Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alaska Odds and Ends - To Live and Die in Valdez

When you are in Alaska there is no question that you are living a little closer to the edge.  Crazy weather, large carnivores, just a whole lot of mountainous empty spaces.  Oh, its quite safe for sensible folks but there is a little bit of dark edge in places.

When we were in Valdez the silver salmon were....somewhere else.  The fish cleaning stations that should have been a humming center of fillet knife virtuosity looked like this:

From these tables there are stainless steel chutes for the leftover parts.  The gulls looked very despondent over the lean times.

They probably should have just flown across the bay.  One of the big local attractions is the Soloman Gulch Fish Hatchery.  Every year they release a ridiculous number of salmon fry, and those who don't end up getting netted or chomped on all try to stage a truly impressive homecoming.  The pink salmon were running when we visited.  You could almost walk across the inlet on their humpy backs.

This actually seems really cruel.  The stream they are trying to run up into to spawn is a stumpy little thing that pretty much ends at the Hatchery.  And even so it is blocked by the barrier you can see above.  A few real over achievers manage to leap up and die on the flat surface of the barrier.  Almost all the others just mill about getting weaker and more frustrated.  If they go against their nature and swim back out there is a gang of seal lions feeding on them.  If they keep churning forward the go up on the rocks and sea gulls peck at them.

But there is a small chute that a few lucky fish make it into.  They still have to go upstream through an obstacle course of baffles and barriers.  A very, very few of the lucky, smart and strong ones make it into the Hatchery.  Their reward is to have their juices squeezed out by fisheries workers.  Then they get made into dog food and fertilizer.  The life story of salmon is just plain tragic no matter how you look at it.  A few years of freedom of the seas, a frantic hormone fueled rush towards a real or imagined home.  Then they are food for somebody. Sobering.

Back in Valdez some other exuberant mating behaviour was on display.  It was Gold Rush Days and the local festivities seemed to prominently feature comely lasses done up in costumes that recalled dance hall floozies.  I had turned in for the night so missed some rather drunken sales pitches in which garters were sold to tourists to benefit scholarships for local kids.  Next morning the Klondike Kates seemed none the worse for wear.  Unless this was the second shift.

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