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Snorkeling in Alaska


Kristina Bland, expedition guide, Wilderness Adventurer

I remember looking at the brochures and online before my season in the Northern Passages & Glacier Bay started, wondering if the snorkeling pictures were really taken in Alaska, and how frequently would people be crazy enough to jump into 50 degree water for an hour?

Now, after snorkeling in Pavlov Harbor, it’s hard to remember why I thought it was such a crazy idea. The buoyancy of the wetsuit makes it easy to float and with 14mm of neoprene covering my core, a warm insulating layer of water is quickly established; so really it isn’t that cold. And there is so much to see!

Lion's mane jellyfish in the grips of a plumose anemone

This week there is a full moon, which means the sun and the moon are in line with the Earth. A side effect is that the moon and the sun are reinforcing each other’s gravitational pulls on the ocean. In other words, we get the most dramatic tidal swings, known as spring tides, during full or new moons. This week, the tide dropped to -4 feet, and we got two groups of snorkelers out to enjoy the show.

The world under the water is both hostile and beautiful at the same time. We see a lion’s mane jellyfish—about 6 inches in diameter—being hauled in by a 3-foot-tall colony of plumose anemones. Later, we watch a Christmas tree anemone close up with just a few tentacles from a lion’s mane jellyfish sticking out if its mouth.

Hairy hermit crab

A little like the anemones, I also had an encounter with a lion’s mane jellyfish while snorkeling. At one point, I started wondering why my mask was suddenly bothering my upper lip and turned around to find that a few stray lion’s mane tentacles, which can trail behind the jelly for 6 feet, had found their way close to my face. Now I can speak from experience when I say its an annoying irritation for a couple hours to be stung, but that one little sting won’t kill anyone. At least not a sting from the size of jellies we have here.

We also spotted a Hairy Helmet Crab that was working very hard to not get his picture taken. I chased him under kelp and rocks, scaring fish and other crabs away while I bobbed on the surface. If he had known how hard it is to dive in 14mm of neoprene, he could have just meandered into deeper water where I couldn’t reach him!

Underwater color

The amount of color below the surface in these waters is amazing. The green, orange, and white anemones are a gorgeous contrast with the red and green algae covering the ocean wall. It may be a surprise at first (including to me), but snorkeling in Alaska is a beautiful experience!

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