Over breakfast, we discuss where we to take David to inspire his work. The waterfall, in all its powerful glory, is a given. Our team makes our way across the slippery rocks and David and Reka brave the spray in order to set up the camera and take a few images. Soren and Taylor dance around them with their cameras documenting this intense and beautiful moment.
After David’s sure he has the shots he wants, we cross the boardwalk to the field station for a tour. Once the area general store, the two-story house has been AWF’s permanent base for scientific study since 2016. Andy has been helming the research since he arrived nearly two decades ago. He and his team of impassioned scientists and field interns conduct acoustic research, creating the first comprehensive catalog of vocalizations produced by humpback whales on their foraging grounds. Concurrently, they’ve continued the work on bubble net feeding started by Dr. Fred Sharpe twenty years ago. Over the years they have been able to identify individuals by their unique fluke patterns and therefore are able to track their behavior and give them cute names like Captain Hook (leader of the pod) and Melancholy (named for his haunting call). As of late, they’ve also begun enlisting “citizen scientists” to help collect data. With the use of technology and app development, they are encouraging boaters, tourists, and fisherman to record marine mammal sightings to further expand this important work.
Later in the day, the group heads back up the trail to the muskeg. Muskeg, for those who are unfamiliar, is a colloquial term for a peat bog, blanketing 10% of the Tongass National Forest. The spongy soil is extremely acidic and supersaturated, a difficult environment for trees to thrive, which makes for an exceptional view for David to capture. You need to be careful where you walk since sinkholes are common.
At 4 pm, the Captain and his wife untie the lines and the Ursa Major sets off for Admiralty Island, aka ‘the fortress of the bear.” As we make way out of the bay, David sighs. “I’m officially in love with Alaska,” And what’s not to love? We have hours and hours before the sun sets. The solstice is approaching. And the magic of Alaska is overwhelming, like no other place we’ve ever seen.