Bering Sea Expedition - Kamchatka to NW Alaska 06

Name: Lori

Monday, July 10, 2006

Annapolis, July 10

Wally, the walrus and I, arrived home safely on July 5th, after flying for a little over a day. It is nice to be home in the warm sunshine and I am looking forward to enjoying Annapolis for the next few weeks before heading off to Belize with ECO Journeys. I wanted to attach three parting images ­ two of the Clipper Odyssey and one of the expedition staff. Our pose in the zodiac mocks the engine trouble we had during the expedition. I hope you all enjoyed keeping up with my adventures as much as I enjoyed having them - Thanks for reading!


Expedition Staff Left to Right. Row 1: Ingrid, Karen Row 2: Stefan, Noreen, Mason Row 3: Kara, Me, Wayne Row 4: Cheli, Chris
Photo Credit: Carlene Miller


Clipper Odyssey at Kiska Island
Photo Credit: Stefan Kredel


Loading into the zodiacs
Photo Credit: Mason Florence

Monday, July 03, 2006

Savoonga, St. Lawrence Island, July 3

Today when we woke up we were at St. Lawrence Island, off of the village of Gambell. We were supposed to visit Gambell, however, the conditions did not permit us to land. After phoning the neighboring village of Savoonga, we decided to reposition and hope that the landing was feasible for the afternoon. The people of Savoonga are wonderful - I got to meet them last year on the same cruise. At a moments notice, they put together a cultural performance and set up arts and crafts for sale. The visit was great and the sun came out just for our visit. However, by the end of the visit, the wind had picked up, which made for an interesting zodiac landing and getting the passengers off of the shore. I assisted Cheli at the landing and was in the water at times up to my waist holding the zodiac. Cheli took the brunt of it, often taking waves on her back over her head, just to keep the zodiacs in position and keep the passengers from getting the wave in the face. She is an amazing expedition leader. Once back on the ship, I worked to finish the end of trip slide show for the passengers. Things have been really hectic the last few days since I have not only been working on the slide show, but also have been trying to get all those loose ends tied up.

Tomorrow I start my journey back to Annapolis.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hall Island, July 2

This afternoon we visited Hall Island for our last zodiac cruise of the trip. Hall Island is just spectacular no matter what the weather conditions, but we were lucky enough to be there in the sun. The cliffs are just massive, jutting out from the sea and covered with birds. The best part of Hall Island is that there are these caves and arches that you can drive the zodiac through. It is so much fun. The conditions were a little swelly, so going through the caves was like surfing. The cruise was mainly to see more nesting seabirds like the murres, puffins and gulls. Along the way, Cheli, Noreen and Carlene came out in a zodiac and served everyone ice cream and kahula. I've attached two views from the cruise.



St. Matthew Island, July 2

Today we had a great expedition day, starting with St. Matthew Island in the morning. When Cheli landed on the beach she discovered a complete skeleton of a walrus. By the time I arrived on shore, the skull was entirely exposed, complete with both tusks and all teeth, bar four. According to the 'beachcombers clause' in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is legal to keep the walrus bones and tusks as long as they are registered. This skull is incredible! I've attached a photo of Ingrid with the skull. Cheli plans on having it used for education, which is great. We left the rest of the skeleton on the beach with the exception of the penis bone, which is just huge. Walrus penis bones (oosik) can be 62 centimeters long.


Walrus with Ingrid

Saturday, July 01, 2006

St. Paul Island, July 1

Today we visited St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Islands. Some of you that are fans of the Discovery program, The Deadliest Catch, may find the name familiar. Some of the crab boats featured in that program come to St. Paul to off load their catch. However, in the summer, the island centers more on birding and fur seal breeding. The day was foggy and overcast (again), but we still managed to have a great time. I initially drove zodiac shuttles and then went with one of the groups around the island to see the birds and the fur seals. Well, I should clarify what I mean by shuttles...this trip we have been having many problems with our zodiacs. Often, they don't start, and when they do, they often die midway through the operation. I have been lucky so far, but today I spent the beginning of my day floating around in two zodiacs with the mechanic choosing the lesser of the evils. I chose no reverse over air in my fuel line. In the end, I drove one shuttle, and the zodiac remained healthy the rest of the day. I must reiterate that I have been one of the lucky ones with regards to zodiacs breaking down on me - Stefan has probably had the worst luck of all, getting the brunt of the engine trouble.

Anyway, on St. Paul we first saw a cultural performance by some very adorable kids. The adorable kids were the best part of the performance, as they giggled almost through the entire thing. It was cute, but sad to see how difficult it is to keep the native cultures alive out here as time marches forward and old ways of living are exchanged for satellite TV and other modern conveniences.

After that, we visited the fur seal rookery and some cliffs that were teeming with birds. I visited this island last year under clear skies, but it was still amazing to see all of the wildlife. The fur seal rookeries were a bit emptier than last year, due to the fact that the females are still arriving at the beaches. The bird cliffs had thousands of murres, puffins and auklets - always an incredible sight. I have attached two photos, one of a fur seal and another of a thick billed murre.

