Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the cold... back to the scorching hot

The field season has come to an end and I am back in the blistering heat of the Miami sun, but I still have a number of cool pictures to share with you.

Snowy owls used to be very abundant in Barrow, so much so that the Inupiaq village name Utqiagvik actually means "place where they hunt snowy owls". Nowadays they are not as common but we were lucky enough to have one guarding a nest every day about 100 meters from the ARF.

Here is another snowy owl hanging out in the middle of town, sitting on top of a gas line blow off valve... oh the irony...

In the middle of the summer we had 2 weeks of terribly windy weather that made sampling most of our stations impossible. This panoramic shot is taken from the middle of the spit that leads to Plover Point facing parallel to the Beaufort coast. It shows the Beaufort Sea of the left and the Elson lagoon on the right, and as you can see the waves had gotten so big that they went all the way over the spit and into the lagoon. This is aparent from the smooth surface left behind by the crossing water.

Apparently turbid water does not affect the Beluga Whales ability to catch fish though, near Plover Point we found a pod of well over 50 whales feeding on something that we will never know (though it was probably Arctic Cod as we caught lots of them at a nearby site that same day). This extra curious whale came right up to the beach to take a better look at me. This behaviour is called pilot hopping and allows whales to see what is going on above water, its much more common in other whales and I was pretty lucky to see a beluga do this, let alone capture it on camera.

This spotted seal was being necropsied by a North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife biologist. The pelt was still in good condition so it was removed and given to a local native Alaskan. 

This is the only 8ft zodiac I know of that is powered by a 175 HP yamaha. We towed this boat all the way to Cooper Island at speeds well above 30MPH so that we could pull a few seines out there and pay George Divoky ( a visit.

Cooper Island is an old Naval establishment. This island is often referred to as the golden island because its sediment is a gold/bronze color which is quite unique when compared to the other sediments in the area which are predominantly brown.

When the Navy left, they left behind a great deal of debris which Black Guillemots have since started using as nesting sites. George Divoky has been monitoring this breeding colony of Guillemots for 40 years now, and has provided incredibly important data for understanding how global climate change will affect the Arctic regions.

Over the years, the naval debris has fallen apart and no longer provided suitable protection for raising young guillemots, especially with hungry bears roaming the island. George has modified these hard cases to provide a nesting cubby for the guillemots, it also allows him to easily access the birds to weighing and measuring. Here we see George measuring a chick, and a nest filled with fourhorn sculpin that have been delivered to the chick by the parents.

We were told that there were lots of polar bears in the area and it seemed likely that I would finally see my first polar bear.

We didn't see one on the island, but on our way back we finally saw one near Plover Point, only a few hundred yards away from where we often sample. This was a rather small bear (6-7ft) and was munching on a piece of whale carcass on the beach.

Back on the mainland, our Family Science Day Coloring Contest deadline had past. After much deliberation we chose this flounder as the winner! The winner was 12 year old, Ida Kilapsuk.

Here is Ida receiving her prizes, an ACES team shirt and a huge flaming hammerhead shark kite.

 This was too expensive to purchase and too beautiful to not share. this is a carving made from a full walrus tusk, it is just stunning!

On a trip down to monument we came across this little Arctic Fox, he was just hanging out at the top of the bluff watching us drive by.

To our surprise, when we got to monument, there was another polar bear on the beach! (photo credit goes to Yosty Storms). 

Here is the same bear swimming away (against the current). They are surprisingly fast!

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