Monday, May 31, 2010

Spring is about to turn to Summer

It's nearly 60 degrees warm! The green grass is coming out next to last year's foot-tall dead grass. Soon we will be the "Emerald Island" again!

The bike path to work already shows yellow wildflowers.

Planted flowers have already bloomed.

With current daylight from 5 AM till 11:30 PM, most of the wildflowers will be out by the end of the month!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More than you want to know...about Kodiak's Pennipeds (ie Seals & Sea Lions)

Yes, here I go again: spouting off all the clutter I gather from the Internet and the local lore. Today it is about the birth of Seals and Sea Lions. They are quite similar, so I will just group them together.

And like the blog on slugs, this might be too descriptive for many readers. So beware about reading further.

Most of the real interesting stuff is form the locals who used to hunt those creatures...when it was legal as late as the 1970's. If you get a chance, take a look at Andy Nault's book Staying Alive in Alaska's Wild and Steve Decloux's Two Tales of Old Kodiak. (Sorry, this program won't let me underline book tiles, so I just put them in italics). It'll give you a real insight into the challenges they faced against the weather, running among so many animals....and what went through their minds as they hunted and then prepared their greasy hides.

These guys went hunting for the young seals from May through August along Kodiak's many islands. They'd boat to a place they knew large population of seals came to give birth, such as Ugak island or Tugidak island at the extreme south of Kodiak. There they would find 200, or 500, or up to 10,000 seals on a beach that might be 4 miles wide at low tide but only yards wide at high tide. Can you imagine the stink of so many animals? ...and many giving birth!

The Internet has pictures (like those above) of mother caring for their young or barking at intruders who try to approach their babies. But that is not always the case. Many moms just simply abandon their young and go back out to sea to eat instead of nurturing their babies with their 35% fat-containing milk.

Males take control of a geographic area and fight other males to keep them out of their harem. Any female in their geographic area is "mine". Females are constantly approached by the big males for "special favors". Once they mate, there goes the maternal instincts. And no orphaned seal or lion is taken in by another mom. No way.

Starving babies are too weak to run and, with no mom to fend off attackers, these are easy prey for the hunter. One smooth swing to the head with a short club or a kid's baseball bat and the abandoned seal's slow path to death comes to a quick end.

Even without the human hunter, if mom is not there to take them to the water to cool off, death is on its way. In 60 degree weather, overheating fat makes the skin and fur break open. Eagles attack. Unfortunately my wife made me take out the description of how that happens. Anyway, that is bad for the seals, but food for the eagles and their babies.

In short, over 50% of the young ones never make it to adulthood.

After a few weeks, education begins. Once the babies have gained about 35 pounds, 1 out of 12 moms stay with a group of babies as the rest go hunting for their own food and to bring fish back to their own babies. The "Nanny Mom" start pushing her group towards the water. First it is once per day. Then it is many times per day. Once she starts, she will nudge, and push and even bite the group to get them to move as a herd into the water. They get to be quite qick; and this helps save them. When eagles or men approach, the Nanny Moms get their gang into the water in a hurry. The weak or slow ones don't make it. That is natural selection.

Under public pressure, Seal and Sea Lion hunting was terminated by law. Even natives are limited in that they cannot sell the skin. Yes, natives can sell seal products if made into works of "art", but there is just so little maket for that. So the number of kills is now minimal. In the 1980's rangers reported the total number of surviving seals increased significantly. Since then it has again decreased tremendously.

The old hunters claim it is because we have eliminated a natural force (the hunter)that had been helpful in culling out the slow from procreating their weak genes. Now the killer whales and other forces are culling them out. The hunter were just part of nature. That's their story. And they're sticking to it.

That is perhaps true. But when you kayak by a seal and they stare at you with those huge puppy dog eyes, you just want to take that seal home with you. But not so for Sea Lions. They are big; they scare you by swimming around your kayak and threatening to tumble you over. No way. It is they who want YOU!

PS1: The wife refuses to take any blame for this blog (and made me eliminate the descriptive, scientific information).
PS2: The pics above are off the Internet; I've never been that close to baby young seals and sea lions.
PS3: If you want to re-see a Sea Lion Rookery on a cliff, check out my last year's YouTube video which I took form a boat(and which you might have seen on this blog before):

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kayaking with Kodiak's Sea Lions

With 18 hours of daylight, it is quite tempting to put the kayak in the water after a days' work. Go out and enjoy a calm paddle through the harbor. That is just what we did Tuesday night.

We found over 45 Sea Lions snoozing on an island the city made for keeps them off the boat docks. There they were: 45 snoozing Sea Lions. Many looked quite young, 1 to 4 year olds. But an old one, nearly 1,000 pounder was there too taking a nap.

A passing fishing boat woke a few of the adults at both ends of the sleeping pack. One gave a call, and all at once, 20 of them jumped into the water. We paddled as fast as we could to get out of their way. They were underwater for about 3 minutes, so we had no idea where they were. Suddenly they started to come up for air. Fortunately, by then we were over 20 yards away form where they came up.

After watching them for a while, we started comfortably paddling back in. I had accidently left my video camera turned on as we paddled away. So you can hear what we talked about. Only when we landed did we realize that half of them had been following us on our trip back and were just behind us. I think they made it some sort of training excercise for the young ones.

So, if you have 4 minutes to waste, take a gander at our Tuesday's outing on the video above.

Where else can you go for a night outing and be among such creatures? Only in Kodiak!

