To See Lots of Seals, Go with the Floes of Alaska’s LeConte Glacier
Humans may not enjoy ice, but harbor seals and their pups revel in it. In Alaska’s LeConte Bay — and hundreds of other such places in northern latitude inlets and fjords, stretching northwest from LeConte all around the Gulf of Alaska — glacier-born ice floes and bergs provide a safe birthing and nursing haven for seals and their young.
Resting atop the ice puts the seals largely out of reach from killer whales, their key predators.
LeConte Glacier is 21 miles long and more than a mile deep in spots. The icefield where it arises straddles the border between Canada and the United States and encompasses more than 2,300 square miles.
LeConte’s calving spills immense amounts of ice into the ocean, which earns it the moniker of “tidewater glacier.” Because ice is less dense than water, part of it remains above the ocean surface while it makes its way out of the fjord and slowly melts.
Along the way, there is so much frozen flotsam and jetsam that navigators categorize ocean ice into four distinct types:
•Less than 3 feet tall, above the water line, it’s called “brash.”
•Three feet to 7 feet, they are called “growlers.”
•Seven to 15 feet tall, they are “bergy bits.”
•More than 15 feet tall, it’s an iceberg.
Where you’ll find the seals
Seals are usually seen on brash and growlers; the various types hinder passage by orcas (and demand intense attention by boat skippers). All types are readily apparent in LeConte Bay.
Ten miles long and 810 feet deep in spots, this is a classic North Pacific fjord, even though it is called a “bay.”
Today it’s a remote destination for the small tour boats that can safely navigate the narrow, ice-strewn length of the saltwater gorge. The bay’s towering waterside cliffs are often wreathed in mist that creates an otherworldly atmosphere.
With no sign of human activity save the boats and sheer walls on either side holding little vegetation, a trip to LeConte seems like a journey back in time. For seal pups, this is their nursery for the start of their lifetimes. Long may they thrive.