Alaska State Troopers found the body of Nick Cooke near Tuntaltuliak Friday. They received a report from the tribal police officer from Tuntutuliak that a body had been located on the bank of the Kuskokwim River just south of the Kialik River.
“Troopers were able to respond and collect the remains have been sent to the state medical examiners office for positive identification,” said Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.
“At this point we do believe that the remains belong to a man that was the subject of a search and rescue that began on October 25th of last year.”
The family confirmed the body found was the body of Bethel man, Nick Cooke.
Because of protocol, the remains were sent to the State Medical Examiner’s office for positive identification. No foul play is suspected.
Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka were last heard from on October 22nd. They were headed to Tuntutuliak for a funeral and never made it. Freezing weather halted the search in November. Napoka is still missing.
Cooke is the brother of Bethel Native Corporation President and Alaska Federation of Natives Co-Chair, Ana Hoffman.
The family of Nick Cooke says they are preparing for a burial service in Bethel later this week.
It was almost eleven at night on a Wednesday in the Alaska Dome last week and Willow, Alaska resident Dave Johnston had been running for nearly three days. Some of that time has was spent hunched over the toilet, puking. Multiday ultrarunning is extremely hard on athletes.
“Stomach’s finally starting to feel better… now it’s just time to run,” Johnston says as he makes his way around the track.
Johnston recovered from his rough start. By Friday, Johnston was in second place, trailing the leader by less than 20 miles.
And the competition was stiff — a lot of the most prominent ultrarunners from throughout the world were logging laps at the Alaska Dome last week. Forty-eight hours into the event, Indiana-based runner Traci Falbo set a world record for most distance covered indoors during a 48-hr. run — she ran almost 243 miles before collapsing on the track.
The six-day ultra event is called “Six Days in the Dome.” It’s just like it sounds: runners log as many miles as they can in six days. It sounds crazy. And it kind of is.
“This is what we’ve chosen to do with our vacation time and our extra dollars,” says Ed Ettinghausen. He placed seventh overall.
Ettinghausen was dressed like a jester, and he brought six different jester outfits to the race — one for each day. His wife and daughter were sleeping at one end of the track while he doggedly put one foot in front of the other with a smile on his face, bells bouncing atop his jester hat.
There’s another guy here from Brazil who ran a hundred and forty-two miles on the first day of the race. You can tell people were equally impressed-slash-appalled by the feat. By Wednesday night, he was out of the race, sleeping on a high jump mattress to recover.
One of the race organizers, Zane Holscher of North Carolina, says this motley crew of nearly 50 is actually one of the most elite packs of ultrarunners worldwide.
“To do this on this track, day after day, and when you sleep you get so tight and then come out and have to run again. I can’t tell you the level of people we have here — mental toughness, physical toughness, it’s unbelieveable,” Holscher says.
So how’d they end up in Alaska?
“Turns out, there’s only a couple of facilities like this in all of North America with a 400m track indoors. Most are 200 or 300m.”
The race organizers wanted an indoor, temperature-controlled, element-free track that would allow the runners to simply run.
“And this turned out perfect because everyone in Alaska wants to be outside int he summer instead of summer, and we wanted to be inside. So kind of supply and demand. We were able to work out something great with the Dome, and I can’t say enough abvout how great this facility is,” Holscher adds.
The Dome also doubled as a hotel for the race. At one end of the track runners set up camp. Sweaty clothes were draped over hurdles to dry. Athletes were curled up on high jump mats that double as beds.
And the event even served its own food. Three meals a day.
“Eggs, bacon, PopTarts, oatmeal, PopTarts… looks like they’re having PopTarts at every meal.”
There’s even sushi on the menu plan.
After six sleepless days and nights, the race finished on Sunday morning. Race organizer Joe Fejes of Atlanta, Georgia took first, having logged five-hundred and eighty miles. For the women, Liz Bauer logged 425 miles for the win, and sixth place overall. No runners broke the 600-mile goal the cash prize was contingent on.
Former state representative Bill Stoltze is eyeing a new state senate seat. The District F seat will include the Eastern Anchorage suburbs of Peters Creek and Chugiak, as well as the greater Palmer area and outlying communities to the North. But current Palmer mayor DeLena Johnson has thrown her hat into the ring and now the two Republican candidates will face off in the upcoming August 19 primary.
