Glacier Bay

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In 1879, John Muir relied on Tlingit guides when he first visited Glacier Bay , seeking glaciers, adventure and spiritual enrichment. Muir was the first in a long line of distinguished scientists/naturalists to visit the park, perform research, and bring this remarkable area to the world’s attention. Muir was greatly intrigued with the fledgling science of glaciology, and believed that his beloved Yosemite Valley had been carved by ice long ago. He came to Alaska , in part, to witness glaciers in action and substantiate his theory. Largely due to his enthusiastic writings, Glacier Bay became a popular tourist attraction, as well as the focus of scientific inquiries, during the late 1880’s and 90’s.
Scientific interest in Glacier Bay remained high in the years following Muir and Harriman. One of the scientists was also a visionary. William S. Cooper, a plant ecologist studying the return of plant life to the recently de-glaciated terrain, made numerous trips to Glacier Bay beginning in 1916. Enthralled with the beauty of the area, he convinced the Ecological Society of America to spearhead a campaign for its preservation. These efforts met with success in 1925, when President Calvin Coolidge signed the proclamation creating Glacier Bay National Monument, an area less than half the size of the present park. The proclamation cited the features and values of the area: tidewater glaciers in a magnificent setting, developing forests, scientific opportunities, historic interest and accessibility
The age of tourism and exploration in Glacier Bay came to an abrupt halt soon after the Harriman party departed. In September 1899, a massive earthquake shattered the Muir Glacier. Masses of floating ice prevented ships from closely approaching the glacier for at least a decade, and the steamship companies removed Glacier Bay from their itineraries.
Over the next few decades Glacier Bay belonged to a hardy assortment of scientists and adventurous entrepreneurs, as well as native seal hunters, fishermen and egg-gatherers. A number of colorful characters, including the gold miners Joe and Muz Ibach of Reid Inlet and the hermits Jim Huscroft of Lituya Bay and Buck Harbeson of Dundas Bay, enlivened the local landscape.
In addition to rugged individualists who pursued mining, trapping, homesteading, fox-farming and other small-scale ventures, there was at least one successful corporate operation within what is now Glacier Bay National Park, a salmon cannery at Dundas Bay. Relying on a mixture of native, white and Chinese labor, the cannery was a large and prosperous operation between 1900 and 1931, when the general lower demand and prices paid for salmon because of the Great Depression resulted in its closing. During the early 1940s, most of the structures associated with the cannery were dismantled, since the site had by then been included in the national monument.

Nature & Science


Marine MammalsAmong the cetaceans, humpback and gray whales, harbor and Dall's porpoises, and killer whales occur commonly in park waters. Humpbacks spend the summer foraging throughout all but the most glacially influenced fjords. Gray whales are generally restricted to the waters adjacent to the outer coast during spring and fall migration. Dall's porpoises are largely citizens of open waters, while harbor porpoises tend to favor more sheltered waters. Killer whales commonly transit park marine waters during all seasons.The harbor seal is a commonly seen marine mammal species. In the early 1990s researchers counted over 7,000 seals in Johns Hopkins Inlet, where they haul out on icebergs for pupping and molting. However, yearly censuses have shown steep population declines in the last decade at both ice and terrestrial haulouts, with much of the decline since 1996. In 2002, researchers counted between 1,670 and 1,740 seals in the bay, with numbers dropping to 1,140 after a big storm. These decreasing seal numbers mirror more widespread declines throughout the northeastern Pacific, and scientific research is underway to better understand the causes.
Steller sea lions are less numerous than harbor seals but still widespread in the park, and in contrast to seals their numbers in Glacier Bay (but not elsewhere in southeastern Alaska) have risen steeply since the late 1980s. A non-breeding Steller sea lion haulout on South Marble Island has increased to over 500 sea lions in recent years, compared with fewer than 200 in the early 1990s. Researchers recently confirmed a new sea lion rookery with around 400 animals at Graves Rocks near Cape Spencer. The population of which they are a part is apparently thriving, unlike endangered populations in the western Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.
Sea otters were extirpated from the region during the 19th century and were reintroduced near the park in the 1960s. Their thriving populations have spread throughout the southern half of the park, and over 1,500 have recently been counted in Glacier Bay alone. The burgeoning sea otter numbers drastically change the populations of their favorite prey such as mollusks, crabs and sea urchins, and consequently the structure of shallow-water ecosystems.

brown bear on the shore of Glacier Bay
brown bear on the shore of Glacier Bay

Brown bears roam the shorelines of Glacier Bay searching for intertidal delicacies.

