June 15, 2009
The Aleutian Island chain off the southwest corner of Alaska has been inhabited for the last 8,000 years. In the 18th and 19th centuries British, Spanish, and American explorers would roam the islands but it was Russia that would lay claim to them. The Russians forced the native Aleuts to hunt seal and sea otters for them and soon Unalaska (the island I am on now) became their first permanent settlement in the islands in the 1820s. In 1867, the U.S. government purchased the territory of Alaska, one of the prime reasons being the rich fur seal rookeries in the islands surrounding Unalaska. The Alaskan gold rush of the late 1800s saw the Unalaskan economy shift and thrive as a refueling stop for ships bound for the goldfields and fishing grounds of the far north.
Then in the summer of 1940, the U.S. Navy appropriated the port of Dutch Harbor buying up all of the private buildings and constructing an air station. In May of 1942, two Japanese carriers and several smaller ships approached Dutch from the Southwest and on June 3rd and 4th, attacked Dutch with bombers, dive bombers, and Zeroes in an attempt to neutralize its ability to attack Japan. Ironically due to the lack of flat land, Dutch Harbor had no airstrip. Once the Japanese pilots realized this, they bombed everything else they could before steaming back west. Today, the City of Unalaska and its port, called Dutch Harbor has an economy rooted in commercial fishing, seafood processing and fleet services. For more than two decades, the port of Dutch Harbor has been the most prosperous fishery in the nation. It is home to more than 350 fishing vessels that ply their trade in the Bering Sea, bringing in crab, halibut, salmon, herring, and pollock. In 2008, Dutch alone accounted for 7.3% of the nation's catch and has served as the home location for Discovery Channel's hit series "The Deadliest Catch."
I checked out of the hotel around 10 today but stayed in the lobby to take advantage of the free wireless internet, finishing up my journal entry for yesterday and sending out some e-mails. I then hitched a ride to the Thompson and moved my stuff into Room #32, a 2-man stateroom on the port side Deck Level 01. Pat wasn't in so I just took whatever drawers he wasn't occupying and made my way down to the laundry room to pick up a fresh set of linens. After unpacking, I ate some leftovers in the galley, grabbed my camera, and left the ship to go exploring. Since the ship just finished the spring BEST cruise, all of the set-up had been completed, leaving little to do except explore the island. We are scheduled to put to sea tomorrow evening at 9 p.m., or 21:00 as they say on the ship. This should give me a solid day and half to walk around and see the sites.
The temperature is holding in the 40s but it is windy at times making it feel much colder. Bald eagles are the norm here. I have already stopped counting the number I have seen because they are everywhere, like pigeons in New York City. The same is the case for the crab pots, the 800 lb. steel cages lowered to bottom of the Bering. The pots are stacked all over town, waiting for the beginning of crab season to arrive.
After a few hours of walking, I met up with some of the other scientists (I will introduce them to you later) and drove back to town to have dinner at the Grand Aleutian. The group decided to head to the UniSea Inn again but I declined as the past few days of travel had caught up with me. I walked the 2.5 miles back to the ship at the Klootserboer Pier, got some coffee from the galley, and sat down in my stateroom to write my journal and download some pictures from my camera. It is 11:15 p.m. right now and it is as light outside as it was at 1 p.m.. Thankfully my stateroom does not have a porthole so the light should not have an effect on my sleeping. I might as well get used to staying up late and sleeping in though because Pat informed me over dinner that our sampling time would be about 2 a.m. in the morning. The science on the ship occurs 24/7, as efficiency is paramount when time is money. Although some of the other scientists who are onboard for their second straight cruise are content to stay attached to land right now and wouldn't mind another day or two of down time, I am quite the opposite. Tomorrow we cast off and head out into the Bering Sea.