scuba diving in alaska
Alaska enjoys some of the best cold-water diving in the world! During spring diving, our typical water temperatures range from cold days at 36 to warmer days late spring at 55 degree's. Visibility at this time can reach 30-50 feet. Although our tempertures become comfortable in the summer for 7mm wetsuits, we recommend dry suits for all our divers during this time period.
These trips occur during the spring season during the month of May when there is an explosion of food as the snow melts and the temperture starts to rise. The tour revolves around 3 dives each day (weather dependant) with unique activities scheduled during the week. Whale activity is also very common during this month and guests have the best opportunity to see amazing whale breaches in route to diving spots. This is a tour that combines the best of what Alaska has to offer above and below the waterline.
Scuba diving in a coldwater environment will surprisingly yield the same experiences often found in well known warm water destination's like the gold coast of Australia. But the nutrient reach waters surrounding alaska provide fertile grounds for rich invertrbrate life, colorful coral and large marine life. This diverse underwater ecosytem is largely unexplored like its southern Alaska and British Columbia counterparts and some exploratory dives will be conducted to continue to add unique dive spots to our ever-building list of dive locations around the Prince William Sound area.
During your stay, there will also be additional activities and adventures that will enhance the overall trip from just a diving destination to a complete Alaska experience from top to bottom. We are the first to offer these adventures to the world and have a passion for what we do, who we share it with and the awe inspiring place that we call Alaska and home!
iceberg snorkeling at Columbia Glacier
Similar to polar snorkeling in Antartica and the Artic, this iceberg snorkeling tour is reserved for those willing to brave a little colder water for epic shots of floating and grounded ice that have recently calved from the mighty blue behemoth, Columbia Glacier. But guests should know that this adventure is dangerous and ice can move or even flip without any visual indication ahead of time.
Some interesting facts about the area is Columbia Glacier descends from an ice field 3,050 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level, down the flanks of the Chugach Mountains leading into Prince William Sound. It is also one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world and the largest tidewater glacier in Alaska.
The Columbia is a large glacier flowing directly into the sea. When British explorers first surveyed it in 1794, its nose—or terminus—extended south to the northern edge of Heather Island, a small island near the mouth of Columbia Bay. The glacier held that position until 1980, when it began a rapid retreat that continues today. Since that time it has moved over 10 miles and has been in catastrophic retreat, often calving tremendous icebergs into the bay.
In Columbia Bay there is a calm area where kayaking tour groups will spend traversing slow moving and grounded icebergs, which is where we also partake snorkeling with them. There are numerous icebergs to choose from and we'll look for the safest one to swim with, as these bergs tend to roll with little, to no notice. We don’t approach any iceberg and carefully pick the most stable one that we’re able to gain access to through the ice pack. We will give you a safety briefing on how to approach and navigate along one. Floating flat icebergs are not as top heavy and grounded icebergs flip less often, but snorkelers inevitably have the decision to get in or not to swim with an iceberg.
We don’t allow diving with icebergs without extended training, experience and numerous logged coldwater, dry suit dives.
Bald eagle snorkeling (best for videographers)
During the spring season our resident eagle population will feed on the incoming herring spawn that occurs in our area. Birds will often and reliably be seen perched in wait for a fish to break the surface and quickly scream down to snatch it. We’ve had overwhelming success with our topside photographers producing some amazing topside shoots with birds in flight, talons stretched out in anticipation of the meal to come.
We’ve taken the next step in the evolution of capturing “one and only” shots usually reserved for high end tv productions with endless budgets and endless time to get the shot. And taken the guess work out of when and where to go, timing, and how to approach without disturbing the birds flight pattern.
This unique adventure can only be done by snorkeling, patience and having your camera settings right ahead of time. These shots are not impossible but require the correct guidance and timing during the baitfish season. We'll take you to an area that holds many eagles that fly the same flight patterns enabling us to get you into the sweet spot to capture incredible photography!
Many new and unseen angles are starting to be conceived and this adventure often becomes the highlight of the week. Just watching the birds in predation mode, hearing the sound of feathers pierce the air and create a sound similar to a jet on a bombing run, can leave everyone breathless to see this occur over and over.
sea lion rookery & puffins Topside photography
During the course of the week we will travel to an area of Prince William Sound where hundreds of Stellar Sea Lions call home along a rugged and rocky beachline. This rookery holds many interesting characters making for great subjects to photograph as a group or as a single sea lion. They can often be found perched on high rocks from a recent high tide or forging in the waters that surround the area. Depending on the tide, there may be times when waves will crash onto shore allowing beautiful photo’s. But make sure to set your shutter speed correctly as there is much action that usually occurs here. You’ll want your telephoto lens along for this trip as we are not allowed to approach no closer than 100 yards to the rookery.