After months of compromise between the Anchorage Assembly and public employee unions, the city’s voters may still end up deciding on a controversial labor law due to a mayoral veto.
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan struck down the substitute for Anchorage Ordinance 37 on Monday afternoon. AO-37, which the mayor championed, prohibited the municipality’s unions from striking, capped pay raises, and put limits on collective bargaining. The law was panned by labor, and a campaign to repeal it collected 20,000 signatures to get their referendum on the ballot.
The ordinance that was passed last week was an effort to avoid that outcome, and it got rid of some elements of AO-37 that labor found unpopular. But the compromise only passed seven to four, one vote short of being able to override a mayoral veto.
The assembly has the option of rejecting the veto at a special meeting on Tuesday night, if they are able to secure the eighth necessary vote. If they cannot, AO-37 will remain law until the repeal question is put to voters in November. Mayor Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor, is expected to appear on the same ballot.
Alaska’s seafood industry is getting caught in the middle of a power struggle between Russia and western nations.
Ever since Russia seized part of Ukraine this winter, sanctions against it have been stacking up. Now, Russia’s fighting back by banning food imports from the United States and a handful of other countries.
Alaska shipped almost $9 million worth of pollock to Russia last year. Some of it went to fast food chains, including McDonald’s. A significant chunk of it is used for making surimi — better known as fake crab.
At least one shipment of surimi was on its way to Russia when the ban came out on Thursday. Undercurrent News reports that the fish could get diverted to South Korea or another eastern market.
That’s got some American fishing advocates fired up. A former U.S. Congressman has started the “Just Say Nyet” campaign, seeking a corresponding ban on Russian fish coming into the States.
But it’s slow going: As of Friday afternoon, his petition to the federal government had only gathered 18 signatures.
A woman from Arizona who works as a professor doing seasonal research in the Y-K Delta says she witnessed an arrest of a citizen by a Bethel Police Officer and she alleges police brutality. City leaders say they’re investigating.
Federal investigators have concluded two Anchorage commercial pilots failed to maintain minimal clearance while circling the Dillingham airport before they died in a 2013 crash.
A National Transportation Safety Board report out Monday also faults the air traffic controller who issued ambiguous instructions and didn’t notice the plane’s descent to a dangerous altitude.
The Ace Air Cargo plane crashed March, 8, 2013, about 20 miles northeast of Dillingham in southwest Alaska.
Alaska village-based firefighting crews are heading south to fight blazes in the Lower 48. Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Sam Harrel is tracking the deployments, which began over the weekend with crews from the communities of Delta Junction, Kaltag, Fort Yukon, Venetie, Koyukuk and Galena.
Fort Wainwright officials have closed the Yukon Training Area east of Eielson Air Force Base to public use through Aug. 23. Military-training exercises will be ongoing there until the 23rd.
Post officials say in a news release that the quarter-million area training range is off-limits to all. They say people who’ve had regular access through the area to get to private or leased property must use an alternate route.
Training under way in the Yukon Training Area includes joint exercises with Army personnel as part of the latest Red Flag training round that began this week.
Meanwhile, Stryker Brigade soldiers from Wainwright are conducting exercises in the Donnelly Training Area, south of Fort Greely.
The Yukon River Chinook salmon run is nearly complete according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
It’s the first time in roughly eight years that escapement goals lined out in a treaty between Alaska and Canada have been met.
This year, managers up and down the Yukon River set restrictions on both commercial and subsistence harvest of King salmon. They were hoping to see up 55,000 fish to pass into Canada.
Numbers recorded through the first week of August show that more than 60,000 King salmon have passed the sonar counter at Eagle.
“This is not a good year, but with all the efforts by everybody, I think we’re continuing to put fish on the spawning ground and hopefully that holds us over until the production trend changes,” Fred Bue, the Yukon Area In-season Manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said.
It’s unclear why the King salmon population has been in decline for years. Bue says biologists do have a theory for this year’s uptick in returning Chinook.
“One indication is that five year old age class is fairly strong and in 2009, we had a fairly good escapement that year,” he said. “So, we are anticipating the six year olds to be fairly good next year.
“Females tend to be six year old fish, so we’re hoping to get a higher percentage of females in the return next year.”
More females means more fish eggs, which could potentially mean more fish in the future. King salmon are just now arriving at their Canadian spawning grounds. Bue says the Department of Fish and Game is working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans on how best to manage them.
