Thursday, May 12, 2016

Today was by far my personal favorite. Our group had the opportunity to work with middle and high school students on a small scale science project that involved the extraction of DNA from cheek cells. DNA is cool and all, but I have to say participating in my first Russian kickball was the most exciting experience of the day. The object of the game was to either catch the ball or tag an individual on the other team before they reach the safe zone until you reach 3 “outs” and can switch from outfield to the infield. I won’t go into detail, but you could say we need a few more practices before we’re at the same level as these kids.
Upon returning to the cabins we made some last-minute touchups to our research projects, took our exam for the term, and finally presented some interesting research that focused on many topics that we’ve touched on since arriving in Alaska. Some of the topics included volcanos, sea stars, bald eagles, and how these huge networks of organismal interaction somehow tie together in a harmonious way.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to a surprise excursion! I’m sure there will be many photographs to come! Seal you tomorrow!

-Leslie Hixon

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Alaska Sea Life Center – Seward, Alaska

Opened in 1998, in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Alaska Sea Life Center is a non-profit organization, which was constructed so that in case of another environmental disaster, there would be a team that was well prepared to respond. Although the center was initially funded for animals effected by the oil spill, it has expanded to house any animal that may have been injured or abandoned in the wild. The rehabilitation center examines, treats, and monitors any type of marine life that may come to the center. Larger mammals, such as: Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters, as well as some smaller fish and crustaceans are on display. Visitors can observe these animals in large tanks, with glass that extends through two floors.
            Along with the rehabilitation aspect of the center, there are many marine specialists that will do research in the field. The questions posed by scientists can range anywhere from “do seals get cold?” to ways to improve the technology used to record data. The data collected in the field and the observations made at the sea life center can then be used to infer what is happening to animal populations out in the wild and could, potentially, assist scientists in finding solutions to ecological problems. The facility includes many wet and dry labs that allow for many different research teams to work at once. Also, there is a full lab that allows tests to be performed on site.
            The Seal Life Center also serves as an educational opportunity for underprivileged students in the Anchorage area and in rural areas. With the assistance of funding, educational ambassadors can travel to rural places, where there may be students who have never seen the ocean before, and introduce them to marine life. This type of educational outreach benefits the students and the sea life center. Another interesting aspect of the Sea Life Center is that it is completely powered by renewable power. They use the water from their enclosures as a way to heat the entire facility and the side walks. Not only that, but they also are so efficient that they are working with the town of Seward to try and have the town also be powered by the renewable source.

            We were allowed access to the behind the scenes functions of the center. The tour took us to food prep area and then to the rehabilitation tanks, which serve as an area to keep injured animals isolated from the other animals. From the rehabilitation tanks, we then traveled to the outdoor enclosures, which contained ice seals and otters. These animals were either recently brought to the center, or they were not ready to be introduced into the show tanks yet. As we moved through the hallways, there were visual presentations of the research teams’ projects. Our tour ended with a visit to the power source for the building, which turned out to be only a small blue box. 

Seavey’s Iditarod

Dan Seavey Sr. brought his family to Alaska in the year of 1963. Dan Sr. had the hopes of mushing and bringing his family into the mushing lifestyle. In 1971 Dan Sr. and some colleagues joined forces and began to create what would become the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Dan took the trail for the first time with 11 dogs and 36 other mushers. In 2012, Dan placed 50th at the age of 74. Dan’s son Mitch competed in his first Iditarod in 1982 and has competed in every Iditarod ever since 1995. In the past 21 years Mitch has won twice in 2004 and 2013 and has placed in second place since 2013. Mitch’s son Dallas has become the youngest Iditarod Champion at the age of 25 in 2012. He also was the youngest ever musher starting right at the age of 18. Dallas’ first win was in the year of 2011 and he has won the 2014 Iditarod as well as continued to defend his title ever since. Mitch owns 182 dogs, 16 of which were on his 2016-second place team.

