Tag Archives: Alaska

“Whale” You Help Me?

Whale mural, Kapa'a, Kauai.

Whale mural, Kapa’a, Kauai.

I grew up in Kansas, far from any ocean (though I was born within a stone’s throw of the Potomac River in Virginia), so visits to the ocean were rare, and I didn’t see a whale until I was an adult. But once I did, I was hooked. Who can resist the majesty of whales, their power and grace? I admit, I’m a landlubber, so the pull of the traveling the deep, blue sea is lost on me, but I love the creatures that live within it.

Some of my best photos of whales are of murals…I think these are all of Humpback whales. Can someone help me identify them?

Humpack whale, Kona, Hawaii.

Humpack whale, Kona, Hawaii.

I don’t have any good photos of a recent whale watching trip my husband and I took off of the Na Pali coast of Kauai, because my camera had to be put away in a waterproof area because of the 17-foot swells (as tall as the boat!).  Also, I spent at least fifteen minutes with my face in a bucket, my first time ever being seasick, after having been on ocean-going ships dozens of times. The captain warned us that the sea would be rough, but I thought I was an old salt and wouldn’t have any problem. Wrong!  Had an entire pod of whales been performing the Nutcracker Suite within feet of the boat, I wouldn’t and couldn’t have looked up from my beloved bucket.

After my stomach calmed, I did see a month-old humpback whale breaching time after time very close to the boat, it was wonderful! (Sadly, no photo.)  You could tell this baby was having such a fun time.

Humpback whale, Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Humpback whale, Glacier Bay, Alaska.

In addition to being in the right place to see whales, you also need to be there at the right time. One February, we watched Humpback whales off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.  They winter in Hawaiian waters.  Then that summer, we saw Humpback whales in Glacier Bay of Alaska, their summer feeding grounds.  In January 2013, we looked for whales off of the coast of South Africa, too, but it wasn’t the right season, alas.

Whale Mural in Monterey, California.

Whale Mural in Monterey, California.

Whale Mural in Monterey, California.

Whale Mural in Monterey, California.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth New Hampshire.

Whale Mural in Portsmouth New Hampshire.

Sadly, there are still whalers in modern times.

Whalers Museum in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

A List and Photos of Cetaceans: Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises.

“In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” which inspired inspired Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick.”

“In the Heart of the Sea” film, directed by Ron Howard, scheduled for release in 2015.

About the novel “Moby-Dick.”

History of Whaling.


Filed under Animals

Glacial Speed

Margerie Glacier, Alaska Postcard postcard

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

We experienced a very hot summer in the Kansas City area with temperatures in the upper 90s and even into the 100s. Now, that it’s September, we’re finally getting some nice weather.  I was lucky enough to escape the heat for a week in July when I visited Alaska, where the locals jokingly complained about a heat wave in the 70s.

To cool myself upon my return to sweltering temperatures, I enjoyed some of my photographs of Alaskan glaciers.  Margerie Glacier (in photo above) is one of several glaciers remaining in what was once a single vast ice sheet covering the Glacier Bay area of Alaska. We often hear of the rapid retreat of glaciers, particularly in the past few decades. I haven’t thought of the rapid advance of glaciers being part of relatively recent history, but Glacier Bay, which is at the top of the Alaskan panhandle, is only about 250 years old. It was carved in the early to mid 1700s when a relatively dormant glacier began to move rapidly. Its movement was described as being “as fast as a dog could run,” according to the National Park Service rangers stationed in Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is the result of the climate in the Little Ice Age, which reached its maximum extent in 1750.

Click on this map of Glacier Bay National Park to see a larger view.

I’d always thought that glaciers moved slowly and steadily slow. The glacier scours the earth as the massive ice field moves forward inch by inch and then slowly retreats, leaving debris in its wake and in mountainous coastal areas a glacier carves a deep bay or a fjord, such as Glacier Bay.   I won’t be using the cliche “glacial speed” any more now that I know how quickly glaciers can Advance.

Margerie Glacier is stable. Johns Hopkins Glacier is actually advancing. Both are remnants of a much larger glacier.

The Tlingit people who lived in Glacier Bay before it was a bay had to leave the valley as that glacier quickly advanced. According to the National Park Service, the Tlingit’s landscape “is very different from today’s marine bay — it was a grassy valley coursing with salmon-rich streams and scattered forests. Looming in the distance, a great glacier sits dormant, pausing before the cataclysmic advance that will force these people from their homes around 1750.”

This section of a U.S. National Park Service brochure, shows the advance and retreat of the glacier that carved Glacier Bay in Alaska. Click on the photograph to get a larger view.


Filed under Environment, Life, Science, Travel

The Bridge to Nowhere

I took this photograph from my bus window as we passed the the airport serving Ketchican, Alaska, which is across a narrow bay. This is where the proposed "Bridge to Nowhere" would have been built to replace the ferry that takes people to and from the airport, which is on a separate island. Sorry for the poor quality, but what can you do, the bus driver is not going to stop! Plus it was raining. Click on the photograph to get a better look.

