Monthly Archives: October 2011

Copper the culprit? Amphibian deformation studies continue on the Kenai

Photos courtesy of Meg Perdue, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Studies continue on frogs with limb deformities found on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Observed abnormalities include ectromelia — part of limb missing; amelia — an entire limb missing; and
micromelia — a shrunken limb.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

What’s worse than being a frog — a major link in the food chain and a creature that’s acutely susceptible to deformations from exposure to contaminants or other changes in their environment?

Try being a biologist attempting to tease out definitive conclusions from studying them.

“It’s really hard to nail these things down. That’s what makes science challenging,” said Meg Perdue, a biologist specializing in environmental contaminants for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She’s one of the researchers involved in continuing studies of amphibians on national refuges in Alaska, including the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The latest iteration of that monitoring project is a study focused specifically on the Kenai in an attempt to discern why, out of the five refuges monitored in the state, the Kenai is showing a higher incidence of frog deformations than any other.

“Out of the monitoring work, when we saw higher rates in Kenai, we focused a study trying to come up with correlations with the malformations,” Perdue said.

This program of amphibian monitoring is a nationwide effort dating back to the mid-1990s when a high number of amphibian deformations — specifically, frogs with extra limbs — was noticed on a refuge in Minnesota.

Frogs are considered a bellwether species, a sort of canary-in-the-coal-mine indicator of changes in an environment, because amphibians are very susceptible to contaminants and other changes in their ecology.

“They tend to bridge multiple environments and their developmental process is out in the environment, unlike mammals and birds that are more protected. Bird eggs at least have a hard shell, and mammals, their embryos are internalized, but frog eggs are just out there in the media and therefore have lot of exposure because of how permeable amphibians are in terms of that interface with the environment,” Perdue said. Continue reading

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Blaze left to burn — Small wildfire sparked in popular hunting area

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. A small wildlife burns in Chickaloon Bay near Point Possession on Saturday.

Redoubt Reporter

You know it’s been a quiet wildfire year on the Kenai Peninsula when the season’s biggest blaze comes in late October, doesn’t warrant firefighting effort and might even have gone unnoticed were it not smack underneath the main flight path between Anchorage and Kenai.

Howie Kent, fire management officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry for the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island, said that a small wildfire was reported Oct. 13 in Chickaloon Bay on the shore of Turnagain Arm, about 20 miles west of Hope and a few miles southeast of Point Possession. It’s been reported as being about 1,000 feet long by a few thousand feet wide.

“We’re monitoring it. A lot of aircraft fly over there and we have received a lot of calls on it, and we sure appreciate those calls. We get information on it and can check reports against each other,” Kent said.

The fire is on Kenai Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge land classified as limited response. Kent said the refuge and his office are in agreement to keep an eye on the fire but to let it burn unless it spreads closer to habitation.

“It’s not a threat to people or structures or all that, so we’re going to allow it to burn and maybe create a little moose habitat and such. They (refuge managers) are definitely aware of it, but because it’s so late in the season and we’ve received some rain here, we’re going to allow that fire to do what it would naturally do,” Kent said. Continue reading

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Rare whale washes up in Tutka Bay — Stejneger’s beaked whale unusual in inlet

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Homer Tribune. A worker hauls to shore the body of what is thought to be a Stejneger’s beaked whale in Tutka Bay last week.

Homer Tribune

A whale found floating dead in Tutka Bay last week may be a rare Stejneger’s beaked whale.

If so, professor Debbie Boege-Tobin and her students enrolled in the Semester By the Bay Program at the Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus are bestowed with an unusual opportunity.

Boege-Tobin and three students in the program observed the necropsy of the whale Saturday. They gained an up-close and personal look at the 13-foot adult female. The cause of death is unknown.

Dave Seaman, a local boatwright, was in Tutka Bay on Friday when he spotted the whale near the shore.

