Daily Archives: September 5, 2012

Paper delivery delayed until Sept. 6

Due to a storm in Anchorage, delivery of the Sept. 5 Redoubt Reporter has been delayed until Thursday, Sept. 6. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause our readers.

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Whale of a memory — Beluga calf experience lives on for rescuers

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Indy Walton. Commercial fishermen rescue a newborn beluga calf found beached on South Naknek Beach in Bristol Bay this summer. From left are Don Ward, Tiffinie Helmer, Indy Walton, Shannon Ford and Curt Nelson.

Redoubt Reporter

Growing up commercial fishing in Alaska, you’re bound to have some memorable experiences with wildlife. For Indy Walton, of Soldotna, and Shannon Ford, of Seattle — owners of neighboring fishing sites in Bristol Bay — it takes something truly spectacular to top what they’ve already seen.

Ford started helping at her family’s fish camp on the south beach of the Naknek River when she was 9, and now runs the fourth-generation family set-net site. She’s had ravens nest on her cabin’s front porch, seen walruses in the wild and rescued an abandoned seal pup.

“At that point that was the coolest thing — to be able to hold a baby seal. Alaska has got a lot of great stuff,” she said.

Walton started at the family’s set-net site in Bristol Bay when he was a kid. Since he was 12 he spent his summers fishing with his uncle and grandfather at their set-net site in Alitak Bay on Kodiak, and went back to fishing in Bristol Bay after he got married to his wife, Stephanie, in 1993.

A lifetime of fishing nets a lifetime of notable wildlife encounters — foxes eating off your table, trying to deter brown bears from ransacking fish camp with a combination of rock-throwing and noisemaking with foghorns and M80s, a 300-pound salmon shark surfacing right next to your feet cooling in the water, freeing porpoises tangled in a net and having them cavort alongside your boat for a half hour afterward, and playing fetch with a herd of deer on the beach in Kodiak.

“They really liked this Frisbee, I don’t know why. So we’d take this Frisbee and throw it down the beach and they would all take off and chase down this Frisbee. And they’d all get around it in a circle and sniff it. Then I’d walk down there and they’d kind of move out of the way — they’d get skittish if you got close to them. Then I’d grab the Frisbee and throw it the other way and the whole herd — with fawns and does — would run down and chase it,” Walton said.

When rescuing a baby seal and playing fetch with deer are your benchmarks for interesting experiences, it takes something truly memorable to top it. Just such an incident occurred this summer, when Ford, Walton and their crews helped rescue a beached newborn beluga whale.

“I’ve been privileged to have a lot of really great animal experiences over my life, but that one, by far, I can’t imagine that being topped. To be able to be that close and be part of something like that, I will definitely never forget that little whale,” Ford said.

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Shell game — Study to create toxins baseline to limit mystery in harvesting clams, mussels

By Naomi Klouda

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Rudy Bryant, of Bird Creek, scans the beach for signs of dimples while clamming just north of Clam Gulch last spring. Below, while most were small, there were numerous razor clams dug.

Homer Tribune

Among the reasons why people love the Kenai Peninsula in the summer, king salmon fishing gets most of the attention, but a less-discussed reason that packs peninsula highways are Cook Inlet’s rich clam beds.

Whether the shellfish from Ninilchik to Port Graham is safe from various levels of toxins, however, has never been extensively tested, until this summer.

Thanks to a three-year study and $120,000 awarded to the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, shellfish on all the main beaches were tested in July and August and will continue to be tested for the next three years.

Terry Thompson, director of KBRR, said that the project is significant because, for the first time, the data will be collected into a baseline study that will serve for years to come. So far, so good — tests showed no significant levels in shellfish tested for paralytic shellfish toxins.

“Last spring, the (Department of Environmental Conservation) put out a call for proposals looking for three coastal communities to do a baseline study of PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning) in recreationally harvested shellfish, because these aren’t tested in Alaska for toxins,” Thompson said. “The DEC will always tell people, ‘If you harvest shellfish, you do so at your own risk. To be safe, you need to buy them from a retail outlet that has their product tested.’ But thousands of people harvest shellfish in Alaska. The Legislature put some funds out to do an RFP (request for proposals).”

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Health, solicited proposals from government organizations. KBRR was selected to conduct the program and commit to a three-year period of collaborative activities.

The partners are the Ninilchik Traditional Council, Port Graham Village Council, Seldovia Village Tribe and NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Lab, the Department of Fish and Game in Homer, Nicki Scarzi and Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge.

“They all go out once a month during the highest tides from May to September to harvest shellfish,” Thompson said.

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Sweet sights of summer — Photo contest focuses on Kenai Peninsula’s fairest sights

Redoubt Reporter Summer Photo Contest

Best in Show:

“Red, White and Blue” by Thomas Angleton, of Nikiski

“Red, White and Blue,” by Thomas Angleton, of Nikiski. Seagulls perch atop the Homer Theater on the Homer Spit on Aug. 11.

Judge’s comments: Zirrus VanDevere — “The roofline is a really interesting line trajectory. Nice contrast between the red roof and blue sky. And the textures are completely different between the sky, roof and bird poop — and I love the texture of bird poop. I’m serious! It looks so textural. And the gulls, there’s so much personality to each one of the birds. Visually, they line up neatly, but each shape is different, each is in a different pose and has so much character. It’s all about regularity, but everywhere you look it’s irregular.”

Joe Kashi — “The composition is successful, with classic rule-of-thirds composition. That sudden stop point on the right side of the frame is important. The irregularity of the line stops your eye, and the image doesn’t look static.”

