25 June, 1999
THURSDAY, JUNE 25th 1999
CONTENTS: answering questions
PICTURES: edible parts of whales/arctic cod/ARF(Arctic Research Facility)
HI all! Today was another day of surveying plots of land for Steller's eiders. We have a big aerial map on the wall in the building we sleep in - the ARF (Arctic Research Facility), and we have been highlighting all of the places we have looked. We only have 3 plots of land to left to look in, so we should be finished by tomorrow night (Friday). Some of the survey crew will then be on the next plane bound for home in the morning, and most everyone will be gone by Monday. When we are talking about the plots of land we have left to cover, people have come up with creative names to call them according to what they look like from an aerial photo. They have been named things like "The big red brain", "the amoeba", and "peanut lake". Today I had a piece of land to look at that has been nicknamed "Norway" for the shape of its boundaries. Let me tell you, it felt like I walked across the REAL Norway in hipwaders today! :-D.
Again, I have some good questions to answer:
FROM JERMAINE: What kind of food do you eat?
-------Well, for breakfast, I have been mostly eating cheerios and bananas. There is a rule at the ARF (Arctic Research Facility - see picture below) that you must clean up as soon as you finish eating - no leaving dishes around. So, most of us try and keep the number of dishes we use down to a minimum! We also have to conserve water, so it is good not to have a lot of dishes to wash. We are careful to turn off the water to scrub the dishes, and to turn off the water while we are soaping up in the shower, too.
For lunch, we eat out on the tundra somewhere while we are searching for the eiders. So, I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and have a ziploc baggie full of crackers, carrots, a granola bar, and of course, chocolate. It is also very important to have lots of water along; it's really dry out there! For dinner, usually one or 2 people make the meal, and it switches every night. Tonight was chili, and last night was burritos. Of course, like I mentioned before, the big thing to eat at this time of year is whale (See pictures below). People who are allowed to hunt whale for subsistence (Eskimos, Aleuts, Indians) eat about every part of the whale - the blubber, the meat, the skin, the tongue... - and they eat it raw, cooked, fermented, or barbecued. The festivals, called naluqataks, are a time when the whales are given by the whaling crews to the whole community. Anyone who is there can take as much as they want, and freeze it for eating all year long.
FROM JUSTIN: Have you gone fishing? Have you ate any halibut? ------- Nope, I haven't gotten to go fishing, but I would really like to! The ice is just breaking up over the ocean, so I don't know if I will get the chance. The only fish I have eaten here is salmon, which is delicious. Many people in Alaska smoke their own salmon -- it is making me hungry just writing about it! You reminded me of this great picture that David Koester, who just left Barrow, took (see below). It is of an arctic cod that just happened to be swimming by a hole that Dave had drilled in the ice to take tide measurements. It stared up at him long enough for Dave to get his camera out and take a picture! Anyway, I haven't gone out of my way to find seafood since I love the fish in Hawaii, and it is really expensive up here. Sometimes you might hear of population decline or even extinctions of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In Alaska this is not usually a problem, even though Alaska accounts for 95% of the US commerical landings of Pacific Salmon (Alaska Almanac, 21st edition, Alaska Northwest Books). However, there is the possibility that Alaska's fisheries could face the biological devestation of some species like has happened on the East Coast of the U.S. Commercial fishing vessels have become very good at catching large amounts of fish very quickly, but at the same time they often accidently catch other species that end up just going to waste. There is also increasing habitat pollution, illegal fishing, and practices like harvesting during spawning season that make buying fish harder to get, more expensive, and less safe to eat.
In Hawaii, the regulations that are set for fisheries are based on the traditional Hawaiian methods of conservation - the "kapu" (taboo) system. Certain fish were reserved for only the ali'i, or royalty, and when female crabs (for instance) were found with eggs they were thrown back. These are smart practices that ensured that there would always be abundant seafood. In present days, some people are choosing not to eat fish or shellfish any longer, since it is the high demand for seafood that is driving commercial fisheries to practice quick, high volume strategies that may be devastating the ocean's resources.
FROM SHARON: Is it good to live there?
------Well, that depends on what kind of lifestyle you think is good! In Barrow, which is 350 miles north of the Arctic Circle, there is 28 miles of road (all gravel, because pavement would crack!) which covers 20 square miles of the city limits. Beyond that, there is only tundra. It is similar to living on an island, since you must fly in and out of Barrow if you want to go to even the nearest village. Also like Hawaii, there are quite a few tourists. People come to see the polar bears, the northern lights (in winter when it gets dark!), the midnight sun (the 84 days of sunlight in summer), and the traditional whaling festivals. There is no movie theater, but sometimes they will get a new movie and show it at the high school, and it is a fundraiser for sports teams or something. Basketball and hockey are much more important here than football, since the football season is very short. It is from August until October. Many of the older people in Barrow know a lot about science, parcticularly wildlife, because of the history of all the scientists doing work at NARL (Navy Arctic Research Laboratory), the grounds that I am staying on. That is great, because they have been able to protect themselves from getting taken advantage of from big companies (knowledge is power!), and are able to manage their resources (land, wildlife) better than many other places have. There is also a fair amount of money because of the oil that was found in this region (the North Slope). But Barrow is different from any other place in Alaska, just like Wai'anae is different than any other place in Hawai'i. Personally, I think I would have a hard time living here, where there are no trees and you can't swim in the ocean, after living in Hawai'i.
