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12 April, 2003

Research Team Expands

Overnight the expected shift in winds occurred and the drier northern air has been replaced by warm moist air from the south. We awoke to a little over six inches of snow but temperatures at 30 degrees F. By mid day the snow mixed with rain creating slush ponds and lakes in several places on the ice. By evening strong winds gusting up to 40-50 mph brought colder weather.

Early yesterday we were awakened at three in the morning to the sound of an Alaska Air National Guard Black hawk helicopter landing a mere 100 yards from our windows. The helicopter was air lifting an expectant mother to Anchorage to have her baby. (Villagers report mother and baby girl doing fine)

Gay Sheffield from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game arrived to begin her project regarding the area marine mammal populations, parcticularly the seals and walrus.

Gay will be on Little Diomede Island through about the middle of June monitoring the health and status of seal populations by collecting tissue samples of various parts of the harvested seals brought in by hunters.

The liver and kidney samples are examined for heavy metals while the blubber can be used to detect contaminants in the seal tissues. The stomach is examined for its content to determine the diet of the seal the lower jaw is collected to determine the age in years, and a skin sample is used for genetic information.

Gay is also contracted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the walrus hunt on Little Diomede. Walrus begin appearing around May as the ice breaks up and begins to drift north.

In addition to the subsistence hunting of seal and walrus the villagers will be also on the lookout for bowhead whale as they pass through the area. Little Diomede is one of only ten villages in the country allowed to hunt the bowhead. The bowhead is difficult to hunt, the last one caught here was in the late 1990s, but provide a vast amount of food for the villagers.

Each morning I watch the hunters leave on their snow machines and head for the open lead to the north. They speak of past hunts and hunters and of the days chance of success. They talk of the soon arriving walrus and of the possibility of getting a bowhead whale. I admire their courage and determination on these hunts for there is always an element of danger. Many times I watch them return late at night with nothing more than tired faces only to return again the next day. Although the villagers enjoy the hunt a successful day means more than just self-gratification it means food for many.

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