Fur Seal


Thick Billed Murre

Blog Thank You

Since this expedition is soon coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to thank Jess and Mike Pachler for all of their hard work on the oceanlori website and on this blog. Believe it or not (ha ha) I was not very organized before I left and Jess and Mike were left with most of the work to get this trip's blog set up and published. In addition, they host the site free of charge and did all of the website design, which is such a huge help since I am majorly technologically disadvantaged when it comes to this sort of thing. I'm not sure I could pull this all off without them. Thanks especially to Jess, who speedily posts my entries, even on the weekends. I know my Grandparents appreciate it.

Chagulak Island, June 30

Today's expedition to Chagulak Island was another great zodiac cruise. I had to write the log for the passengers today, so I have decided for my entry today that I will just copy and paste it into my blog. The only thing I'd like to add (which will make more sense once you read about the thousands of birds we saw) is that I got pooped on during the zodiac cruise. I don't think the "American" birds liked my new "Russia" hat. I have attached a photo of Mason, Kara and I in our new Russian hats. The whole staff purchased these hats when we were in Petropavlosk. As you can see, there are three varieties representing the old, the new, and the spy.


Kara, Mason and I in our Russian hats
Photo credit: Wayne Brown

**

We awoke to foggy skies and a light mist of rain, but that did not deter us from our stop at Chagulak Island, the last of the Aleutian Islands we will visit on our expedition. As we made our way towards Chagulak, Dion Hobcroft assumed his position on the pool deck as "chum-master" once again, attracting Northern Fulmars, Laysan Albatross, and Black-Footed Albatross to the ship. The Northern Fulmars enjoyed gliding on the wind updrafts produced by the ship and seemed to almost guide us into our anchorage at Chagulak Island.


Northern Fulmar soaring next to the ship

Through the fog, we could just make out the outline of Chagulak. This dramatic, steep sided volcanic island has a diameter of just 1.5 miles, yet rises to 3,750 feet in elevation. We enthusiastically piled into the zodiacs, dressed in our warm and wet weather gear for a zodiac cruise into the mist. Upon entering the water, we were immediately surrounded by thousands of Northern Fulmars. They swirled around the zodiacs and floated by so close that you could see the detail of their tube noses and every fleck of grey on their wings. As we approached the island, it became clear that the cliffs were alive with thousands of black-legged kittiwakes and thick billed murres, nesting on the cliff faces. There were also tufted puffins, parakeet auklets, red faced cormorants, common murres, and even some red legged kittiwakes and crested auklets. Everywhere you looked there were birds; it was almost difficult to focus on just one. In addition, the sounds were incredible. We could easily hear the kittiwake calls, reminding us how they were given their name. Many of us decided to keep our cameras dry in our bags and just enjoy the show!


The bird cliffs at Chagulak Island

Adding to the fun were a few groups of Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks. Most were sub-adult males, but there were a few big bull males in the mix. Male Steller sea lions can grow to approximately 1,600 pounds. The sea lions were curious about the zodiacs, popping their heads up out of the water to check us out.

After a delicious lunch and an even more delicious ice cream social, Kara entertained us with tales of Flippers and Fur. Her presentation taught us all about the Pinnipeds of the Bering Sea, including the most common seals and sea lions that we will encounter along our journey. Near the conclusion of Kara's lecture, just as she was beginning to talk about sea otters, an announcement was made over the PA that we had a short-tailed Albatross following the ship. Deciding that it was better to see wildlife in the wild rather than in photos, Kara ended her lecture and encouraged everyone to go outside to look at the rare Albatross sighting. In the end, there was no Albatross to see but we are lucky to have a flexible Captain that will turn the ship around just in case.

Ingrid gave the next presentation of the afternoon called Orca-the Top Predator in the Ocean. Ingrid's passion for the Orca is impressive and we were all captivated with descriptions of her encounters with these amazing mammals and the research that she is doing.

For recap, the staff opened the floor to any unanswered questions that people had. The questions ranged from sea otters, to sea lions, to bird behavior, to pollution. In addition, Chris shared his discoveries from dissecting the eagle pellet that he found on Kiska Island. It was amazing to see all of the bones of the birds and fish the eagle had been feeding on.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Little Tanaga Island and Adak Island, June 29

This morning we arrived at Adak Island to do our clearance into the USA. It was foggy so the officials had to postpone their flight to the afternoon, so we decided to go to Little Tanaga Island for the morning and explore. We did an amazing zodiac cruise to see Steller sea lions and weave in and out of caves looking for birds. The scenery was just spectacular and the fog made it even more beautiful. After about three hours of zodiac cruising, we were sufficiently cold and ready for lunch.


Crusing around Little Tanaga Island
Photo credit: Wayne Brown

On our way to Adak Island for clearance, I gave a lecture on Alaska's salmon fishery which was well received despite the after lunch coma lecture slot.

