Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salmon Shark Dissection

Just about everyone in Kodiak is a biologist by degree or avocation. I think they are really outdoor type folks that discovered getting a biology degree is a great way of enjoying our great outdoors in Alaska while collecting a paycheck. After the fishing industry and the school district, Fish & Game or other government agencies are about the number 3 employer. Fishing and fish research is the community.

Sunday they had a Salmon Shark dissection presentation at the Fish Research Center. This is a yearly event. Being an anatomist, of course I went. But I was about the only adult without a kid. I found these pre-school kids really knew their shark! Just look at the crowd. I guess if momma and pappa are interested in biology, kiddo is interested too. Is it genetics or is it social imprinting? It's just Kodiak.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whalefest Week in Kodiak

A Gray Whale that washed up on shore several years ago. Local volunteers burried it for a few years, let the meat decompose off, and then they mounted it's skeleton at the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center.

Visitor with Gray Whale.

Big, isn't she?

The locals take knowing about wildlife very dearly. Each year at this time we have "Whalefest" in Kodiak (and during Memorial Day we'll have "Crabfest"). There are lots of whales that come by here: the usual Orca, Gray Whales, Humpbacks, the 70 foot Fin, and an the occasional Blue Whale. Sunday they had a walk to see the Gray whales as they migrate by Narrow Cape. They reported lots of sightings close to the shore.

During Whalefest Week, they have lots of lectures. I, of course went to as many as I could. Did you know: you can tell which type of whale it is by how much of it's hump comes out of the water, or the heigth as well as the shape of it's water spout? Apperantly the shape of the nares is specific to each species. The color of their baleen and the fact that one has a white lip on the right and a gray one on the left are also used in identifying species form a distance. I'll use that while on my kayak!

One type has sexual segregation: the females live here, while the males live in Japan. They meet in Hawaii to mate. Then the mature males go west and the females and young come north. I can't remember which type it was. I think I got information overload.

This I remember: Orcas are really porpoises, not whales; they have teeth. And there are 2 types that look identical, but some pods eat only fish and others eats only mammals (they know this form necropsies). They've now done genetic testing and apparently the 2 are genetically different. They think they have not crossbred for thousands of years.

As I've said in prior blogs, the mammal-eating Orca like to attack the jaw and tongue of other specie's baby whales and particularly eat their tongue. Then they try to eat the rest of the whale before it washes on shore. They also like sea lions, seals, and otters. (I wonder if it was a mammal eater who attacked the lady at Sea World?)

This week the talk around town was about the pod of Orca that came into our bay and were eating the sea lions right by the gazebo at the park downtown. But those in the know say that is not quite right. Sure, they chased them down, put them in their mouths and shook them around. But, there was no blood seen, no end trails, or signs of sea gulls eating left over pieces of sea lions. So they think the Orcas just came in as a training exercise for their young to practice chasing, capturing, and tossing the sea lions around, but didn't eat them this time. That's the story. Hope you learned something about what we talk about in Kodiak.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sea Lions in a hungry frenzy

Last month I went down to the cannery to take pictures of eagles. As I stood on the dock, there was a horrible growling and snorting that suddenly began. I looked down to the water and 2 sea lions had appeared. Within a minute there were over a dozen. All blowing water out their nose and getting my camera wet.

They had come to get fish form the boat. Getting on board was their goal. I've heard that once in a while they succeed, and if the workers try to push them off, they've been bitten.

For interest, compare their size to the man on the boat. Definitely 3 times larger. Needless to say, I was a little concerned. A slip on the ice and I would be in the water among those 600 pound irrationally frenzied beasts. Not a good place for me to fall into. I watched and filmed intermittently for 30 minutes while repeatedly drying my lens.

Anyway, three of them didn’t seem that hungry. Two were repeatedly flipping upside down and putting their snouts close to the third's over and over again. I don’t know if they were juveniles just playing or if was mating dance of some sort.

If you have 3 minutes to waste, take a look. No music this time; just the sound of their breathing. Turn the volume up so you can get a real "feel" of being there when the picture slides end and the videos start.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Put on your walking shoes .......for a Sunday stroll

Spruce Cape is owned by the US Coast Guard and is near our house in Kodiak, AK. It is where the Coast Guard likes to practice helicopter landing in cross-winds and Navy Seals come occasionally for winter warfare training.

They have fenced off about 1 - 1.5 mile long area that is about 50 - 200 yards wide for the locals to stroll along the edge of Mill Bay till the "point" facing the Pacific and the channel bringing fishing boats and the ferry back to town. It's a favorite for us to walk the dogs, knowing that they can't run off because of the water's edge and the fence. And the chance of bear encounters is low.

Anyway, take a 2 minute stroll with us. You'll see a sign that'll scare you. And human targets along the fence...but remember these are just for "War Games". No real shooting goes on here.

There's our houses across the bay, ducks, ptarmigans, eagles, and alot of other sea birds. During this walk we saw a fallen tree. Note how shallow their roots are, because of the little topsoil/ash on top of the rocks that make up this island.

