On a cool, overcast summer day, a cruise ship slowly glides through a deep glacial fjord. Vertical cliffs rise more than a thousand feet on either side and icebergs drift on the current. As the ship approaches the face of the tidewater glacier and stops, icebergs fill the water. Hundreds of the icebergs are topped with dark shapes, and a closer look with binoculars reveals harbor seals. Hundreds of harbor seals are hauled out on these icebergs - for good reasons. These are mother seals with pups, and this fjord is a nursery. The icebergs offer protection from predators, like killer whales, and offer good resting places regardless of the tides.
The presence of large ships and small boats can frighten these mothers and pups, causing them to flee into the water. Even kayaks disturb seals when people approach too close. This interferes with nursing, makes newborns and mothers more prone to become separated, and stresses the animals at a vulnerable time.
To avoid this - this cruise ship has stopped about 1,200 yards - three-quarters of a mile - from the concentration of seals near the face of the glacier. Even the smaller boats are keeping their distance. They move slowly, with virtually no wake, the public address system is off and everyone is quiet. The bay is peaceful. The seals may be aware of the boats, but they aren't jumping in the water or otherwise acting stressed.