Tag Archives: Kodiak

Getaway!

Our suitcases are packed, and we are headed off on our winter getaway! Part of our trip is business-related, but the rest is a pleasure trip. Our first stop will be Las Vegas, where we will have a booth at the annual SCI Convention. It is a culture shock to leave remote Amook Pass and travel straight to Las Vegas. Here, the only sounds we have heard for the last few months have been the blowing wind and the occasional scream of an eagle or raven, and the only person we have seen is our mail plane pilot on his weekly stop. Las Vegas is sensory overload with constant noise and thousands of people. We always have a great time at this convention, though, because we spend time with friends and talk to past guests. I eat too much and sleep too little the entire time we are there, and when we arrive at the airport for the next leg of our trip, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know we are headed someplace less crazy than Vegas.

For the second part of our winter getaway, we are renting a sailboat with friends and sailing around the British Virgin Islands for a week. I know nothing about sailing, but everyone else in the group knows what they are doing. It will be a fun, relaxing week. After that adventure, Mike and I will spend another week in that area of the world, and we plan to snorkel, dive, relax, read, and I plan to write!

Next, it’s back to Anchorage and back to work. We will shop for lumber and other supplies to finish our new cabin and warehouse, and we will shop for everything else we will need from the city for the next year. We charter a barge once a year in the spring to bring fuel, building supplies, furniture, and any other large items from Kodiak to our lodge in Uyak Bay, so while we are in Anchorage, we will purchase these items and arrange for them to be shipped from Anchorage to Kodiak.

Also while we are in Anchorage, we will take a recertification course for our Wilderness First Responder credentials. We are required to recertify every three years. This course is important to us because it prepares us to take care of our guests when we are hiking in the Kodiak Wilderness.

By March 15th, we will be ready to fly home. We’ll be tired of eating in restaurants and sleeping in strange beds, but most of all, we will miss the peace and quiet of the wilderness. It is always nice to get away from Alaska in the middle of the dark, cold winter, but it is much better to return. By March, the days will be longer and brighter, and while it will still be winter, spring will soon be here.

I will post while on the road, and I already have several posts planned. My friend, Marcia Messier, has again promised a guest post while I’m away, and her posts are very popular. I also hope to keep up with my monthly Mystery Newsletters, and Steven Levi, a well-known author from Anchorage, will write the March edition of the newsletter. You will not want to miss that newsletter because Steve is an expert on crime and criminals throughout the history of Alaska, and I am thrilled he has agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to share his knowledge with us. If you haven’t yet signed up for my Mystery Newsletter, follow the link and do it now, so you don’t miss Steve’s newsletter.

I’ll let you know how the trip goes!

Reindeer/Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)

The U.S. State Department introduced thirty-two Siberian reindeer to the south end of Kodiak Island in 1921 when they were granted to the native peoples to herd and raise.

Reindeer and caribou belong to the same genus and species (Rangifer tarandus). Both wild and domesticated animals in this species are referred to as reindeer in Europe and Asia, but in North America, the term reindeer is reserved for semi-domesticated animals, while their wild cousins are called caribou. There are many subspecies of both reindeer and caribou in Alaska.

Reindeer and caribou are members of the deer family, and they are the only species in the deer family in which both males and females grow antlers. The antlers of female reindeer are larger than those of female caribou. This difference, as well as many of the other differences between caribou and reindeer, are probably the result of domestication and breeding. Caribou have longer legs, while reindeer are shorter and rounder. Reindeer bulls are smaller than caribou bulls, but reindeer and caribou cows are about the same size. Reindeer have thicker fur than caribou, and they breed two to four weeks earlier than caribou.

Biologists believe reindeer were one of the first domesticated animals. A 9th-century letter from King Ottar, the king of Norway, to Alfred the Great mentions his herd of over 600 reindeer. Reindeer herding began in Alaska more than a century ago when 1300 reindeer were imported from Siberia. By the 1930s, 600,000 domestic reindeer lived in Alaska, but much of the reindeer industry in the state collapsed during the Great Depression.

After reindeer were introduced to Kodiak in 1921, The Alitak Native Reindeer Corporation was formed, and residents of the village of Ahkiok managed the herd. The herd grew throughout the 1940s and reached approximately 3000 animals by 1950. A wildfire in the early 1950s wiped out much of the reindeer range, and approximately 1200 reindeer escaped into the wild. Active management of the herd ended in 1961, and federal grazing leases expired in 1964. The State of Alaska declared the reindeer to be feral and soon established an open hunting season with no bag limit on reindeer. In 2010, the State of Alaska restricted the reindeer hunting season on Kodiak to six months and limited the annual take to one reindeer per hunter. The state also reclassified reindeer on Kodiak as “caribou.”

A reindeer has a thick coat that is brown in the summer and gray during the winter. Its chest and belly are pale, and it has a white rump and tail. A male’s antlers are larger and more complex than those of a female. A male usually sheds his antlers in the fall after the mating season, while a female keeps her antlers until spring. A reindeer has hooves that adapt to the season and environment. In the summer, its footpads are spongy, providing it with extra traction on the soft, wet tundra. In the winter, the foot pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof which cuts into the ice and snow and prevents the reindeer from slipping and falling.

Reindeer can run as fast as 50 mph (80 km/hr) and are excellent swimmers. They feed on herbs sedges, mosses, and lichens in the summer but mainly feed on lichens in the winter, often digging through the snow with their hooves to expose the lichens.

Reindeer breed in October, and after a gestation of 210 to 240 days, females give birth to a single calf weighing 6.6 to 26.5 lbs. (3-12 kgs). One hour after it is born, a calf can follow its mother, and at one-day old, it can run at fast speeds. Calves are weaned when they are one-month old, and reindeer reach sexual maturity when they are one to three years old.

