Saturday, January 25, 2014

Whale watching in January

On MLK day, we headed out the road to see what we could see. We debated taking skis. We debated going for a hike. But in the end, we decided to just go for a ride. Of course, at the last second I snatched up the binoculars - just in case there were birds.

As we passed the pull-out near the Shrine, I spotted a humpback spout and dorsal fin, "whale!" I said. Mr. X turned the car around and we spent the next 10 minutes watching the whale and accompanying birds and porpoises work the water, moving farther and farther from us.

I've never seen such a dramatic multi-species feeding before. The water was roiling and Mr. X said he saw a porpoise leap clear out of the water. After a few minutes of frenzy, the whale would dive and the other animals would disappear under the water. A few minutes later the the animals would reappear and the whale would surface. There likely were birds, porpoises, sea lions and a lone whale (maybe Spot?) - probably because all the whales with any sense are in the warm waters of Hawaii breeding.

I've heard of birds following whales around, but never seen something like this. There must have been a good number of small fish/herring that either the porpoises or whale were herding to the surface and everyone was having a good time of it.  

We congratulated ourselves on our free whale watching trip...until the caliper on the left front side seized up and we needed a second brake job in less than eight months.

Fireside chat: Lituya Bay

photo from

We have been hitting the Forest Service Lectures this winter. The best so far - record breaking in fact - was the Lituya Bay Lecture by Lynn Schooler. I've read his book, The Blue Bear, and was excited for this opportunity to hear about his new book, Walking Home and the megatsunami at Lituya Bay. Mr. X had heard from some old timers about this incredible place, but Lynn did a remarkable job of describing the bay - reading from his book and using a map and photographs to set the scene.

We arrived 45 minutes early for the lecture and still had to sit in the overflow. We sat by some coworkers of Mr. X and they told us about how dangerous the bar is into the bay. Apparently when the 7 mile x 9 mile bay empties with the tide, it rushes out of a very narrow bar and there are rapids 1/4 mile into the ocean. The visitor's center filled up and Lynn knowing there were many people out in the lobby asked us to "Yee-haw" if we could hear him okay. The place roared.

And then Lynn started telling the story of the bay, the 7.9 1958 earthquake, 1700' high tsunami and the people who survived the wave in the bay. It was chilling and thrilling. Quite the night.

At the end, Lynn played for us a recording of the radio traffic the night of the July 9, 1958, including the urgent Howard G. Ulrich who says that he needs to exit the bay immediately fearing that a second tidal wave may strike and thinking the world is coming to an end.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ice rescue

Saturday we headed back out to the Glacier visitor center for a lecture and demonstration on ice rescues. Our favorite naturalist at the Glacier told us that every weekend someone falls through the ice on the lake. The fire department was on hand to provide a lecture, video and DEMONSTRATION! They discussed all cold water immersions and it reminded my fall through the ice sheet on the muskeg. The main points were these: 1) If you go through the ice, turn around and try to get out from the side you came in - 'cause you were just walking on it. 2)Don't panic. The gasp reflex will make you breathe as if you are hyperventalating, your breathing will return to normal in 1 - 2 minutes. 3) Put your arms on the ice and kick with your feet to push yourself up. 4) Roll when you get back on the ice. Then crawl to distribute your weight. 5) If assisting others: call 911, reach to them with a stick, ladder, shovel, etc.; if that fails,throw something with inflation to them (i.e. spare tire, sled). 6) consider buying or making ice awls for a self-rescue if you often walk or bike on ice. We then trouped outside to see the rescue demonstrations in a pond that had had a hole cut with a chainsaw. The firefighter showed us three different rescues: self-rescue with ice awls, rescue with inflation sled, and firefighter rescue of unresponsive victim. photos here:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fireside lecture: Polar Bears in the Chukchi Sea

Friday's date night was to the Forest Service fireside lecture. I was looking forward to the oreos and hot chocolate. Mr. X helped set up chairs in the overflow...where we usually end up sitting. It was a full house.

This week's topic was Polar Bears in Alaska's Chukchi Sea: Climate Change and Conservation. I was very interested to hear this lecture because in 2013, the media said that the findings of a small study showed that the Chukchi polar bears were benefiting from reduced sea ice. The presenters were Eric Regehr and Kim Titus, two of the researchers that worked on the study. Their slideshow was fantastic; they had so many pictures of polar bears and seals. They also showed us that while the Chukchi bear numbers are not declining consistent with North Slope bears, they have not yet experienced a the same level of ice free days. Chukchi polar bears have long benefited from the nutrient dense Chukchi sea and therefore, are bigger, heavier and more fertile than the North Slope bears.

Mr. X says that these researchers sure hit the biology major/research funding lottery by studying an iconic animal that is impacted by climate change, rather than say...mule deer or cougars.

Definitely a nice night out.