From Jerusha: Which direction does your compass point?
------- This is a really good question for earth science, Jerusha! You can check the direction of the magnetic field where you are at by hanging a magnet shaped like a needle by a long piece of human hair. At the equator, the needle will point north-south and hang horizontally. In Alaska, it will hang vertically. At high latitudes (Barrow is at 71 degrees north latitude), magnetic compasses are known to be inaccurate. This is not because the earth's magnetic field is weaker near the poles - in fact, it is about 2 times as strong as it is at the equator. However, near the poles, the magnetic field points in the wrong direction! At the equator, the magnetic field is horizontal, so it points north-south. Near the poles, the magnetic field is nearly vertical - in Barrow, it is only 11 degrees from the vertical. That means that there is little horizontal force on a compass needle up here, and the needle ends up pointing more east than north! (Confusing answer, I know!)
The magnetic field comes from deep within the earth by electrical currents. Only 2 other planets in our solar system have magnetic fields (Jupiter and Saturn). Have you ever heard people say that birds can sense storms or earthquakes before they happen? They might, since a mineral called magnetite has been found in their head They maybe can sense the earth's magnetic field, which would help them navigate when they are migrating, and help them sense changes in the magnetic field brought on by storms and earthquakes. The same goes for bees, although not as many people observe bee behavior as bird behavior!
From Keesha: Where do you sleep and is it warm enough for you at night? ------ I am staying for free at the ARF (Arctic Research Facility) which used to be owned by the Navy but now is run by the North Slope Borough. They allow visiting scientists to stay there in bunkbeds.
It is definitely warm enough! I sleep in a room with 5 other women who are working on the same project as me (surveying for Steller's Eiders). I only brought one pair of shorts and I usually wear them to bed.
From Alan: Is the music the same up there as down here? ---------I haven't been able to get much music on the radio up here, it is like listening to A.M. radio, mostly talk. It is really interesting how important the radio is for communication here. On Father's Day, for example, many people called up and name every person they knew to say "Happy Father's Day". Then, when a person hears their name on the radio, they call up and say "Happy Father's Day" back. It goes on for hours and hours, until I swear everyone in town has called! It is the same for birthdays and any other holiday.
The music in the 1 store that they have in Barrow is the same as anywhere else, except for less of a selection, and c.d.'s are $20.00 each. Traditional Inupiat (northern eskimo) music, however is VERY different than traditional Hawaiian. It sounds very strange to me, but of course that is because my ears are not used to hearing it! I will try and play some for you when I come back to Hawaii and visit your class.
From Theresa: How many eiders have you seen so far?
------- The researchers here will be glad that you asked about the project, Theresa! It is hard to say for sure, but it is around 100 pairs, probably a little over that. That is not very many, when you consider that the ONLY place that they nest in the entire U.S. is near Barrow. Luckily, some nest in northern Russia as well. There are also many things to take into account, such as some people are better observers than others. I didn't know what a Steller's Eider was before I came to Alaska! I had to get a mental picture of what they look like in my head, called a "search image". I needed to get used to seeing them from close up and from far away, and what both the male and the female look like. The male is much easier to pick out, since he is mostly white and has a little bit of beautiful green on his head. The female is brown and looks like a lot of other female ducks - they try and blend in with their surroundings so that are camoflauged when they must stay on their nests and incubate the eggs. So, anyway, I am not as good of an observer as someone like Tim Obritschkewitsch, who has been coming up here for the last few years and is the lead technician for this project. Also, we may be "double counting" some ducks, as they don't necessarily hold still very long! They may fly to another pond, and get counted twice on the same day, or on different days. We also found 2 that were shot. Where these ones that we had counted already? There is no way of knowing for sure, although it is likely since they were in an area where we had previously searched.
When we start going back to the areas where we found many eiders to look for nests, it will be easier to be sure of how many there are nesting here - since nests don't move!
Thanks for all of the great questions! Hopefully, we can videoconference on Tuesday if we can coordinate everything on Monday! :-D. Have a good weekend, talk to you on Monday! Michele Hauschulz (Teacher Experiencing the Arctic)
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