Merry Christmas from AK!


Another Christmas in AK has come and gone.  It was a Christmas filled with memories, friends, traditions and good food.  Santa was definitely good to the both of us! Here are some pictures from the day...

Our Christmas tree
Mamosas!
Making french toast and eggs benedict for breaky
Carving the turkey

My new apron - "Making a moose in the kitchen"




Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy Winter Solstice!

Normally, I would not be excited over the darkest day of the year, BUT the darkest day of the year means one thing - the days are going to start getting longer again! And that makes me happy! We'll be fishing again in no time :)

Just because it's winter, doesn't mean it can't be beautiful - the sunrise from our balcony.
FYI - There will be about 5.5 hours of sunlight today (sunrise: 10:14am, sunset: 3:42pm)

Home Sweet Home

Steve is FINALLY back from his 18 day, 3 state, road trip.  While it is nice to have some time to myself, it gets old real fast and it's very nice to have him back! 

The Aces went 6-0-2 (6 wins, 0 losses, 2 overtime/shoot out loses) on their road trip, for a total of 14 out of 16 possible points.  They're on fire!  In the last game vs Bakersfield, Steve scored the over time game-winning goal! Click here for the article in ADN. He has been having an awesome season so far and is currently leading the league in plus/minuses. Go Celebrity Steve!

While he was gone I decided to put up our Christmas tree.  Instead of our little dinky tree we had last year, I decided to go all out and buy a real tree.  Afterall, this apartment is our home so why not make it feel like one?!
Steve was very excited to see these two little guys when he got home.  Mo is now full grown, and Rocky has put on a large amount of weight.  Because of this massive weight gain, we have begun to wonder if Rocky is actually a Rockette.  I guess we will find out in the upcoming weeks!
Rocky and Mo watching tv and loving life!
Everyone keeps asking what the weather is like in Alaska right now.  November was extremely cold... lots of snow and temperatures down to -20Fs.  December however is definitely a lot different.  Last week temperatures reached the +40Fs.  The snow started melting and we got a lot of rain.  Now all of the roads are like skating rinks.  But I guess that's just Alaska.  If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes.  It is also dark when we go to work in the morning, and dark when we leave in the evening.  Today, sunrise was 9:53am and sunset is 3:48pm.  I must admit, I am definitely looking forward to Vegas in February and Hawaii in June!

PBI Webcast & Polar Bear Cam


Click here for the link of the webcast I was a part of while in Churchill with Polar Bear's International.  The broadcast starts at the 17:00 minute mark.  Enjoy :)

If you want to experience what I experienced while on the lodge and meet some of the polar bears I saw, click here for the link to PBI's new Polar Bear Cam.  It is a window into the fall migration of the polar bears in the Churchill area. 


Find more on my journey to Churchill here:

PART 5: Back to Reality

Friday, October 14, 2011

After waking early this morning and completing our cleanup duties, we finally left the Tundra Buggy Lodge behind and headed back into Churchill.  We were fortunate enough to see one last bear as we headed into town, one last reminder to why we all came together for this special week.  I got to meet many great people, which was not just a great networking experience, but also inspiring.  The teenagers had some truly inspiring ideas and were genuinely excited about what they were doing.  It makes me think back to when I was their age – I think I was probably more interested in boys and soccer than being a steward for our environment.  I definitely applauded them.

As I leave Churchill and the polar bears behind and head home with my action plan in hand, to an inbox full of emails, or reality, I feel inspired, motivated and excited to take on new challenges and move my community and those around me to make a change and reduce their carbon emissions.  If not for the polar bears, then do it for yourself.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just kidding!  We didn’t leave Churchill last night.  Fog had blanketed the town earlier in the day and unfortunately left us grounded and unable to fly.  We were put up in the rustic Northern Lights Inn, and were finally able to shower after completing the week’s No Shower Challenge!  We were woken up at 5am this morning to the sound of gunshots.  Quickly springing out of our beds we realized they were not gunshots, but the scare pistols and screamers that we got to shoot off at the Polar Bear Holding Facility, because there was a polar bear right beside the hotel!  Although it’s unfortunate to see a polar bear wander into town, it was interesting to see all that we learned at the facility put into action for the safety of the Churchill residents, and the polar bear. 

We finally got off to Winnipeg, but upon arrival was welcomed by more bad news.   Since I won’t be able to get out of here until tomorrow morning now, I think I’ll partake in a little retail therapy!

I will leave you with a poem I wrote during my inspiring time on the Tundra Buggy Lodge.  Apparently I’m a poet, and I didn’t even know it! Enjoy! 

