mothers while feeding and then are abandoned once they are weaned. Similar to sea lions, female harbor seals live longer than males — up to 30 years.

Harbor seals are most often seen out of the water during the June pupping season and the August-September fall molt. They eat a variety of schooling fish, bottom fish, crustaceans and squid, consuming up to eight percent of their body weight in food each day.

 

 

The park also boasts 191 documented species of birds, ranging from eagles to the common murre.

A colony of kittiwakes circle their nesting site. When an eagle or other predator approaches, the kittiwakes dive off the cliff in unison to protect their eggs and young.

The black-legged kittiwake is a small gull that nests on exposed rock ledges. During breeding season, they can be seen en masse among the cliffs, though after the summer they return to the open ocean where they spend the majority of the year. Kittiwakes are also unique in that they have three toes instead of four.

Another bird often seen around the Fjords is the common murre, which is a member of the Alcid family of web-footed diving birds with short legs and wings. Other members of this family include the thick-billed murre, auks and puffins. Their shape, stance and color means the common murres are often mistake for loons or penguins, however loons are bigger than the murre. Murres feed as far as 600 feet below the ocean’s surface and can swallow their prey under water. In Alaska, they feed on juvenile pollock, sculpin, flounder and capelin.

Common murres breed in the area ranging from Northern California to the Bering Sea, but are especially abundant in the Gulf of Alaska. Barwell Island is the most populated murre nesting site in the Kenai Fjords, and during the breeding season a river of murres can be seen in the surrounding water. In order to protect their young from predators, the murres form dense colonial nests on sheer cliff ledges. The murres do not use nesting material, rather laying their eggs directly on the rocks of the cliffs. The elongated oval shape of their eggs prevents them from falling off the rocks — when bumped the eggs simply spins in place.

The Kenai Fjords is home to many unique sights and species, some of which Scott captured on his trip. If the opportunity arises, the best way to explore all of its wonders is in person.