Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What a difference 4 days make!

Saturday's snow storm. Doesn't that jacuzzi look good?

Monday: The sky is blue. Snow starts to melt.

Wednesday: Doesn't it look like a hot Summer day?

Its gone from cold to 40 degrees on Sunday to Wednesday. The ice is melting. The water's calm. The sky is blue. There is green in the grass.

And the Equinox is almost upon us. The sun will rise in the true East that day. Time to check if we graduated our compasses appropriately for our latitude!

We are midway to the Solstice. The sun is already up for 12 hours a day! The length of daylight is even longer than that! And it is getting 5 minutes longer every day! Everyone is happier this week.

Isn't it time to bring out the kayaks?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Otty's back

Sunday's walk was cold and blustery. 28 degrees. Blowing wind and snow. Worse at the Ft Abercrombie's beach. Probalby over 35 mph sustained, gusts to 50 that day, as it funnels the wind between the cliffs into Lake Gertrude.

But who should I suddenly see in the surf? My old friend Otty, swimming on his back. That Sea Otter shows up when you least expect him.

So even if the wind makes the camera shake and I lost him in the surf, no need to worry. He's made for that 35 degree water. And those Orcas won't make a snack of him. He'll swim where it's too shallow for those overgrown porpoises and will somehow keep from being banged against the rocks. He'll show up again soon. I'm sure.

(P.S. Check out those winter waves. There were lots of surfboards on top of cars this to Pasagshak's surfer's beach.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Suviving in Kodiak's "cold" water

(These are not B&W pictures. That's just the way it is...lots of reflection making things look blue-gray.)

With surface temerature in the teens for a week, it's finally cold enough to drop our sea water temperature to 35.5 F. You don't want to fall in that water. Most locals will tell you you are unlikely to survive long. Some say 15-30 minutes. According to the US Search & Rescue Task force those numbers are too short. Here are their numbers.

Expected Exhaustion and Survival times
@ 40-50 degrees F: 30-60 minutes ; 1-3 hrs
@ 32-40 degrees F: 15-30 minutes ; 30-90 minutes
@ < 32 degree F: < 15 minutes ; < 15 - 45 minutes

But I think the locals figure that if you fall in without a survival "dry suit" fully zipped, you are likely to become unconscious and swallow enough water to drown.

Water is colder elsewhere. Anchorage's water is 30 and Nome's is 27.7 (it's at the end of the Iditarod race). That is barely low enough to freeze salt water (it freezes at 28, they say). What you see frozen in Kodiak's harbor is the surface water which has slightly less salt and freezes closer to 32.

I don't think the Harbor Master is making his rounds in his boat today. Others are getting ready for a quick trip out as soon as they can. Meanwhile, this man's "helper" takes a break to check out what is under all that white stuff.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hot times in a cold place

It's 6 degrees outside. Furnace is going. But having gotten used to a winter with temps in the 30's, just can't seem to get warm. What's a Cheechako to do?

Jump in the outside "smoking" Jacuzzi. Gives you a "good" pain. 103 minus 6. That's a 97 degrees change in 3 seconds. Your skin goosebumps (yes, it is a verb). Fingers and toes start to "hurt". It's a Raynaud's type pain. It's intense. But it's a "good pain": knowing they are finally warming. In 4 minutes the pain will end. And your core will be warm again.

(Cheechako: What natives call newcomers to AK)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Winter finally arrives in Kodiak

Last night I wrote something about how the warm weather was affecting our Alaska animals. Good thing I didn't send it out 'cause winter has now arrived in Kodiak.

Snow has piled up and we are in a blizzard warning. They say 65 mph winds are expected by 4 PM.

We're used to such winds, but don't particularly like it with snow on the ground. Hope we all make it home form work. And then tomorrow we'll have to shovel all that snow that the wind likes to pile up on our driveway.

If we could only get a flight out to Jamaica!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

River Vs. Sea Otters

A few weeks ago I saw our local Sea Otter in Mill Bay. He or she is around all year long. No, they don't migrate with the weather. These guys wrap themselves up on the kelp during storms, to be kept from being washed out to sea from their 5 square mile "home". Despite their absence of blubber (unlike other sea mammals like whales, seals and sea lions), these guys are made for 30 degree water. Sea Otters have 1 - 1.5 million hairs per inch! That's what makes their fur so warm and valuable during the mid and late 1800s. It caused the Russians to almost drive them to extinction.

