Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Music and Market

Medicine for the People, a group from Hawaii that performed at the Homeskillet music festival this past week.
Breathe Owl Breathe, another amazing band that came to Sitka
The Sitka Farmers Market!!
Amy, the director of Alaskans Own at our booth where we sold fish and gave out information about the Sustainable Fisheries Trust.

It was a busy weekend full of great Sitka community events. The Homeskillet Music Festival was from Wednesday to Sunday with great performances each night by both local bands and professionals from down south. The highlights were the two bands pictured above: Medicine for the People and Breathe Owl Breathe. I attached the links to videos of their performances at the Sitka radio station on the side of the blog. Medicine for the People is a guitar and drum duo from Hawaii with a very strong message about returning to the native way of life and becoming one with the spirits and with mother earth. They were a little over the top at times when talking about their message, but their music was incredible. Breathe Owl Breathe is this kind of folk, alternative band that was very original and fun. Their performance was very interactive, I really enjoyed them. They're going to be in New England in the fall and I'm talked with them some about possible coming to Bates. It was really cool how much these visiting musicians love Sitka and make an effort to engage with the local people.
The Farmers Market was on Saturday at which I sold fish for Alaskans Own. Alaskans Own is the brain-child of the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. It's a marketing initiative where fish is bought from fisherman who are a part of the Conservation Network and therefore agree to certain conservation practices and principles, and then sold to the local community. The Trust uses funding from Alaskans Own to invest in local, particularly small boat fisherman who are committed to sustainable fishing practices. It's a very new company that Linda actually started along with others on the board of the trust and it seems to be growing steadily. There's a Community Supported Fisheries Subscription Program where people pay in advance to receive a box of fish every two weeks for the whole summer. I've been helping with the fish box pick-ups and at the market we were gathering names of more interested individuals. People seem really receptive to the goals of Alaskans Own and how it's supporting local fisherman while also promoting conservation and providing the community with sustainably caught fish. There was someone from the radio station at the market; they interviewed me and a little clip of my response actually got on the radio! The link to the broadcast is on the side of the blog.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sperm Whale Experiment Preperations

Me with tar smears on my face and hands after finishing the longline gear
Nemo, the autonomous recording device
Lauren, my sperm whale acoustics mentor

For the past month now much of what I've been doing in the office is assembling longline fishing gear that we will use in an experiment to test sperm whale deterrents (see Beaded Gangions post) and today I finished!! Lauren Wild, the girl who is spear-heading this project, and I have put beads on about 3,000 gangions and strung them onto 16 "skates" or 600 feet long sections of rope. It feels good to have finished the project finally; much of the rope we used is covered in tar to make it more durable so it became kind of a messy job.
Originally, Lauren was going to go out on a fishing boat and deploy the gear, but she unfortunately tore her ACL and meniscus in June and is therefore out of commission. I now have to pinch-hit for her, which is not ideal considering Lauren is an expert on sperm whales and acoustic analysis and I am still very much a newbie, but it's certainly an exciting opportunity. This past week Lauren's been showing me the ins and outs of "Nemo", the autonomous acoustic recorder that will be deployed with the fishing gear to record the sounds of sperm whales as they interact with the fishing gear. At some point in the next two weeks I will be going on a longline fishing trip and while the fishermen use our special gear, I'll collect written observations, acoustic data and photos. It will be really cool to see this gear in action after working on it for so long!


The falls at Redoubt Lake
Jeff pulling up fish in the dip-net
A little grizzly bear doing some fishing too

This weekend I had the unique opportunity of going sockeye fishing with Jeff Farvour, a longliner and good friend of Linda's. Right now the sockeye are migrating from their salt water feeding grounds to the fresh water lakes where they will spawn and die. We went to a waterfall where Redoubt Lake feeds into the ocean and Jeff used a "dip-net" to catch fish as they swam up the falls. There were fish jumping all over the place but it was still hard work to catch them. The bear pictured above seemed to be having no trouble however; we watched him for a while as he caught and ate fish after fish. Alaskans are only allowed to fish at Redoubt for subsistence purposes and many locals participate since sockeye is considered by many to be the most tasty sub-species of salmon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Killer Whales!!

Me, taking pictures of killer whale dorsal fins with a big fancy camera.
Pack of killer whales!!!
This picture and the next are shots I took while trying to capture the dorsal fin and saddle patch of the killer whales.

