In 1989 when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez hit the reef and spilled its contents in Prince William Sound, everyone knew that the oil would have a devastating effect on the local wildlife. But the damage was impossible to quantify since no one had done any research or documentation on the quantities and health of the wildlife. There were no rehabilitation centers for injured animals. The locals were so unprepared for this disaster that they wasted valuable time when they might have been able to use floating buoys to surround the oil and prevent it from going wherever the waves took it.
As part of the settlement Alaska got from the oil companies, the SeaLife Center was built here in Seward. In all fairness it probably should be in Valdez where the spill was, but its much easier to get here from Anchorage where most people live. The center is has a number of missions, documentation and assessment of animal populations is one. For example, the sea lion population here is not doing well, especially when compared to their cousins who live in the Aleutians toward Siberia and the group that lives on the California coast. When they are teens and young adults, they head out into the sea and many don’t come back. So the center is implanting sensors in young adults so they can track them and find out what’s ending their lives when they are away from land. Injured animals are also brought here to be nursed back to health and released to the wild if possible. It also functions as an aquarium and educational facility for locals and tourists.
All the animals exhibited were locals and many we had already seen on boat tours. The flighty and elusive puffins were much easier to photograph here. They shared their habitat with fish, which were fun to watch from windows beneath the water. The puffins would swim deep in the tank right along side fish larger than they for long periods of time. I kept trying to breathe for them. They moved much more fluidly and gracefully beneath the water than when we watch them fly and they looked like clumsy bumblebees.
After being in Alaska for about six weeks, we are beginning to see some changes. It’s dark when we go to bed at midnight and we don’t have to cover the windows to get a reasonable night’s sleep. Although this has been a summer of record cold temperatures, the lows are not quite so low. It’s Alaska’s version of summer warm up. But with the record snow fall they had last winter, I wouldn’t be surprised that all those glaciers that are in retreat, slow that retreat down a bit this year.
When we are on long trips like this staying in touch can be a challenge. We were surprised to get our mail general delivery here on Monday when it had been sent from the mail service in Texas only the Thursday before. Unless we are deep in the woods, internet is available if we hunt around. In many towns a local provider sells coverage that we can subscribe to by the day or the week that is also used in the same way be folks living there. Here in Seward a local coffee shop and the library have provided good internet for free. Private campgrounds usually offer wifi for free. Cell service has been good as long as we’re near a town of 1,000 residents or more. The rooftop satellite dish has managed to pull in many TV channels as long as there hasn’t been a physical obstruction like a tree or a mountain. But we’re so on the edge of the signal, a decent rainstorm turns the picture into pixilated modern art. Here we also get some TV over the air. There are two channels: one is a combination of content from PBS, CBS, ABC and NBC. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what programming is on when. The other station which we have found at five different frequencies is WGN, a low rent station from our home town. We are delighted to catch an occasional news or weather forecast, but wonder why anyone else around here would like news from Chicago or reruns of the Andy Griffith show.