This summer, I finally visited Alaska, a state I’ve wanted to visit since my aunt lived there many decades ago. What took me so long? It’s incredibly beautiful! While in Alaska, my husband and I toured part of lovely Revillagigedo Island, which is the 12th largest island in the United States and about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. Revilla, as its known by the locals, is known more for its city of Ketchican, Alaska’s fifth most populous city at 7,368 according to the 2010 census. The island population is 13,950. The temporary population swells enormously in the summer with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The entire state of Alaska has only 710,231 people.

A sculpture featuring the various professions and residents of Ketchican, Alaska, greets people on the dock. Tourism and fishing are two of the main industries in the Ketchican area. The logging business was shut down during the Clinton Administration.

As we were ending our tour by bus, our bus driver casually pointed to the airport that serves the island. The airport is on nearby Gravina Island, because there isn’t enough flat land on Revilla. “That’s where the bridge to nowhere was to be built,” he said. Now, airline passengers take a ferry, which costs $5. But, the bus driver noted — the parking lot for the ferry is free! The bridge would have eliminated the need for the ferry. I don’t know whether it would have been a toll-free bridge, not that the fees could have come close to paying for the bridge.

Funding for the ulra-expensive bridge was to come from the federal government, which has already funded the road leading to the as-yet-unbuilt bridge. As our country battles over who should pay for what and how many more trillions we should borrow to pay current obligations, saddling our children and their progeny with huge debt, this bridge has been used as a symbol of federal largesse. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a big advocate of federal funding this bridge. Why not grab some of the federal money? It’s not real money is it? It’s thrown around like confetti. I’m glad there’s a movement to stop the unsustainable federal spending party, although it’s not making much headway because we have real and important obligations to pay for. Who gets cut? Even this Bridge to Nowhere is not really a bridge to nowhere, but is there money to fund such efforts that benefit a relative few?

Another view of the Ketchican Airport from my bus window. The Bridge to Nowhere would have been built here.

Almost all federal money comes from taxing the people in the states. The federal government takes a cut in the form of bureaucracy and upkeep (and many would say massive waste and fraud) and then returns some of the money to the states. Much of this federal funding is the so-called pork. Democrat Senator Robert Byrd was known for his ability to bring home the federal bacon to his state of West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states.

Here are a few of the totem poles in Totem Bight State Historical Park, a 33-acre state park north of Ketchikan, Alaska. In 1938, the United States Forest Service used Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Native Alaskans to repair or duplicate totem poles that were abandoned when the natives moved to communities where work was available. The CCC project put the community house and 15 totem poles in place. At statehood in 1959, title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 27, 1970.

From Wikipedia: Byrd was called the “King of Pork” by Citizens Against Government Waste. After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd set a goal securing a total of $1 billion for public works in the state. He passed that mark in 1991, and funds for highways, dams, educational institutions and federal agency offices flowed unabated over the course of his membership. More than 30 existing or pending federal projects bear his name. He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006, when he called himself “Big Daddy” at the dedication for the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center. Examples of this ability to claim funds and projects for his state include the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s repository for computerized fingerprint records as well as several United States Coast Guard computing and office facilities.

Some states don’t get back as much as they send in, and feel cheated. Other states like West Virginia fatten up. We could spill lots of digital ink discussing the fairness of this system. Why should the rest of the country pay for the bridge to Gravina so that a relatively small number of people wouldn’t have to take a ferry but could drive over a bridge that was said would be as long as the Golden Gate Bridge? Another federally funded project in Alaska in the 1930s was restoring and replicating totem poles, which can be seen in Totem Bight Park. In this case, the federal funding saved the totem poles that were sure to be lost with no other funding in sight.

Ketchican, Alaska, is the Salmon Capital of the World.

From Wikipedia: According to USA Today, the bridge was to have been nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge would cross the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska’s Inside Passage, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate ship traffic, including the Alaska Marine Highway and the cruise ships which frequent Alaskan waters during the summer.
Ketchikan’s airport is the second largest in Southeast Alaska, after Juneau International Airport, handles over 200,000 passengers a year, while the ferry shuttled 350,000 people in the same time period (as of December 2006).In comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge carried more than 43,000,000 vehicles in 2006, or about 118,000 vehicles each day.

End of lecture! Now for some more facts about Ketchican:

Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska. In 1949, the city experienced a record rainfall of 202.55 inches.

— Ketchikan’s secondary post office zip code, 99950, is the highest ZIP code ever assigned in the United States.

—  Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.

—  Ketchican is known as the Salmon Capital of the World.

— Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska.

About Ketchican, Alaska.

About the “Bridge to Nowhere”

Bald Eagles Postcard postcard
Bald Eagles in Totem Bight Park near Ketchican, Alaska.


Filed under Birds, Nature, Travel