Seward is the home to the Alaska Sealife Center a unique working research and rehabilitation facility the only one of it’s kind in Alaska and as you can imagine that means it can be pretty busy with rescue and rehabilitation work. The state of Alaska has more shoreline than the entire rest of the contiguous United States, and when sea animals become abandoned, injured or stranded this is where they come. Having lived for a number of years in Monterey I can tell you that the facility isn’t as elaborate or extensive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium but it is a great way to see and learn about Alaska’s marine life up close and personal.
Deanne and I took the opportunity while she was here in Seward to check out this facility and we were glad that we did. One of my favorite Alaska birds (as previously mentioned) the puffin was cleverly displayed here at the Center so that visitors can enjoy their antics both above and below the water. The above water aviary is full of seabirds that you can literally come face to face with.
Puffins are stubby black and white seabirds with large orange bills, short necks, short pointed wings and webbed feet. Using their wings these birds literally “fly” underwater after the fish that they eat. A puffin can dive for up to a minute but most dives usually last 20 to 30 seconds and they have been known to dive as deep as 250’ (which is amazing in less than 60 seconds). While underwater, the puffin swims by using its wings to push it along under the water almost as if it were flying, while using its feet as a rudder. Truly a bird buillt for the ocean.
There are two types of puffins found in Alaska, the Horned Puffin and the Tufted Puffin both were represented at the Sealife Center. Why the fascination with these rather silly looking birds? I can’t really answer that but to say we spent nearly an hour at the aviary watching the antics of a particularly active puffin as he raced up and down the water with frequent dives into the water surfacing only to race around again.
Puffins are inarguably some of the cutest birds in the world (really, don’t argue with me on this one; just assume I know what I’m talking about). But puffins are more than a species of waddling adorableness.
The markings and the coloring of these birds is a beautiful example of nature’s majesty. Because of their clown-like facial markings and colorful beak it was named “sea parrot” and “clown of the sea” by early sailors.
The puffin’s scientific name, Fratercula arctica dates back to the last half of the 1800’s. This name means “little brother of the north” in Latin. Little brother alludes to ‘little friar’ referring to the puffin’s black and white plumage, which is reminiscent of a friar’s robes. A second connotation of little friar may be drawn from the puffin’s sometime habit of holding its feet together when taking off, suggestive of hands clasped together in prayer.
Their common name puffin is thought to be derived from the word ‘puff’, which refers to swollen. And it is the puffin chick that contributes best to this name because of its round, puffed look resulting from its dense cover of down feathers – an adaptation for retaining body heat while the parent is off fishing. Indeed, they resemble little puffballs with beak and feet.
Although it flies strongly, it must work hard to take off from the water, thrashing along the surface before becoming airborne. While their flight (once they are airborne) is powerful, they are better swimmers than flyers. Flying, they lack good maneuverability and are often involved in mid-air collisions. Before landing at the colony, they circle the intended landing area a few times and then fly directly to the nest-burrow entrance—hopefully. They often do, however, crash into tall grass, rocks, and rocky slopes during landing. This becomes evident as you watch these birds both at the Sealife Center and in their native habitat.
Puffins are well suited to life at sea. Their feathers are waterproof to keep out the cold water in which they dive to feed. Their short, stiff wings help them to “fly” underwater in search of prey. Their bones are very strong to withstand the pressure underwater. They can store oxygen in their body tissues and also use anaerobic respiration to enable them to make long dives.
While their numbers are considered strong in Alaska their range has been reduced considerably over the years and they are considered especially vulnerable to effects of oil spills. As mentioned earlier, waddling adorableness, worth our continued support for their existence and a bird that everyone should have a chance to see in their lifetime.
“The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.” – Jules Verne
Currently the Sealife Center is caring for a baby walrus that had been abandoned and found in Nome Alaska at only four weeks old. Although weighing nearly 150 pounds he is truly dependent on the center’s dedicated staff and volunteers. Needing contact 24 hours a day or he plaintively cry and refuse to eat they work round the clock to care for this abandoned creature of the arctic.
“Describe him?… That’s hard. I don’t know if I can.
He was shortish. And oldish.
And brownish. And mossy.
And he spoke with a voice
that was sharpish and bossy.” – The Lorax
I took one look at the baby walrus and immediately thought of “The Lorax”. This isn’t the first time Dr Seuss has worked his way into a blog post. Back in January while visiting Joshua Tree National Monument the Joshua Trees seemed to bore a striking resemblance to Truffula Trees in “The Lorax”.
Thousands of children have learned about environmental destruction from the The Lorax, Seuss’s tale of ecological ruin brought on by greed. It packs in a lot of sophisticated concepts for a picture book, from the interconnectedness of ecosystems to the effects of industrial pollutants on freshwater systems.
“The Lorax,” in short, is a story about the dangers of unrestrained growth and the ultimate need for individual action to maintain hope for the environment.
“Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.” – The Lorax
As educated and informed environmental activists, we are well aware of the destruction that Mother Earth is enduring and the extent at which we’re losing the character of this planet. And we can have faith that this trend will continue if we chose to remain idle and paralyzed by fear.
For those that don’t know or just don’t remember the story, by harvesting too many Truffula trees too quickly, the Once-ler puts himself out of business and retreats to his ruined factory to ruminate on the costs of not having a sustainable business plan. The Lorax leaves in despair, and the Once-ler hands over the task of restoring the Truffula ecosystem by giving the world’s last Truffula seed to a child. An interesting end to the story, the hero does not save the day; that task falls to the next generation.
“The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance…
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance…
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face when he heisted himself and took leave of this place, through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with one word… “UNLESS.”” – The Lorax
Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.
Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. The world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The environment (translate this to the entire planet) is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next. It is our responsibility to hand over to the next generation the best possible world. And then for the next generation (and future generations) to do the same. I for one have faith in our children’s generation to do what is best for the future of the environment and the planet.
“Far and away, the greatest threat to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is ignorance. But we can do something about that.” – Sylvia Earle
The Alaska Sealife Center in Seward does a great job of educating visitors and giving them the face to face interaction that leads to an emotional bond that will build a desire to protect.
Cory and I joined several hundred other folks for the 19th Annual 5k Wildlife Rescue Run to help raise funds for the Sealife Center. It was a great way to be a part of the community and support a worthy cause and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day!
I will end up staying in Seward for two weeks as it is one of my favorite places in Alaska but I wanted to dedicate an entire Bolg post to the Sealife Center as I believe it is a must see for visitors to this region. Visit there – you won’t be sorry……..