I'm working as a Fish Culturist at Hidden Falls Salmon Hatchery in a remote spot near Sitka, Alaska! AM I CRAZY!? I'm starting to think so...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A WHALE of a time...

Hey everyone!

I guess it seems like it’s been a while, but every weekend has been busy. One weekend I spent working on a special project. Last weekend I worked some more on it, and then finally got my flower seeds planted. One planter has tiny little sprouts coming up already and apparently ONE sprout in one of the other boxes. Anyhow, this weekend was more low key and I have some good stories to report so buckle up!

The weather has been off and on this week. We had a few nice days and a few rainy days. Tuesday, before we came back to the hatchery, the weather was nice, but then the wind picked up sort of suddenly. A little before we had to do our 3rd, and last, feeding of the day, the wind started blowing from the back of Takatz about 30-40mph! We started our feeding but part way through, we had to stop because of the waves and the wind. Then the nets started doing some really weird things! The sides of the nets are 14 feet long and they were starting to blow up and out of the water. When the pens go from being 40 by 40 feet to 5 by 10 feet, you get a little worried by the well-being of the fish! Adam was freaking out and we were scrambling around trying to move net weights around. Adam even threw the Dungy crab pot into one net to hold it down, because that crab pot is pretty heavy. Eventually it calmed down, we finished our feeding, and headed back to the hatchery.

Sunday was a gloomy day, but wasn’t really raining much. Adam and I were sitting inside reading and making some pasta salad. I thought I heard a sound outside so I looked out the window and WHOA! Coming around the island straight at us was a boat with about 10 people in it. “INCOMING!” Through the binoculars, I noticed it was the lady that we saw a few weeks ago. I don’t remember if I mentioned the tour group we had a few weeks ago, on this 20-person cruise ship. We showed those people around and explained what we do. They seemed to be interested in what we were doing and Amy, the cruise lady, asked if she could bring people back when they come through again. Well, they were back.

So the boat came up, and our welcoming committee, Tucker, welcomed them with waging tail! Of course, Amy and everyone loves the dog! Then another one of these boats came around the island carrying the same amount of people. A few minutes later, the BIG vessel they all came from came by the island and drove to the back of Takatz… a heck of a boat, the Safari Explorer! Anyhow, they all offloaded and we explained ourselves. I’m not exactly sure how many people it was but probably about 30 people. They all happened to be standing on the same walkway of the pens, which was almost sinking the side! We lowered our nets to the deck a few weeks ago, so the net was almost at the water’s edge. While everyone was standing around, talking, we heard a scream. This lady was bending down next to the house (but standing on the pens) and the dog was dangling into the water, with his arms on the pens. Darn dog… fell in the water again! I’m sure the same way… probably got excited and walked backwards off the pens. But the lady rescued him and he was a little embarrassed but fine! After a while, one boat decided to head back to the main boat. Right before she headed out, Amy said if we had time, we could stop by the boat and check it out. Then they turned around and said we could come to lunch on the boat at 1. SURE! Then the other boat headed back too. As they were boarding, another crew lady said we could bring the dog too.

Safari Explorer... Those boats being towed on the back are the boats that they came to the pens on.

Well we fed and then headed to the boat. We decided to leave the dog because I figured if everyone was going to be eating lunch, I didn’t want the dog to be running around all over. So we get back there and people are still kayaking around. We were greeted kindly by the captain and more of the crew. Everyone was like “where’s the dog!?” Amy started to give us a tour, and we headed into the boat. All the crew inside were surprised we didn’t bring the dog… so we decided to head back and get him! Everyone was much happier when we arrived a second time… with the dog. Amy gave us the rest of the tour then asked if they could keep him outside while we ate and we said sure, and were led into the dining room for lunch. We sat down with a table of guests and ate a great lunch of salad, tortellini and garlic bread. They even had dessert. When everyone was basically done eating, the dog came running in and greeted everyone. Running under tables, not really stopping to be petted. Then he disappeared again with some staff. After a while, we were done and he reappeared. I took a few pictures of the boat and we headed outside. Tucker sucked up the last bit of attention from anyone he could while we talked to the crew. Amy showed us a few pictures they took up on the bridge, where the captain drives the boat. There was a picture of him nose to nose with a black stuffed dog… a picture of him in the captain’s chair. She’s supposed to be sending me those pictures. Then we headed back to our big green house on the water. It was a fun afternoon and all the crew and guests were very nice! The boat was amazing. We looked it up online and found the price of this cruise. These people were taking a 2 week cruise from Seattle to Juneau. For the lowest room, the price (per person) was $7,395! Can you believe that!? Mom, so much for visiting Alaska THAT way!

The dining room...

The lounge, the bar and the "wine library" back in the corner

Well, that’s about all for interesting Takatz stuff. Back at the hatchery, there are WHALES of things going on… WHALES! Last Friday, Ben Gilles released some of his Coho to saltwater (either direct release or early entry fish). Unsurprisingly, the whales showed up right on cue. They have been feeding at the dock and pens ever since. There isn’t a whole lot you can really do… you can’t shoot at the whales to get them to leave… and the Coho are sort of dumb and love to stick around the shoreline. So the whales are eatin’ good and we are sitting around watching. If you get past the fact that they are feasting on our careers, it’s a pretty amazing site!