Land MammalsAbout 30 of the 40 or so species of land mammals known from Southeast Alaska have been documented in the park. Species already present in mature areas of the park, such as black bear and wolf, continue to press northward into the Glacier Bay watershed as the vegetation matures. A few others, notably moose, coyote, and snowshoe hare on the park's outer coast have made it through the coast range more recently and are spreading into suitable habitat as it develops. Fishers and cougars may be poised to follow suit. Yet other species such as beaver and marmots may be periodically exterminated in certain localities by predation or disease, then reinvade when the opportunity allows.
Black bears are widespread and common in forested areas, while the less numerous brown bear is most often found in open habitats and in proximity to salmon streams. Five species of terrestrial mustelids are present: short-tailed weasel, mink, marten, river otter and wolverine. Taken together, they occupy virtually all freshwater, terrestrial and marine shore habitats. Wolves appear to have increased in abundance since the establishment of moose in the park and preserve, and may be responsible for a corresponding decrease in coyotes. Red foxes patrol the outer coast beaches. A single cat, the lynx, is occasionally spotted around the Gustavus/Bartlett Cove area and occurs rarely in the Dry Bay area.
Among the ungulates, the newly arrived moose occur widely throughout thickets, meadows and open forests of lower elevations. The moose population in the Gustavus area has grown significantly in recent years. While Sitka black-tailed deer reach the northernmost portion of their natural range in the mature communities fringing Icy Strait, they are only occasionally spotted in Bartlett Cove and Gustavus forests. Mountain goats occupy massifs that offer the combination of precipitous escape terrain, good alpine meadows and sufficient high-altitude forests for winter shelter.Rodents are also well-represented throughout the park, although their distribution is still very patchy. Among larger ones, the hoary marmot and porcupine are common, while beaver occur along Icy Strait and in the preserve. The chatter of the ubiquitous red squirrel echoes throughout the spruce forests of the southern portion of the bay.


About 240 species of birds have been recorded in the park and preserve. The high diversity and abundance of birdlife is due to the variety and extent of favorable breeding habitats available within the park, many of which contain ample food resources and low numbers of land predators.
Thousands of seabirds nest on cliffs and rocky shores both within the bay and on the park’s outer coast, where they prey on small fish and other sea life. Small to medium-sized colonies of gulls, guillemots, puffins, and cormorants disperse along park shores, especially in the northern half of Glacier Bay, Cross Sound and the southern portion of the outer coast. Relatively major colonies occur on the Marble Islands, Boussoule Head, Cenotaph Island, beside Margerie and Johns Hopkins Glaciers, and at the mouth of Hugh Miller Inlet. Large flocks of phalaropes, molting sea ducks, and foraging gulls are prominent summer residents, while flocks of loons, gulls, murrelets, and sea ducks dominate the winter scene. Bald eagles are conspicuous inhabitants on shorelines throughout the park.
Considered at-risk elsewhere in their range, a world-class population of marbled murrelets occurs within and just outside of the park’s waters. This extraordinary small diving bird is believed to breed extensively in the old growth forests along Icy Strait, though finding evidence of breeding activity can be difficult. Marbled murrelets do not assemble nests. A pair of birds will lay their lone egg on a stout moss-covered branch high up in a spruce or hemlock tree. The parents will fly to the sea at dawn and return at dusk daily to feed the chick, which sits on the branch camouflaged and quiet. When it is time for the chick to fledge, the parents depart one morning and never return. The chick, realizing that it is on its own, leaps off the branch on its first flight and finds its own way to the ocean which can be up to 30 miles away.
Glacier Bay also hosts a large portion – as much as 20 percent – of the world’s population of Kittlitz's murrelets. It is believed that perhaps 95 percent of the Kittlitz’s murrelet worldwide population breeds in Alaska with the remainder breeding in the Russian Far East. Unfortunately, surveys indicate that their numbers in Alaska have declined 80 to 90 percent in the past decade and this bird may soon be listed as a threatened or endangered species on the federal endangered species list. Unlike the marbled with which it can easily be confused, Kittlitz's murrelets nest in recently deglaciated mountain areas. A multi-year study is underway to more fully understand this bird, including its ecology and use of habitats in Glacier Bay, and impacts (if any) of vessels on these birds as they forage for food. Researchers are hoping to discover what is causing and how to reverse this population decline.

In the winter, the number of land birds present in the park dwindles. Ravens, crows, magpies, winter wrens and woodpeckers are not uncommon. Large mixed flocks of pine siskins, redpolls and chickadees feed on alder cones and grass seeds.

