In honor of one of our favorite bears, we are naming our new Katmai Conservancy Newsletter, The Otis.
I certainly hope you enjoy.
From Our Superintendent:
Bridge Construction at Brooks River
Construction of a permanent bridge and boardwalk across the Brooks River at Katmai National Park commenced this past fall. A highly skilled Anchorage based firm, STG Incorporated, was awarded the contract in 2016. On-site staging of construction supplies commenced in August 2018 and construction is on track to be completed in the spring of 2019 making the bridge and boardwalk ready for use during the 2019 visitor season. The elevated bridge/boardwalk will provide a safer and more efficient movement of visitors, staff, supplies, and utilities in an area where brown bears congregate each summer. The project includes a boardwalk extending south from high ground adjacent to Brooks Lodge, a concession operated by Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
- Katmai National Park and Preserve Superintendent Mark Sturm
Anela Ramos NPS
Bears Behaving Brilliantly:
Do Bears Actually Hibernate?
Did you ever wish you could sleep away the cold months of winter? Some animals actually do, particularly bears. Hibernation is a behavior some animals use to “sleep” through winter when temperatures are cold and food is scarce. Many people believe that bears are hibernators when in fact they engage in “torpor,” a similar but slightly different behavior.
While in torpor, a bear’s heart, breathing rate, and temperature decreases. Bears also do not eat or produce waste. In order to get the necessary nutrients for survival, bears metabolize their fat supplies they put on in fall. Bears also use the proteins in their urine through a urea recycling process. Urea is broken down and used to maintain muscles and organ tissues during their long sleep.
The main difference between hibernation and torpor is that during torpor, a bear can easily wake up, especially if threatened. Even pregnant sows can wake up from torpor to give birth. A bear’s body temperature during torpor never reaches the low levels that true hibernators, like ground squirrels reach, and often they move around in their dens finding a new comfortable spot to ride out the winter. So rather than calling bears true hibernators, perhaps we can call them true nappers!
Let’s Talk Bush Life:
Winter in the Bush
King Salmon is the gateway to Southwest Alaska. Most people go through this tiny bush community to gain access to Katmai National Park and Preserve and beyond. The only way to access this village is by plane. In the summer, King Salmon is a bustling town of 10,000, full of tourists, commercial fishermen and women, and seasonal workers. However most of these workers leave come fall, and the village is transformed to a sleepy town of about 300.
King Salmon in the winter can be quite the experience. Flights are in and out once, sometimes twice a day, and stores tend to truly abide by small town hours. When going to the grocery store, expect to spend at least a half hour. This is not because it is a large store, but because you will run into ten different friendly neighbors looking to say hello.
In the darkest time of the winter, the sun comes up at 11:30 AM and sets around 3:30 PM. This may seem unappealing to some, but the sunrises and sunsets last for hours because of this and are often brilliant colors of red and orange. Weather is the ruler of all in the bush, and even more so in the winter. King Salmon is in constant various stages of ice, ranging from hoar frost magically covering the trees, to glare ice on every drivable surface. One becomes quite adept at walking on ice, and rarely leaves their house without ice cleats attached to their shoes.
Ice also lends itself to subsistence and adventure. When the Naknek River freezes over, many locals go ice fishing for smelt or pike. Others will take out their snow machines (Alaskan for snowmobiles) all the way across Naknek Lake into Katmaiand other otherwise inaccessible parts of the Alaska Peninsula.
Winter is also not without its fun and games. This past month, King Salmon and the neighboring village Naknek celebrated Winterfest, an annual celebration of winter. Activities include a bazaar featuring local goods such as smoked salmon, beautiful beadwork, and furs. There is also a SPAM cookoff, a smelting derby, a penguin dip (you strip down and jump into a hole cut in the ice), a timed competition to set as many traps as you can, women’s arm wrestling, and candy dropped from a small bush plane to name a few.
As winter progresses, the ice yet again dictates life out here as it breaks away creating huge floes down river. Days become longer again, and soon enough the spring birds will descend on this sleepy little town along with the many seasonal workers, turning King Salmon into a summer city yet again. To catch the ice floes, belugas, and birds, check out the Naknek River Cam on explore.org.
From a Naturalist’s Sketchbook:
A winter bird often seen in Southwest Alaska is the Black Billed Magpie. Magpies are part of the corvid family, related to jays and ravens. These tenacious birds are quite intelligent, and have managed to survive even the harshest Alaska Peninsula winters.
Magpies have long had a connection with humans, with reports going back hundreds of years of these birds eagerly hopping on a carcass of a recently hunted animal. Their relationship remains strong today with magpies perusing garbage and bird feeders. Their constant scavenging behavior is what allows these omnivorous birds to be observed close to human activity, thus making them prime candidates of an observational sketch such as this one.
Do you have any Alaskan nature art you would like to share with us? Send us an example with a brief description to be featured in the next “From a Naturalist’s Sketchbook.”
David Kopshever NPS
News from the River:
Thar She Blows!
As ice floes make their way back and forth in the tidal waters of the Naknek, one may see some “ice” diving beneath the water. That’s because it’s actually the great white whale of the Naknek River, the wild beluga whale.
The pod that travels up and down the Naknek River is one of five Alaskan populations of beluga whales. These whales are very vocal and are nicknamed the “canaries of the sea.” Their bird-like noises allows them use echo-location to navigate among the large pieces of ice they swim by.
In springtime on the Naknek, you can often see belugas come upstream by the hundreds. To see this amazing sight, you must time it with the tides, as belugas are usually chasing schools of fish swimming with the incoming tide from Bristol Bay. Their arrival is often noted by loud gulls swooping down to eat, followed by the sounds of beluga spouts coming out of the water. If you pay close attention, you will often notice smaller gray belugas swimming alongside their whiter counterparts. These gray whales are baby belugas, and don’t become fully white until adulthood.
To see these whales, you don’t have to be a Bristol Bay resident. In fact, you can view them from your own home on explore.org’s Naknek River cam. Check the incoming tide for that day and watch for the signs. You can also see a recorded video of them here. Maybe you’ll be able to spot the great white whales of the Naknek River yourself!
Give a Loved One a Special Gift
February is known as the month of love, so why not give your special someone a gift of conservation? The KatmaiConservancy is funded by the many members that truly love public lands, especially the magnificent flora and fauna of KatmaiNational Park and Preserve. Spread the love of salmon, bears, volcanoes, and magnificent ecosystems this February and make yourself and the people you love a member here. Love is what helps conserve our beautiful public lands.
What You helped Achieve
Our donors are indeed a part of something truly wild, supporting the wild lands of Katmai National Park and Preserve. This past year, you helped raise money for many park projects including a bear genetics study, an archeological survey for a historical expedition that founded the Park, various ranger positions, Katmai’s Centennial Events, Cultural Events, and support for the popular bear cam on explore.org. Your constant contribution and dedication to this special place makes you a steward of one of earth’s truly wild places. Please help us continue to make a difference in conservation and environmental stewardship.
Want to know more about life and wildlife at Katmai? Let us know your thoughts and we’ll write an article for the next publication of The Otis. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram @katmaiconservancy or on Facebook