Clearance went quickly in Adak and we arranged for a bus to take some people to Clam Lagoon for birding. Others decided to explore the town. I did not get to explore the town since I went to Clam Lagoon, but I did get to drive through it. Adak is a spooky place. There are about 95 people living there now, but around 5,000 used to live there when it was a military post. There are rows and rows of abandoned military housing, an empty multi million-dollar high school with a pool, and even an abandoned McDonalds. It's very strange. Where we went birding, there was another empty military building that is completely self-contained and able to generate its own electricity and make its own water. In fact, there are many of them around the island and no one uses them at all. Now, the town is quiet, with only 22 students and a large fish processing plant, which processes mainly halibut.

The bus we were driven around in belonged to the fish plant, so the entire thing smelled of fish.

Clam Lagoon was nice and we saw a lot of birds and even a few sea otters feeding. We had about an hour to look around, and many of the passengers decided to walk around the lagoon. I had to stay at the drop off area to wait for others and at one point was alone waiting on the road. Wanting to explore the lagoon, I made my way into the tundra and towards the water.

Needless to say, the tundra swallowed me on my third step into it. It was very funny trying to get through it to the beach and I was actually laughing out loud. At one point, I was completely buried. I have attached a photo of my view of the tundra from my walk.


Buried in the tundra on Adak Island

On the way back from the lagoon, the bus driver pointed out Adak National Forest, which is actually on the forest registry. I did not get a picture of it, but if I had, you would have seen that the entire forest would fit into the lens of my camera. It was basically just a clump of trees!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kiska Island, June 28

After having brunch on the ship, we arrived at Kiska Island. The fog was still offshore, but the island was surrounded by sunshine and calm water.

There were three hikes and three landings planned - a long one up the hill and to the point, one for the birders, and one to explore the submarine left from the war. On all of these islands there is so much debris from the war.

Some of the passengers are veterans and very interested in the history here.
Kiska and Attu have been especially interesting for war history. Today, as I was looking onto the shores of Kiska I was trying to imagine the area with 5,000 people living there. My job for the day was driving shuttles between the three landings. After everyone was dropped off, I had some time to explore the coastline in the zodiac. I did not see much animal life, but the scenery was fantastic. The sun was shining on the kelp and the water almost looked aqua in some places. I took some photos, but basically just enjoyed the view. At the end of the day, I picked up some of the birders and took them on the same cruise to look for birds. We saw an eagle, some murelettes, baby harlequin ducks and some pigeon guillemots. All in all, it was another great day hanging out with wildlife, sunshine and zodiacs.

Kiska Island - Sirius Point, June 28

June 28, 2006

This morning I awoke to the most beautiful sunrise and calm seas signaling a great day was ahead. A few miles later, the ship was socked into the fog. We anchored just off of Kiska Island at Sirius Point to look for three different species of auklets. Since the weather was calm, and we couldn’t see anything from the ship, we decided to launch the zodiacs for an impromptu zodiac cruise. The cruise was fantastic. The shoreline was all cliffs and with the fog, it was almost surreal. Every now and then, we’d get a glance of a waterfall or the brilliant orange-red of the beak of an oystercatcher sitting on a rock. Since the goal of the morning was to see auklets, we headed up the shore about one mile. As we came to the point, the fog cleared and we were able to see thousands upon thousands of auklets on the water and in the air all around the point. They were just swirling around. At one point, our zodiac was positioned in such a way that the birds were flying behind us and were just parting to go around us - we were totally surrounded. It was something I had never experienced before. I will attach a photo if one does any justice to the scene. In addition, the Kiska volcano was visible, and, of course, beautiful.


Zodiac cruising in the fog - note the "naturalist pose" as I point out a Peregrine Falcon (photo credit: Mason Florence)


Stefan's zodiac crusing amongst thousands of auklettes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Attu Island, June 27

This morning we had some time at sea on our way to Attu Island. The morning was foggy and it looked as if the weather was going to be windy and cold for our landing at Attu. However, as we tucked into the lee of the harbor, the sun came out and the fog bank decided to hover offshore. This made Attu look amazing and all the surrounding peaks were visible. Karen, Mason and I led a medium walk looking at wildflowers and general nature stuff. I have attached a photo of some of the wildflowers with the snowcapped peaks in the distance. You can also see the fog bank rolling in.


Wildflowers and Volcanoes

After the hike, I got a chance to hang out with the guys from the Coast Guard station and also visit the station. It is one of the most remote stations that the US maintains, although they keep saying that there are rumors it is closing since it is a LORAN station and not needed anymore.

There are 17 men (and sometimes women) that get stationed out there for one year at a time. Some of them choose the posting since afterwards they get their pick of where ever they want. The guys were nice and happy to have visitors. Some of them came out to visit the ship, and they even set up a ‘gift shop’ out of the back of a truck. I ended up with one t-shirt, although they were selling these amazingly funny Hawaiian print Attu Coast Guard shirts. One of the officers said that Hawaii is a state of mind. They said that the climate there is not too cold - last winter it didn’t get below around 28 degrees (on the same latitude as Seattle), but it does snow a ton and they get major winds - over 150 miles per hour is normal. Overall it was a great afternoon and I even got a little warm hiking around and a bit of sun on my nose and back of my neck. That was a nice surprise from thinking I was going to be very cold all afternoon in the wind and fog.


Hanging out with the Coast Guard men