Tag Archives: NPS

Taking over the neighborhood

A cruise ship is dwarfed by the mountains of Glacier Bay, Alaska; Photo credit: National Park Service

In a normal year, Glacier Bay receives more than 150 cruise ship visits. In 2020, with the cruise industry in dry dock, Glacier Bay has seen a regular inhabitant take over. The humpback whale has been making the most of no cruise ships.

Humpbacks have been studied regularly for decades in Glacier Bay. Individual whales had been identified as far back as 1973. In 2020, the whales have been seen lounging in the middle of channels, feeding in large groups, and generally enjoying “room to roam”, as one researcher put it. Their underwater vocalizing was way up too, thrilling researchers.

The Park’s whale monitoring system has identified 740 individual whales between 1985 and 2017. The birth year of 311 Glacier Bay whales is known to researchers, because they were sighted as calves in The Bay. The oldest whale is a male, #516 or Garfunkle. Garfunkle was born in 1974. He was last seen in 2016.

The longest documented humpback was #441, who had been seen for 45 years. His carcass was found outside of Glacier Bay in 2016, his age was 66 years. The oldest documented humpback was 98 years old, when he was taken by a commercial whaler. The age of humpbacks can be determined by the layers on their ear plugs.

Most female humpback whales of Glacier Bay are able to have a calf every three years once they mature, which is at 12 years of age in Alaska waters, much later than northern Atlantic humpbacks.

Glacier Bay and Icy Strait is a regular home to 181 humpbacks, with Southeast Alaska being home to 1585 individuals. The most recent estimate has 21,063 humpback whales living in the entire North Pacific.

A link to the sounds of the Glacier Bay humpback can be found below:

https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=FB642F7E-1DD8-B71C-075F52B0E5F2D04A

Sources: Glacier Bay National Park, UAF, Alaska Fish & Game, KTOO


#OptOutside 2020

Proper wildlife distancing, courtesy of National Park Service

With the pandemic encouraging many of us to put off large Thanksgiving gatherings this year, and foregoing the annual insanity of “Black Friday” (an event I honestly have never understood), there remains the opportunity to explore the outdoors.

The current situation is what it is, and we are stuck with it. For the moment, at least. Now, more than ever, why not opt to head outside? Social distancing is a lot easier to accomplish, and it’s good from time to time to remind ourselves that we are still a part of the natural world.

So try to spend some time outside this weekend, but remember to keep your proper wildlife distance.


Alaska Jökulhlaup

A large glacial dam gave way in Southeast Alaska this summer. Known by its Icelandic term: jökulhlaup, the power of this sudden release of pent up water can be incredibly destructive.

The terminus of Lituya Glacier; Photo credit: NPS/J. Capra

Desolation Lake, which sits above the Lituya Glacier in Desolation Valley, collects meltwater from both the Desolation and Fairweather Glaciers. That meltwater is normally blocked by the Lituya Glacier, forming the roughly four square mile lake.

The water level suddenly dropped 200 feet.

A commercial fisherman, Jim Moore, along with his two grandsons, tried to enter Lituya Bay to fish for Chinooks in August. They should have been riding the tide into the bay, but the unusually muddy water was moving outward, and it was filled with trees and other debris. The bay was also filled with small icebergs. Moore managed to bring some of the ancient ice onboard for his coolers, then left the bay, instead of fighting the dangerous current.

Lituya Glacier terminus and delta; Satellite image credit: USGS

It is one of the largest jökulhlaups known to have occurred in Alaska. The water found a path under the Lituya Glacier, causing a rush that would have rivaled the hourly discharge of the Amazon River. It would have lasted for several days.*

Lituya Bay has a history. In 1958, an earthquake triggered a landslide that started one of the largest known tsunamis at over 1700 feet.

*NPS Geologist, Michael Loso


It’s Bat Week

Credit: National Park Service

Believe it or not, Alaska has seven species of bat. The Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) is the most common. At only 3 to 4-1/2″ long, and a wingspan of 8-9″, the Little Brown Bat, lives up to its name.

Bats are not well studied in Alaska. Even the lifespan of the Little Brown Bat in the state is unknown, although they seem to average 10 years or so in the Yukon. One elderly Yukon Little Brown Bat was known to live 34 years.

Range of the Little Brown Bat

They range from the Yukon River south throughout Alaska. The total population is not known, although it is not thought to be large, considering the territory. I have seen bats sweep overhead at the darkest time of our summer days, but I can not say that it is a common experience. We certainly have the mosquitos to keep them well fed, however.

A Little Brown Bat

Bats usually hibernate from September until May, although it is not a continual hibernation. They seem to wake up on warmer days to hunt, then return to hibernation. They will roost in caves, but these are not common in Alaska’s Interior. Natural weather-protected areas will offer a place to roost, as will attics and out buildings. So the scratching one hears from the attic isn’t always a red squirrel in Alaska, but might be a Little Brown Bat.


Pick out the ptarmigan

Hint: There are seven ptarmigan in the rocks

Photo credit: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve


National Park Service Turns 100

NPS 2016 Centennial

The National Park Service was established by Congress on this date in 1916. The NPS oversees 413 units, of which 59 are National Parks.

Alaska has eight, incredibly unique, National Parks:

Denali NP&P
Denali National Park & Preserve

Gates of the Arctic
Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve

Glacier Bay NP
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Katmai NP
Katmai National Park & Preserve

Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park

Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
Kobuk Valley National Park

Lake Clark NP&P
Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

Kennicott
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

In addition, Alaska has one Wild River(Alagnak); one National Historic Area (Aleutian World War II); two National Historic Parks (Klondike Gold Rush, Sitka); two National Monuments (Aniakchak, Cape Krusenstern); three National Preserves (Bearing Land Bridge, Noatak, Yukon – Charley Rivers); plus the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow.

Find Your Park
Find Your Park!

All photos and logos come courtesy of your National Park Service


Great Basin .44-40

Winchester 1873

An extremely weathered Winchester 1873 rifle was found in Great Basin National Park by archeologists conducting surveys. The rifle was found leaning against a juniper tree with it’s stock partially buried in the dirt. How long it has been leaning against that juniper is impossible to know, but it’s safe to say it has been there for a very long time.

Lost 1873 Winchester

It’s not hard to imagine why it went undiscovered for so long, the unloaded Winchester looks like it is part of the juniper.

Great Basin '73 Closeup

According to the still visible serial number, this particular rifle was one of 25,000 Model 1873’s manufactured by Winchester in 1882. One could buy a ’73 back in 1882 for $25.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service