Now a days only the natives can harvest their pelts. And if you buy a Sea Otter hat from them (for about $3-400), you'll probably be getting the sides of Sea Otter and the top of River Otter. Run your finger through them: you'll be able to feel the difference. Look at the last picture of my You Tube and you'll see how the water runs off the Sea Otter's pelt (sorry about including an advertisement...but it shows this characteristic quite well ! )

You can hunt River Otters. They have their pelts for sale at the local sporting goods store for only $ 150. River Otters have little back feet, just like their front feet. Sea Otters have these huge, wide, webbed back feet that look like diving fins. That's what lets them swim so effortlessly. Their back webbed fins are brought to the water's surface when it’s warm to catch the heat of the sun. They say River and Sea Otters are so close genetically that they could mate. But I can't see a Sea Otter going on land with those back flippers and I can't imagine a River Otter swimming out to sea with his tiny feet

Compare the River Otter's back feet on the photo above to the Sea Otter's back "flippers" on my video below. He is doing what he does so well 24/7 : Eating !!!

I said the Sea Otter was almost driven to extinction, but fishermen have other thoughts about them. In 1911 they say there were just 2,000 left alive in Alaska's waters. In the 1960s Alaska Fish and Wildlife Department reintroduced them back into our waters. Within 10 years they claim that the numbers rose to 160,000! These guys eat 24/7; 1/4 their body weight per day of sea shells and soft sea life! And the ones I see seem to weigh about 60-70 pounds each (the size of a regular Labrador retriever). But the books say they weigh up to 90 or 100 pounds. Anyway, that's allot of food they eat. So, the fishermen claim that is the reason why the sea cucumber, sea urchins, geoduck fisheries, and secondarily the Dungeness crab are disappearing....not because they have been over-fished, but over eaten by that worthless rodent ! (Actually ,it’s more like a weasel)

Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has declared nearly 6,000 square miles of Alaskan waters as critical habitat for sea otters. They claim 90% of the world's population live here. And their numbers have decreased from 160,000 in the 1970's to only 40,000 currently. We know it’s not that sea otters are being over hunted (severe penalties prevent that). Is it one of our other huge mammals causing their decline? To a 1,000 pound Sea Lion or 9,000 pound Killer Whale, a 70 pound Otter must look like a nice mid-morning snack!

Anyway, I am happy to report that my local Sea Otter was alive a few weeks ago. But, in the meanwhile, 3 Orcas that arrived in our waters. Guess I better go check on my friend "Otty" later this week.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Earthquakes in AK

We have quite a few small quakes here in Alaska. Here is the activity in the last 48 hours. Some days we have them close to Kodiak. I noticed a 4.0 a few months ago because the pendulum on the Grandfather clock was moving at right angles to its usual swing. Some claim they felt the ground move; I didn't.

Chile has had the largest quake on record in 1960 at 9.5, followed by the one in Sumatra in 2004 at 9.4 . Ours in 1966 was the next strongest at 9.2 ( I had previously said 9.4, but my source was just wrong; Ican't find that number in other reputable source.) The recent Chile one was 8.8. We've also had an 8.7 in 1965 and an 8.6 in 1957 here in AK. But no one talks much about those.

Like in real estate, its all about location, location, location (and its relation to population). The deadliest one was the 1956 China 8.0 quake which killed 830,000 people. There have been 2 other China quakes killing over 230,00 each. The recent 7.0 Haiti quake is the 4th deadliest at 233,000.

People worry about those that might develop off Northern California to Oregon. According to today's local newspaper, there is an 80% chance of a Megaquake deveoping there within the next 50 years. Fortunately the chances decerease just north of that: only 27% likely to occur off Washington-Vancouver in the next 50 years.

I don't know what the chances of a reccurrence of the 1964 quake might be here in Alaska. But as Doris Day sang, "Que sera', sera'. The future is not ours to see. Que sera'. sera'!"

PS for those who can't get too much trivia into their head: The Richter scale is good till about 7.0. Above that almost all quakes measure about the same. So now they use the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMW or Ms) which separates the strength of the big quakes much better. In any case, a whole number difference means a 10 fold increase on the heigth of the graph and a 32 times increase in the energy of the quake. So comparing a 5.0 vs a 7.0 quakes means 10X10 (or 100X) more movement of the needle on the graph or 32X32 (or 1032 X) more energy released.

Enough for now. Maybe we'll talk about volcanoes some day, another local force in Alaska. But at least we don't have snakes, nor fleas, nor ticks. Aren't we lucky?