On our trip to Seavey’s, we were able to pet and socialize with all the 182 dogs, were taken on a dog “sled” trail (sled in quotations because there is no snow on the ground), and played with some younger sled dogs. We also learned more about the Iditarod, such as what the mushers wear, and even what the dogs wear while running and resting.
Two of the “pups”.                             Robin the model for the dog gear


A quick fun fact about Seavey’s, they bred the dog that was the main character in the infamous dog sled movie Snow Dogs.
 -The type of dog that they use for the movies instead of the typical sled dogs.

Rachael Planishek and Kristin Gilbert

Day 14 – Today we took a three hour trip away from our home base at Anchor Point and headed up to Seward to go whale watching. We checked in with Major Marine Tours at the harbor 360 hotel – where we will be staying tonight. At 11:30 the boat left port and headed out towards the Gulf of Alaska. The first thing we saw was Bear Glacier which is the biggest glacier in America stretching 13 miles long and 1 mile deep. Not too far away, in Pony Cove, we saw our first humpback whale when it surface to blow. In Pony Cove we also saw a group of 3 gray whales. They did not show themselves as much as the humpback whale and they had a shorter blow. As we were leaving the cove the first humpback whale made a second appearance for us. Further along in Aialik Cape we saw 3 Orcas – 2 adults and a baby. The ranger narrating the tour explain that there are two types of Orcas: resident and transient. Resident Orcas eat fish such as salmon, halibut, and cod. Transient Orcas eat mammals such as harbor seals and grey whale calves and they generally life in small groups and travel over large ranges. The animals took a break while we enjoyed a meal. On the cruise we were served rib eye steak and salmon for lunch, along with a side salad, rice, and bread. Dessert was a chocolate chip brownie and cheesecake. After lunch we entered Aialik Bay and traveled to Holgate Glacier. The captain had to navigate an ice field to get close to it. The glacier was covered in snow, but had pieces of bright blue ice visible. The blue color is caused by the ice absorbing other wave lengths of light while blue light was reflected back because of its shorter wavelength. At the glacier we witnessed a piece of it break off and crash into the ocean with a bang. Lounging on top the floating ice we saw seals. In the Northwest Fjord we saw a bald eagle perched on a log on the beach near the glacier. We then proceeded out into Aialik bay to begin the journey back to Seward. In the bay we saw another humpback whale. The whale showed us its back and tail a few times before diving down out of view. Next we saw sea lions sunbathing on a small group of rocks in the Gulf of Alaska. The final animals on our cruise was a small group of horned puffins flying in front of the boat. We arrived back in Seward at 5:30 and had some down time to relax and go shopping. The group split up for dinner with half eating pizza and the other half eating Mexican food. The rest of the night was for lounging around and preparing for our final Tuesday in Alaska.

Elizabeth Dano & Jessica Rynders

Monday, May 9, 2016

Today the rest of the class went deep sea fishing. We drove to Anchor Point Beach, where we then boarded boats and a tractor backed the boats into the bay off of the boat trailers. After finally reaching deep enough water, we were able to start fishing for salmon. The depth of this water was approximately 25 feet. On the smaller boat, Kristi and Rachael caught the only two salmon. Paige managed to catch a few small halibut that had to be released. On the larger boat, the group was able to catch 4 out of the 5 salmons allowed to catch.

We then drove out deeper into the bay where the water was approximately 110 feet deep. Here, the strategy was a little different when catching halibut. The strategy was to let the line bob on the bottom of the bay, since that’s about where the halibut like to be. A few times the fish seemed to snack on the bait without being hooked, so we often had to add new bait to the hooks to try again. As a fun fact, the halibut begin their life looking as a normal fish, but as the more mature they get, the halibut’s eye begins to migrate to the side of their head and their bodies begin to flatten. Dr. Stilts managed to snag the biggest halibut on our fishing trip! Whereas Leslie and Paige managed to catch the smallest ones! Overall it was definitely an experience and we all get to take some salmon and halibut home!

