Monday, September 2, 2013

Wrapping Presents

Before I begin, please check out this video that I compiled from my gopro footage at the Nalukatak Whaling Festival Blanket Toss! Thanks to Charlie Nayakik for the point of view shots!

As the field season wound to an end there was still plenty of things to get done. First on the docket was providing the local community with information on the research we had been conducting. One of the goals of ACES is to incorporate as much local knowledge into our study design as possible, we feel this is best achieved by simply allowing them to give us feedback. Sam, Ann, and I presented a talk about our efforts, findings, and future ideas; and it was very well received which made us all happy. This talk was hosted by the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, and will soon be made available via Youtube. A link will be posted when it becomes available.

Furthermore, Brendan Kelly (Assistant Director of Polar Science for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) and Kathryn Sullivan (Administrator of NOAA) came to visit us on site to see and hear first hand about our research. They were in town to discuss a number of things with the North Slope Borough, and we very excited when we heard they would be paying us a visit.

From left to right: Brendan Kelly, Kathy Sullivan, and me (Mark Barton) at our North Salt Lagoon site right after demonstrating our seining skills.

During the last week of sampling we started hearing reports of polar bear sightings in many of the areas where we sample. A local explained: since sea ice is retreating and melting much faster these days, the polar bears are eventually forced off of their preferred hunting grounds (the ice) and have to swim ashore in order to continue hunting. This swim can sometimes be over 100 miles! When they finally make it to land they have nothing but food on their minds, making them even more dangerous than usual. It became clear to us that we stood a good chance of running into one of the apex predators of the North, and we made sure to stay on guard.

On our way to the Monument site we found that the beach was littered with polar bear tracks. I would estimate to have seen close to 20 separate bear tracks moving along the beach! Luckily there was plenty of walrus carcasses washed up to keep them busy.

 This is an example of a small polar bears track! I can't even imagine how big a large bear would be.

 Once sampling had finished we had three days to tie off loose ends. Our gear had to be cleaned, stored, and prepped for winter. It was like wrapping presents for ourselves for next year. Upon arriving back in Florida two things hit me: 1. It is way hotter than I remembered and 2. It is way hotter than I remembered!

Now that sampling is over, there is plenty more to do. We caught near 20,000 fish, of which close to 3,000 were measured, bagged and tagged. Those fish now need to be processed for nutritional and isotopic analysis. Many will be dissected to separate tissues, and stomach contents analyzed for prey items. So, in short, there will be plenty to write about in the following months so stay posted!

In our last days we were lucky enough to catch the first game of the Barrow Whalers high school football season on the Northern most football field in the world. They beat their opponent 46-6!

 The rest of the crew said I wouldn't do it, but here I am emerging from the Arctic Ocean after doing the polar bear plunge with a water temperature of 2.7 Celcius!

 While bowhead whales are endangered and protected due to their population status, it is important to remember that Natives along the Arctic coastline reserve the legal right to harvest a sustainable quota of bowhead whales. Native Alaskans are incredibly fond of whale products and I was honored to try some and it was delicious.
 It seems unbelievable that an animal with such a huge mouth chooses to eat plankton!

 A not so gentle reminder that when you are in a 8 foot rubber dinghy, small waves can still spell disaster. Even though it looks as though Sam is falling overboard, he managed to find his balance and nothing happened. We did, however, choose to not set the net at this location.

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