An Unalaska Bay cruise is highly recommended for close up views of sea mammals in their natural habitat, birding, delicate waterfalls and pristine, uninhabited islands.
Several privately-owned boats offer charters into the Bay. Services vary, as do cruise experiences depending on the time of year, activities of wildlife, and weather. Some charters will offer an afternoon excursion led by friendly, knowledgeable hosts, while others provide custom planned longer luxury excursions complete with sleeping quarters and gourmet meals.
Charters depart from several different harbors, including the Carl E. Moses boat harbor, where you might catch sight of fishing vessels featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. In the calm inner waters, cruises may brush within feet of an eagles nest, often with one or both bald eagles perched, carefully watching boats passersby.
Only a few minutes into the cruise and you’ll spot rafts of adorable-looking otter working diligently to open shellfish and catch harbor seals napping on the seaweed covered rocks.
Once in Unalaska Bay, look to the west on clear days, for a glimpse of the dormant Makushin volcano only 15 miles away. Small gray auklets, affectionately called “flying potatoes,” pop out of nearby surf and just as quickly disappear beneath the waves. Dramatically painted horned and tufted puffin soar overhead, close enough to see their bright red and yellow beaks and brisk black and white markings.
Motor along through miles and miles of uninhabited islands, pristine and regal, only marked in a few places with the remains of historic WWII munitions bunkers; fingerprints of days gone by.
At Priest Rock, a herd of juvenile sea lions commonly dart and play. In early summer, juveniles are especially friendly, barking a low roar, and darting under and around the boat, so close you can see the sea water flung from whiskers under wide brown eyes.
A longer cruise, only an hour or so more to Bishop Point, takes you to a rookery where several hundred steller sea lions often cover the rocks. Humpback whales breach near here too, slamming down with great force, another thrilling spectacle for passengers. Whales will often come close, sounding very near and even right under the boats.
Talk to your captain about an excursion on to the Baby Islands and Chelan Banks if birding or whale-watching are your main interests. Birders frequently visit the Baby Islands to see the rare whiskered auklet, and Chelan Banks is a spot where an upwelling of fish invites whales and teeming flocks of birds to feed.
- Breezes are cool even in summer, so dress in layers and bring rain gear.
- Pack binoculars, a camera and Dramamine if you are prone to sea sickness. (Ask your charter company, as it may provide some of these accessories.)
- Many charters provide food for guests, from a simple snack to sumptuous gourmet meals. Ask before you go.
- Plan to stay in Unalaska for a few days if a cruise is at the top of your list. Inclement weather can delay your trip.