Wildlife In Alaska Often Surprising

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ALASKA — For a few days, we thought our views of Alaskan wildlife might be the mosquito on the sidewalk in Anchorage, the crazed woman standing on the side of the Parks Highway menacingly cradling a rock in her hand and a moose of uncertain gender and size that we spotted from the seat of a de Havilland Beaver, flying 2,000 feet above the Chulitna River.

Then, along came Mother Moose.

That’s her in the picture, leading her two offspring through the non-wilderness at Denali National Park.

Non-wilderness?

This picture was taken about 50 feet from Mama and her kids, on the doorstep of the park’s Visitor Center. There were probably 300 people who in those minutes were this DSCN8449close to the moose family, and not much further away were 10 or 12 buses. We’d just disembarked from one of them, and this was the first stop of the Princess Cruises’ Natural Wilderness Tour.

It was the last place we expected to see a moose, especially one so close.

There are two types of wilderness you see in Alaska. On land tours like this one, particularly in Denali, you can hope to see not just moose but also bears and cariboo and dall sheep. Also mosquitoes, of which there are 13 species, all of which bite. On cruise ship tours in the Alaska ports, you can hope to see whales…as well as bears and cariboo and dall sheep.

The key word is “hope.”

In Alaska, seeing wildlife can be a challenge. Often it takes you by surprise, as it did when we were hiking a mile to the Mendenhall Glacier during a Star Princess shore excursion IMG_2049called Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Quest, which our bus driver called the best tour in Juneau, and he wouldn’t get an argument from us. One of the unexpected wildlife events was seeing this porcupine not six feet off the path where we walked. This wasn’t our first porcupine, but it was our first in natural habitat, and he/she seemed okay with the clicking camera phones.

The second half of that six-hour tour delivered the whales. Whales were not just a promised, they were guaranteed…or you get your money back. At least at this time of IMG_5802year, when the humpbacks are back from their winter vacations in Hawaii, tour guides are more than comfortable throwing down that gauntlet, and the first whales we spotted were just 15 minutes or so after leaving Juneau.

How many did we see?

Too many to count. A couple of (pods) of between six and 10. We saw them creating bubble nets (as if surrounding a school of fish), and we saw them breaching (below)Whales— apparently you seldom see them do both on the same trip, or at the same time. 

The experts say that whales are smart, so maybe they just know when to put on a show.

Maybe the moose knew, too.

In the news…

• Low water levels in Europe forcing river cruise lines to change itineraries
• American Cruise Lines' Mississippi riverboat named America to debut in 2016
• Holland America 'Explore 4' promotion for booking early rewards for 2016-17

Today at portsandbows.com: The changing world of cruise dining

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
September 27, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $58
www.carnival.com

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