At over 90 miles in length, 300 feet in height and six miles across, the gigantic Hubbard Glacier is doubtlessly one of nature's wonders. Existing as the largest glacier in North America, it is also known as the "Galloping Glacier" because of the fact that it once advanced so far in a single day, it dammed Russell Fjord. This followed with the formation of a lake behind the dam that climbed to levels of 90 feet above sea level. Although the dam no longer exists, Hubbard Glacier still flows rather quickly and maintains the deep blue color that distinguishes it as being active glacial ice. Beginning its journey from Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain, the place where Hubbard Glacier empties into the sea is called Disenchantment Bay.
Among the islands of ice, you will find numerous sea mammals, birds and fish residing in the area. These nutrient rich waters are home to Pacific Halibut, which can grow up to nine feet long and can weigh over 500 pounds. Perched upon the floating islands in search of fish are bald eagles, cormorants and gulls.
Two species of baleen whales, the minke and humpback, in addition to a toothed whale, the orca, all frolic in the nearby coves.
Humpback whales can weigh close to a ton per foot and can grow up to 50 feet long. In spite of their size, they are the most acrobatic of whales, heaving their massive bodies almost entirely out of the water. They feed almost primarily in the bays and shorelines of coastal waters. They need to store enough fat to fuel their bodies for their lengthy migration to Mexico where they will raise their newborn calves. Unfortunately, only about 7% of their original worldwide numbers remain today.
Minke whales can grow to lengths of 33 feet and are the fastest of the large whales, capable of traveling to a speed of 20 knots. They are still heavily hunted for their rich meat.
Killer Whales, or Orcas, are fairly intelligent and are able to travel up to speeds of approximately 30 miles per hour. They are known to hunt in teams, or "pods", preying on sea lions, seals and sharks.
Hubbard Glacier is only one of the hundreds of glaciers that survived the last mini-ice age. In 1971, Hubbard Glacier started to advance so rapidly that by the summer of 1986, the glacier was surging at a rate of 100 or more feet per day. By September, it had slowed to about 20 feet per day. The surge blocked Russell Fjord behind an ice dam, forming Russell Lake. Because the ice advanced so rapidly, seals, porpoises, and other marine animals were trapped in the newly formed lake. Out of concern for the porpoises, people tried to capture and transport the trapped marine life while some of the seals attempted to travel around the ice dam to the sea. The rising water of Russell Lake rose concern that it might spill over into the Situk River, greatly increasing the discharge and possibly damaging the ecosystem, following to the fear of it potentially wiping out the village of Yakutat. On October 8, the glacier dam broke, releasing 5.3 billion cubic meters of water back into the bay, thus freeing the wildlife and saving the village.
Located nearby, on glacial deposits that are approximately 1000 years old, is the village of Yakutat. The residents of the village make a living by fishing in the ocean and in the Situk River, which is well known for its salmon fisheries. At 18,008 feet, the second tallest peak in the United States, Mount St. Elias, can be seen from the village.
There is a rich history of many Native cultures and languages in the city and borough of Yakutat, including Athabaskan, Eyak in addition to inland and coastal Tlingit. There are also influences from the Chugach Eskimo and others. The culture has been rendered even more complex with the history of European-American culture in the area. There were explorers, missionaries and opportunity seekers coming from Europe, the United States and Russia.
When the first Native people settled in the Yakutat area is still not known. At the time when Russian explorers first came to the area during the latter part of the 1700s, they recorded information relating to the Native peoples with whom they interacted. Apparently, there were two main divisions in what is presently the borough of Yakutat.