“Roughly half the Chinook salmon spawn in Canada and so a lot of the information we get we need to share with both harvest on both sides of the border and the escapement and what gets into the spawning grounds that’s the biology of the fish that we’re seeing in the returns,” Bue said. “Alaska is only a portion of the story and Canada is the other half so we need to combine our information.”
Canadian managers have also imposed commercial and subsistence harvest restrictions on King salmon. With more than 95 percent of this year’s kind salmon having already passed through Alaska, restrictions in Alaska’s portion of the Upper Yukon have been lifted.
Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska’s interior has kicked off its third series of Red Flag exercises of the year.
The exercises taking place at the 65,000-square-mile Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex began Friday.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that air operations will be conducted until Aug. 22 out of Eielson, as well as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
The exercises will include drills from U.S. and allied pilots, air crews and support personnel.
The entire Yukon Training Area will be closed through Aug. 23 because of the training events. People with regular access through military lands must use an alternate route to leased or private properties.
North Slope Borough’s mayor and at least 10 other leaders are getting big raises.
Alaska Dispatch News reports that Mayor Charlotte Brower will see her salary jump by about $24,000 to more than $222,000. That’s roughly $90,000 more than Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan makes.
Other borough leaders are getting raises of up to 19 percent.
Officials say the raises are long overdue. Brower told Borough Assembly members she sought higher pay for department heads in order to attract key employees who could make more money working for other agencies and corporations in the oil-rich North Slope region.
The North Slope Borough serves seven villages and the city of Barrow, with about 9,700 residents spread across an area the size of Minnesota. The communities can only be reached by plane. The Department of Defense ranks Barrow as one of the costliest places to live in Alaska.
Alaska State Troopers say a pilot is dead and his passenger is being treated for life-threatening injuries after a plane crash at the Big Lake Airport north of Anchorage.
The single-engine Piper Comanche suffered some kind of engine trouble after taking off Sunday just before 2:30 a.m. Investigators say the pilot, 50-year-old Christopher Cyphers, of Anchorage, tried to return to the airport for an emergency landing, but the plane struck a tree.
Cyphers was killed and the passenger was taken to an Anchorage-area hospital.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Atomic Energy Agency made plans to detonate nuclear bombs a few dozen miles from Point Hope. The idea–part of Operation Ploughshares–was to make an Arctic deep draft port by harnessing war-time technology for civil engineering projects with strategic value. Strong opposition from Point Hope halted those plans, but not before secretive experiments were conducted.
The staging ground for a final clean up of the Project Chariot Site, 23 miles from Point Hope. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.
This summer, state and federal agencies are cleaning out what they hope are the last remnants from Project Chariot’s legacy, even as residents of Point Hope say they still feel left out of the conversation about what happens on their land.
On Wednesday, The U.S. Department of Energy brought a small group of reporters to see the bare-bones camp where remediation work began in July. At the Cape Thompson site, a few tents are clustered behind rows of Connex trailers, backhoes and four-wheelers buzzed about, and the workers piling bags of dirt for removal all carry either 12-gauge shotguns or holstered .44′s as bear protection. Some have both. The operation is costing around $3,000,000, and the whole point is removing soil that was tainted with diesel when a series of test-wells were dug in the early-60s.
“It’s important for us as an organization, and it’s important for me personally,” said Mark Kautsky in the back of an all-terrain vehicle bouncing from one site station to another. Kautsky has overseen the Chariot site for DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, and worked on its clean-up since 2009. “I want to make sure that the community understands that we take this seriously, and that we want to do everything we can to right the wrongs that have been done over the years.”
Remediation work includes cutting and capping pipes extending as far as 1,200 feet underground that were used to gather environmental data. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.
Kautsky sees DOE’s work not just as the environmental task of shipping out fuel-tinged soil, but also rebuilding the trust-relationship with the community of point Hope.
“The wrongs that we’re talking about [are a] lack of adequate communication, a bully approach to doing the projects without consultation, without informing the citizens of what’s going on over here,” Kautsky continued. “And what we’re trying to do is just heal that wound, and do what we can to improve the relationship.”
Though atomic bombs never went off, for decades the government was highly secretive about what did happen at Cape Thompson. And even what is known can seem troubling.