Polar Bear, Oh Polar Bear
Polar bear, oh polar bear, will you feel harm?
Will you feel harm when the Arctic continues to warm?

Polar bear, oh polar bear, where will you go?
Where will you go in a world with no snow?

Polar bear, oh polar bear, what will you be?
What will you be when you can’t get to sea?

Polar bear, oh polar bear, will it suffice?
Will it suffice when you can’t hunt on ice?

Polar bear, oh polar bear, will you feel defeat?
Will you feel defeat when you can’t eat?

Polar bear, oh polar bear, how can we assist?
How can we assist so you continue to persist?

Marla, oh Marla, it’s no great debate,
One way you can help is to educate!

Take all that you’ve learned from this opportunity,
And be a leader in your community!

Together as one, we can change our way,

PART 4: Tying it All Together

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today was the day of our webcast! We were able to tie together our experience, through what we’ve learned and what we’ve seen, and share our enthusiasm with colleagues and students watching.  After a lot of practice, we were so grateful it went off without a hitch!  If you are interested in watching, I will post the link to the webcast at a later date.

Driving the Tundra Buggy

After celebrating the completion of our webcast with cocktail hour, we were greeted by an arctic fox stalking and pouncing on his prey in front of the buggy and a peregrine falcon soaring in the wind.  These animals were a last reminder of the beauty and fragility of this habitat.   With glass of wine in hand, a few of us got together and were discussing how we got to where we are today, more specifically what sparked our interest in the natural world and conservation.  All of the stories were similar, there was one, or two, very influential people in our lives that also had an interest in the natural world. Those peoples gave us opportunities and encouraged us to get outside and explore.  We all agreed that if we were to tell a younger version of ourselves what we were doing now, that younger version would say, “Wow! You are so cool!”.  hahaha Every step I have taken in my life has brought me to this perfect place and looking back, I don’t regret a thing.  There is no “shoulda, coulda, woulda” for me, or as a colleague said “Don’t should yourself.”  I feel very fortunate to be where I am today.

The polar bear, nicknamed Chomp, that slept outside the lodge the entire week

Checking out the lodge
Arctic fox

To finish the day, we were given a moving pep talk by Robert Buchanan, President and CEO of PBI, who graciously welcomed us to the PBI family.  We are now officially Arctic Ambassadors!

Find more on my journey to Churchill here:





PART 3: Looking into the Eyes of a Big White Bear

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This morning we woke up bright early to wind and rain! I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced such strong wind.  The way the wind was pushing around the Tundra Buggy Lodge made it feel like we were on a boat.  It definitely gives me an appreciation for both the animals and plants that call this harsh environment home.  

First up in the morning was a Skype session with Dr Steven Amstrup, PBI’s Chief Scientist.  Right at the end of our Skype session, a small female subadult (polar bear that is age 3-5 and has yet to reach sexual maturity) decided to make an appearance and steal Dr Amstrup’s thunder.  We went outside in between buggies to try and get a better picture and noticed she was very skittish.  Seeing a skittish bear around a Tundra Buggy is always a good sign because it means the bear has yet to become accustomed to humans.  Amid trying to get that perfect shot, I put down my camera for a second and just looked into her beautiful eyes and immediately got lost. What a beautiful animal I had standing in front of me! I felt so privileged to be here and see polar bears in a whole new way.  There were no white bars or plexiglas windows between me and this bear, just open tundra (and high winds).  This is their world, we’re just living in it.  After minutes of marveling over her, she eventually hunkered down, in some low-lying shrubs, with her butt to the wind to stay warm.  Since polar bears carry most of their fat in their rear end and belly, we have learned how to judge their condition based on the shape and size of their rear.  We judged this female to be of average condition, what is to be expected of polar bears at this time of year, when they’ve been fasting for 4 months already.  

Skyping with Dr Amstrup

Getting lost in those beautiful dark eyes

Shaking off

We then headed out on the Tundra Buggy, travelling on roads made by the Canadian and American military during the cold war.  I have no idea what idea what direction we were travelling in because I have no mountains to my east for reference like in Anchorage.  After a drive, a Tundra Buggy breakdown (we had to abandon ship and jump on the Teen’s buggy), a couple more polar bear sightings (bringing the total to 7 different individuals so far) and a snowshoe hare trying to stay dry, we headed back to the lodge for yet another Skype session, this time with Dr Andrew Derocher, a Professor of Biology with the University of Alberta.  He has done years of research on the South Beaufort Sea polar bear population in Alaska so it was very especially interesting to hear about his research.  The night ended with a presentation from John Gunter, CEO of Frontiers North Adventures, the company that gratefully donates the lodge and Tundra Buggies to PBI during leadership camp and while polar bear scientists are in town. 

