Claire Doe | Monday, May 14, 2018
This was my first visit to Southeast Alaska and I now know it won’t be my last! The Sea Otters & Seagrass in Alaska project was a wonderful way to experience the beauty of Prince of Wales Island as well as to learn about the people and their way of life. The project was really well organised. We were met from the ferry at Hollis and driven to our accommodation where the rest of the Field Team and a delicious dinner were waiting for us. Having not arrived until after 7pm we were left to settle in and have an early night. The briefing day started after breakfast at 8am and was very thorough covering details about the project and Field Staff as well as safety procedures including bear safety. After lunch we visited both the project’s boats for orientation and safety training which included how to send a Mayday message in an emergency.
For the rest of the project we were involved in a number of activities and although this was the first team of the new season we all felt included and useful! On two days we were out on the larger project boat, the Ishkeen, conducting sea otter surveys which were great fun. Float coats were available on the boats as well as Life Vests which were much appreciated when the weather was cold. Waders were also provided for days when we needed to get off the boats on to shore and would therefore be wading through water.
Due to the tide times we only had a couple of days when we had very early start. My earliest was a 4.45am get up to leave the house at 5.15am but it was so worth it for the great day that I spent with Tiff on the Sea Weasal (an open boat called a Skiff). Tiff was scouting for suitable areas for some of her research on seagrass and whilst visiting various areas of shore we spotted seals and sea otters as well as a number of seabirds.
The Field Team were all lovely, friendly, enthusiastic people who looked after us so well and made sure to check regularly during the day that everyone was feeling OK, particularly in respect of sea sickness. Whilst conducting the sea otter surveys we had to use binoculars for up to two hours nonstop and were advised that this can make some people feel very sick. Thankfully none of us suffered but if we had we would have been swapped to another activity. We were also encouraged to pack plenty of food, snacks and hot drinks to keep us fueled against the early starts and cold conditions on the water.
Volunteers and Field Staff took it in turns to cook dinner and anyone who didn’t feel confident would team up with someone and act as a Sous Chef…..which is exactly what I did!!! We had some delicious meals and ate early so that we could retire early and get plenty of rest.
On one evening we went to a talk at the local high school about salmon and its importance to Prince of Wales Island and Southeast Alaska as a whole. It was great to hear from locals and to watch a wonderful documentary called The Salmon Forest. We also had the opportunity to sample three different salmon dips that had been provided by various locals. They were all delicious and I couldn’t choose a favourite. On another evening we were treated to pizza and salad at a restaurant in Craig.
Our last day on the project was a recreational day and we chose to go out on the water one last time. We had a fabulous morning with 7 separate humpback whale sightings, countless sea otters and a very friendly sea lion as well as bald eagles and lots of seabirds. In the afternoon we visited a local cannery and a gift shop for last minute souvenirs. A lovely end to a fabulous 10 days. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this project to anyone…and would love to go back sometime!