Heather and Kevin Riley, my whale photo tutors.
Today was AMAZING!! I spent most of the day on a boat following killer whales and it was truly awesome. First of all, it was sunny and 65 degrees today and weather like that just doesn't show up everyday here in Sitka. We got out on boat in the morning right as the fog lifted and almost immediately ran into a pack of about six killer whales. With me on the excursion were Heather and Kevin Riley; Heather is a whale researcher who used to work in the office here in Sitka, but left to get her masters in Fairbanks. She is back for a few weeks this summer to help Jan with some humpback data collection along with her husband Kevin. They are actually two of the nicest people I have ever met and I was so lucky that they agreed to take me out in the skiff today and give me some pointers on photographing whales. Kevin has this great southern accent and pronounces the "h" in whale- it makes me giggle every time. Anyways, we found these killer whales and decided to follow them and get some good pictures. When taking pictures of killer whales the goal is to capture the dorsal fin and the white patch behind the dorsal called the "saddle patch". These are two of the most distinguishing features of a killer whale and we can therefore use these clues to ID the whales and determine whether they are resident or transient, fish eaters or marine mammal eaters. We got so close to these whales, it was incredible. They're so beautiful! I got some really good practice taking pictures too. Killer whales are easier to photograph than humpbacks in that they surface more often and travel in groups, but they move really fast and it's hard to snap a picture of that saddle patch before they dive down again. We spent several hours following the whales before they swam too far out to sea. We then found a humpback and I got a great fluke shot of it- I think I'm getting better at this whole photography thing. Heather's specialty is in getting whale biopsies; she shoots special arrow with a crossbow that hits the whale and takes a little piece of its skin off so that we can get genetic information on the whale. She shot one of the whales today and got a skin sample- it was a pretty neat process to watch.
On a different topic, Linda and Kent got back from 5 days of fishing on Tuesday night. They caught a lot of King Salmon and seemed to be pretty happy with the outcome of the trip. They leave again tomorrow except this time for a wedding in California. So I'm back on dog duty tomorrow with another rainy weekend ahead of me, but at least I got to enjoy the sunshine today!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I saw my first bear today!! I was running on a trail this evening with the dogs when this bear came right out onto the path infront of me. It was a pretty big bear; I'd say it was slightly taller than my Honda Civic. He was a rolly-polly brown bear and he struck me as being kind of cute as he scampered off into the woods. I'm sure he would not have looked so endearing if he'd decided to charge at me, but the barking dogs scared him away. There have been times this week when I've been slightly frustrated with these dogs, but I now appreciate them immensely. I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd come face to face with that bear while by myself. I didn't get any pictures unfortunately, but hopefully one will show up while I'm hiking one of these days!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Very Rainy 4th

I think this has been the coldest and most rainy 4th of July I've ever had, but Sitka still had a great celebration. I didn't get to take any pictures due to the wet conditions! I'll try to get some from other people and post them soon. From Friday to Sunday there was a fair at the elementary school with booths run by some businesses and organizations from town. Each booth provides some sort of food or games. The most popular booths are the ones selling Filipino food, fish tacos or fry bread (fried dough basically). I went on Saturday and made sure to eat a little of everything!
Today I bundled up and donned my rain gear before attending the parade through down town Sitka. It was a classic small town parade with floats by many local groups and businesses, lots of candy being thrown and good spirits despite the steady rain. Afterwards a very funny tradition was upheld where the fire department and the coast guard face off in a water war. Both teams are armed with fire hoses and must spray a red, white and blue barrel and try to push it across the other team's end zone. There were powerful jets of water going every which way and lots of uniformed men running around with hoses being knocked down by the spray; it was pretty hilarious to watch.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Home Alone

Linda and Kent's fishing boat
Hahlen and Rio giving me a tour of the boat.
Hahlen showing off one of the "hoochies" he made.
Trout at the top of Mt. Verstovia, another glorious hike we took on Monday.
Here's one of the pictures I took of the whale we followed while out in the skiff today. Such a pretty whale!!

Linda, Kent and the boys left to go fishing yesterday so it's just me and the dogs at home now. Much of Sitka headed out yesterday actually because today marks the beginning of the king salmon opening; for a week everyone with a trolling permit will try to catch as many king salmon as they can. It's a pretty crazy week where fishermen sleep little and fish in all sorts of weather. I hope Linda and the gang are doing ok! It was a busy week of preparations and packing for them, but the boys did take some time to show me around the Woodstock. It was nice to get a chance to see their other home. Hahlen of course explained all the fishing gear to me using lots of foreign terminology while Rio showed me the dozens of "hoochies" that he has created. "Hoochies" are mini, octopus-like figures that hang from the fishing lines and attract king salmon. Rio has taken it upon himself to make the best "hoochies" possible by combining little octopi of varying kinds including glittery and glow in the dark. He let me in on the best combinations, but I am sworn to secrecy. It's really neat how they can work as a family and each contribute on the boat. After my fishing experience I couldn't imagine having young kids to look after while fishing, but Linda and Kent make it work.
It's been another week primarily in the whale office; I've been entering data, beading more gangions and finishing the poster, but today I got to go look for whales! Jan Straley, my boss at the whale office, took me out on her skiff and had me practice taking pictures of humpback whales. She's been promising me for weeks that she would take me out on the water and today we finally went! We found one humpback feeding and followed it around for awhile. The whale would submerge for 5 to 8 minutes then would surface several times in sequence. Sometimes it would "breech", or jump full into the air, but most of the time it would just blow air from it's blow hole then dive back down exposing its dorsal fin and sometimes its full fluke. My job was to stay balanced in the front of the skiff and take pictures of the dorsal fin and fluke so that we could identify the whale later. It was hard to get the timing right and I missed getting a shot of the fluke several times by just seconds. I did get a few good photos though and I'll hopefully get much more practice taking pictures of humpbacks before I have to take pictures of sperm whales while on a longline fishing boat. It was so cool to finally be out on the water, seeing whales in real life as opposed to just cataloging pictures of whales on a computer screen.
Being home alone has been good so far! I've enjoyed cooking meals for myself and having some peace and quite. Grocery shopping was an interesting experience; it took me about an hour to find everything and I knocked over a display of soup cans in the process (soo graceful). The dogs are great company; they need a lot of exercize and certainly keeping me active. Yesterday I fell while running and really scraped myself up, but I returned to the house to find a wonderful belated birthday care package from my former roomie and best buddy Mollie. I gorged my self in chocolate covered pretzels and I think that helped the healing process.