“They were called scaling tests, done with high explosives,” Kautsky explained, responding to a query on lingering suspicions detonations took place. “That question about whether nuclear devices were ever brought to the site or not is one we’ve looked into very closely. And there was never the kind of equipment that would have been necessary to actually drill a hole that was the size that was required to put a nuclear device into. So no, these weren’t nuclear materials that was shipped up here–conventional high explosives.”
John Halverson monitors contaminated sites for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which also looked into Chariot’s records. From Halverson’s perspective, the department’s standards for cleaning up all the known contaminants will be met this summer.
“For the clean-up work this should be the end of anything that’s planned,” Halverson said as the group approached the site of the Charlie test well. “There will still be some documentation as far as where the bore-holes are planned. But there’s been a lot of record reviews, and a lot of work done to try and identify all the potential problems. And from information that’s available we think that this’ll be the end of the clean-up work.”
Agencies visited Point Hope in March to discuss plans for the season’s work at Chariot, and they are heading back in a few weeks, once the project’s done.
But leaders in Point Hope say this is just more of the same.
“We don’t want to hear it by word of mouth. We want to see,” said Steve Oomittuk, sitting at home in Point Hope, the second-floor room filled with family pictures, art work, and DVDs. “I don’t know of anyone from our community working over there to watch, just to make sure this is happening.”
Last year, Oomittuk retired from a decade as mayor of Point Hope, and does not believe the government has earned back enough trust to be believed at face value. He and others note that when it comes to Chariot, Point Hope has repeatedly been consulted either late or after work already took place, only to find out more for themselves later on.
Jack Schaefer is the Tribal president and current mayor in Point Hope, and since the early-90s has poured over records and classified documents trying to figure out for certain what happened at Chariot.
“There’s still eight boxes that need to be declassified,” Schaefer said in his office within the domed Qalagi building.
For Schaefer, the paper-battles over declassification are not just quibbles about the historical record. He wants to know if materials brought to the site can explain the elevated levels of stomach and throat cancer that killed many in Point Hope in the years after the Chariot experiments.
“I was hoping that you would talk to some of those that were still alive, that had witnessed some of the stuff—I don’t know if you’ve been able to do that?” Schaffer asked, slightly slowing the frenetic clip of his speech. “We lost a lot of people, and so we don’t have very many witnesses in regard to that.”
Oomittuk has spent most his life whaling, and said that if the community is unsure–or can’t trust–what the government did, then there is insecurity over whether subsistence foods are safe to eat.
“We always believe that the animals gave themselves to us. That made us who we are as a people. Our identity. Our food source. Our clothing. Our shelter,” Oomittuk explained. “That Cape Thompson area is very vital to us.”
Schaffer was not certain when exactly DOE is expected to arrive in Point Hope for their final update. But he said certain steps still have to be met for any of their claims to be credible.
“I do hope that a trust-relationship is mended, and that there is more transparency, and that we do get the complete set of declassifications, and deal with it on a government-to-government basis,” he explained.
There will probably always be disagreements over what exactly the coded and complicated troves of documents related to Project Chariot actually show. But for leaders in Point Hope to still not trust or be up to speed on what is going on now means Chariot’s legacy isn’t over yet.
Demolition of the north wall of the west wing of the Capitol will proceed this fall, instead of in 2015. The updated contract won’t change the overall scope of the renovations in Juneau.
This summer’s work was focused on the west wall of the Capitol along Main Street. That’s where scaffolding’s been up all summer. The work has been as much about discovering the integrity of the 84-year-old building’s structure, as it is about making it earthquake resistant.
Wayne Jensen is the project architect. He told the Legislative Council, which manages the legislature’s budget and support staff, that the contractors are on schedule and the work has gone well this summer.
“The concrete frame that was exposed is in good shape,” Jensen said. “We found there’s some discrepancy in the plumbness of the building, that the concrete was out of plumb a little bit.”
In other words, the walls weren’t quite vertical.
“And we’re able to deal with that. So all in all, things have gone well.”
Jensen told legislators that doing extra work this season will save time and could save the state money.
It also resolves the contractors’ concern about a possible conflict next year. Demolishing the north wall of the west wing while masonry work is underway on the new and improved west wall would be bad.
Jon Pulver is Dawson Construction’s project engineer.