Male sleeping and trying to stay dry in the willows outside the lodge

Arctic hare

PART 2: Greetings from Churchill!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Greetings from Polar Bears International’s Communicator Leadership Camp in Churchill, MB and Happy Thanksgiving! After an early 21/2 hr flight from Winnipeg, and some Timmy’s coffee, we have finally arrived at our destination, the polar bear capital of the world!  


The day started off with a tour around town.  We met so many interesting people.  First was Karyne Jolicoeur, an interpreter from Parks Canada.  She took us to the Fort of Wales at Cape Merry, where we learned about the history of Churchill, dating back to the fur trade in the 1700s. We even got to see a couple of belugas playing in the estuary where the Churchill River and Hudson Bay meet. 


Next up was Bob Windsor, a conservation officer with Manitoba Conservation, who works at Churchill’s Polar Bear Holding Facility (calling it polar bear jail is highly frowned upon).  The Polar Bear Alert program works to keep problem bears away from the town and to keep both the residents of Churchill, and the bears, safe.  We learned about the scare tactics used, such as their newest technique of paintball guns, and I even got to shoot a pistol with “screamer bullets”, another hazing technique.  Click here to see a video discussing Churchill's Polar Bear Alert System.  If these scare tactics don’t work to scare the bear a safe distance from town, then they bear is captured via live trap or by darting it.  The bear is kept in the holding facility, which unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside of, for 30 days and then taken by helicopter 40 miles north to the coast and released.  It was interesting to learn that when we were there they had 9 bears in the facility, including a mom and her cub that they had been brought in earlier in the morning.  Of the 200 calls they have gotten to their 24-hotline so far this year, they have only had to capture and hold approximately 25, scare tactics worked for all others. 


Then it was finally time to load up the Tundra Buggy, complete with a stove for warmth, and head out to Frontiers North Adventures Tundra Buggy Lodge.  What a ride!  The roads we have been driving on were built by the Canadian and American military for their cold-weather training during the Cold War.  We saw a lot of wildlife such as various small birds and waterfowl, tundra swans, ptarmigans and even a silver fox (a color phase of the red fox).  He was very busy digging up a cache and didn’t mind us sneaking up closer to get a good look at how gorgeous he was.  Our driver, Buggy Bob, made sure to stop every time we thought we saw something, including many false alarms that turned out to be only white rocks.  With the Tundra Buggy Lodge in sight, I had just about given up hope that we would see a polar bear today.  It was ok with me though, we had plenty more time and at least I had seen a silver fox!  Do you know how rare this color phase is?  They only make up 5% of the red fox population in Alaska!  If you know me well enough, you know how much I adore red fox!  But just then we saw her sleeping on a bed of kelp along the coast of the bay.  An immediate hush came over the entire group.  She was so beautiful!  Before reaching the lodge we caught a glimpse of two more bears sleeping, one in the kelp and the other in the willows.  It’s pretty cool to think we have two polar bears sleeping outside our windows as I write this.  

Silver fox

Two adult tundra swans and their cygnet flying over the Tundra Buggy Lodge

Our first polar bear sighting of the week

Our second polar bear sighting of the week

What a beautiful sunset!



Before filling our bellies with a nice Thanksgiving meal, we took the opportunity to share how thankful we all were to be a part of this remarkable experience and to be able to share this experience with others to move them enough to make a change for polar bears.

Find more on my journey to Churchill here:

PART 1: The Beginning of an Adventure

I found my time in Churchill at Polar Bear International’s Communicator Leadership Camp so inspiring that I decided to write a journal to document this emotional and amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It will be in the form of a 5 part “mini series”.  Please keep in mind some of this may be sappy/corny, but  I was absolutely moved by this experience.  Some of this if also kind of scientific, and may look like it’s in another language, but I felt it is information to share exactly what I learned from this experience and more importantly, why I was there.  So, if you need a translation, just ask!

Day 1: Sunday, October 9, 2011

After an extremely long travel day, which included being awake for 36 hours, I finally made it to Winnipeg, MB to meet up with others that would be joining me on this adventure!  The group consisted of 9 educators from zoos across North America (Alaska, St Louis, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Tucson, Tacoma, Philadelphia, Toronto and Quebec), 14 extremely enthusiastic teenagers (chosen because they are stewards for the environment and have taken action against climate change in their community), group facilitators and Polar Bears International (PBI) staff members and volunteers.  Since I got in a little early, and was so tired I wasn’t tired anymore, a few of us in my group decided to check out the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg.  After a short visit to the zoo, we met all members of our group and discussed the happenings of the week!  With a very full belly, from a very excellent meal with all ingredients from within a 100-mile radius of the hotel, I am off to bed!  4:45am comes early, especially when it still feels like 1:45am Alaska time. 