Ray Lee — “The shading is really phenomenal, especially the saturation of the red. With the color contrasts, the way they captured the seagull defecation is almost poetic.”

First Place:

“Summer Bella” by Angie Nelson, of Soldotna. Our dog, Bella, got hot but loved being out

“Summer Bella” by Angie Nelson, of Soldotna

on a hike on Hideout Trail off Skilak Road on June 22.

Joe Kashi — “This looks like the definition of summertime. The camera angle is good, the arc of the tongue works well in the frame, it is cropped well and there is just enough mountains and sky behind it to evoke summer.”

Zirrus VanDevere — “It’s incredibly well-cropped. The story it tells is the best part of it. It’s as much about content as technicality, but it’s well-taken too.”

Ray Lee — “The combination of dog’s personality and the quality of the light emanates happiness.”

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Summer photo contest submissions

Thank you to all our participating photographers!

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Almanac: Safe on shore — Captain gets crew safely ashore after ship sinks

Editor’s note: This is the first of a multipart story about mariner and entrepreneur Heinie Berger, who plied the waters of Resurrection Bay and Cook Inlet from the late 1920s into the 1940s. This week, Part One describes one of Berger’s most perilous adventures. Next week, Part Two will provide details and background from other parts of his life.

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of the McLane collection. Capt. Heinie Berger’s ship, the Discoverer, sank in Cook Inlet off the shore of Ninilchik on Dec. 5, 1932.

Redoubt Reporter

After many hours of battling the elements in Cook Inlet, the 31-ton diesel-screw schooner, the Discoverer, had had enough. When the members of the ship’s four-man crew realized their craft was doomed, they hurriedly began to prepare the lifeboat.

But they faced several serious problems:

  • First, it was about 1:30 a.m., and, according to Capt. Heinie Berger, “the night was inky black.”
  • Second, it was Monday, Dec. 5, 1932, bitterly cold, and much of the storm-riddled inlet was filled with ice.
  • Third, they were six miles north off Ninilchik and eight miles offshore.

“It was the greatest good fortune that we got out of that bad mess alive,” Berger told a reporter for the Anchorage Daily Times.

Having departed Anchorage earlier in the evening, and now heading out of the inlet and bound for Seward, the 53-foot Discoverer had been plowing through frozen seas between Kenai and Kasilof, “bucking a sheet of solid ice an inch or two thick,” according to Berger, who had begun operating his transportation business out of Seward, Seldovia and ports in the lower inlet in 1926.

What the crew initially failed to realize was that the ice had cut deeply into the ship’s hull, neatly incising a rim around the wooden craft and virtually slicing the boat in two. When they emerged suddenly into an ice-free zone, the boat, which was hauling several tons of coal, became a sieve.

Soon, several feet of seawater had accumulated in the hold, and eventually the water reached the 100-horsepower engines and quelled them. As the Discoverer — which had been built in 1914 in a shipyard in Seabeck, Wash. — foundered and began to sink, the crew gathered a few items in the lifeboat and shoved off.

“We were careful to take along a compass, and but for that fact we never would have been able to make shore,” Berger stated. “It was so dark we could see nothing ashore, but as the sea had broken the float ice, we could handle the oars to advantage and after three and a half hours made land.”

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Happy hard-working hunting grounds — North Slope area offers thrill of the caribou chase

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of William Johnson. Bill Ferguson, of Soldotna, and his hunting party had their work cut out for them on a caribou hunt in the Howard Pass area of the North Slope.

Redoubt Reporter

Every hunter has a mental picture of what they expect a planned hunt to be like, but often the actual opportunity of harvesting an animal on its own turf is more arduous than anticipated. While this is true of many big-game animals, few make a hunter work for it more than caribou. Expeditions for these medium-bodied members of the deer family can be long, strenuous, cold and wet — miserable, in other words. And as the cliché goes, misery loves company.

“My son-in-law said this was the hardest thing he’d ever done,” said Bill Ferguson, of Soldotna. In August, Ferguson went on a weeklong hunting trip in the Howard Pass area of the North Slope region with a friend, his son, and his son-in-law, the latter of which had never hunted for caribou.

Ferguson hunts numerous species annually. He has set his sights on caribou many times, but wanted to try getting a caribou from another part of the state this season.

“I’ve hunted the Mulchatna herd, drawn a permit for the Kenai Mountain herd, and I got a nice one in 1998 out of the Killey River Herd, but I was looking to get another representative from the caribou herds of the state,” he said.

While hunting may seem like a solitary activity in many regards, there can be quite a bit of camaraderie involved when friends and family members take to the wilderness together. Ferguson said it was especially meaningful to take his daughter’s husband out for the first time for what, in many ways, is a quintessential Alaska experience — a remote and rugged area crawling with wildlife in the foothills of the Brooks Range.

“It has its own beauty, with rolling hills and some significant mountains,” Ferguson said. “Right out of the gate we started seeing wildlife, too. We saw some lesser caribou bulls, we saw three grizzlies, a couple of wolves, a snowy owl and even a musk ox at a distance.”

While the aesthetics of the area are wondrous, living in the wilderness works best for those willing to work hard. Ferguson joked that when it comes to being in shape, his shape is round, but he keeps plugging along until the work at hand is done. It’s a mindset he has mastered from his years of hunting in Alaska, and one the newcomers had to learn.

“My son-in-law, William Johnson, has done a lot of hunting down in Illinois, but for white tail, and this is a lot different. I don’t think he knew what it was going to be like. It’s tough. It’s not like being at a lodge, where you go out for the day and then come back and get dry or warm or have food waiting on you,” he said.

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