Thursday, April 30, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king...

I am working on confirming the identification of this flatworm, so I thought I'd just put a few worm pictures up along with it. This is a flatworm, or platyhelminth. Yes, that's the same group of flatworms that sometimes live in the digestive systems of land mammals, including us.

This flatworm may be Notoplana sanguinea, which may not be confirmed in the Sitka area at this time.

Update: The identification, according to Aaron Baldwin of Juneau, is correct. He was even kind enough to send me a beautiful picture of the same species, that he took right here in Sitka when he was a professor at SJ college. I will not post it in case he wants to control it.

This one is a nemertea, or ribbon worm. It's quite common I think, and is probably Tubulanus polymorphus.

This one is pretty and also very common. Allow me to introduce you to the tubeworm Eudistylia vancouveri. I just learned that the "feather duster" group of tubeworms is a subset of the polichaete worms. As always, I learn as I write.

Stay tuned for more glamorous critters!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some starfishes found south of Sitka

I went on a five day kayaking trip south of town, and saw and experienced so much that it's going to take a few posts to cover it. This one will be dedicated to starfishes. I know that scientist types always insist that we call starfishes "sea stars," on the grounds that they are not fishes. True enough, they are not fishes, but they are not stars, either, so leave the English language alone!

This starfish may look familiar to attentive readers of the blog (yes, both of you). It is Solaster stimpsoni - the Stimpson's sun star that I included in an earlier blog entry. This one isn't as pretty, but much, much more typical of the species' normal limp rag attitude.

This one is always popular. It is the very common sunflower star, or Pycnopodia helianthoides. It is often orange, and considered a top predator in soft substrates. The largest ones are one meter across.

Why did the computer tip some of my photos on their sides??? Oh well. This is the #1 most common stafish in Sitka Sound: the ochre star Pisaster ochraceus. It is found high in the tidal zone, and comes in the following colors (or flavors, as some like to say): chocolate, grape, and orange.

This pretty and not terribly common starfish is the rainbow star, Orthasterias koehleri.

Always a popular starfish, this one is called Mediaster aequalis. Ihave only found it a dozen times or so.

And this one is the best find of the trip: an undescribed species of the Genus Henricia. It looks just like EC21 in Andy Lamb's "Marine life of the Pacific Northwest." However, probably the same taxon in Lambert's "Sea Stars of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska, and Puget Sound" has six rays ("arms") and looks strangely like a Leptasterias. According to a biologist, this is indeed the still-unnamed species that the University of British Columbia was working on describing. I found it in Beauchamp Island, but did not collect it for genetic testing (Sorry - I guess someone at UC Fullerton wanted it). If you find one, I guess it's supposed to be placed in ethyl alcohol.

Okay, it's not a starfish, but a close relative. This little guy is very common in some places, and is called a daisy brittle star, Ophiopholis aculeata.

This is another relative of the starfishes: the extremely common orange sea cucumber Cucumaria miniata.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A training exercise with the Sitka Mountain Search and Rescue

Training with the Sitka Mountain Rescue team has been pretty good so far. I took some pictures during a mock search by Beaver Lake, in which people from various parts of SE Alaska took part. Here we are, looking for Amanda:

The walk wasn't too bad. It did go up and down at times, but the snow made it easier to clear large swathes of terrain. The kid in ACUs is in the Civil Air Patrol, and he didn't have any outdoor gear so I lent him some extra stuff.

We found Amanda fairly fast.

We got a little speech on US Coast Guard hoisting operations.

Then we called a helicopter.

Which showed up right about on schedule.

The Coast Guard was just as intent on maximizing the training time as we were, so they went through several complete iterations of the hoisting maneuvers after having dropped a rescue swimmer to assist us with the lines, cable, hook and litter:

Just remember to put a helmet on your subject, because it looks really awkward getting the litter over the lip of the deck.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Slimy critters found on Peisar Island, Alaska

This is still part of my effort to promote beachcombing, which also includes living animals often found at low tide. Here is a small selection from that same morning walk, of photos taken between rain squalls.

This little kelp crab is Pugettia richii:

And this black-clawed crab is called Lophopanopeus bellus:

This is one of my favorite crabs, the diminutive Petrolisthes eriomerus:

I think this is a sea cucumber I hadn't spotted before, the Cucumaria pallida, which is closely related to the other blob on the same rock, the very common Cucumaria miniata:

Clingfishes (also known as sucker fishes) are just really fun to harass. This one is called Sicyogaster maeandricus:

These are two forms of the starfish Henricia leviuscula, and the commensal scale worm on the arm of the larger specimen may be an Arctonoe vittata:

This tiny starfish belongs to a difficult genus: the Leptasterias, or six-armed star. I think this one belongs to the Leptasterias hexactis species complex:

This one is easy and ubiquitous. It smells somewhat like garlic, and is called Dermasterias imbricata:

This is a shell of the Oregon triton, known in Latin as Fusitriton oregonensis. They usually lose their hair before I find them.