Communicator group (and me looking like a zombie after going 36 hours without sleep)

Some of you may be wondering why Churchill?  Why are the polar bears in Churchill?  It’s pretty simple, but obviously involves some science.  Churchill is located along the coast of the Hudson Bay, in an area where the freshwater of the Churchill River empties into the salt water of the Bay.   This mixing of fresh and salt water decreases the salinity of the salt water, causing ice to form at a higher temperature. Ice formation begins in the Churchill area of the Hudson Bay and moves north. The ice throughout the Hudson Bay melts completely by the end of July or early August and does not refreeze until approximately November.   This means that all of the polar bears must come ashore for 4 months.  During this period, they are unable to hunt for ringed seals and must fast and survive on fat reserves that they have built up through the winter.  Throughout the fall, and especially just before freeze-up of the Bay, bears migrate towards the coast, congregating until they can move out onto the frozen ice and begin feeding again.

So what’s the big deal?  Why are Polar Bears International and Arctic Ambassador Centers, like the Alaska Zoo, putting in so much effort to protect these bears? Bear with me (hahaha get it?!),  I’m going to get all sciency on you. Two words:  CLIMATE CHANGE!  Polar bears are known to be an indicator species and climate change is having a large effect on their population, specifically through loss of their habitat.  With an increasing global average temperature due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the sea ice that polar bears depend on for hunting their main prey (ringed seals) is disappearing for longer periods of time.  In the perfect world in Churchill, the seasonal ice would melt and polar bears would come to shore in July, with sea ice freeze-up in October, when the bears would venture back out.  However, due to climate change, sea ice does not freeze up until December now.  This year alone snow is already 3 weeks late in Churchill.  Polar bears are fasting for almost 2 months longer than they used to be and should be.  This loss of habitat and not being able to eat for 5 months has obvious effects on polar bears - small size, lower reproduction rate, etc. So why can’t they just adapt to finding food on land?  Sure they can snack on things like grasses, kelp, birds and small mammals, but there is nothing on land that is of nutritional value to them like the fat of seals.  

I could never imagine a world without this beautiful species.


Find more on my journey to Churchill here:

Off to Change the World

I'm off to the polar bear capital of the world tonight, Churchill Manitoba, for Polar Bears International's week-long Communicator Leadership Camp! So excited! Please remember to follow the camp's blog here  and also like Polar Bears International on facebook.  We will be writing about our adventures and posting pictures all week long!

Fall in Alaska

Summer is officially over in Alaska.  The leaves have changed color, the days are getting much shorter, the temperatures are dropping (below 0C)... and a new hockey season is about to begin.  In honor of fall, and since we had yet to experience a September in Alaska, we set out to do some fun fall stuff including picking veggies at Pyrah's Veggie Farm in Palmer and a beautiful nature hike in Eagle River.  Check out some of our pics...


Rocky

For those of you that have not had the opportunity to meet our friend Rocky the mouse, you're missing out.  Before you judge, know that he is not your average rodent.  In fact he is a very loving, outgoing and loyal mouse.  He is quite the character.  We got Rocky back in February when he, and his girlfriend Tofu (who lives with the zoo’s Volunteer Coordinator), were part of a zoo spring break camp all about rodents.  At the zoo we breed our own mice and feed them out to our birds and snakes.  Everybody’s gotta eat! Anyways, I could not stand the thought of him going back on death row at the zoo, so of course being the animal lover I am, took him home.  Steve, never having small animals as a child (what was wrong with him?!), was super excited and immediately took Rocky under his wing.  He researched how to train mice (how cute) and now thoroughly enjoys hanging out and watching tv with Rocky.  Rocky’s favorite past times include building escape tunnels with the gazillions of toilet paper rolls in his cage, running on his wheel (he’s a real fitness freak) and napping curled up on his Canadian flag (he has dual citizenship).  His favorite snacks include cheezeits, peanut butter and the odd sunflower seed.  We leave the cage door open for him to come out of his cage and explore but he can’t escape, it’s pretty much like he’s on Alcatraz.  Everybody loves Rocky. Here are some pictures of the little guy...





Photos  ©Marla Wales 2011