You'll also see evidence of the military presence during WW II, keeping an eye out for the Japanese. The jeeps and trucks have rusted away, but you can see remains of the engines and transmission during low tide.

During this walk we ended up with a beautifully sunny day, ran into a few surfers (but didn't photograph them), and saw the beginning of Spring: the fishing boats are starting to leave port to stock their fishing camps.

Not bad for a typical Sunday afternoon walk, wouldn't you say?

Oh, by the way, It was not named because there are alot of Sitka Spruce trees on it. It was named after the fishing boat that went out of the port when they heard the 1964 tsunami was coming our way. Two brothers went out to pick the 3rd one who was on a small fishing island. None was ever found.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hormonal Eagle

I went to video some eagles this weekend. But, remembering this picture from the Internet, I got a little leery when one took a special interest in looking at me.

Thinking that I don't get paid to take my pictures..... I put my camera in my pocket, stepped back, and decided to call it quit for the day. Sometimes devine intervention tells you what is the right thing to do. If not, common sense should.

What could cause an eagle to act so aggresive? That's a juveline, so it probably was not guarding its nest of chicks or eggs. Maybe it just didn't like people in its space. Or maybe he thought the photographer was getting too close to his potential girlfriend.

Yes, this is eagle mating season. According to the Kodiak newspaper, 2 eagles were doing a mating dance near Valdez on Easter Sunday. They often clamp themselves together and do a vertical dive. But in that case, they either got their talons stuck together or let sex distract them from common sense. They ended up diving straight down into the ground. People saw it and found them burried 2 feet deep into the snow. The male was dead on the scene. The female was still breathing, so they took to to the eagle rehab facility. It was in a coma for nearly a week, but they report that now it opens its lids and follows people with its eyes. It still has not eaten or drunk water.

Anyway, it is getting to be Spring time here. Days are over 14 hours long. We know that affects the pineal gland and the pineal does affect one's sex drive. Did any of you do stupid things during Spring Break? If you say "no", it's probably that your pineal activity prevented you form remembering how you acted.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cold Eagle

On the earlier blog this week, I talked about cold and wet eagles being helped by the Fish and Wildlife Department.

Here is a slide presentation of the one we saw last year. (Some of you might have received it as an email last year, with different music.)

It was on the Saturday before either Palm Sunday or Easter. I thought it was great to see an eagle so still and right there at eye level. Temperature was just at freezing. Cold enough for the snow to collect, but soon melt into water. Not until I noted that it couldn't fly, did I think anything was wrong. According to the newspaper, Fish and Wildlife sent it off to a rehab center in Anchorage.

At this time of the year we find many skeletons of animals which did not survive winter. A winter of poor eating, and temperatures which let the snow melt and then soak through their feathers and fur is the culprit.

I don't know if last year's eagle (or the 2 sent to rehab last month) survived to be freed again.

So my advice to you is what I have learned form these old animals. Don't just let snow pile up on you: get moving and shake it off before it gets into your skin, feathers, or fur.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Don’t let the picture from the airport fool you.

In Kodiak, it always snows the week before Easter. But this has been a very warm year in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, it was in the low teens in November. But in late January, after a few weeks of reaching into the 40’s, some of our trees seemed to put some green back into their tips. It got cold again in March. But by this PM it was well above 35 and all the snow is melting again.

Warm weather is not really kinder to our animals. Here is what we've heard:

1) About a month ago, I read in the local paper that people called about 2 different eagles that were too weak to fly off the ground. Fish and Wildlife Dept was called to help them out and probably take them into rehab. Seems birds do OK with snow, but soaked feathers just don’t keep out the cold. And get so heavy, the birds can’t fly to get a meal.(Similar to the Power Point I sent out by email last year, taken downtown by the useum).

2) On a similar situation, last summer 200 dead walruses were spotted in Icy Cape, 200 miles southwest of Barrow. Seems that with the loss of icebergs, 3,500 walruses came on shore at once. Then, apparently a bear or airplane or some other noise got them scared. A stampede trampled 200 young and slow walruses to death. Similar episodes are being reported on the eastern coast of Russia.

3) And in Kattovik, on the Beafort Sea (along the Artic), polar bears usually come on land in September. It’s a great place to see those white bears. That's because, the natives are allowed to hunt 3 whales per season; after eating the whale meat, they leave the bones on a small spit off the island and the bears come to munch on the left-overs and sleep.

Previously they would swim there form their icebergs only 50-100 miles out to sea. But the icebergs close to land are disappearing, so now they have to swim in from about 300 miles out to sea. They are looking very tired when they reach the island.

The remaining icebergs are out over the Continental Shelf. It is so deep that there is not enough sea life for bears that far out. They are expecting polar bears to disappear in as little as 40 years . I think I know where I will be going for my vacation this year…to take some polar bear pictures.

Here are some pics of one waking up. It is a slide show "video" I made form a brochure advertising a polar bear sightseeing trip. Hope I can get this close when I go. If you don’t hear from me after September, it’s that I got a little too close to a polar bear who had just enough energy to make a special “taco” meal out of me. But imagine how cool those pics would have been!