Saturday, June 8, 2013

Whales and otters and bears, oh my!

Sitka is a little town with only 14 miles of road but plenty of sea. We took an excursion around the bay and its inlets on local catamaran St Eugene, looking for wildlife, and found two humpbacked whales within the first 10 minutes. It was local personality Domino, known for being a somewhat irritating individual, and hence a loner – except this morning he had a companion (cue violins) to the great interest of Capt. Mike. “This is a first!” So we watched them wallow and dive a few times, and then headed off to see what else we could find.

It was a greyish day, with the odd patch of blue sky, and Mt Edgecumbe the cartoon dormant volcano named by James Cook (scraping the barrel – there’s an Edgecumbe in NZ too) was trailing a plume of cloud. It was a green and pewter day of spiky spruces clinging to black rocky islets and beds of kelp surging in the tide. That’s where we found our first raft of sea-otters, a dozen or more mothers floating on their backs with their cubs on their tummies. Once we’d got our eyes in, we spotted lots of odd otters in the water, lolling or diving. Later we found another raft, of guys this time, that we got much closer to – they are big, up to five feet (pardon my imperial measures, it’s catching. I mean 1.2m). And so fuzzy and cute!

Back in Sitka, we went to the Fortress of the Bears, a rather grand name for 5 brown bears living inside two big water purification tanks. They seemed happy and behaving naturally – Toby the girl, who had PMS, cuffing her brothers – and at least they were alive, not shot as cubs when their mother was killed, but surrounded by so much real wilderness it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for them.


Sitka itself has a lot of Russian history and a pretty Orthodox church with an onion dome and lots of actual icons inside; but, fishing aside, the town is mainly focused on tourists, with lots of souvenir shops selling matryoshka dolls, Christmas ornaments, jewellery and furs. So since we’re not souvenir people, we went back to the Silver Shadow moored out in the bay, to snuggle back into our cosy luxury.

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