“It was leaning against the rocks. I grabbed a hold of the tail and wrapped a rope around it then towed it to a dock where I tied it up,” Seaman said. “It didn’t smell too bad, and it was all in one piece. It had a few skin abrasions from rolling on the rocks, and a strange look, like a porpoise’s face pinched into a beak.”

Seaman alerted Angela Doroff of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, who in turn contacted Boege-Tobin.

“Not much is known about the Stejneger’s beaked whale. It is a deep-diving species that they believe feeds almost exclusively on squid. We aren’t out of their range, but it’s unusual to see one here,” Boege-Tobin said. “We had the Homer Veterinary Clinic donate services to X-ray the jaw. The way to distinguish it from other whales is to study their tooth and jaw morphology.” Continue reading

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8 legs, new tattoo, what’s an octopus to do?

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Homer Tribune. A giant octopus is found aboard a fishing vessel.

Homer Tribune

What marine animal can unscrew the lid of a jar, squeeze into a water jug, shoot out clouds of ink to mimic its own shape and tear off scientific tags meant to track him?

The octopus holds uncanny intelligence indicating an ability to problem solve, said marine biologist and diver, Reid Brewer. He is at work on a doctorate with the University of Alaska Fairbanks as he gathers baseline studies of octopus habitat. Large crowds attended his weekend lectures during the National Wildlife Month at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer. The talk, “Octopus and other creatures run wild,” was accompanied by photos of the cephalopod’s little-known underwater world off the Aleutian Islands.

“This is such a fun talk to give because people really like to hear about octopus, and they are really curious about these creatures,” Brewer said. “This especially is a popular topic with fishermen. For a lot of people, the octopus is an amazing, favorite critter.”

Giant octopus are rumored to be up to 30 feet long. But the largest Brewer ever witnessed came to 18 feet and weighed about 600 pounds. Continue reading

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Pet project planning — Borough committee preparing for pets in disaster situations

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Dogs wait in crates for transport by their owners. In case of an emergency on the Kenai Peninsula, owners need to make plans for caring for pets, which might not be allowed in shelters.

Redoubt Reporter

Catastrophic earthquakes, devastating tsunami, massive wild-land fires, highways and roads washed out by floods or buried by avalanches in winter — these are just a few of the possible crises that could plague the Kenai Peninsula. In worst-case scenarios it won’t just be people, but also their pets, that may need assistance.

“It’s something that was learned after (Hurricane) Katrina,” said Eric Mohrmann, director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.

There was no evacuation or shelter plan in place for animals, and many pet owners attempted to stay home during the emergency rather than seek safety in shelters where pets were not allowed. They resisted evacuating without their pets once danger was upon them. For the pets left behind, there was no one to care for them. By the time pets began being rescued, many were never reconnected with their owners.

Under Borough Mayor Dave Carey’s request, and to comply with the 1996 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standard Act, a 10-person working group has formed and will meet monthly to address this issue in the event of a local or state disaster. It is made up of emergency response personnel from the borough OEM department, representatives from animal shelters in Kenai, Soldotna and Homer, as well as Alaska’s Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. Continue reading

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Cycle of success — Static Cycle headlines Kenai rock concert

Rocktoberfest, featuring Static Cycle, Stadium, AK Free Fuel, Fighting Silence and George and Sam, will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Doors open at 6 p.m., and a 21-and-over party will follow at Hooligan’s in Soldotna. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door, available at Hooligan’s and at groovetickets.com.

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Static Cycle

Redoubt Reporter

Don’t let the name fool you, there’s nothing static about Static Cycle these days.

The Alaska-grown rock band continues to explore its career nationwide, in part due to more and more fans hooking into their compelling songwriting and insistent sound, and in part due to the band’s hard work making sure their established base as well as new fans keep having something fresh to listen to.

These days, the band is in a cycle of performing, writing, recording, releasing albums, branching into different sounds and venturing down new paths in life. So, anything but static.