This is the "ugly clam," or Entodesma navicula. According to seashell collector, the "outer skin" shrinks as it dries, and causes the shell to implode. A preventative measure is to soak the shell in glycerin.

And this is Cryptochiton stelleri, usually just called "gumboot chiton. Its little hitch-hiker is an opalescent nudibranch Hermissenda crassicornis. Strangely enough, they are both essentially slugs.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beachcombing on Peisar Island

Beachcombing is a fantastic activity, but it can be difficult to explain its appeal to those who don't practicioners. This is a description of a kayak trip to Peisar, in conjunction with a nice low tide that is a big help for getting around the beaches in search for anything and everything interesting.

Beachcombing starts with the premise that any object, dropped anywhere on Earth or placed in its orbit, will eventually find its way to the Ocean, and wash up on a beach somewhere. A classic example, of course, is that of fishing nets, such as this gillnet with old-fashioned flat floats:

Of course, when people think of beachcombing in Alaska, they usually think of Japanese glass floats, but those are rare here in Sitka these days, especially when compared with the Aleutian Islands for example. One reason is our rocky coastline:

And another is collectors. Modern Asian fishing floats are much more common than the old glass ones, because they are rock-proof, and rather ugly. The metal ones are usually Russian, and the plastic ones Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese, etc., etc.

The problem with the modern fishing floats, is that they could have been used by anyone, and lost anywhere in the world, so they have in effect no story to tell. A good example is this float that was made in Denmark, but clearly didn't drift in from there:

Much more interesting, in my opinion, is trash. Trash is common, collector-proof, and often rock-proof too. It encompasses everything from baseball caps to refrigerators, and provides a fascinating view of the ocean. On my walk around Peisar Island Friday morning, I collected a few dozen Asian bottlecaps to demonstrate the worldliness of our plastic junk.

These are some Russian bottlecaps:

Here are some Japanese bottlecaps. "Pocari Sweat" is a particularly unpleasant brand of sport drink. This one had been chewed by a bear that apparently learned that sugar can occasionally be obtained from plastic bottles:

Now, some Korean bottlecaps:

And finally, an array of bottlecaps from China and / or Taiwan, and possibly a few Japanese ones mixed in there as well. While Chinese bottlecaps are amazingly plentiful on our beaches (much more so than American ones), it must be remembered that there are 1.1 billion people in China, and the amount of trash we get from them is more indicative of population level and current patterns, than of waste management policy.

I mentioned bears. Yes, bears are out and about on Peisar already!

And finally, all sorts of bones and dead critters can often be found on our beaches, from the worn-down lump of calcified material to the perfect sea otter skull. I was happy to come across this posterior half of a whale's skull, but also dismayed to find that wouldn't fit in my kayak:

Next up: a post on the slimy critters I found during that same walk.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring kayak trip

Not everyone goes kayaking in this time of the year, but it can be pretty fun. This first overnight trip of the year was supposed to go from South Sitka to Brent's Beach and back, but we ended up getting hit with some wind, and came back to the North end of the road via Olga Straits, for a trip total of about 28 miles.

This is a whiteout in Krestof Sound, with so much snowfall at times that it formed polygons in the calm spots. My kayak is actually yellow on top, but it was thickly covered in snow at that time:

This is a great-looking Stimpson's sun star Solaster stimpsoni - a species that usually looks like a limp rag:

This is Brent's Beach cabin, on Kruzof Island:

Kamenoi Beach, with Cathy collecting seashells for her artwork:

The humpback whales were pursuing herring, so although they got pretty close at times, they were less predictable than late summer whales:

Cathy even liked paddling in the snow.

And this is a bald eagle, of course, on a rock south off the Kasianas:


Early spring in Sitka

I have been very, very lazy about updating this blog, because it is so much easier to just send a couple of e-mails and upload some photos to my new facebook account. It turns out that however convenient the facebook thing may be, it remains a temporary repository for inconsequential information, so I will attempt at catching up.

This is the very, very common species in this time of the year, the Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescens, photographed from my kayak in Eastern Channel:

This is a picture of mid-altitude forest on Mount Verstovia (it is really hard for me to take pictures of the forest):

On that same hike, a higher spot on the base of Arrowhead Peak, this picture helps understand why mountain hemlocks Tsuga mertensiana grow into krumholz shapes in the alpine area:

This is as far as I made it that day, up to the final traverse. I hadn't brought my crampons so I had to turn around:

And this is what invariably happens when I tell myself "I shouldn't need my snowshoes today..."

This is a scenario within the "Wilderness First Responder" course that I took this spring: