Yakutat tribe protests cruise ship visits to Hubbard Glacier

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska Natives in Yakutat are opposing a decision by cruise lines to send more ships to the Hubbard Glacier this month in response to a cutback of visits at Glacier Bay National Park.

The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe worries the move will set a precedent for more ships next year. Tribe president Bert Adams Sr. said increasing numbers of ships could hurt the resident seal population in Disenchantment Bay, site of the glacier in northern Southeast.

''More ships going in means more pressure on the environment,'' Adams said.

The tribe this week fired off a letter to John Hansen of the North West CruiseShip Association, which represents nine cruise lines operating in Alaska. Hansen said told the Juneau Empire had not received the letter and that it was premature to comment.

''We need to talk to the tribal council about this. I haven't spoken with them yet, but it's something we need to do,'' Hansen said.

The decision by cruise lines to make more visits to Hubbard Glacier stems from a recent court ruling. A federal judge last week ordered an immediate reduction to the number of cruise ship entries in Glacier Bay. In response, the National Park Service cut nine trips scheduled this month.

The decision affected four cruise lines. Princess Cruises must divert two cruises, and it chose nearby Hubbard Glacier as the alternative for both voyages. Holland America must divert five cruises, and a spokesman said four, possibly five, of the cruises will visit Hubbard instead.

Norwegian Cruise Lines and World Explorer each must divert one cruise, and both companies chose Tracy Arm southeast of Juneau over the Hubbard. World Explorer also will visit Icy Bay en route to Seward, according to a spokesman.

That means six or seven additional cruises will visit Hubbard Glacier this month. Although the seal birthing season has passed, the Yakutat tribe fears the increase will carry over to next year's pupping season in May and June.

During pupping season, seals tend to their young on ice floes near the glacier. The tribe believes the ships are hurting the population - an important food source for some Yakutat residents. However, cruise officials are reluctant to cap voyages to the area until they see evidence the ships are affecting the animals.

''We want to make sure whatever decisions we make are based on good science and good understanding of what is occurring,'' Hansen said.

The cruise lines have agreed to stay 500 yards away from ice floes with seals. They also plan to fund a study on the interaction between ships and seals. But tribe members don't want any additional cruise visits until the study is complete, Adams said.

''We've already agreed that the 155 ships that were scheduled to come into (Disenchantment) Bay this year was the limit, and now they're threatening to detour more ships,'' Adams said. ''The tribe has taken the position we want to see a very limited amount of activity up there.''

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