Preserved as a National Monument, Glacier Bay exists as an extraordinary collection of glaciers in a contained region. Only two ships per day are permitted to enter the bay during the summer months, which is when whales come here to feed. Hundreds of years ago, the ice in Glacier Bay fell as snow on the icefields in the mountains above.
Compressed by its own tremendous weight, the ice slowly flows through valleys to the sea, where in some cases, it breaks off in great chunks, called "calves", to float free as icebergs and "bergy bits".
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Glacier Bay is one of the few places in the world where you can get "up close and personal" with a tidewater glacier. You can actually get within 1/4 mile (1/2 km) of these glaciers. Along the 60 mile (96 km) stretch of narrow fjords at the northern end of the Inland Passage, there are six tidewater glaciers. You will first hand witness Mother Nature at work as huge chunks of ice break off the glaciers and crash with tremendous force into the water. This dazzling display is known as "calving".
Travelers entering Glacier Bay are sure to see some form of marine life. Glacier Bay is the habitat for a variety of marine life, including whales. The most impressive of the whales is most certainly the humpback as it heaves its massive body out of the water in spectacular leaps, called "breaching". Humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 37 tons in adulthood.
Smaller, but no less interesting are the harbor seals and porpoises, killer whales and sea otters. Other wildlife you may see may include brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose, wolves and over 200 species of birds.
History of Glacier Bay
The bay was first made popular by naturalist John Muir in 1879, even though the Tlingit have lived in the area for 10,000 years. A hundred years before his visit, the bay had been completely choked with ice. However, the most rapid glacial retreat ever recorded had occurred by 1916, when it was found that the ice had retreated 65 miles (105 km).
Glacier Bay was declared a national monument in 1925 to preserve its clues to the world's geological history. In 1980, it became a national park. Several of the glaciers in the area are again advancing, albeit at a very slow pace.
The six glaciers that you will most likely cruise past are equally impressive, but for varying reasons. The first brief stop is at Reid Glacier before continuing onto Lamplugh Glacier, which is one of the bluest glaciers in the park, located at the mouth of the Johns Hopkins Inlet. Next is the gigantic Johns Hopkins Glacier seen at the end of the inlet where you are likely to see continuous calving of showering ice. Oftentimes, the inlet is so full of icebergs that ships must avoid the area. Farther north, at the end of the western arm is another quite active glacier, Marjorie Glacier. Located adjacent to Marjorie Glacier is the largest glacier in the park, the Grand Pacific Glacier.
Visit the Official Site for Glacier Bay National Park for excellent visitor resources regarding environment, nature and science.