The band recently wrapped up national tours with Drowning Pool and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and was back in Alaska last week for a two-and-a-half-week run of performances in the state, including a show Saturday in Kenai and one last Saturday at the Alibi in Homer.

“Today, this is the first time we’ve all been in the same room at the same time in probably about a month,” said Jared Navarre on Thursday, lead singer and songwriter for the group, who spent some of his childhood years in Kenai. “It’s been a crazy 2011 for us.” Continue reading

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Zombies on the run — Fundraiser promises spooky good fun

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Braaaaains, braaaaains, and Gatorade.

Walking in the woods at night can be unnerving. On Friday, being in the forest will be a downright frightening experience, as the living dead will be walking and running during the Tsalteshi Trails Association’s Spook Night.

“This will make it different than just putting on your running gear,” said Carly Reimer, one of the organizers of the event, which will feature a five-kilometer Zombie Run for adults and a one-kilometer Trick or Treat Trail for boys and ghouls.

“We’ve always had a kickoff event around this time. Usually it’s an orienteering event, which can be challenging and a bit daunting for some people, so we wanted this to be more of a community membership drive separate from that. We’ll still have the orienteering event, but it will be closer to Thanksgiving,” she said. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Focus on fine photography

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai Photographers Guild has member work in the upstairs hallway gallery at the Cottonwood

Photo by Pat Lytle

Health Center on Marydale Avenue in Soldotna this month and next, and a few of them really got my attention.

Ralph Sterling has supplied us with a composite piece called “Tern Around” that requires some effort to take in. It is based on photos apparently taken around Tern Lake and sort of boggles the mind and stretches the imagination. Not only is there a crisp reflection of the mountains in the lake surface, but there is an upside-down mountain emerging from above, and steel pilings floating, or maybe marching, from the right side. The photography is clean and the symbolism interesting. I wish that just one of those pilings had broken the horizon line, though, tying the piece together a little better. His other offering, “Point of View,” is also quite interesting.

Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Phantom bugs can barely be seen

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. These phantom midges are only three-quarters of an inch long. The dark spots are eyes, just behind the pointed mouth area, with two pairs of dark hydrostatic organs in the thorax and far end of the abdomen. These organs control the larval movements up and down in the water column.

Ever since August when I saw a huge mass of bright red larval mites drifting across part of East Mackey Lake, I have been wondering if the mites had been successful parasitizing any of the aquatic insects in the lake.

The experts I contacted indicated that this massive swarm might have been a way for them to find unfortunate hosts. Last week, I took my dip net and collected a number of insects and other invertebrates from the lake. After a lot of very careful looking under a microscope, I did find some parasitized insects, which I’ll discuss in a future article. There were also several creatures in my first sweep that caught my immediate attention — dozens of phantom midges darting about in my collection pan.

Phantom midges are relatives of the mosquito but do not bite. The particular ones I found were in the genus Chaoborus. Thinking back, these were the very first aquatic insects I saw when I was doing a senior project as an undergraduate biology major. I was sampling bottom sediments of a local reservoir and I remember seeing something moving in the collection pan, but was unable to tell what it was. The insects were crystal clear, about three-quarters of an inch long, and only a couple dark spots stood out in clear water. The name phantom midge was certainly appropriate.

These creatures are the larval form of a small dipteran insect found all over the world. Knowing how widely distributed they are, I should not have been surprised to see them here in Alaska. Maybe my surprise came because I have always found them in waters that were tens or hundreds of meters deep, instead of in a waist-deep section of lake. Depending on the species, they spend between six months and two years as a larval individual in a lake. They have a short pupal stage, then emerge as an aerial adult. The adults mate, lay eggs and die within a couple weeks and the cycle starts all over. Continue reading

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Falling to a close — Autumn hunting wrapping up, time to prepare for winter

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

In the game management world, despite the best efforts of all concerned, things do not always work out as planned. As part of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee that supported the change in moose hunting regulations eliminating the taking of spike/fork bulls in the 2011 season, it was believed that this change was necessary to rebuild a failing bull/cow ratio on the Kenai Peninsula.