The caribou population on Kodiak has remained stable over the past several years, and biologists estimate there are 250 to 300 caribou on the island.

Bear Hibernation (Part Two)

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Last week I posted about the mechanics of bear hibernation, but how does a large mammal manage to curl up in a ball in a cave and sleep for five months? Humans and other mammals would die if they tried to hibernate. During hibernation, bears do not eat, urinate or defecate. What physiological adaptations allow them to do this?

While in hibernation, a brown bear’s breathing drops from 6 to 10 breaths per minute to one breath every 45 seconds. His heart rate drops from forty to fifty beats per minute to nineteen beats per minute, but his body temperature decreases only a few degrees and does not drop below 88° F (31°C), which is within 12°F (6°C) of his normal body temperature. Some scientists consider bears to be “super hibernators.” Because they have thick fur and also a lower surface area to mass ratio than do smaller hibernators such as rodents, bears lose body heat slowly, which allows them to cut their metabolic rate by 50-60%. Physiologist Øivind Tøien at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has discovered that while a black bear’s body temperature only drops an average of 9.9° F (5.5° C), the bear’s metabolism plunges to 25% of the average summer rate. Furthermore, his studies indicate that when a black bear comes out of hibernation in the spring, it takes several weeks for the bear’s metabolism to return to normal.

The amazing physiological adaptations of bears during hibernation are of much interest to human medical researchers. If a human must endure prolonged bed rest due to paralysis or illness, if a broken limb is immobilized, or if an astronaut spends several months in space; the human body faces such risks as blood clots, heart failure, significant loss of muscle mass, a breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, as well as life-threatening bedsores. A hibernating bear has none of these risks, including no loss of muscle function. Scientists are interested in determining what specific changes in metabolites, proteins, and hormones allow bears these physiological adaptations during several months of inactivity. Humans, as well as all other mammals who maintain non-weight-bearing positions for an extended period, suffer from osteoporosis, but bears do not lose bone mass during hibernation. When the secret to how bears accomplish this feat is discovered, it may help people with weak bones, patients who become bedridden for a prolonged period, people who suffer paralysis, and astronauts on long space missions.

While bears are hibernating and metabolizing body fat, their cholesterol levels are twice as high as respective cholesterol levels in humans. Bears, however, do not suffer from arteriosclerosis or gallstones, conditions which plague humans with high cholesterol. Furthermore, a bear’s liver secretes a substance that dissolves gallstones in humans. Insight into how bears recycle urea during hibernation could lead to advances in treatments for kidney failure and dialysis in humans. Also, bears gain a great deal of weight in the fall before going into hibernation, but unlike many obese humans, they remain insulin-sensitive. Conversely, they become insulin-resistant once they are in hibernation, so their fat does not break down too quickly, but when they wake in the spring, they once again respond to insulin. In other words, bears can put themselves into a diabetic state while in hibernation and then reverse out of it in the spring. Understanding what allows bears to do this could lead to breakthrough medical advances in the treatment of diabetes and obesity in humans.

There’s so much more going on with hibernation than simply curling up for a long winter’s nap. I look forward to reading new scientific studies on bear hibernation.

Sign up for my Mystery Newsletter if you haven’t already done so. Next month I plan to cover some Kodiak murders.

 

Trip To Kodiak

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This past week I took a rare trip to the town of Kodiak. I’ve been posting about springtime behaviors of various Kodiak animals, so now I’ll tell you about one of my springtime behaviors. Mike and I usually fly to the town of Kodiak in late May to run errands, go to the doctor, pick up supplies, and most importantly for me, visit the local greenhouse to buy flower and vegetable starts for my planters and garden.

This may not seem like an earth-shattering topic to write about, but a trip to town is a big deal for me. First of all, it’s expensive. We must charter a plane each way, rent a car, and stay in a hotel. Secondly, it can be an ordeal, because late-May weather is often foggy, especially around town, so our trip easily can be delayed for a day or two due to bad (not flyable) weather, and worse still, we could get stuck in town for a few days waiting for the weather to clear.

On this trip, the weather was marginal for flying. The first part of our flight to town was windy and bumpy, and as we neared town, the pilot expertly dodged pea-soup fog. It was also foggy when we departed Kodiak for our return flight, but as we neared Uyak Bay, the ceiling lifted, and the pilot was able to climb and fly through the mountain passes.

In late May, the town of Kodiak bustles with activity, as commercial fishermen begin preparing for the summer salmon season. This past weekend especially was busy in Kodiak, because it was King Crab Festival weekend.

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The King Crab Festival is Kodiak’s version of the county fair but with some uniquely “Kodiak” twists. Since it is difficult and expensive to bring carnival rides to the island, most of the “rides” are of the inflatable variety, but the kids are no-less enthusiastic about them. Many of the food booths are operated by local vendors, and you can dine on salmon, halibut, cod, and of course King Crab, among other things. There is no tractor pull at the King Crab Festival, but the Coast Guard demonstrates simulated rescues, a Russian Orthodox priest blesses the fishing fleet, and most popular of all, festival-goers line the boat ramp near the harbor and cheer on the participants in the survival-suit race. For this activity, teams of four race down a ramp, pull on and zip up bulky survival suits, then jump into the water and swim to a life raft. Once all four team members are in the raft, the clock stops and their time is recorded. The team with the fastest time wins. Participants include everyone from families to fishing vessel crew members to Coast Guard rescue swimmers. The rescue swimmers usually win, but no one complains about that. We want those guys to be fast!

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Between running errands, visiting the King Crab Festival, and eating at as many restaurants as I could in four days, I was exhausted and full by the time we flew home. I smiled at my new plants as I carried them up to the house, happy to be home and eager to start planting. I don’t plan another trip to town until late January, and for the time being anyway, that’s fine with me!