Temp: 34 Weather: Sunny, 30 knot winds
Crossing the windswept Bering Sea, offshore past the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Nunivak Island, we are returning home. It is a fully sunny day, the first time I’ve recorded 0% clouds on the seabird forms. I think some sun is well deserved, and a good way to wind down this journey which began with sun rays and rainbows in Dutch Harbor three weeks ago. There were long periods of quiet today. Not many birds among the 8-foot whitecaps, but we did see some species not seen for a couple weeks: White-winged Scoter, Common Loon, Horned Puffin, and Glaucous-winged Gull. What I saw the most of today were large, worn, drifting trees that may have been at sea for years, likely originating from the delta.
(Photo: Bering Sea sunrise)
Today a crewman gave several of us a guided tour of the ship’s systems: electricity and steam production, water desalinization, air conditioning, engine room, workshop, trash incinerating, refrigeration, and storage. After all this time aboard, there were still so many places I’d not ventured (some I would not have been allowed to). I continue to be amazed by the engineering marvel that is the Healy. The ship has four 7.2 megawatt diesel electric generators, which combined could produce an unbelievable 28 megawatts of power. When we dock in Dutch Harbor, the ship could power the entire city of Unalaska and have plenty left over. It is approximately enough to power 9,000 American homes.
This trip has included many firsts for me, not the least of which were 12 new species—10 birds (in order of appearance): Slaty-backed Gull, Least Auklet, Short-tailed Albatross, Red-legged Kittiwake, Spectacled Eider, Sabine’s Gull, Ross’s Gull, Ivory Gull, Parakeet Auklet, and Dovekie, and two new mammals: Pacific walrus and bowhead whale. But more than that, this has been a whole new way of life. I’ve never been so far offshore, or spent most of three weeks out of sight of land. I’ve learned a lot about physical oceanography and Coast Guard life. I’ll miss many interesting and varied dinner conversations with new friends, and waking up in a new place every day.
Tonight after the work day was done a few of us played a couple more rounds of our favorite dice game, and I’m realizing how much I will miss a few of these people. We set our clocks ahead, returning to Alaska time, which is just one more step toward heading back into “the real world.” Tomorrow night there will be cell phones, local pubs, cars, and grocery stores. We’ll all head back to our usual lives and this temporary city will dissipate. After seeing my friends and family, the thing I look forward to most is pulling out my map pins, and marking a long list of new places, filling out this corner of the world a bit more.
Melanie Smith, Landscape Ecologist, Audubon Alaska