Early in the morning we approached Icy Strait Point. Since this port does not have a large enough dock to handle cruise ships, we had to anchor offshore and go ashore in small boats (tenders). This is a bit of a problem, but it does mean that we are the only cruise ship to visit today and don’t have to contend with thousands of other cruisers!
As we approached Icy Strait Point the crew swung several of the lifeboats over the side so they could be lowered into the water to be used as tenders. It was foggy as we approached the shore. A lone humpback whale appeared to our left and slowly swam across between the ship and the shore.
As the whale swam between the ship and the shore it began bubble net fishing. The whale swam in a circle around a small school of fish. As it swam it blew a stream of bubbles that formed a net around the school of fish. This bunched the fish into a compact mass in the center of the ring. Once the fish are in a compact mass the humpback opens its large mouth and surges up in the center of the ring capturing as many fish as possible. If you look carefully, you can see the ring in each of the photos but it is clearer in the center photo. Humpbacks will use this fishing technique individually or in packs that work cooperatively to encircle a much larger school of fish. For more information about bubble net feeding see this article and video. In the last photo we are just boarding one of the lifeboat tenders to be taken ashore.
Here we are heading for the dock of the old fish cannery that has been converted into a tourist attraction by the Tlingit tribe. The cannery was closed in 1953 and was unused for many years. It was then purchased by the Huna Totem Corporation and converted into a tourist destination. One of the canning lines where salmon were processed is preserved as an educational exhibit but the rest of the cannery complex is used for shops and other tourist related activities. As we approached the dock we saw a group of kayaks that are used for an ocean kayaking expedition. Inside the old cannery is the desk where you can book a variety of different types of excursions. One of the more popular activities is a ride down the world’s longest zip-line. It is well over a mile long and the ride lasts just 90 seconds.
When this cannery was operational, before 1953, there were three types of commercial fishing boats that worked these waters. The trollers used baited hooks on the ends of lines. The gillnetters set large areas of net with opening just large enough to catch the fish by the gills if they tried to swim through. The purse seiners used a large floating net that is pulled in a circle by a small boat so that it encircles a school of fish. The net is then closed and the school of fish is winched into the main fishing boat. Once the fish reach the cannery, they are fed into the guillotine to remove the head and roe. They are then fed into the iron chink which cuts off the fins and tail, slits open the belly, and removes the viscera.
The first photo shows the Iron Chink machine. The next step in the line is the sliming table where workers manually cut, trim and clean what the Iron Chink has missed.
The trimmed fish is then sliced into equal sized portions by the gang of sharp knives in the Chopper. From the chopper the pieces go to the Filler.
The chunks of fish then go to the Filler machine where they are placed into cans. The cans then travel to the weigher.
When the cans are weighed, the cans that are to light are sent to the Patching Table where workers add pieces of salmon cut from fish that were too small or too large for the machines to handle. The cans are weighed against a master can on a balance before being put back onto the main conveyor belt.
The Curler Clincher machine puts a lid on the can and the edge is curled over to form a loose seal so that the air can be removed from the can by the Vacuum Sealer in the next step of the canning process.
The Vacuum Sealer extracts the air from the can. The cans are then put on racks and slid into a Retort where the cans of salmon are cooked for 90 minutes at 240°F.
The rest of the large complex had a number of shops. Some of the shops were owned by the tribe while others were owned by non-natives. Several shops sold Alaskan canned salmon (processed elsewhere). Many of the shops sold Alaskan handicrafts decorated with native designs. A few of the shops sold artistic glass such as the paper-weights in the third photo.
The artistry in glass was amazing. There were the paper-weights and other small glass ornaments by Glass Eye Studio of Seattle. There were also sculptures carved into blocks of glass and amazingly realistic fish and other sea creatures fashioned from glass.
The first photo is of an amazingly realistic glass octopus. After we finished shopping we walked into the forest behind the old fish cannery. We heard a whirring noise and looked up in time to see six riders coming down the world’s longest zipline. It is over a mile long and lasts just 90 seconds.
As we walked along the shoreline we encountered people fishing, a plaque commemorating the work of the Huna Totem Corporation on the development and promotion of Icy Strait Point, and a nice welcoming fire.
We walked over to the restaurant because it was supposed to have free wi-fi. However, the service was very slow and intermittent. We walked back on a path through the rainforest. The growth was dense and there were lots of fungi growing on fallen logs and other debris.
This is an old-growth forest with lots of older fallen trees that decay and form the basis for new growth. But, before long it was time to head back to the dock to take the tender out to the ship.
The evening performance was a Celibration of Dance performed by the ship’s singers and dancers.