Dawn arrives. Pale sunlight filters through the early morning fog. The temperate rain forest once quiet with the hush of dripping leaves now awakens with the song of a male ruby-crowned kinglet defending its territory, a loud melodious song defying the size of this tiny songbird and dominating the canopy of the forest. It is reminding other males that this is his territory. Listen. The loud ringing song carries well over the background noise of this dense forest. The song of this bird has evolved to fit this acoustic environment as with the other songbirds of Bartlett Cove.

varied thrush
varied thrush

Like the ruby-crowned kinglet the varied thrush prefers to live in forests that are mossy and dense, forests that absorb sound. His song has evolved into a loud high pitched whistle that also carries well. Listen. That call can travel over long distances to help attract a potential mate.

Swainson's thrush
Swainson's thrush

Other members of the thrush family also breed in the Bartlett Cove rainforest. The Swainson’s thrush song is the only one that spirals up in pitch. Listen. Compare that to the song of the hermit thrush that signals the start of his song with a single clear note followed by a variation on that pitch. Listen. Attracting a mate is a high priority. The male hermit thrush migrates three weeks earlier than the female in order to secure prime nesting real estate then it will regale her with his song. The hermit thrush can learn up to 12 different variations on a melody, the more complex the variation the more attractive the mate.

winter wren
winter wren

The song of the winter wren which is heard in increasing numbers as this forest matures is incredibly complex. Listen. Even though that song lasts only six to seven seconds it contains over a hundred notes produced by some of the fastest vocal muscles in the animal kingdom. Vocal muscles in several songbirds have been known to contract a hundred times faster than the blink of a human eye. Songbirds can hear shorter notes that the human ear. Humans may hear one note, songbirds may hear ten. Listen again, and hear if the one hundred notes of the winter wren can be heard in the slower version of the song.

orange crowned warbler
orange crowned warbler

Some birds can produce two notes at the same time because of the unique structure of their syrinx or voicebox which which has two halves. Some songbirds will use one side to produce a high note while at the same time producing a low note from the other side creating a fast trill, like the orange-crowned warbler. Listen. Compare that to the trill of the yellow-rumpled warbler. Listen.

Research has shown that it takes almost as much energy to sing as it takes to fly. A complex energetic song is a sure sign for the wary female looking for a fit mate. Typically in most species of birds it is the male that sings but in the American dipper both sexes have been known to duet. Listen. The song of the American dipper is considered by many to produce some of the most beautiful notes in the forest.

No matter which bird song appeals more an early morning walk will delight and entrance revealing a symphony of unique songs as various birds compete for space and mates in the temperate rainforest of Bartlett Cove.


It is believed that nearly 200 species of fish may swim in Park waters. Many, including all five species of Pacific salmon, are well-known, while others have yet to be documented. Many fishes are associated with deep water or "subtidal benthic" communities, and several of these are identified with important fisheries such as Pacific halibut, rockfish, lingcod, Pacific cod, sablefish and pollock.
Small schooling fishes in open water (the "pelagic" zone) include capelin, sandlance, herring, juvenile walleye pollock, juvenile salmonids and myctophids (lanternfish). Though individually small, these forage fishes are unbelievably numerous, often swimming in large, dense schools. One humpback whale will eat about a ton of these small schooling fish every day over the course of the summer. And whales aren't the only things that eat them. Birds and other sea mammals tend to concentrate where there are large numbers of these fish in hopes of getting a meal. These fish are a vital link in the marine food web, because they transfer energy between primary and secondary producers, such as plankton, to top predators such as puffins and whales.
Only two fishes with no connection to salt water - round whitefish near Haines and northern pike near Yakutat - have made it to the fringes of this region. The bulk of freshwater fishes are salmon and char, which spend parts of their life cycles in salt water, and so can get past the mountains and marine channels that limit the distribution of strictly freshwater animals. Most of the region's streams, even most of those directly under glacial influence, contain spawning and rearing salmon. Some, such as the Situk and Alsek Rivers, are of world-class importance. These major river systems are in the minority. More salmon transit through the region's marine waters than spawn in the region's streams.


Glacier Bay is blanketed by a mosaic of plant life, from a few pioneer species in recently exposed areas to intricately balanced climax communities in coastal and alpine regions. Since virtually all the vegetation in the bay has returned to the land in the past 300 years following the retreat of the glaciers, this area is one of the premier sites on the planet to study plant recolonization.
In the classic story of plant succession, spores or seeds are blown into a new area by the wind or carried in by birds or other animals. Lichen spores that land on the appropriate rocky surface will anchor themselves to the rock using root-like structures called “rhizomes.” Unlike most plants, lichens absorb essential nutrients from the air and rain rather than through roots in soil. As they grow, lichens secret an acid that dissolves the rock around them, creating soil.
As soil develops, more seeds and spores arrive, such as those of mosses, avens (Dryas), horsetail and fireweed. In time, these pioneer communities can develop into dense thickets of nitrogen-fixing alder and cottonwood that enrich the soil and provide shelter for other colonizing species such as willow.
Farthest away from the glaciers in time and space, the lowlands near the mouth of Glacier Bay have become cloaked in a spruce/hemlock rainforest and lush, spongy tracts of muskeg. In the surrounding mountains, thick mats of flowers and heath carpet the alpine hills and meadows.
This story implies that plants succession is always a neat and orderly process where each plant species prepares the environment to be more favorable for plants that follow, which often comes at the expense of its own species's survival. It is not, however, always so tidy. Keep in mind that whatever seeds or spores arrive first will try to grow if conditions allow.