“And the problem is, if you’re doing that, and you have masons that make it up, essentially, if they catch us as we’re going around and demoing, then we’ll have to hold them off because you can’t have that vibration going through and having the brick and the fresh mortar with vibration,” Pulver said.
The mortar could set improperly, according to Dawson.
The overall Capitol renovation is expected to be complete in 2016. The contractors are working their way around the Capitol clockwise, rebuilding exterior walls. Work will continue to be scheduled around the winter legislative sessions.
In addition to the earthquake improvements, the project will also expand the building into the courtyard and replace the heating system.
Contractors completed the first phase in 2013. It focused on the main entrance of the Capitol, making the marble steps, marble columns and the portico the columns supported structurally sound. They had all become very vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake.
Project Chariot: A Nuclear Legacy in Point Hope
Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome
During the Cold War, the U.S. Atomic Energy Agency made plans to detonate nuclear bombs a few dozen miles from Point Hope. The idea was to make an Arctic deep draft port by harnessing war-time technology for civil engineering projects with strategic value. Strong opposition from Point Hope halted those plans, but not before secretive experiments were conducted. This summer, state and federal agencies are cleaning out what they hope are the last remnants from Project Chariot’s legacy. Residents of Point Hope say they still feel left out of the conversation about what happens on their land.
With Capitol Renovations on Schedule, Contractors Get More Work
Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau
The Alaska Legislative Council approved an additional $650,000 to its $5.8 million Capitol building renovation contract Thursday. Demolition of the north wall of the west wing of the Capitol will proceed this fall, instead of in 2015. The updated contract won’t change the overall scope of the renovations in Juneau.
Early Tests Show B.C. Tailings Spillwater Is ‘Safe’
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
British Columbia’s Environment Ministry says water that poured out of a massive mine-tailings pond earlier this week appears to be safe. But local emergency officials continue to warn area residents against drinking, bathing or swimming in affected water.
Westward Plant Workers Face Air Pollution Charges
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed charges against two people as part of an ongoing investigation into air pollution at the Westward Seafoods plant in Unalaska. Two former Westward employees are accused of sidestepping pollution controls — and violating the Clean Air Act.
New Geotags May Shed Light on Auklet Migrations
Annie Ropiek, KUCB – Unalaska
Every summer, thousands of tiny auklets flock to the Aleutian Islands to nest. But scientists don’t know where the seabirds go in the winter. That’s about to change, thanks to a group of researchers who’ve just returned from Buldir Island, east of Attu, and Gareloi, near Adak. They’ve been camped on the uninhabited islands since late May, outfitting crested and parakeet auklets with tracking tags for the first time.
Fairbanks Fimmaker Rolls Out Plans For Yup’ik Themed Movie
Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel
A Fairbanks resident has a movie in the works featuring Alaska Native characters. She’s looking to cast Yup’ik, or Alaska Native people.
Farming Off the Grid
Elizabeth Jenkins, APRN correspondent – Anchorage
It’s peak season for farmer’s markets across the country right now. Food is typically grown in a rural setting. But one Southeast Alaskan couple is taking that to the extreme. They live in a completely off-the-grid location in a place without cell phone coverage or roads. And they have to be inventive to get the produce to market.
300 Villages: Port Lions
APRN – Anchorage
This week we’re heading to Port Lions, on the northern tip of Kodiak Island. Kathryn Adkins is a lodge owner and city clerk in Port Lions.
British Columbia’s Environment Ministrysays water that poured out of a massive mine-tailings pond Aug. 4 appears to be safe.
But local emergency officials continue towarn area residents against drinking, bathing or swimming in affected water.
Some tribal and environmental groups on both sides of the border doubt the test results. They say polluted water could damage salmon runs on the Fraser River, which enters the ocean at Vancouver.
Some of those fish swim north to Alaska. And a smaller Fraser River run could change Pacific Salmon Treaty allocations, reducing Alaska’s catch.
The dam break took place at the Mount Polley Mine, about 400 miles southeast of Ketchikan. Officials say the escaped wastewater and silt could fill almost 6,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. That’s almost three times an earlier estimate.
The central British Columbia open-pit copper and gold mine is owned by Vancouver-basedImperial Metals. The corporation plans to open the similar Red Chris Mine this year near the Stikine River, which ends near Wrangell.
The Environment Ministry says early tests showed levels of dissolved metals and acid are within government standards. It says the levels are also within limits that protect fish and other aquatic life.
