Today is our last port in Alaska – Sitka. Gone are the blue skies of the last few days and we are back to Alaska’s “liquid sunshine.” However, the temperature is still in mid 50 – to low 60 range.
Sitka, like Kodiak, has a Russian influence. In 1799, Alexander Baranof moved a s number of Russians and fur traders from Kodiak to Sitka. The Tlingit people were not happy with the invasion they attacked. They managed to burn some buildings and kill some people but Baranof returned and drove them to other side of the island in what is known as the Battle of Sitka.
In 1867, after decimating the otter population for its pelts, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for a little over $7 million dollars. Bet they are sorry they sold it now.
We had an early excursion through Holland America this morning – Birds, Bears, and Barnacles so room service breakfast was delivered at 7:15. We met our guide/driver at the pier. The vehicle was a school bus, our driver was a school bus driver who has lived in Sitka for 30 years. He was very funny and knowledgeable as he drove us to our three destinations – Alaska Raptor Center (birds), the Fortress of the Bears (bears), and Sitka Sound Science Center and Aquarium (barnacles).
The Raptor Center was currently housing 27 raptors of various kinds and sizes. We watched a film about their operations and we could see briefly inside the clinic portion. Most of them would be able to be released back into the wild once healed, but, if not, would be used for educational purposes. One of the handlers gave us a demonstration with a 2 year old eagle named Spirit. Spirit had not yet gotten his white feathers and wouldn’t until he was about 5. He was skittish today and tried to fly off of her arm a number of times today. Really spun her around with the force. Since they can pierce a deer hide with their talons, she has to wear 5 layers of leather on her arm so he can sit.
Another raptor that gets a lot of attention at the Raptor Center is the snowy owl – AKA – the Harry Potter owl. He was very cute.
We watched the salmon in the stream. We had a few minutes to go down the path to the stream but a sign said there had been bear sightings so going past the point was inadvisable. So noted and heeded.
Our next stop was Fortress of the Bears. This bear sanctuary rescues orphan cubs. The state of Alaska has no bear rehabilitation program so until the law is changed, the Dept of Fish and Game will shoot orphan cubs if the mama is confirmed dead. The Fortress of the Bear people try to get to them first.
Their latest additions are two cubs from Seward who just came to them about 2 weeks ago. They really put on a show splashing around at the salmon that were swimming in the river that runs through the compound. They didn’t seem bothered at all by the people oohing and ahhing at them.
The larger brown bears on the other side were nonchalant about the visitors also. There are signs that tell you not to feed the bears but you had to wonder if people do because one sat up on a large pile of sticks and stones and looked right at us, stretching out his paw and yawning. When he realized the handlers were throwing oranges to the other 2 larger bears, he quickly slid down the mound and joined the other two catching oranges. They didn’t look like they missed too many meals. I thought it was interesting that the handlers would soon start withholding food to encourage the hibernation process.
They also had 3 black bears who were roaming in the forested area. One finally came out of it long enough for pictures.
The last stop was the Science Center. It was originally a science building and an experimental fish hatchery for a college. One day the administration just up and left – not telling the instructors, students, or town. What a mess. The town decided to take the science building and the hatchery over as a non-profit and keep the hatchery open and the science center became a teaching aquarium. The other buildings are different venues such as museums and art stores, etc. The college administrators must have been able to hide their financial problems from the accreditors as they would not have been able to shut down suddenly like they did.
Still raining pretty hard as we walked outside to look at the hatchery process. Since only 20% of the salmon eggs in the wild get fertilized and then even less make it to adulthood, the hatchery plays an important role in keeping the wild salmon supply up. The fish remember the stream that they were raised and come back to it to spawn.
We watched the fish swimming up the stream. Once they got to the spot, where they would normally spawn and then die, they were caught up in a net and separated males and females into tubs. If the females were ready to spawn, they were killed and the eggs harvested. If not, they were tossed back into the stream to wait for a few more days. The males were killed and the sperm harvested. The fish are then either sold to the local catfood processing place or given to the Raptor Center or Fortress of the Bears. Nice to hear that the non-profits were supporting each other. It was startling to see several young people clubbing the fish and then gutting them all the while chatting and laughing with each other. It’s a job.
The eggs are fertilized and then kept in containers in the stream until they are fry and ready to release back into the wild. They will make their way back to the stream once they are grown. I am always impressed by mother nature.
We went inside to the aquarium and spent some time around the touch tank of starfish, anemones, and sea cucumbers and looking at the native fish in the large tank. Even had a skeleton of a killer whale hanging overhead. Afterwards, we walked down to look at the water and note the number of fish jumping in and out.
The driver was taking us to town where we could take the shuttle busses back to the ship. We still had time to wander the town if we wished. We parked right next to the public library so I wanted to use their free WIFI. I had hoped to be able to download a couple of more books but it wasn’t strong enough. I was able to catch up on a couple of emails. Wouldn’t you know that now the sun is coming out.
Got back in time to eat lunch. The rest of the afternoon went by pretty fast. Chuck played some cards while I watched for wildlife during the sailaway. I saw a sea otter, a seal, some eagles, and a whale. It was a beautiful blue-sky afternoon and quiet out on the deck. This was also a time I spent thinking a lot about my Dad. He passed away a year ago today. I was fortunate that he and my Mom were able to and wanted to take family vacations and show us different places. I think those times inspired my love of travel and I am forever grateful.
We listened to and danced to the music of the Ocean’s Trio before dinner. They are talented. We got a table for 2 again and the service was pretty speedy.
Opted out of the singer’s performance tonight although I hear she was very good with a wide range of musical selections.
Tomorrow is our last sea day so we would not have to set an alarm except that we have the Mariner’s Reception at 10:45. I know we don’t have to get dressed up for it but since we will be getting a picture with the Captain, I want to look nice so we will wear what we plan to wear for tomorrow night’s last Gala night.
Have to set the clock’s forward one hour tonight. Tonight’s towel animal is a floppy-ear dog.