cape krusenstern

Image of the many colors the landscape has to offer
Image of the many colors the landscape has to offer


The Cape Krusenstern beach ridge complex is the most extensive in Northwest Alaska, encapsulating over 5,000 years of human occupation and a record of past coastal environments (Giddings and Anderson 1986; Mason and Jordan 1993). Beach ridges began forming at Krusenstern approximately 5,000 years ago when local sea level stabilized. The ridges develop during decade- to century-long periods of fair weather and are eroded during periods of coastal storminess. The ridges themselves are a record of past fluctuations in sea levels, wave energy and wave direction. Throughout the formation process, active coastal beaches are impacted by erosion caused by coastal storms.

The approximately 9,000 acre complex contains over 70 distinct beach ridges, which together form a ‘horizontal stratigraphy’ where archeological remains date to progressively younger time periods as one moves from Krusenstern Lagoon to the active beach. Human occupation of the Cape spans numerous cultural traditions and changes in subsistence, settlement, and socio-economic organization that occurred throughout the region over the last 4,000+ years (see Giddings and Anderson 1986; Harritt 1994; Schaaf 1988).

Science & Nature

Cape Krusenstern National Monument is most famous for its archeological sites. They depict every known cultural period in arctic Alaska and provide information about both prehistoric and historic Native cultures.
Like the rest of northwest Alaska, however, Cape Krusenstern is also rich in natural resources.
If you look at a map, you will see the Krusenstern coast and a series of lagoons just inside it. The coast is created by the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Sound. The brackish lagoons open and close seasonally according to the movements of barrier spits and islands. The shore lands and waters provide excellent animal habitat: marine mammals, terrestrial mammals, birds and fish abound.
Like most of the mid to high arctic, the soils in the monument are underlain by a continuous swath of permafrost—soil frozen solid for up to hundreds of feet beneath the surface. The depth of the seasonally thawed soil—or “active layer”—varies from tens of feet beneath streams or water bodies to a foot or less in the uplands. As snowmelt and rain are blocked from percolating by shallow permafrost, these soils are typically wet and usually covered with cotton grass tussock tundra. Soils on the lower slopes are typically poorly drained, and covered with peat, or partly decomposed plant remains. Higher areas up to CAKR’s highest point (Mt. Noak, 2010 feet) frequently have moderately shallow depths to bedrock and are not permanently frozen. These soils tend to be better drained.
Most of the monument’s rolling topography is covered by moist to wet tundra. Wet cotton grass tussock tundra covers a sizeable portion of the monument and can be found in most areas with a thin active layer and low to moderate slopes. Dwarf birch, blueberry, cranberry, salmonberry, dwarf willows and Labrador Tea colonize the slightly drier microhabitats. Peat mosses (or Sphagna) grow in thick mats on the wettest sites, further acidifying this already acidic and nutrient-poor growing environment. On the drier terrains of the alpine areas, drier tundra types prevail hosting Dryads, heathers, and an exuberance of wildflowers. Prolific nonvascular plants make up 75% of the plant diversity and include lichens, mosses and liverworts Riparian environments are rich with tall willows, alder, horsetails and thick moss mats. There are only a few tiny pockets of boreal spruce forest, though these pockets are likely to spread with climate change . In the windswept high elevations, the plant mat is only a few inches high, dominated by tiny prostrate shrubs and lichens.
Clear, fresh streams drain the monument. Pike, Dolly Varden, and grayling are common fish. Air quality is generally excellent, though arctic haze derived from distant pollution sources occasionally is not uncommon during the winter. Varieties of ducks, geese, loons, and other birds fly overhead.
Caribou are the most common large mammal. The ones in the monument are part of the Western Artic Caribou herd. The herd, nearly 500,000 animals, ranges over the entire northwest Alaska region. The caribou are one part of a complex structure of land mammals ranging from small ground mammals to brown bears. In between are hare, moose, muskoxen, fox, wolves, and more than a dozen other animals.
The National Park Service is committed to the protection of the plant and animal populations in the monument. Alone or in coordination with other federal and state agencies, the NPS routinely conducts biological research in the monument. Some of the current research is focusing on coastal erosion, the effects of contaminants along the Red Dog mine road corridor, and muskoxen and moose populations.