Kristi Welkley and Paige Heintzelman

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Today we took a boat from the Homer Spit to Yukon Island. From there, we got in kayaks and spent 6 hours kayaking around the island with True North Kayak Adventures. Most of our kayaks were tandem, and they were equipped with pedals for the back passenger that connected to a rudder. This helped us to navigate the water. 

We saw lots of marine life while paddling in the more shallow water, including lots of sunflower sea stars. These sea stars are much larger than true stars, and can have up to 24 arms. We had the opportunity to watch one of these sea stars flip itself over. 

While circumnavigating the island we also had the chance to try seaweed. It tasted rather salty. Today was the lowest low tide of the year, which meant we were able to see lots of creatures. 

We passed by a homestead on the island which had been passed down through generations in a particular family. The man who currently owns the property grew up on the island and was homeschooled with his siblings in a small house overlooking the water.

When we reached our halfway mark on the other side of Yukon Island, we stopped at a beach for lunch. Our guides were generous enough to provide us with granola bars and hot chocolate. Here we learned that part of the island was an archaeological site that had been started by an archaeologist named Frederica de Laguna. De Laguna is from Pennsylvania and attended Bryn Mawr College. On the island she discovered a midden (a heap of trash that accumulated when Alaska Natives occupied the island) that was three layers deep. We were also able to climb to the top of a steep hill on the island, where we were careful not to touch any of the push key we passed. At the top of this hill we had a great view of the bay and stood by a burial ground where two caskets containing 62 corpses had been discovered.

After returning to Anchor Point, we prepared an Italian meal and surprise desserts for Paige because today is her birthday. After dinner we gave Paige a birthday card from all of us and enjoyed pudding and chocolate cake.

Junko Natsume and Brianna Buckley

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bright and early this morning the group visited the Russian Orthodox Church in Kasilof. The church was a beautiful white and green church overlooking the bay. The church is still actively used and has a graveyard enclosed within the church’s premises. The Russian’s moved to Alaskan territories in the 1800’s. They were seeking money in commercial trapping and selling the fur. During this, they enslaved the natives of the Alaskan territories for this purpose. Eventually, the places that were taken over by the Russians were taken back over by the natives of the land due to an uproar of being enslaved. There are few Russian territories in this region now, and the territories that are left have working churches such as this one.

Our next stop was the Kasilof Regional Historical Association Museum in Kasilof. Here they had several of the original cabins built by the first settlers in the Kasilof area. The rise in many homesteads being built in this area was due to the cannery business. The fishermen would catch the fish and would sell the fish to the canneries. Another reason for moving to this area was for trophy hunting. Hunters would shoot and kill trophy moose, along with animals that had valuable furs and pelts. Many of these cabins were small, but were sufficient enough for the families. All of the original cabins had original artifacts used during these times. Some items include old milk jugs, dining utensils, fire stoves, fishing supplies, boats, and replicas of their foods. They also had ancient artifacts they found in earlier eras, such as mammal teeth and bones. These cabins were owned by small families that were the first settlers in these areas.

Our third stop was at the Soldotna Homestead Museum in Soldotna. At this museum, were some of the first cabins built from the veterans of WWII. This was part of the Homestead Act which ended in 1989. Part of this Homestead Act stated that any veteran of the war could own 40-160 acres of land, as long as they built a livable dwelling with two windows and a door, and lived there for 7 months in one consecutive year. If a person wanting to own land but was not a veteran, they had to live there at least 9 months of the year for 5 years. These landowners were often into commercial hunting. They would sell these animals to make a living. Often, these people did not have much, as majority of them were veterans of the war. If the property line goes up to a river, the landowner cannot own the land on the other side of the river, even if they did not get all the acres they were promised. Some of the artifacts found in these were small kitchenettes, one mirror, small beds, and few personal items. There was one schoolhouse, which taught kids in grades kindergarten through 7th grade. Many kids dropped out of school due to helping their families with the homestead.