Tuesday night, Adam was fishing on the dock and came to tell me about the whales feeding at the pens. So we headed out onto the Coho pens (which are right off the Chinook pens, by the dock). When the whales feed, they blow bubbles in a wide circle to scare the fish and the grab them in the middle. Well, this whale was blowing his bubbles UNDER the coho net pens (with nets of fish in them) and then gobbling fish right on the edge of the pens. Of course, I went to the whale and was standing about 4 feet away from where he came up every single time. He did the same thing over and over in the same spot so I barely had to move. I have some videos of this so make sure I show you when I come home! It’s better than the pictures! It was pretty amazing though. That’s something people pay tons of money to see, and here I am, standing right above this whale as he does it over and over. It’s pretty unbelievable! Finally Adam made me leave, but the whale kept on going. As we made our way to the dock, we watched the whale feed from the boat, right up close. By then another whale had made its way right up near the first whale.

GOLP!! On the very bottom middle, you can see some fish trying to escape!

Right after the whale closed his mouth. The part on the right with the lines in the bottom of the mouth... the flat part is the top.

Going down for another round of fish!

This was taken from the boat... this is the mouth of the whale again.

The next day, of course, they were back again. This time, they seemed to be working together. We had an early plane carrying Tommy (from town) and another guy, who are here for fish tagging. As the plane was going to leave, it had to circle around again because those two whales were right in the middle of the bay. So the plane had to take off in a different direction. Later on, we were watching the two whales feed right at the dock. They were definitely working together to make bubble circles and would both come up to grab their meal in the middle of the circle. It’s amazing how agile these big 40 foot whales are! They can turn a corner pretty easily and work around each other without crashing. One time, the whale went right under the dock and came up about 5 feet away. They had set up a ladder on the dock to spot King salmon, and Ben was on it earlier on when a whale came up. He and Adam got sprayed with the whale’s mist from it’s blowhole and I guess it was less than pleasant smelling!

Anyhow, I could go on and on about these whales and the crazy things they are doing at the dock and the pens, but until you see it, it’s hard to imagine. Although they are eating our career, it is pretty amazing! Tommy was pretty shocked about it. He was teaching me how to take the otoliths out of the fish head yesterday and kept getting distracted. For spawning, I am going to be the sampler this year. So I have to learn to take out otoliths, which are the ear bones of the fish, and take scale samples. The otoliths have rings on them, like rings in a tree trunk, to tell you how old they are. They also have a special marking on the otolith when they come from us. Early on in the life cycle, we can adjust the water temperatures, which will lay down different markings on this otolith. Colder temps slow down the growth and leave a more dense area, which shows up darker. Warmer temps speed up the growth, leaving a less dense area and making a lighter area. (I think that was right!?) Anyhow, we adjust the water temps to lay down a certain pattern so they know “this is a Takatz fish” or “this is a Hidden Falls chum.” It’s pretty interesting actually!

Well I think that’s about all I have! I’m not sure if I’ll be back “next weekend,” Tuesday night –Thursday. It’s getting close to release date, though we aren’t sure when yet. Soon I’ll be back here for good. Also I booked my flight home… I leave on the 9th of July, but actually get home on the 10th and leave on the 28th. I think that’s all for now. I leave you with some dog pictures!

We were heading to the beach for some fun!

Tucker is now about 47 lbs. He weights more than a bag of food now. He's heavy but I can still scoop him up!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Day I Sat Down With A Grizzly

WANTED – A visitor. Free room and board. Room with a view. All you can eat salmon. All you can see scenery, bears, fish, eagles, and other wildlife. Can work around your schedule. Contact ME.

Oh you guys though I was joking around with that classified ad stuff... no. I was serious about this one! I really do want and need a visitor.

I have a few things on the agenda for today's meeting.

- Sun
- Fish
- Tucker
- Hummingbirds
- Grizzlies
- Vacation

- Mothers

We've had alot of sun in the past few weeks! It's been great, except we are now running out of water! That's the problem with living on collected rain water. We had this happen last year too and that two weeks of sun was basically our summer! We are hoping we aren't using up our summer right now.

With sun, comes warmer water! The fish love the sun. And they are growing like mad this week. I'm not even sure if I've talked about this year's fish at all. We are doing a food trial this year. So half of our fish are getting fed the same food as past years, Bio-Oregon, which I feed, and the other half, EWOS food. Well the EWOS fish have been lagging behind and had some bad growth weeks, where as my fish are cruising on schedule! This week though, they ALL grew like crazy, which is CRAZY. Adam was worried that our scale was off when we weighed them, they grew so well, but it wasn't. They just had a really great week. Now it seems the fish are AHEAD of schedule and growing too well. That might sound weird I guess, "Don't you want the fish as big as possible?" Well they like to release the fish at around 2 grams. Yes larger fish would do better in the open ocean. However, when they start getting really big, they start competing for oxygen in the net pens and just running out of space. Think of 4 little kids living in one room... that's ok when they are little, but eventually they are going to start fighting for some more space when they grow older and bigger. Anyhow, it's hard to complain about your fish growing really good I guess!

