GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE
GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE
PO Box 140
Gustavus, Alaska 99826-0140
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
The marine wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve includes tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes. This diverse land and seascape hosts a mosaic of plant communities and a variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife and presents many opportunities for adventuring and learning about this unique and powerful place.
The ocean and land environments in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve are closely intertwined. Marine waters make up nearly one fifth of the park and no point of land is more than 30 miles from the coast. This means that the lives of virtually all the animals at Glacier Bay are tied to its productive marine waters or the biologically rich near shore environment.
For marine mammals, of course, the ocean is home. Each summer humpback whales return to the bay from their wintering grounds near Hawaii to feed on the abundant small schooling fish such as sand lance and juvenile pollack. Minke and killer whales along with harbor and Dall's porpoises also feed in the park's productive near-shore waters. Steller sea lions congregate on rocky islands to mate or to rest. Thousands of harbor seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice in Johns Hopkins Inlet and among the rocky reefs of the Beardslee Islands. Sea otters are rapidly colonizing Glacier Bay as well as park waters in Icy Strait and Cross Sound.
Many land animals also use the marine environment for foraging and travel. Moose and bears, for example, are accomplished long-distance swimmers that are frequently seen "dog paddling" their way across the bay. Bears work the beaches when the tide is low turning over rocks looking for tasty barnacles, clams and other intertidal life. Wolves and coyotes find the traveling easier along the edge of tall beach grass rather than fighting through alder thickets. At times, even the most upland of animals like marmots and mountain goats are drawn to the water's edge to nibble seaweed or to lick salt spray off beach rocks. The ocean is truly the common element that bonds the wildlife of the park.
The park hosts healthy populations of land mammals. The mountain goat and brown bear were quick to reinvade after the glaciers' retreat. The coyote, moose and wolf have moved in more recently, but are now established in the park. Black bears prowl the forested portions of the lower bay, and the glacier bear, a rare color phase of the black bear, is occasionally spotted. River otters are widespread along with marten, mink and weasel, while the wolverine is scarcer and rarely sighted. The Alsek River delta in Glacier Bay National Preserve is home to lynx, snowshoe hare and beaver -- species that have reached the coast from the interior by traveling along the river corridor.
Long before the present national park, the Huna Tlingit people lived in Glacier Bay. Among the evidence of their traditional activities are trees that were stripped of their bark for a variety of uses.
Pioneer ecologist William S. Cooper of the University of Minnesota conducted studies of plant succession beginning in 1916, and was instrumental in the move to have the area protected. Here you can read Dr. Cooper's first-person account of his intensive lobbying effort, which met many obstacles but was ultimately successful. Cooper also details his losing fight to prohibit mining in the newly created national monument.
In 1899, an earthquake measuring 8.4 on the Richter Scale so shook the glaciers in Glacier Bay, the budding tourism industry nearly died. There was so much ice in the water from the shattered glaciers, visitors to Glacier Bay did not return to for over ten years.