But ministry officials say further tests are needed. It also says the tests could not measure all dissolved metals.
Critics say the province’s water-quality standards are too weak. They also say metal concentrations that don’t kill salmon can still disrupt their senses, making it difficult to find their spawning grounds.
The area affected by the dam break is home to a large sockeye fishery. The run is just starting and will peak in several weeks.
The Westward Seafoods plant is tucked away on Captains Bay Road. But the factory — and two of its former employees — are drawing heat from federal regulators for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.
Westward makes its own electricity on-site using three generators. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis says the company has air permits that lay out what pollutants it can emit — and under what conditions.
“It was required to have pollution prevention equipment to reduce the nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse,” Feldis says.
Nitrogen dioxide is a rusty-looking gas that can cause respiratory problems in humans. It also contributes to the formation of smog.
Feldis says the system designed to cut down on nitrogen dioxide emissions at the Westward plant was rarely used during a two-year period — from 2009 to 2011. The plant kept sending required reports to state and federal agencies during that time, but Feldis says the data was inaccurate.
Now, the former powerhouse supervisor is being charged with falsifying those emissions reports. Raul Morales faces up to two years in jail, on top of fines.
The former powerhouse operator is also facing federal charges. Bryan Beigh was on the job in July 2011, when he allegedly tampered with the meters on a water injection system. That’s a key component of the pollution control equipment.
“It’s alleged that he in fact used a magnet and a drill to physically change the readings on these flow meters,” Feldis says.
Feldis says the two former employees are planning to plead guilty in federal court. But the investigation isn’t complete.
According to Westward Seafoods vice president Mark Johahnson, at least one other worker was involved in the alleged violations.
“This was the actions of three individuals,” Johahnson says. “I don’t think it should color the other thousand or so that work up there for us. We have company values and policies to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t detect it before we did.”
Johahnson says the company fired the employees who were allegedly responsible. And they also reported the violations to regulators as soon as they came to light in September 2011.
But that wasn’t the first time that the Westward plant landed in hot water over pollution.
About a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency accused Westward of burning fuel with excess sulfur. Westward didn’t cooperate with investigators in that instance — allegedly violating disclosure laws in the process. The company eventually paid $570,000 to settle the case.
Johahnson says Westward is trying to make improvements.
“We have redoubled our compliance efforts to ensure that it won’t happen again,” Johahnson says. “But outside of that, I can’t really say anything due to the ongoing investigation.”
Meanwhile, Westward’s sister company may be getting out of the power generation business in Unalaska.
Alyeska Seafoods — which is also owned by Maruha Nichiro of Japan — recently agreed to tie in to the municipal electric grid in Unalaska. The factory could be buying its power from the city of Unalaska by next summer.
Every summer, thousands of tiny auklets flock to the Aleutian Islands to nest. But scientists don’t know where the seabirds go in the winter.
That’s about to change, thanks to a group of researchers who’ve just returned from Buldir Island, east of Attu, and Gareloi, near Adak. They’ve been camped on the uninhabited islands since late May, outfitting crested and parakeet auklets with tracking tags for the first time.
Steve Delehanty is the director of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
“Technology has just come into existence within the last couple of years, that little tiny tags on the birds — geolocators — are light enough now, and small enough, to safely put on these rather small birds,” he says.
Delehanty boarded the refuge ship Tiglax in Unalaska a little over a week ago and went to pick up the auklet researchers, about 700 miles down the chain in the Western Aleutians.
He says the new geotags will record where the auklets go over the next year. Then, the researchers will go back and check on them.
“The birds are very faithful not only to the island where they nest, but even to the same rock crevasse,” he says. So the researchers “will go and capture these same birds next year.”
This was also part of an annual trip for Delehanty — he takes the Tiglax every year to visit different parts of his uniquely far-flung refuge. And he says the Aleutians never disappoint.
“You’re looking out and you’re seeing tens of thousands of auklets — swarming around the colony and on the water and in the air, big ribbons, strings of thousands of auklets and puffins and murres and kittiwakes and so many other species,” he says. “It’s just a really special thing to be able to see that.”
And it happens, he says, because the Aleutians are a rich ecosystem without many native predators. Buldir is one of the only islands in the chain where rats and foxes were never introduced — which is why the auklets come back, year after year.