A year has passed and Arctic Circle has given me a warm welcome with a brisk 32 Fahrenheit breeze chilling my pampered Florida skin. Upon leaving the airport, the first thing I did was rush down to the Chukchi shore to be greeted by miles of crystal clear, flat-calm water peppered with ice bergs that are beginning their summer journey up the coast and around Point Barrow to wherever the Alaska Coastal Current will take them. There is no feeling quite like knowing that no human lies within my line of sight for thousands of miles; it is great to know that places like this still exist in our overcrowded world!
On day two, the summer showed itself for the first time this year with a lovely 65 Fahrenheit day with almost no wind and more mosquitoes than anyone would ever wish to encounter. Luckily, these Arctic mosquitoes, unlike their Floridian cousins spent more time buzzing around my head than trying to drain my blood, which is good since they are about three times as big!
By day three Sam and I had our gear reorganized, Ann arrived, and we were ready for our first day of sampling. As always these first days are the most exciting which was evident from our joyous reactions to even the slightest catches of fish. Nevertheless, these small catches provide us with important information on how these fish communities develop as the summer continues; we expect the abundance will increase over time as it did last summer.
The second sampling day ended with a bittersweet surprise when a local wildlife biologist received a call about 14 yellow-billed Loons that had been spotted stuck in a local fisherman’s gill net. These birds are endangered water birds and often get tangled in nets when they dive underwater looking for fish to eat; if they are not freed they will often drown. That was the bitter part…
We geared up and headed to the net with this local biologist to watch her and her crew save these birds from certain death. This may sound like a simple task but these birds are a not-so-gentle reminder that Polar Bears and hypothermia are not the only things to worry about in the Arctic. They do not understand that you are trying to help, so when you approach them they fiercely jab their dagger-like beaks directly at your eyes, hoping to disarm what they believe is a predator… needless to say, thick gloves and eye protection are a must!
Of the 14 birds, 4 had already passed away, but with patience and team work we were able to release the other 10 with minor wounds… that was the sweet part! This is a great example of why it is important to check your gillnets on a daily basis--nobody wants to be responsible for killing a beautiful animal like these Loons!
After our successful rescue mission at the top of the world, we felt like we were really on top of the world! Here is Ann having a zen moment with yoga at the tip of Point Barrow… good times!
Stay tuned for more updates as the summer continues!