(PS Wasn't this the music they played on the Titanic?)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Learning to kayak

Kayaking is a favorite sport here in Kodiak. So, every Spring volunteers give free classes on Kayak safety. They teach: 1)how to extricate yourself form a capsized kayak, 2)how to right the kayak and 3)how to re-board it form the water (without flipping it over again) with either another kayaker to assist you or doing it by yourself. There were only 2 students per teacher, so we felt pretty comfortable flipping those thing over on purpose.

The class is at the Coast Guard pool they use to train their rescue swimmers.

Do you remember the 2006 movie The Guardian with Kevin Costner? It was about those rescue swimmers. What is interesting is that they were supposed to film the rescue events here in Kodiak. But the weather was too rough for the "stars", so they went to protected waters near Juno for the filming.

You don't have that luxury if you are in the water when the weather turns bad. So they take much interest in teaching the locals about safety. That, in turn, lets us get out to enjoy our wonderful water resources.

And kayaking is a favorite here. In the Summer you might find 4 or 5 cars in any parking lot, all with a kayak on the top. It is alot of fun to be close to wildlife, traveling on your own power, without the noise of a motor. See, hear, and even smell the wildlife next to you. Come join us! It is fun!

Monday, May 17, 2010

More than anyone really needs to know about.....the sex life of slugs

About 4 weeks ago I realized it was Spring when earthworms started coming out. Some are real long, like the one I found on the walking trail!

Then about one week later, slugs started coming out. Ours are generally 1.5 to 2 inch simple, brown ones. And we have lots of them. With all our rain, I'd bet every walker on Kodiak has stepped on one by June!

But, in today's Kodiak Daily Mirror newspaper, they reported the arrival of the infamous Giant Spotted Garden Slug. In my opinion it is not famous because these are the first 4 inch slugs on the island. Not because these guys can live 4 years. And not because their spots are arranged in stripes. Not because they found one that had been caught, but not killed, by a mouse trap.

The Giant Spotted Garden Slug is famous because of it's sex show on the internet!

Let me explain: last year when I looked up the life cycle of slugs, I ran into a YouTube on this particular species procreating while hanging from a tree branch. People must have found that interesting because last year there had been 3 million viewers of this video. When I looked it up today after this article, there have now been 8 million viewers! So if you are so inclined, get an “education” by watching this YouTube Video:

On the other hand, our regular Kodiak slugs are much more mundane.

Ours do it on terra firme! But if you want an explanation of what is happening on the picture below I took of our local slugs, check it out by copying and pasting this link on your browser:

I must warn you: It might be more than you really want to know.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More on Salmon Sharks

Just in case you are tired of my bear, eagle, and sea lion stories....we have not talked much about salmon sharks, like the one we dissected a few Sundays ago. No, there is no need to worry: they don't eat people! And I can think of 2 reasons: 1) Their mouths are small and 2) While the water temperature has already risen to a balmy 44 degrees (and willl probably get above 50), few people get in the water araound here. Yes there are surfers, and divers, and those who fall out of their kayaks; but not too many. In our disection, they only found small fish in the stomach.

These sharks get enough fish to eat, and who would eat red meat when you can have all the fish you want to eat ???

While they don't attack us, some people (not Kodiakians of course) like to go after them for fun. The first year I got here, there was an article in the Anchorage newspaper about people who where hoping to have them hook on to line thrown form their kayak. Remember that those guys weigh well over 400 pounds and soeme are wider than a kayak. The thrill seekers said it was a real treat to have them bite hook, take off and pull their kayak for a mile or so. But in case they get going too fast, be sure to have a knife ready to cut the line. Its called a "sleigh ride".(I know that a Sunfish sail boat will dive like a submarine if the wind is behind you and it is too strong and you go over 7 mph; I'd be concerned that a kayak might do something similar, but don't really know!) In any case, I hear these shark like to suddenly dive deep in an effort to losen the hook. So have your knife ready!

I haven't heard more about them doing thrill riding. Maybe they got smart. But there are people from the lower 48 coming to the Kenai for some shark fishing.

Check this out:

As far as eating these shark, remember to carefully cut off all the red meat and bring in only the white. Apperantly these sharks have a red layer of muscle with a tremendous amount of blood vessels, to keep them warm in our cold waters. And that extra blood in their red muscle give it a horrible urea smell and taste.

Check out a fishing charter site and compare their mouths to your body and their body length to your's too. Interested in doing some fishing when you come visit?

But if you want to be spared thier pictures, this is what they say:
"If you want to experience the ultimate hook and line sport fishing in Alaska then you have to try Salmon Shark fishing in Prince William Sound (PWS). These large 6 to 10 foot, 300 to 400 pound sharks follow and feed on the various species of salmon entering PWS each year. Salmon Sharks are in the same family of cold water sharks as Mako and Great White. They are excellent food quality (when properly prepared) and sometimes compared to the taste of swordfish. Several of our clients have compared the fighting power, speed, and leaping ability of PWS Salmon Sharks to that of Blue Marlin around the Cabo area. Marlins, on average jump more often, however the Salmon Sharks commonly display extremely powerful runs of hundreds or up to a thousand yards, diving all the way to the ocean floor, often times, many hundreds of feet deep. One shark several years ago, pulled a tightly set drag on a Penn 50SW 2-speed reel for 17 minutes straight, taking over half the line (approximately 800 yards), before breaking off. Another shark pulled drag on a Penn 9/0 for so long that the drag washers started smoking! Another shark several years ago ripped an Okuma 50 2-speed reel right off the rod, breaking all four stainless steel mounting bolts (this was our customers tackle, not ours). On average it will take from 20 to 40 minutes to land one of these sharks. The shear power of the Salmon Shark, along with dozens of razor sharp teeth, and skin similar to 80 grit sandpaper require only the highest quality tackle be used to catch this magnificent creature."