Angoon is a largely Tlingit community with a commercial fishing and subsistence lifestyle. Angoon is the only permanent settlement on Admiralty Island, and Native Alaskans have lived here for centuries. In the late 1800s, a commercial whaling station was located at Kilisnoo, just south of the present-day Angoon ferry terminal.
Heading north out of Angoon, the best places to look for humpback whales are the waters where Peril Strait meets Chatham Strait, and further north, where Tenakee Inlet meets Chatham and where Icy Strait meet Chatham Strait. Dall's porpoises, killer whales and diving seabirds are also found in these waters. Herring and krill are the primary food sources in the area, and their availability determines the concentrations of many predators.
The small community of Tenakee Springs, built around a natural hot springs, is located in the inlet.
Icy Strait is the major east-to-west waterway in northern Southeast Alaska, connecting the Inside Waters of Lynn Canal and North Chatham with the Gulf of Alaska. On a clear day, the massive, perennially snow-covered peaks of the Fairweather Mountain Range are visible from Chatham to the west down Icy Strait. The Fairweathers are among the tallest peaks in Southeast Alaska and some of the highest, steepest coastal mountains in the world, towering more than 15,000 feet above the shoreline.
Continuing north up Chatham Strait, the name of the waterway changes, although this is the same fjord. Chatham Strait becomes Lynn Canal at the north end of Admiralty Island. The lighthouse at Point Retreat - at the northern tip of Admiralty Island - is a notable landmark. After rounding the point, boats bound for Juneau head south, and Admiralty Island is now to the west. In the spring, brown bears forage on the beaches of Admiralty Island.
Looking north between Lincoln and Shelter Islands is North Pass, a prime whale watching area. The pass is relatively shallow and drops off into deep water to the north and south. A combination of currents and topography makes this a rich fishing area, which draws whales as well as halibut and salmon anglers.
A series of rocky reefs and low-lying islands extend north from Barlow Point on Admiralty, and at low tide these are popular perches for resting eagles. Black oystercatchers, with their bright orange legs and beaks, may be seen near the rocks, and pigeon guillemots, murrelets and scoters are abundant in these waters.
The dark, rocky outcrops of these reefs contrast with the large, white, round boulders along the shoreline. These are glacial erratics, rocks that originated dozens of miles away in the coastal mountains of Southeast Alaska. During the ice age, glaciers like the Mendenhall carried these boulders down from the mountains. Frozen into icebergs, they were carried seaward, where tides and currents rafted them to these beaches.
A lighted buoy marks Faust Rock. Buoys, which serve as navigation aids, are magnets for sea lions. It's common to see three or four hauled out on the small platform below the light, often bellowing at other sea lions in the water jockeying to usurp their position.
The Mendenhall Glacier is a striking landmark to the east. At the glacier, a visitor center, trail system and salmon viewing and bear viewing platforms offer wildlife viewing opportunities. The broad glacial Mendenhall Valley is home to about half of Juneau's population, and some live on land that was under ice just a few hundred years ago.
The shores of Mendenhall Lake near the glacier are also a summer home to the world's champion long-distant migrant. Each spring, Arctic terns fly from Antarctic waters to nest on the shores of Mendenhall Lake. These acrobatic birds may be seen throughout Lynn Canal. They look like graceful gulls, with white bodies, black-capped heads, pointed wings and deeply forked "swallow" tails. In the fall these four-ounce birds make the return trip to the Southern Hemisphere, an annual flight of about 24,000 miles - equivalent to the distance around the Earth.
Approaching Auke Bay, look for humpback whales, seals, killer whales, sea lions, and Dall's and harbor porpoises. Unlike Dall porpoises, harbor porpoises rarely approach boats and are usually seen in small groups, their dark backs rolling at the surface as they feed.
Alaska's Marine Highway Ferry Terminal is located in Auke Bay, about 14 miles north of downtown Juneau. Most of Juneau's sport fishing charters and whale watching tours leave from Auke Bay. Seals, sea lions, harbor porpoise, eagles, and a myriad of birds, including marbled murrelets and visually striking sea ducks such as harlequin and Barrow's goldeneye may be seen in the bay.