Wildlife of Prince William Sound
While the glaciers are our focus, we encourage you to keep a keen eye out for the wildlife we see along the way. While at the glaciers, it is common to spot sea otters or seals hauled out on to the icebergs floating in front of the glaciers. During the season, it is possible to witness the migration patterns of whales, black bears, mountain goats, Steller sea lions and Dall's porpoise as you cruise the Sound. The kittiwakes and Bald Eagles are ever present in Prince William Sound. Our captains do their best to point them out to you, but we often rely on you, our guests as well to spot these critters as we travel. While on board, you can record the wildlife you see on your cruise on our Captain’s Log – complimentary for every guest on board.
These playful little guys are often found just about everywhere in the Sound, where glaciers from long ago have left an underwater shallow area that is prime for feeding. The otter, known for its rich pelt has no blubber like other marine mammals to keep them warm and relies on a rich seafood diet, high metabolism, and constantly refreshing the air bubbles in its fur for warmth. Otters are known for being one of the only animals that use tools, having been seen using rocks and the like to break open shells while feeding.
These sea creatures are well adapted to life in the sea. They are graceful and efficient swimmers as they use their hind flippers for propulsion and fore flippers as rudders. You will encounter these beautiful animals hauled out on the ice at the face of the many tidewater glaciers visited on our cruises.
Kittiwakes / Birds
Annual migration patterns bring thousands of birds back to Alaska each summer to the Passage Canal rookery. The Kittiwake looks to many like a seagull, but if you observe them closely, you’ll discover that their wing tips look as if they have been dipped in black ink and their legs are black. As predators approach the rookery in search of eggs, the Kittiwakes will “peel off” the rock wall at once with their shrill warning sounds and create a barrier to protect their young.
The bald eagle is a sea or fish eagle and our national symbol. The Sound provides year-round and seasonal habitat for about 6,000 bald eagles. Scan the tops of the trees in Esther Passage or the dense spruce forest in Shotgun Cove to see their bright white head scanning their surrounding for their next meal. If you are lucky, you may even see the bald eagle catch a fish!
Steller Sea Lion
The Steller sea lion is the largest member of the eared seal family. Male sea lions weigh 2,000 pounds and are 10 feet in length. Mature males develop a heavy muscular neck with a mane of long coarse hair. Every summer the Steller sea lions migrate between the Perry Island or Egg Rocks rookery.
The Dall's porpoise is found only in the North Pacific. It's thick body and small head makes it easily distinguishable from other cetacean species. They are capable of swimming 30 knots and like to travel alongside our fast catamarans. As they zig and zag from one side of the boat to the other, guests try their luck at getting a photo of these fast-moving porpoises.
The mountain goat is the only North American envoy of a group of ungulates called the Ruplicaprinae, or rock goats. They are characterized by relatively short horns and live in rugged terrain. Adult males weigh about 260 pounds. Follow the jagged ridgelines from shore to the alpine zone and look for them traversing the craggy rocks.
Black bears are plentiful along the northern and western shorelines we will travel today. Adult black bears stand about 29 inches at the shoulders and measure about 60 inches from nose to tail. Scan the shoreline and areas where the waterfalls and streams meet the salt water. When the salmon return to the rivers, the bear activity increases. Their black coats stand out against the spring snow and the fall colors which makes them easier to see at those times of the season.
Keep an eye out for these gentle giants as we head towards the open waters of the Sound. You will recognize them by their giant spouts, easily seen from great distances. These whales are baleen whales that feed on some of the smallest creatures of the ocean and have giant flippers that can sometimes reach 30% of their entire length. These animals winter in Hawaii where they give birth to their young, before returning to the food rich and fertile waters of Alaska.
This member of the dolphin family can be seen throughout the sound. The more docile orca whales are known as resident orcas and travel in large family groups or pods and feed on the salmon runs that make their way into Prince William Sound. They can be playful and are often very curious. The transient orca whales feed on marine mammals such as seals and sea lions and are not easily spotted, as they tend to be more stealthy. The resident pods can be spotted by the massive dorsal fins above the water as they travel, sometimes reaching up to six feet in height.
The minke whale is the smallest, but most abundant of the baleen whales. Minkes have a characteristic white band on each flipper, contrasting with its very gray top color. Although not as commonly seen as the Orca or the humpback, we do see them every season as they return to the rich waters of Prince William Sound.
A member of the auk family, this seabird is found along the North Pacific coastal waters from California to Alaska, and even Siberia. Often seen near bird rookeries during breeding times, they feed on small fish and marine invertebrates using their long black bill as their claws. Look closely and you'll see that the inside of their mouth and their legs are bright red.