19 July, 1998
TEA/Alaska - 98
Journal Entry 10 - July 19, 1998
Alaska SeaLife Center, Ak
It's a beautiful Sunday in Seward and another day of intrigue and excitement. We started the day with our routine chores - cleaning the Outdoor Lab and kennels, feeding the otters and laundering their fleece blankets. The otters having had a feast on salmon last evening, resulted in an increase of fecal deposits. What was very surprising was the fish eggs were excreted whole, in spite of the fact that all parts of the fish were ingested by the otters. I thought that the bones would have crushed everything up. Dr. Ben-David then explained that prior to spawning, the eggs are protected with a tough coat and fat. Since spawning and fertilization was a few weeks away for this batch of salmon, there would be no physiological change in the surface of the egg. It was my turn to clean and help feed the otters while Noa and Elisa recorded observations. The otters were very busy and I was able to get some close-up shots of them interacting. Some of them were very playful. Having to attend to the live salmon that arrived yesterday, there were additional things to do. Dr. Ben-David and Susanne assisted with the cleaning, feeding, and we also sliced 10 herrings into pieces approximately three-quarter inch thick and about one and one-half inches long. The herring pieces were to feed to the salmon. After we checked on them later it did not seem as though any of the salmon ate the herring pieces. Dr. Ben- David decided that she will try brine shrimp the next time. The salmon looked fine and were swimming energetically in the tanks.
We finished relatively early, and the day was turning out to be more weather friendly than previously forecasted, so Dr. Ben-David took us on a hike to Exit Glacier and the Chugach National Forest Trail. We were joined by the Physiologists - Dr. Terrie Williams and her PHD student , Shawn Norin. What an amazing experience it was to be within inches of a receding glacier where you can actually touch the ice !!!!! The blue color of the crevasses were astonishingly beautiful. The fjords which were carved out by the glacier when it was advancing were vast, and there was glacial silt for miles. The rock formations were very interesting, as though sculptured to specific patterns. Scenes like these leave one speechless since there are no specific words to describe the emotions experienced. What a wonder of Nature!!!
On my way down the trail, I paid greater attention to the plant life, mosses and lichens. In some areas there were climax communities of Sitka and Hemlock spruce, and Alder, but in others there was an abundance of pioneer and seral species. The Alders are nitrogen fixing plants that help to maintain the biogeochemical cycles of the coastal and alpine forests. There were also berries of all sorts which are indicators of the presence of bears. We did not see any. I guess there was enough noise from the many visitors on the trail to scare the bears away. Bears move away from the noise.
Another interesting feature of the glacier hike were sign posts along the trail marking the location of the glacier dating back to 1908. The glacier had receded approximately 3 miles. After our glacier visit we hiked another trail in the Chugach National Forest. Here, Dr. Ben-David pointed out to us many indicator species of temperate coastal rain forest like the devil's club, cranberries, blueberries, and the brush dogwood to name a few. She also pointed out the differences between areas on the forest floor that had undergone some kind of disruption/ disturbance in comparison to one that was part of a climax community. In addition, she took us to a wetland area of high thick grasses on the edge of the forest and adjacent to the river, an area similar to the natural habitat of river otters. There we were able to see mink foot prints. Minks co-exist with river otters.
On our way out, we rested along the edge of the trail and shared stories as we took in another breathtaking view of Exit glacier and the fast moving river running below us along the forest edge.
How about that for a great day? But guess what, the day is not yet over. By this time it was approximately 5.30 pm. The girls and I had planned to go on a four hour Resurrection Bay evening cruise, so Dr. Ben- David gave us a ride to the harbor to embark our cruise ship which was scheduled to leave at 6 pm. We were privileged to see a variety of sea birds (gulls, eagles, puffins, guillemots, murres and kittiwakes), Dall sheep/mountain goat, stellar sea lions and sea otters. Again, I am very disappointed that I did not see whales. What was also very impressive along the bay was the rock formations - pillow basalt islands, granite and sedimentary. The naturalist on board the cruise ship gave the geological origins of the mountain ranges, and the trees growing on them. She also pointed one part of a mountain range that is currently sinking due to ocean floor spreading over the past five-six years. To add to the splendor of the day was an all you can eat buffet dinner of salmon, chicken, pilaf rice, freshly baked bread, garden salad and a host of mouth watering desserts.
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