The population of right whales in Alaska waters is estimated to be around 30. The animals were heavily hunted for decades, and even picked up their name because they were the “right” whale to hunt: Right whales are slow moving and float when killed.
The eastern population of North Pacific Right Whales call Alaska home, but they are rarely seen. In August, however, two groups of two whales each were spotted in the waters around Kodiak. Of the four whales, two were known to researchers, but two were previously unknown. Four right whales in a month may not seem impressive, but those whales amount to over 10% of the entire population.
A pair of swans, who had been spending the summer on the Back Pond, recently moved up to The Pond. I was watching them one evening, when a second pair of swans crashed the party, and chaos ensued. The original pair did not take kindly to sharing The Pond. For an hour the original pair chased the interlopers across the usual still waters. I was stacking firewood, and I’d hear the Flap,Flap,Flap… of wings beating the water as they skimmed across from end to end. Pretty fascinating to watch, although I’m convinced the beaver just wanted the peace & quiet back.
When I took the video, things had calmed down some, but you can see one of the interlopers off to the side, testing the waters, as it were. Eventually, that lone swan crossed the red line, and chaos ensued once more. It was getting dark when the four swans finally paired off at opposite ends of The Pond.
I worked late on Monday, but I arrived home just in time for this:
Lydia Jacoby beat her own career best time, while swimming ahead of the current world record holder, and Olympic record holder, in order to take home the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter breaststroke.
In this case, home is Seward, Alaska.
Alaskans were pumped about Jacoby’s performance in the semifinal, which was 8 tenths of a second slower than her final swim.
Alaskans across the state watched the race, and several hundred fans met at the Seward train depot to catch it on the big screen. Jacoby grew up swimming with the Seward Tsunami Swim Club.
It was the first gold medal in swimming for an Alaskan.
Luckily, we have not had a bad wildfire season in Alaska for 2021. We did have a fire flare up close to Fairbanks late last week, when smokejumpers, seen above, landed at UAF’s LARS location, where the herd of muskox can be seen roaming the hills. From the muskox field, the smokejumpers hiked the half mile to the fire’s location. That fire was quickly under control, and the firefighters went back to the Munson Creek fire soon after they were dispatched.
With just under 180,000 acres burned within the state so far this season, it puts us roughly equal with 2020 and within the lowest range of burned area since 2008. The Interior remains in a burn ban, but historically, 2/3 of acreage within a season has burned by July 15.
Figures,facts, graphics and video all from the Alaska Division of Forestry
I was invited to a screening of the new documentary film “Understory: A Journey Into the Tongass“, this past Earth Day.
The Tongass National Forest is one of the last remaining intact temperate rain forests in the world, and the U.S. Forest Service considers it their crown jewel. At 16.7 acres, it’s not difficult to see why.
The Tongass National Forest was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and today the Forest sees roughly 2 million visitors a year.
The documentary Understory follows three women as they circumnavigate Prince of Wales Island by boat, exploring the forest that is vital to the local salmon fishing industry, and embroiled in the current “roadless rule” debate.
In 1963, a young, male bowhead whale was harvested by Native Whalers in Utqiaġvik. The skeleton of the 43′ whale was eventually offered to the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and it has been in the collection of the Museum of the North ever since. Only the skull has been put on display.
That is about to change, as the Museum is currently putting together the entire skeleton, and will display it from the lobby ceiling once it is complete.
The above video from the UAF Museum of the North, details some repair that had to be done to the ribs of the bowhead whale.
The Potter Section House State Historical Site is now home to the Chugach State Park visitor center. The building was built in 1929, and was used to house section workers for this part of the Alaska Railroad. Originally, there were four section houses along the Anchorage section of the railroad. Their use was discontinued in 1978, and the Potter House is the last remaining of the four. It was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
A rotary snowplow that once cleared the tracks along Turnagain Arm is also on display at Potter House. The railroad car behind the snowplow, is home to the Kenai Visitor Center. Both visitor centers have been closed due to the pandemic, and remain closed.
The section along Turnagain Arm is notorious for avalanche, although today the avalanches are planned events. Back in the day, the rotary plow revolutionized track clearing. The plow’s steel teeth cut through even the most packed snow, as well as debris from an avalanche, and the occasional frozen moose. The snow was launched from the chute hundreds of feet off the track. Two steam engines pushed the plow, with a crew of seven.
This particular rotary plow was retired in 1985, in favor of track mounted bulldozers. The Alaska Railroad still maintains one rotary snowplow in reserve.
Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage, covers 495,204 acres. It is the third largest state park in the United States, and the second largest in Alaska. It is truly, one of Alaska’s many gems.
I was invited earlier in the week to attend an online screening of the new documentary Frozen Obsession. For 18 days, a research crew ventured into the Northwest Passage on board the Swedish ice breaker, Oden.
The ramifications of the opening of the Northwest Passage for those of us in the Arctic are large. The documentary explores some of that, along with the drastic changes we are seeing, and some of the history of what truly has been an obsession at times, regarding the famed passage.
The expedition was clearly geared towards education, with 28 undergrad and graduate students on board the vessel, conducting research. It’s extremely rare to see undergrads involved in research at this level. This included two Inuits from Nunavut. The team also did 40 live Q&A sessions via satellite, to museums and education facilities back on the mainland, including institutions in Alaska.
One of the frightening takeaways was the amount of plastic that was found frozen in the sea ice. Researchers could not contain their surprise at the amount that was discovered in the core samples. In an area that is still considered pristine by many, plastics and micro-plastics have made their way to the far northern waters.
The documentary is an hour long, and well worth the time if it becomes available to your community or streaming service. The excitement of the young researchers alone is rewarding to see.