We’ll spend time taking in the sights, sounds and even the smell of this large colony of pinnipeds. These lions are the largest member of the family Otariidae, the “eared seals,” which includes all sea lions and fur seals. It is the only member of genus Eumetopias. Otariids differ from phocids, the “true seals,” in having external ear flaps, long forearms resembling flippers used for propulsion, and rotatable hind flippers that allow quadrupedal locomotion on land.
We’ll also find a nesting colony of birds that inhabit the same rocky beachline. There are 3 main birds that are found here, which include Pelagic Cormorant, Tufted Puffins and the more famous Horned Puffin. These birds will be seen leaving their cliff nests in search for small fish and often rest outside the protection boundary that surrounds the sea lion rookery.
After viewing the lions and birds, we’ll turn our attention to the rich waters around the island to search for migrating whales. Then turn our attention to Columbia Glacier and dawn our wetsuit or drysuit to swim with icebergs. This trip is weather dependent and will often make the run across the sound during the best weather day.
Starting in late April, a little-known migration to Alaska occurs. Rufous hummingbirds, the most widely-distributed and feistiest hummingbird in North America generally winters in Mexico, and possibly as far south as Panama, has the longest migration route of all U.S. hummingbirds. In 2010 a hummingbird that was tagged in Prince William Sound was recaptured in Florida, over 3500 miles away. There are many studies trying to figure out migration patterns and just how these tiny creatures can travel so far. And popular myth of catching rides on the back of geese is simply not true.
Most hummingbirds die their first year, but when they've survived a full annual cycle, their life expectancy goes up dramatically. The record age of a banded rufous hummingbird is 8 years 1 month. Both male and female rufous hummingbirds are extremely territorial. When they are not feeding, they perch nearby, and if they spot another hummingbird approaching, they launch themselves for a dive attack on the visitor. A male individual may chase off a female from a feeder, even during their mating season. When they stopover somewhere during their migration, they defend that territory aggressively. At being agitated, they fan their tails out and chirp, while the males also exhibit their iridescent throat gorgets.
Like all hummingbirds, the Rufous hummingbird gets most of its nutrients from sipping on flower nectar. You may also sometimes see an individual picking an insect out of the air, as insects are a source of proteins and fats for them. Insects like gnats, midges and flies also catch the rufous hummingbird’s fancy and regularly become a part of its diet. But watch out if you see a bumblebee fly into the area, as a mini battle will ensue with the victor usually being the bright yellow bee.
The clutch size of a female rufous hummingbird consists of 2-3 tiny white eggs. Egg size is about ½ an inch. The young are born devoid of feathers, other than a sparse gray along the back, after a gestation period of 15-17 days, and they nestle for another 17-19 days. The female has nesting habits which involve building the nest in a protected location, either in a shrub or a conifer. The males are often promiscuous and mate with more than one female over the course of their lives.
The brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange females are relentless attackers of flowers and feeders. Most guests are pleasantly surprised that hummingbirds are a daily occurrence from the lodge deck from spring to mid summer. You’ll find them feeding on flowers or bird feeders positioned for guests to view and photograph from the comfort of the lodge deck chairs.
topside whale photography
When people think about Alaska’s marine life, the first images usually are whales breaching with a rugged icy background to set the scene. Although whales like Humpbacks migrate from warmer waters in Hawaii and Mexico to the colder waters of Alaska where food is more abundant during early spring.
During our travel to dive sites, you may have the opportunity for topside photography with these animals. There is an explosion of marine life in the spring time when the waters start to warm and food is easy to find for all manner life. Whales that frequently inhabit our area are Humpback, Grey, Minke and Orca. With a rare appearance of a Blue whale and her calf. Dall’s porpoise are also found in pods feeding on herring and other small schooling fish.
Humpback whales are best known for group tactics called bubble net feeding and make for spectacular photography! However, this is best witnessed in Southeast Alaska and is not seen as often as our southern counterpart. But something equally amazing happens here for those that migrate to our area. During this time, we’ve encountered whales breaching in continued succession to shake and dislodge parasites from the skin. After witnessing this process over several years, we’ve noticed that this type of behavior is very seldom talked about. Sure, there are lots of photos of whales breaching. But I’m talking about watching a whale breach 20-30 times in a row for over an hour. The dance starts with a whale rolling over on its back, slapping the water with one fin 5 or 6 times. Then slapping the other fin 5-6 times. Rolling back over, taking a quick breath and diving. Flying out of the water 30-45 seconds laterand continuing for over an hour. We’ve been lucky enough to witness this more and more often as we spend time on the water during the spring season. Please understand that this will not be a daily occurrence, but something that might happen once or twice during a trip.