Speaking of things growing like crazy, we all swear that Tucker is huge now! He weighed 40.5 lbs two days ago, which is a 4 lb increase this week. I can't pick him up as easily anymore, which is sad. He's listening a little better now, but Adam worried today that when he sees his first bear, he's going to think it's another dog and run up to him. Who knows... He's lost 5 little front teeth so far and one more is close to coming out. The last tooth that fell out and the one almost out already have (had) a tooth coming in behind it before it's even out! It looks weird. Not pushing through right under it, but literally behind it so he's got two teeth right there. He's been a little off this week... we are sure if he felt a little sick or if it's the teething. We wondered if his stomach was upset from eat a few little dead fish but we aren't sure. He has been eating but not the same way he always has. Earlier in the week, he wouldn't eat out of his bowl but would eat little piles of food off the ground. Now he's eating all of it but he picks at it a bit. He used to just chomp it all down without breathing! Dad have you experienced that with your former 4 month old teething puppies? That's what we are hoping it is.

"HI GUYS!" Eventually he's going to get big enough to jump up on the bed.

His favorite pasttime. This was from last weekend but I don't think he tried climbing UNDER the bed this week. Perhaps he's realized he's now too big. He still does love that carpet in our room though.

Hummingbirds.... they... are... CRAZY! This year, we must have 8 or more hummingbirds fighting for our feeder. It's like a beehive because they are always buzzing around, swarming it, chasing each other off. When you stand out there, it's almost a little scary! They are mostly boys, but we have see a few females. (Boys are red, girls are green.) They will drink through a cup of "crazy juice" in a day or two. We ran out of sugar this week so we had to make it with brown sugar. It worked and they drank it but it looked like we put beer in their feeder!

4 birds around the feeder. I do have a picture where two birds are trying to drink out of the same flower too. It's funny.

This goofy guy... we aren't sure if something happened to the top of his head or if that's just how he looks. He's missing a few feathers or something. See how the neck feathers look all rainbow-like. Well that's just how they shine in the light... it looks like they change colors but it all depends on the way they are turned or how the light hits those. It's really cool.

Now onto the best part... the grizzlies! At Takatz, we usually see a few bear hunting boats come into the bay and head to the back. Well a day this week, we were sitting on the deck and we see a bear boat that was heading in but stopped across from our site (in the middle of the bay). So we look over to shore and sure enough, there is a bear. This is the shore FAR across, not the really close shore, so we had to look through binoculars. This is the first bear I've even see in TK and the second Adam has seen so we were surprised. So the boat is checking this bear out, and Adam though it was probably a pretty decent sized bear by looking at it. The bear is strolling down the rocky beach, not seeing the boat, then it goes into the woods because the beach was real steep. We figured it would come out on the other side. Unfortunately, that little island right next to site blocked our view for a while but we did see it had come out on the other side, if you went to the end of the pens. The boat followed him for a while, about 30 minutes or so. We had to feed but we were checking it out with the binoculars every once in a while. Then, as we were close to being done feeding, we hear a gun shot. It scared the crap out of me. Adam grabbed the binoculars. The guy shot a few more times, and missed a few of those but Adam saw the bear go down and fall into the water. Right before then, we heard the bear make a growling, growning sound.

Well we finished up and hightailed it over there! I really wanted to see it and Adam figured they could probably use some help. They were pulling the bear with a rope to shore through the water as we got over there. Then Adam helped the guide and shooter roll it up on shore and onto this rock so they could get pictures. I was pretty interested in getting a close-up look at one of these things so I was pretty excited... and of course I got pictures! :-)

Valerie, you did say once you wanted me to take a picture with a bear! Steven said he looked like he was passed out after a long night of drinking. No, he was posed.

He had a bit of a beat-up nose.

This is the shooter with his bear. The guide thought he was about a 900 lb. bear. He was pretty beefy for being a spring bear. He would have added a few hundred pounds of fat on him and been a scary beast!

They were talking about how good the teeth looked, not ground down at all, so he's probably a younger guy.

Those are some big paws! And this legs just felt huge... SOLID.

Feet paws.

They pulled the bear up on shore right in front of one of the landslides. Right now it's just full of snow...

So vacation. I am going to plan for July 9th-27th. I was worried that it would be too close to spawning time and the boss wouldn't let me go, but he said it would be ok. Since I'm "permanent" now, I have to put in a "leave request" and get it approved by the boss and the bigger boss, but Adam said it will. I won't buy my ticket until it's approved but that should be the days, which means I'll really be home the 10th I guess since mostly it's a red-eye flight I catch home. Just letting you know the vague details.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST... Happy Mother's Day this weekend! I know there are alot of Mothers AND Mothers-to-be that read this. Even if you aren't MY MOTHER, you are my step mother, grandmothers, mother's of my cousins, and mother's of my future niece and I appreciate you for all that you do! You all are truly special ladies who are fantastic! I love you all!