Tag Archives: wildlife

The shrinking of Alaska’s salmon

Salmon returning home to spawn

Salmon is a vital resource in the state, so it should come as no surprise that Alaska has been studying salmon since before statehood. For over 60 years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has kept detailed records of length, weight, age and escapement for four species of Pacific salmon that spawn here.

Graph credit: University of Alaska – Fairbanks

The salmon that return to Alaska from their time in the ocean, are now smaller than they have been historically. The reason: They are returning to spawn at a younger age.

The Chinook, Alaska’s state fish, has been the hardest hit. King salmon are, on average, coming in at 8% smaller than in the 1980’s. The coho, or silver salmon is 3.3% smaller, chum is at 2.4%, and the sockeye 2.1. The decrease in size has accelerated since 2010 for all four species.

At first glance, what is 8% really? Well, the ramifications are large and far reaching. The Yukon-Kuskokwim River system is the largest subsistence area in the entire country. It takes more fish to feed a family. Commercial fishermen also must catch more fish to make the same amount of money.

Environmentally, the entire ecosystem relies on the salmon returning to spawn. Just the reduction in chinook salmon size alone means a reduction of 16% in egg production, i.e. future salmon populations; and a 28% reduction in nutrients going back into the river systems. For the pocket book issues: the reduction in king salmon means a 26% reduction as a food source, and a 21% reduction in the value of the fishery.

There does not appear to be one smoking gun for the change in Alaska’s salmon population, but a series of events that effect each species differently. Warming ocean temperatures are partly to blame, but so is competition between wild and hatchery populations. Size-selective fishing seems to also be a part of the equation, especially with the mighty chinook.

Wild salmon can stay out in the ocean for up to 7 years, but now they are often returning to fresh water to spawn at 4 years.

Sources: University of Alaska – Fairbanks; Alaska Dept of Fish & Game; Alaska Public Media; Fairbanks Daily News-Miner


After the Ice: Our Story

Part III: “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of food.”

This is the third part of the After the Ice series. The video is less than 6 minutes long. Part III delves a bit into the Arctic Report Card, which is an annual assessment, and how our local Arctic population is finally getting a seat at the climate table.


After the Ice: Our Food

Part I:

The Arctic Research Consortium of the United States has put together a series of videos entitled After the Ice. The videos highlight the changes and the dangers to Alaska’s remote communities, that have relied on the sea ice for their livelihood and sense of community. The first video, which runs approximately 7-1/2 minutes, shows the extent that residents of remote Alaska rely on the sea ice for their source of food.

Much of Alaska, including many in communities like Fairbanks, live a subsistence lifestyle, relying on the land to provide sustenance. It’s a good series, on a population that few Outside even know exist.

Our garden is dying, is a line that cuts to ones heart.


Moose Crossing

Guest Photographer:

Photo credit: NMT

Driving into Denali National Park one day this August, we were forced to stop for one of the locals. I love how small that car looks.

P.S. Roof top tent


LARS

Musk ox at LARS; Photo credit: UAF

We toured the University of Alaska’s Large Animal Research Station late this summer. LARS is located on the old 130 acre Yankovich homestead, which is basically adjacent to the Fairbanks campus. Originally homesteaded by Mike Yankovich in 1923, Yankovich donated the property to the University in 1963.

For much of the summer, tours had been cancelled due to Covid-19, but late in August, small groups were allowed to visit the research station. Our group of three, joined two groups of two, for a total of seven. Masks were required. Like most outdoor Alaska activities, social distance was not hard to maintain.

Two male muskoxen; the one on the right was in charge.

Muskoxen and reindeer are the most common animals at LARS, although at times other large animals, such as other bovines, are studied. Research is run by University scientists, but projects from all around the globe are supported here. This includes both wildlife, and veterinary studies.

Both the male and female muskoxen have horns, although the males are much larger. A male muskox can be 5 feet at the shoulder and weigh 600-800 pounds. A female usually runs a foot shorter, and can weigh between 400 and 500 pounds.

They have two types of hair: guard hair and qiviut. Qiviut is the very soft underwool nearest the body. It traps air, therefore acting as an insulator. The qiviut is shed every summer and can be spun into a fine yarn. In fact, LARS collects the quviut when the animals shed, and sells the yarn in their gift shop and online.

The guard hair is the long, coarse outer hair, that often hangs to the ground. It protects the qiviut. The insulation is so good, that snow on a muskox back will not melt from the animals body heat. It also allow them to live in the harsh Arctic climate without migrating or hibernating.

As the last ice age closed, muskoxen thrived across northern Europe & Asia, North America, and Greenland. By the mid 1800’s, muskoxen were gone from Europe and Asia, and by the 1920’s they had disappeared from Alaska.

In 1930, 34 animals were captured in Greenland, brought to Fairbanks and then transferred to Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea. The population took off. By 1968, Nunivak had 750 muskoxen. Since then, Nunivak muskoxen have repopulated several areas in Alaska, and even in Russia. Today, Alaska has a muskox population of roughly 4300. Of the 143,000 global population, Canada has by far the most with a population of 121,000.

A hungry cow reindeer at LARS

LARS also had a population of 42 reindeer when we visited. Considered domesticated caribou in North America, reindeer can also be found across the Arctic.

The caribou population can have major ups and downs across any given range, although they have never been threatened in Alaska. Currently, of the 4-1/2 million animals world-wide, Alaska has a population of 900,000.

Since I already have written a post on caribou, with the Alaska Big Five series, I won’t repeat all of that.

With the warming of the Arctic, research at LARS is in as high demand as ever.


Autumnal Equinox

The peak has passed in the Interior

It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.

I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.

So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.

The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.


The end of the run…

Tundra, by Chad Carpenter


Alaskan Standoff: Grizzly vs Caribou

Film Friday:

A lone grizzly toys with a massive bull caribou

I had picked up one of this summer’s Pandemic Road Lottery ticket into Denali National Park. In normal years, the road lottery would be taking place this weekend in Denali. This year, due to Corvid-19 and the lack of visitors, The Park had five additional lottery weekends.

I had two teenagers in Alaska for the first time, and we ventured deep into the park one Sunday. We covered the gamut in wildlife viewing, but the most memorable took place on our way out.

It was late in the day, and few others were still out on the Park Road. And no rangers nearby either! The grizzly meandered around the field in the photo, slowly getting closer and closer to the bull caribou. After a while, the bear would back off, and increase the distance between the two rivals, only to shorten the distance a few moments later.

We watched the dance between bear & caribou for about 45 minutes. The boys were looking for a fight, but I knew that the caribou did not get those large antlers by not being able to judge distance.

The grizzly broke the caribou’s comfort zone, and the bull was immediately on its feet. The game was up, but the bear refused to acknowledge that fact. After another ten minutes, the bear tried once again to close the gap, but the caribou had tired of the game, and he trotted off with his head held high.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100


Season of the Moose

Tundra, by Chad Carpenter


Watch the Arms

Seward, Alaska

A low-keyed eyeballing

Life at the Alaska SeaLife Center