The story of the beached orca near Prince of Wales Island in Alaska caught the attention of many of you. The killer whale, now known to be T146D, was found by locals recently, trapped out of water on some rocks.
The locals kept it wet, first by pouring water from buckets on the orca, then by spraying water from a yacht that showed up to help out. Eventually, NOAA fisheries experts came along to keep watch over the stranded orca.
T146D ended up getting some cuts and abrasions from the rocks, but after at least 6 hours of being stranded, the tide came in, and the orca was able to free itself.
T146D is a Biggs Orca, which has a population of approximately 300, and they ply the waters off western North America. T146D is thought to be a female, but that is an educated guess. The killer whale is known to be 13 years old.
There was some speculation early on, that the orca was caught off guard due to the 8.2 earthquake recently off the coast of Alaska. NOAA has disputed that, saying there is absolutely no evidence of the earthquake having anything to do with the stranding. More than likely, the orca was hunting harbor seals and came too close to the rocks. There have been five live-strandings of Biggs Orcas in the past 20 years. All survived the ordeal and rejoined their pod, according to NOAA. The population of Biggs Orcas are known to hunt harbor seals in shallow waters.
The Tanana Valley State Fair started on Friday, which generally means the slippery slope towards winter is well underway. With Alaska’s size, each corner of the state has its own fair, as opposed to just one for the entire state.
The start of the Tanana Valley State Fair is known for the start of the rainy season. In fact, a booth at the fair gives away prizes for the guessing how much rain Fairbanks will get during Fair dates.
This year, that number is looking to be unusually low. No rain is in the forecast until the fair’s final days, which means attendance could be good after not having one last year. Although, I have heard from many people that they will sit this one out, due to the rise in Covid cases. Time will tell on both fronts.
We are looking at a very warm week here. Not Texas hot mind you, but mid to upper 80’s, which is definitely warm for Interior Alaska.
I spoke with someone from Dillingham yesterday. The salmon run was winding down, fishermen were leaving town, but he described the salmon season as “fast & furious”.
It must have been exactly that. The one salmon bright spot across the state has been Bristol Bay this summer. The salmon run was an all time record for The Bay with over 63.2 million sockeyes returning. It is the fourth time since 1952 that the return has hit the 60 million mark.
The Nushagak also set a record for escapement, with 9.7 million sockeyes swimming upriver. That district had their second best run with 27.2 million sockeyes.
An honest to goodness thunderstorm is rather rare in Alaska. We get lightning by the bolt load, but nothing like a midwestern U.S. hill shaker. We just do not have the humidity to drive impressive, tornado birthing, cells. Still, what developed just across the northern bank of the Yukon River near Beaver, AK actually brought out the official Severe Thunderstorm Warning call from the Fairbanks office of the National Weather Service on Wednesday evening.
It was noted that it has been over two years since the NWS from Anchorage or Juneau has issued such a warning. Who knew such competition existed within the NWS?
Definitely not a normal occurrence.
On another note: Last night was the final night of the year for a post midnight sunset in Fairbanks. Summer is going by so fast.
The news that the chum fishing season had closed on the Yukon brought me a question from the balcony. “What’s a chum?”
Chum Salmon, also known as the Dog Salmon. The least commercially sought after of our Pacific Salmon. Alaska chum mature at 5 years. An adult chum can weigh between 9 – 22 pounds, with an average length of 24″. The record chum salmon weighed in at 42 pounds.
Pink Salmon, also known as Humpies. One look at a pink in its spawning phase will make it clear how the other name stuck. The back of a pink will grow a large hump, making them the Quasimodo of the salmon world. Humpies are the smallest of our five species, averaging just under 5 pounds as an adult. A usual year sees a harvest of 107 million pounds of pinks in Alaska waters. The record pink weighed 15 pounds. I admit to being a salmon snob, and refuse to keep pinks. Visitors can keep them, but my rule is that they have to take the humpy with them when they leave. Luckily, I can be a bit selective on what goes into my freezer.
Coho Salmon, also known as Silvers. The coho is probably known more as a game fish than a prize for the commercial fisheries. They amount to only 3.5% of the Alaska catch my numbers, just under 6% by weight. They are fun to catch though, and make up the majority of my cache in most years. On average, the returning salmon weigh 7-11 pounds, with some reaching up to 36 pounds, but that is a big silver. The spawning coho will develop a large kype, or hooked beak.
Sockeye Salmon, or Reds. The salmon that makes Alaska, the sockeye has a lifespan of 3-7 years, and can weigh 6-16 pounds as an adult. Bristol Bay alone, which is home to the largest (and last) great sockeye fishery, brings in an annual catch of some 30 million sockeye salmon. Statewide, sockeyes are the third most abundant species of salmon.
Saving the biggest for last: The Chinook or King Salmon. An adult king averages 30 pounds and 36″ in length, with the Alaska record being 126 pounds and 58″ in length. The Chinook is the official state fish, and the one everyone wants to catch. Images of the massive Chinook caught out of the Kenai River are all over the internet. Unfortunately, this is the species of Pacific Salmon that seems to have taken the biggest hit, population wise. It is a rare year when a King can be kept from the Yukon River these days, and even the Kenai Peninsula is seeing seasons shortened, if not called off altogether.
People talk of keystone species, and the salmon is the keystone for an entire state. The amount of biomass that enters the ecosystem every year with the death of the spawning salmon is simply staggering. Commercial fisheries, subsistence users, sport fishing, lodges, guides, all rely on the salmon.
The Tongass is known as America’s Salmon Forest, with roughly 17,000 miles of salmon streams and rivers. The nutrients that enter the forest every year from the salmon, drive the forest. Every year, salmon offer a smorgasbord to bears, wolves, eagles and the like, throughout the state.
Nothing is more important to Alaska than its salmon.
We already knew that the King Salmon run for the Yukon River was going to be dismal, but now word is coming out that the chum run looks to be equally bleak. This is a real blow to subsistence users throughout the Yukon basin and all its tributaries.
At the end of June, only 31,000 chum salmon had passed the Pilot Station sonar. The historic average for that date is 500,000 chum salmon. The count is the lowest on record.
Not surprisingly, the Chinook and chum salmon fisheries have been closed throughout the Yukon River system due to the low returns.
The steamboat Yukon was the first paddlewheeler to venture up the Yukon River. It was July 5, 1869, shortly after the Alaska Territory was bought by the United States from Russia. In part, the trip was a reconnaissance mission, but it was also a supply mission for the Alaska Commercial Company, which took over the trade route from the Hudson Bay Company.
By 1885, when gold was discovered on the Fortymile River, there were three steamers working the river. With the discovery of gold in the Klondike, as many as 100 steamers entered the Yukon River at St Michael to make the trip to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory.
Ravn Air, which serves eleven communities within Alaska, is looking at a very big expansion in area covered. The relatively small airline, is considering a plan to fly into Tokyo, Seoul, Orlando, Newark, Las Vegas, Oakland and Ontario, California. The airline would purchase ten new Boeing 757 jets.
Ravn Air went belly up only days into the pandemic in 2020, and was recently bought by California investors out of bankruptcy. I suppose the California connection makes sense for the proposed routes to the west coast, but it seems like a great leap of faith.
I remember Mark Air very well. It also was a small airline serving the small communities within Alaska, then they expanded big into the Lower 48, only to file for bankruptcy when they overextended themselves.
Ravn Alaska currently has a fleet of Dash-8 propeller planes.