Orca’s are also a fan favorite for those visiting. There are resident pods that circuit Prince William Sound and transient whale pods that move up and down the Alaska coastline. After living in our remote area of Alaska, we’ve been able to figure out behavior patterns for the resident pods that travel into our port. With hunting usually on their mind, they will spread across Port Fidalgo from one side to the other (3 miles) in search for food. After several hours, they will gather into a tight group and travel the southern coast, passing directly in front of the lodge. This may happen once every two weeks.
Northern lights photography
During spring, when the sun still sets, guests that stay up are often treated to an amazing and dazzling light show. The colors of the Northern Lights depend on what gas is involved and how high in the ionosphere the reaction takes place. Blue and green lights form at lower altitudes while red color comes from the highest altitudes. Green is the most common color of all auroras. Then it is pink, a mixture of green and red, followed by pure red, yellow and finally, pure blue.
The impressive light display that we see in the sky, seemingly just above our heads, is very far away – usually more than 60 miles above Earth. The most distant red lights take place at heights of over 400 miles up in the sky. Astronauts on board the International Space Station are at the same altitude as the Northern Lights and see them from the side.
Apart from a spectacular visual display, the lights also produce faint sounds such as claps, crackles, and static sounds. However, the aurora noise is so rare that hearing it is probably possible only during times of maximum aurora activity, on windless nights away from other noise sources. Some Inuit tribes believed that the Northern Lights were the spirits of animals that they hunted – seals, salmons, deer and beluga whales.
May 1st, the sun will set at 10pm and May 31st the sun sets at 11pm. Weather plays a huge factor and clouds can spoil your success to capture a solar storm erupting into a beautiful and colorful display. But we are far enough north to be able to offer this to our guests. So if you’re an avid photographer or just a sky watcher, brave the cold night and set your clocks to wake up and see earth's greatest natural spectacle.
32' Viking Dive Boat
The Viking is great for small groups and is considered a wet cabin allowing divers to enjoy accessing the heated cabin while waiting for the next dive. It is a 32' catamaran with dual Honda 150 outboard's. The cabin is equipped with full electronics, bathroom, heat and seating for up to 7 comfortably. AED & Oxygen medical kit, Life-raft, first aid and all emergency equipment stored inside vessels cabin. Captain is CPR and first aid certified. Divers will have tanks filled with lodge's on shore dive compressor. We end the day at 2pm in order to ensure enough time is given to fill scuba tanks. During dive sessions, we use the "buddy system" and do not offer "in water" dive guides, but do give you a detailed briefing so that you can confidently navigate the site with a buddy. If your group would like to request a dive guide, one can be provided for an additional cost but must be booked at the same time you book your stay.
Expedition package itinerary
Trip synopsis: Scuba diving can be amazing at dive sites, but this trip has much more than diving packed into it. During May diving trips, water clarity is bar none the best with 30-50. Topside photography for whales, porpoise and bears. The highlight of the expedition will be eagle predation during the morning with diving reserved for the afternoon!
Package details: 7 day/6 night Shark Package. First and last days are travel days. Includes 5 total days snorkeling/diving, meals, snacks, weights, 3 tanks and refills each day. Transportation from Valdez, AK to the remote Ravencroft Lodge and back is also included. Double occupancy rooms. Self-guided paddleboards available at lodge for evening use. Alcohol/soft drinks, large heavy snacks & gratuities not included.
Travel details: We recommend that you arrive a day before and
leave the following morning from your departure day from the
lodge. Divers arriving the day before allow for weather
delays into Valdez, AK that may happen from time to time.
But arriving early allows you to take advantage of visiting Valdez
and Solomon Hatchery where bears, sea lions
and eagles can be found feasting on salmon runs. Ask for
Travel details: We recommend that you arrive a day before and leave the following morning from your departure day from the lodge. Divers arriving the day before allow for weather delays into Valdez, AK that may happen from time to time. But arriving early allows you to take advantage of visiting Valdez and Solomon Hatchery where bears, sea lions and eagles can be found feasting on salmon runs. Ask for more details.
Disclaimer: Remember that sea animals are free to roam the open ocean and topside animals are free to roam the wilderness. There are no fences or nets keeping them to a specific area to ensure sightings. So please keep in mind that interactions are highly likely during the week, but not guaranteed. But thats the magic of each encounter and makes it incredibly special!
- Group Size: 6 person
- Experience Level: Intermediate - Advanced Open Water Certification Required
- Time Period: May
- Tour Focus: Diving, Eagle Snorkeling, Iceberg Snorkeling, Topside Whale Photography
- Day 1 - Travel day from Valdez, AK to Lodge. Depart at 12pm. Lunch not included.
- Day 2 to 5 - Eagle photography in the morning followed by 1-3 dives (time dependant), evening hummingbirds and northern lights.
- Day 6 - Sea Lion Rookery and Columbia Glacier (snorkel with icebergs).
- Day 7 - Travel day back to Valdez, AK. Depart Lodge at 9am for Valdez.