Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Bering Strait: gateway to the Arctic Ocean

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm


-Mike, our ice guide takes us to the edge of the shorefast ice in Wales, Alaska –

You will find few places left on earth where people remain so intimately dependent on their environment. The native communities along Bering Strait do not hunt for sport, but they hunt for meat to supplement their diets particularly when the small bush planes stop bringing in outside food as winter weather sets in. You eat what you can hunt and what you have left in storage. No last minute trips to the grocery store here.

In case you were wondering, Bering Strait is a fairly narrow channel that connects the Bering Sea to the Arctic, and Wales, Alaska is so close to the Russian coast that you can see it across the strait on a fair day.

It has been an amazing experience to visit with villages of Wales and Shishmaref in Alaska where my boss, colleague and I went to talk to students in the schools and conduct some research on the sea ice. The smaller community in Wales has a runway accessible by snow machine, and strong winds frequently change the availability of open leads in the ice. People have noticed changes in snowfall patterns and thickness of the ice, as confirmed by our most recent ice core measurements. The ice is thinner in Wales this year. Whalers are readying their crews in hopes of catching another bowhead whale this year – hopes buoyed by seeing a few beluga whales a few days ago. We also saw some bearded, ringed and ribbon seals out on the ice and our ice guides referred to them half-jokingly as juicy steaks.

The changing Arctic affects these communities in a very real way that is hard to imagine as an outsider. Shishmaref is facing erosion problems as waves batter their coast, no longer protected by ice. Changing sea ice affects animal migrations and can sometimes shorten hunting seasons, as described by some hunters we talked to. However, in a world where elementary school students continue with their ski meets in 30 to 40 mph winds in freezing temperatures with bear guards on the lookout for polar bears during the event – it struck me that people here are tough, and they live with an interesting dichotomy of resources. For example, most people do not have running water, but almost everyone has a cell phone and are internet-savvy. Despite the strong relationship to their environment here, I get the feeling that not too many students have ambitions to study this fascinating ecosystem that they live in. Doubtless, the resilient spirit of the communities will continue to adapt to changes from natural and human-based impacts, but as a biologist I feel that I’m no longer just interested in what the walrus are doing – but also in how the people adapt.


Living in the sticks

In dogs, house, wildlife on March 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

It has been a little bit busy since moving to Alaska and starting a new job, hence the absence from blogging. It is also still bitterly cold some days, but the dark winters are fading into bright spring evenings which makes the cold much more bearable.

As my husband and I promised, we finally got the dogs a house with a big yard in Alaska. It’s not so far from town, but we do live on a dirt road that has been appropriately named for its notoriety for getting cars, trucks and trailers stuck in deep snow or mud. Personally, we have only experienced the snow trap (at great expense) and this spring when the snow melts we will see the full extent of the mud problem.

However, there are benefits to living off the beaten road and having several acres of wild Alaskan land. For instance, we sometimes get to see the auroras off our porch.

Aurora from home

And we occasionally get visitors to our yard.

watching the moose

Moose cow and calf

And sometimes those visitors decide to sleep in our yard overnight and stop at our place the next day for breakfast. Chloe and Connor go nuts when we see moose – and this results in much barking, whining and leaving of nose prints all over the glass windows. However, they will listen to voice commands to leave them alone when they are outside with the moose, which I can imagine is difficult for them because their first instinct is to chase it. Fortunately the moose are large enough to be intimidating up close.

connor is vigilant

Arguably there’s a price for living out in the sticks – but so far we really like it and we would love to be able to share the experience with others.

Malaysian batik art

In crafts, decor, Etsy on February 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

My latest illustrations were inspired by Malaysian batik. Here Chloe tolerates me using her to model my only piece of Malaysian batik in the form of a sarong. A sarong is a long piece of material sewn together in a giant hoop, and typically it is worn around the waist (ala Chloe, below) and is used by both men and women. Note:  men would also wear it around their waist, and not as a head-dress (ala Connor – who was just too lazy to model it the right way). I love the detail and use of colour in the designs. The traditional batik art is a painstakingly long process thanks to the intricate details. It’s really amazing how much detail and colour can be found in the traditional clothes of Asian cultures.

I did not see why batik art wouldn’t look just as beautiful printed on an animal, and these two illustrations below were my whimsical interpretation of batik art and wildlife. However, I admit I cheated and used watercolors to create them which saved me a LOT of time.

An emperor penguin chick with batik details.

 A Sumatran rhino.

A little Hawaiian touch

In crafts, Etsy, wrinkled sea dog on February 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Chloe in her Hawaiian costume

I realize that I am quickly running out of shoes for my dogs to model on the blog. Luckily  my slippers look acceptable with Chloe’s  Hawaiian outfit. Anyway, the theme for this post is related to my artwork. Why on earth are all my animals wearing flowers or leis? Two reasons: 1) I love (and miss) Hawaii; 2) it is a small attempt to broach an environmental concern – namely, climate change.

Living near Washington DC can be a little amusing. The political circus is impossible to escape here, as are the follies of politicians who take offense to any mention of climate change. Likely these same politicians don’t believe in evolution either. Anyhow, polar species stand a lot to lose in a warming earth. In an effort to inspire without the gloom and doom of climate change naysayers, I created the Hawaiian-themed accents for animals typically suited for colder climates – such as this little polar bear cub. The world is changing, might as well start accessorizing appropriately!

Incidentally, I have never seen a wild polar bear even though I’d really like to. Unfortunately, they are having a rough go with this changing environment, and some have even turned to cannibalism (see story here ). It is a sad, sad time for wildlife.

Inspiring Alaska

In crafts, Etsy, travel, wrinkled sea dog on February 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Alaskan field research gear is typically not very flattering. Particularly if you’re only 5′ 1″ and everything is made to fit bigger people. Here’s Connor demonstrating some of my Alaskan gear – although he sure looks a lot cuter in it.Alaska ready dog

After spending three whole summers in a tent in bush-county Alaska, I am now seriously considering living there full-time. True, most of my time in Alaska has been in the summer AND I spent a significant portion of my time there in a boat – but, I think we’re ready for this change.

The greater part of my idyllic Alaskan adventures involved stalking these critters.

Oh sea otter, how incredibly cute you are with your fluffy fur coat. That coat has the most hairs per square inch of any marine mammal, and self-grooming helps to keep air trapped in their coats for insulation. When resting in the water, the hair on their heads and paws dry out – and otters will do their BEST to keep their paws dry until they absolutely have to dive. I have seen many an otter perform  contortionist worthy feats while rolling in the water in order to keep their paws dry in the air. However, that air-trapping ability of their fur is completely lost if an otter’s fur gets oiled. A well-groomed sea otter is perfectly happy in the frigid Alaskan waters, but an oiled otter risks hypothermia.

Another great quality of sea otters is that they are incredibly photogenic, and they inspire countless pieces of art, which now includes this addition to my Etsy shop. Here’s hoping that the increased oil extraction activities off Alaska’s coasts does not leave otters seeking warmth in the future.