Looking for a way to beat the winter blues and teach a young person important life skills? Try ice fishing. You’ll learn about fish and lakes, gain patience, get outside, and maybe even get some clean healthy meals out of it.
Although rarely exceeding 8 inches in length, this tiny Esocid is arguably the hardiest of Alaska’s fish. Most notably, they’re the only air-breathing fish in the Arctic. In fact, only a few fishes in the world can breathe atmospheric oxygen. Thanks to a modified, gas-absorbing esophagus, the Alaska Blackfish can thrive where other fish can’t, like stagnant waters and seasonal tundra ponds. How neat is that?
Alaska Blackfish spend a lot of time on the bottom of lakes and ponds, where they pursue their prey — small aquatic insects and tiny crustaceans. In winter, when dissolved oxygen levels drop under the ice, they go to the surface to gulp air. When available, they take advantage of muskrat “pushups” — where muskrats pile vegetation on the surface of the ice over an opening for safe eating all winter long. …
Burbot (Lota lota) are the only freshwater gadoid (cod) in North America (check out that chin whisker!). And with a circumpolar range, they’re one of the most widely distributed freshwater fishes in the world.
Winter is a great time to fish for Burbot as they move slowly along river and lake bottoms. Burbot also spawn in winter, under the ice, in writhing masses. It’s dark, and they vocalize to each other by rapidly contracting striated muscles attached to their gas-filled swim bladder. The drumming songs they make have similar beats to those of other closely-related marine cod fishes.
A recommendation: if you don’t have anything to do on Valentine’s Day, may we suggest you go Burbot fishing? For you musicians, we challenge you to record the soundscape of the Burbot using a hydrophone. …
It was December, 1971. Congress had just passed legislation that addressed Indigenous land claims in the still young State of Alaska: the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). In the same Act, they set an expectation that additional Alaska lands would eventually become national wildlife refuges, parks, forests, and recreation areas. In response, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska immediately called in its most experienced field biologists and managers to identify important wildlife areas. They called this effort the “December Exercise.”
Fran Mauer remembers the team. Bob “Sea Otter” Jones. Cal Lensink. Jim King, Dave Spencer, Will Troyer and Averill Thayer. “They’re unsung today, but their knowledge played a gigantic role in identification of lands to be added to the Refuge System,” he says. Six years later, Fran stepped into their legacy as he joined another planning team that informed one of the most comprehensive pieces of conservation ever passed, with an expansion of public land totaling an area larger than the entire State of California: the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). …
Early life for Cora Demit was defined by family and fish: two concepts that may seem disparate, but in Cora’s case they combined to create the foundation for a joyous childhood.
“I was born in Northway south of Tok, but my four siblings and I grew up in a fish camp,” recalls Cora, an Upper Tanana Athabascan tribal member. “It was on an allotment my mother owned, about 20 miles from the village. My father died when I was three years old, so my mother and grandmother raised us. And that camp was our world.”
Only one other family — friends of Cora’s mother — lived on the allotment. Everyone toiled endlessly from late spring through early fall, harvesting whitefish, pike and suckers from adjacent waterways, drying the fish on racks, trapping and hunting. …
One of Sylvia Pitka’s earliest chores was caring for the family dogs. That’s not unusual in American households, but these dogs were more than pets: they were hard-working household members, essential to the family’s prosperity. And their health and well-being depended on Sylvia’s diligence.
Of fifty warbler species regularly found throughout the U.S. and Canada, 11 make their way to Alaska each summer to breed. Like many other migratory birds, warblers take advantage of abundant insects and prime nesting habitat to raise young in the U.S. and Canada, before traveling to warmer areas like Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean to spend the winter.
Alaska is famously called Land of the Midnight Sun in summer for its nearly endless daylight— and in the winter, there is the aptly-named Polar Night of lengthy darkness. But for a few days each year, these wild swings of light find momentary balance, hanging equally between night and day. This temporary truce happens during the fall and spring equinox, when we experience the same amount of sunlight no matter where we live. Fall equinox might officially mark the start of the season, but in Alaska, our fall colors are already well on their way:
Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges are vast, full of fascinating animals, and there’s always so much to learn. While we may not find ourselves in the same classroom together this fall, there are still plenty of ways to explore nature and wildlife with us — virtually!