But who knew for sure that it would have an immediate impact? Well, from Oct.1 to Oct. 10, I have seen 11 different spike/fork bull moose. In past years the sightings of spike/fork moose after Sept. 20 was a rare occurrence. So, at least for the immediate present, the change seems to have already drastically bolstered the number of bulls with potential to make it to next fall’s breeding season. In addition, I have seen several bulls in the 40-plus-inch class that may make it to legal harvest status by next fall. Of course, winter road kills and wolf kills will take some of these bulls, but it is comforting to know we are going into winter with a significantly higher number of bulls than we would have without the regulation change.

On the other hand, we still have the late-season subsistence hunt in Game Management Units 15B and 15C that will allow that harvest of spike/fork bulls. It seems there is nothing we can do about it, because it is federally mandated in the name of subsistence. Well, nothing except to continue to vocally oppose the federal intervention of game management in Alaska. Continue reading

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Almanac: Horsepower — real horse power

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

In autumn 1959, when moose-hunting season was about to open on the Kenai Peninsula and exploration and oil-drilling activity were still going full-tilt on the Swanson River Field, the Standard Oil Company of California posted a sign near its peninsula operations that read, “Please don’t shoot horses or men.”

Most hunters at the time were likely aware that the booming oil business on the Kenai National Moose Range meant that men were scattered throughout the area, and they certainly hoped to encounter plenty of moose. But aside from tales of moose and men, few of them must have expected to encounter any horseflesh.

However, the sign was there for a reason.

According to a 1959 article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Western Operations section of Standard Oil was using horses to pull seismic equipment in the moose- and hunter-infested area west of the Swanson River unit.

The horses were necessary because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which controlled the moose range (as it now controls the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge), prohibited the use of mechanical vehicles there during the months in which the ground cover was expected to be soft and therefore susceptible to damage.

Standard Oil was allowed to move equipment via helicopters, but the company opted for horse power over chopper power, largely because of the expense and the frequent unavailability of large helicopters when especially heavy or bulky equipment needed to be moved.

The News-Miner said that Standard Oil’s use of horses was the second such effort in Alaska in recent months. The first involved Nikiski-based independent oilman, Mike Halbouty, who had used a horse-drawn rig to haul seismic survey equipment.

Halbouty had covered approximately 20,000 acres with seismic surveys, and he employed three teams of horses to pull rubber-tired wagons filled with recording and drilling equipment. In addition, 10 pack horses hauled cables, geophones and water for drilling.

Although Halbouty’s method meant no tracks of motorized vehicles on the moose range, it certainly meant plenty of horse tracks. Continue reading

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Night lights: Shedding light on phases of the moon

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Looking at the sky in the late evening around 11 p.m., prominent constellations and stars are the Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major, high in the northeast, and the Little Dipper high in the north, Cygnus with Deneb, Lyra with Vega and Aquila with Altair now low in the northwest. These three stars form the summer triangle. It’s perhaps comforting that in Alaska we can see this summer triangle all winter along, albeit near the horizon.

Cassiopeia appears overhead, in the zenith, and Pegasus’ square/diamond is visible to the upper right of the very bright Jupiter in the southwest. In the east, Gemini with Castor and Pollux, Cancer with the Beehive cluster and Leo have risen, following Orion with red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, which are now quite high in the southeast. Auriga with Capella and Taurus with Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster appear now high in the south.

Mercury and Venus are too close to the sun to be viewed this month.

Mars and Saturn rise after midnight and can be seen in the south and southeast, joined by the half moon Nov. 18 and the crescent Nov. 22, respectively.

A very bright Jupiter can be seen all night long, seemingly traveling east to west, pairing with the full moon on Nov. 8 and 9.

Uranus and Neptune can be seen low in the southwest early in the evening. Google “good sky charts” for sky charts and use good binoculars. The gibbous moon leads the way on Nov. 3. Continue reading

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