Our fourth and final stop was to the Kenai Visitor Center and Museum. In the museum, there were artifacts dated back to the natives. They had different outfits used for events, such as dancing and rituals. They had artifacts from the several native tribes in Alaska, dating back to the early 1700’s.  Some of these artifacts included trading items, furs, utensils, and household items. During this stop, we went on a walk around the old Kenai Village. We saw the first chapel built in this region. An interesting fact about this chapel was that the door is so short to enter the chapel, that it made people bow down, which symbolizes bowing down for their God. The first Pastor and two followers of this chapel were buried beneath it. We also saw another Russian Orthodox Church while on this walk. It is still actively used, and the Priest’s house is across from it, and it is his duty to watch over the church. As a fun fact, the tour guide told us everyone in this church stands during the service. It is a tale that is told that God believes men daydream while sitting, and women gossip while sitting. The next stop on this walk was the first settler’s cabins that were built in the area. Most were very small, to help conserve heat. Some of the cabins held up to 14 family members. Sometimes in the local convenient stores, it would take almost a month to have items shipped in. Some items found in the houses were medicines and basic household items that were sometimes sold in a local convenient store. As a fun fact, the basement of the local convenient store during these times were used as a morgue during the winter times.

Paige Heintzelman and Kristi Welkley

Friday, May 6, 2016

Today was dedicated to giving back a little to the Alaskan community. A majority of our morning and afternoon was spent working with Moore’s Landscaping on a restoration project located on the Kenai River. The main purpose of this project was to better the river’s condition by fighting against erosion created by boat traffic. However, secondary benefits such as new habitat for juvenile/small fish species were created as well as better suited locations for recreational fishing. The project itself involved creating a bed of dead spruce branches, digging a small trench along its edge, inserting “logs” followed by willow twigs, and finally sealing the twigs in with a thick layer of dirt. This project is expected to last up to 30 years with regular maintenance and will play a role is preserving the wildlife seen in the beautiful rivers of Alaska.

Worry not, the day was not all sweat and tears! We were graciously treated with pizza and cookies by the workers of Moore’s Landscaping before returning to the cabins and learning some general information about climate and the characteristics of each biome type.
Dr. Smith briefly spoke about many factors influencing climate including the earth’s energy balance, effects of plant life, tilt of the earths’ axis, and the general movement of air based on temperature. We then spoke in depth of the characteristics of each biome type. There are 9 biome types in total which are classified by plant life, temperature, and precipitation.

·       Temperature: Below freezing most of the year
·       Precipitation: Low overall, slightly higher in the summer
·       Vegetation: Small plants rather than trees

Boreal Forest/Taiga
·       Temperature: Below freezing most of the year
·       Precipitation: Low to medium, higher in summer
·       Vegetation: Mostly evergreen, fires are common

Temperate coniferous forest
·       Temperature: distinct season
·       Precipitation: medium overall, highly variable, higher in summer
·       Vegetation: mostly evergreen trees, fire are common

Temperate deciduous forest
·       Temperature: distinct season
·       Precipitation: medium overall, slightly higher in summer
·       Vegetation: mostly deciduous trees, losing leaves saves energy in winter

Temperate scrubland
·       Temperature: distinct season
·       Precipitation: medium overall, higher in winter
·       Vegetation: shrubs that survive hot dry summer, evergreen

Temperate grassland
·       Temperature: distinct season
·       Precipitation: high in summer, lower in winter than other temperate biome
·       Vegetation: few trees or shrubs grasses

Tropical Rainforest
·       Temperature : high year around
·       Precipitation: high overall, may vary or be constantly high
·       Vegetation: mix of trees, often varies height

Tropical seasonal forest
·       Temperature : High around year
·       Precipitation: wet and dry season
·       Vegetation: varies widely- forest, scrublands, savannas

·       Temperature: distinct season, but rarely below freezing
·       Precipitation: low overall

·       Vegetation: small, spark plants, often succulent 

   Leslie Hixon and Chandra Chamalagai