Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Species of Interest in Alaska

Since being back in the lower 48 I've realized one of the most amazing things about my trip to Alaska was the interesting, unique, and even adorable animals I learned and encountered out there. I decided a while ago to share a few favorite species on the blog and I've been collecting amusing stories and facts since then. It's been a fun little project that culminated in a several hour search for the cutest sea otter photo the internet has to offer!

I did get to see these animals in person, but I'm not a national geographic photographer, so I decided to just borrow some photos in an attempt to share with you what things actually look like.

Yep, pretty much the cutest thing in Alaska.

Sea Otters: One of the coolest things about staring out the windows in Alaska is that eventually a sea otter will swim past you! As one of the first protected animals on the endangered species act, sea otters aren’t too common in most areas, and currently listed as threatened because of population declines on the Aleutians. They’re fairly large (average 5ft long! Thats as tall as me!) , agile and amusing individuals who can commonly be found fighting off seagulls for their lunch, swimming lazily through the bay, and even napping in the kelp! Sea otters can eat just about any sea creature they find but each otter usually has a favorite food, and refuses to eat pretty much anything else. They look just as adorable as you’d expect.

Dawwww, so cute. Not entirely sure its a SEA otter, this guy may be a river otter, but no one cares at this point.

Baby steller sea lions aren't too scary.

Steller Sea Lions: These are no ordinary California sea lions; steller sea lions are HUGE (up to 2,500lbs and over  10ft, as opposed to CA sea lions at a max 1,000lbs) and FEARLESS! Also, they’re always hungry. Sometimes people attempt to feed them by dangling fish over the side of the boat, which is pretty stupid in my opinion, let alone illegal. That sea lion would just as soon take your arm off along with the fish if it gave him a free meal. I’ve heard stories of sea lions jumping out of the water, landing in the trawl alley of a boat, among the deck hands, and ambling its way towards its fish of choice. You might think, “Oh, no worries! He’s going to be slow on deck, you know, not having legs to walk with and all!” WRONG, if you see one on the deck, that’s your queue to get off of the deck.   

Adult steller sea lions, a lot more terrifying.

Not actually a rockfish, still hilarious.

Rockfish: Maybe it’s just because I’m a marine biologist but I think rockfish are pretty cool. There’s probably over a hundred different species found all over the world, and they all go great in fish tacos! Usually in the grocery store they go by the term “snapper” or sometimes “grouper”. Fun fact: Some species of rockfish, like yelloweye, can live for over 130 years! (And it can take over 25 years for them to reach maturity)

Quilback Rockfish, this is what actual rockfish look like.

Sea Stars: Boats sometimes catch invertebrates in their trawls, and I think my favorite one of the bunch is the Basket Sea Star. This guy is related to your classic orange sea star found in tidepools and aquariums alike, but instead of having five set arms, this species 5 main arms branch into a web of tentacles, giving off a pretty alien appearance. Only recently discovered, not much is known about its habits, life cycle or population …  But the basket sea star is cool looking.

Favorite non-edible invertebrate, basket sea star!

Wolf Eel: One of the most terrifying fish that can come up in a trawl in the Aleutian Islands is a wolf eel. They can be eight feet long, have large sharp front teeth and most the time samplers see them they’re still very much alive! Apparently wolf eels are generally friendly to divers; so somewhere between trapping them in a fishing net, and torturing them on deck, they get pissy.

Yeah, wolf eels look majestic here, wait until they're trying to bite your fingers off while you're sampling. 

Orcas at dawn, doesn't get more cliche than this.

Orcas : If there’s anything more frightening than facing off with a wolf eel, its definitely facing off with an orca in the water beside you. Orcas are known to follow fishing boats, stealing fish from long lines, peering out of curiosity into the trawl alley and generally playing around, intimidating people, sea lions and fish alike. Don’t get me wrong, I love orcas, it’s the highlight of my day when we see them in the bay. They’re beautiful, photogenic and probably smarter than a good portion of humans. All I’m saying is, I think I’d pick swimming in shark infested waters before I dove into the water with an orca.

Every time I see orcas in Alaska, its obvious by the tall black dorsal fins, they couldn't be any other animal!

But damn are they photogenic!

Information from the book ‘Marine Mammals of Alaska’ by Kate Wynne and ‘Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast’ by Milton Love

Note: None of these photos are mine, but its what the animals actually look like, my camera just isn't up to par. 

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