THE BERING SEA ECO SYSTEM UNDER STRESS
It is quite normal to think of the vast Bering Sea, north of the Aleutians Islands as a pristine wilderness far removed and untouched by the hand of man or the ravages of nature. But the march of time throughout the physical world affects all eco systems and the Bering Sea changes with it.
On the surface the scene across this wide expanse appears unchanged to the eye, but that would be erroneous. The fog, rain, and wind are all there, as it always has been, but it is beneath the surface where the real changes are being felt. Marine life in this sea, are undergoing constant and serious alterations to its basic foundation and require close scrutiny. The pressure of manís presence along with natural forces at work all lead to organisms under stress. Sea Lions, seals, otters, fish, crustaceans and birds to mention a few, are all suffering from a combination of forces that affect both the individual species as well as the larger eco system. The question needs to be asked what and why are the species of this area undergoing such changes and what can be done about it?
The Unangan were the first people to arrive on the Aleutian Islands, thousands of years ago, although most people know them today as Aleuts. They have witness first hand the gradual deterioration of this pristine environment. An example of this interplay can be explained by studying the kelp beds of the Aleutians Islands within the Bering Sea. See also www.halgranum.com. The fragility of the Aleutian marine eco system as it pertains to just one species, the kelp bed, is staggering. The inter relationship between every organism is crucial and has a direct affect on its neighbor.
THE KELP BED
Within the kelp beds are sea-urchins which feed voraciously on the kelp. The otter also lives in the kelp bed and feeds on its favorite food which is the sea-urchin. In addition, the Steller Sea Lion is the Orcas favorite food. How do these separate species intertwine?
The Steller Sea Lion which is the favorite food for Orcas has been decreasing in numbers at an alarming rate. As a result the Orcas must turn to another food source. In this case the Orcas turn to the otters for food.
As the otterís numbers decrease they eat fewer sea-urchins causing the numbers of sea-urchins to rapidly multiply. Without the otter the sea-urchins feed unchecked on the kelp beds and the kelp beds slowly disappear.
This single example helps explain the close interdependence thatís affects virtually all the organisms and how they depend on the kelp bed for both food and protection from predators. Through this chain of events the health of any one organism can have drastic consequences for the entire environment. Where there are numerous otters to control the growth rate of sea-urchins the kelp beds are healthy and provide a safe haven.
There are many people studying and searching for answers to this perplexing phenomenal change that is taking place in the Bering Sea. The race is on, to find answers and develop a plan, to turn around the deteriorating conditions in the Bering Sea. Some causes may be natural forces and some man induced. Natural forces remain some what out of manís control, but man made changes that adversely affect the sea around the Aleutian Islands is very much in manís control. It is hoped that all people can come together to analyze and take the necessary steps to conserve this wilderness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hal Granum is a long time resident of the Pacific Northwest and has lived in Alaska. He currently lives in Woodstock, Georgia. His book ďThe Great Eagle SpiritĒ takes place in the Aleutian Islands on the Bering Sea. Hal is currently working on his next novel, ďMy Ticket To Coal Banks.
See www.halgranum.com or contact him at Granumharold@comcast.net.
THE OTTER HUNTER AND THE STORM SPIRIT
(As told five thousand years ago in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska)
Hunter: Come close. I have a story to tell about how the storm spirit tried to take me away.
It was a clear and cold day with just a slight breeze and some early morning fog hanging on the horizon. I left the warmth of my underground dwelling in Unalaska and walked down the rocky beach to the sea. I had with me what food I would need for the day and my hunting weapons.
I climbed into my kayak and started paddling for the kelp bed at Nateekin Bay to hunt the otter. It was a long ways but I was prepared. I wore my seal skin parka to help protect me from the ocean spray and my wooden hunting visor to protect my eyes from the suns glare. The sea was smooth except for deep swells that hid the land from my sight when I was at the bottom of the wave, and back in view again when at the top. I paddled hard and non-stop seeing only a few birds, seals, and two whales. Eagles flying high above looked down on me wondering where I was going.
At long last I could see the kelp bed looming up ahead, rolling back and forth to the motions of the waves and tide. The kelp bed at Nateekin Bay was large and many otter lived there. I thought one of them will be mine this day. I approached the kelp bed slowly and stopped paddling so that the only sound was soft waves quietly sloshing against the sides of my kayak. I reached back for my hunting board and darts and became one with sea and the kelp bed itself and knew the otter would surface if I had patience.
The storm spirit was close by and knew I was there. He crept up on me silently, and then attacked me without warning. The sea became a wild and noisy place with the kelp thrashing wildly in the wind and waves. My kayak dug deep into the seaís depth for protection from the wrath of the storm spirits icy breath. The wind, cold rain, and fog covered me as black menacing clouds came down on me and took my breath away. My kayak was bending from the weight of the sky and I could hear my ancestors calling me. Their voices echoed over the roar of the storm. They were calling to me to give in to the storm spirit and join them this day.
Made of driftwood and stretched seal skins, my kayak held fast and would not go under the violent sea. The spirit wind finally lost interest in me, and the voices of my ancestors slowly faded back into the depths of the sea. I turned for home knowing the otter was safe for another day and I would join my ancestors another time.
A story of an otter hunter as told five thousand years ago.
Hunter: Some days when we take to the seas we are stronger than the storm spirit.
ALASKA NATIVES OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS
WHO ARE THEY?
Are the inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands Aleuts or are they Unangan? For generations the world has referred to these people as Aleuts; but, is this accurate? Our history books would say yes, but the facts say no.
Thousands of years ago people traveled across an ancient land bridge, called Beringia, from Russian to what is now called Alaska. As this bridge slowly expanded over the years, the natives from Russia moved eastward in their constant search for food. Some of these early people referred to themselves as Unangan. They were sea faring coastal people and they settled along coast lines and lived off the sea. In fact they were known as sea side people.
See www.halgranum.com and discover how a young Alaskan boy discovers the importance of his ancestry when he learns he is Unangan and not Aleut.
Some groups crossing this great bridge were the ancestors of Eskimos living in the Arctic, some were Athabascans who traveled and lived inland, and some turned south to settle the coast lines of Southeast Alaska. Then there were the Unangan who followed the coast line out on to the many islands of the Aleutians. This slow population expansion continued over time until there were about around 15,000 people living on the Aleutian Chain of islands. When this great land bridge slowly descended back into the Bering Sea, the people of Alaska were alone in their new world. They were, however, well equipped to live in the harsh environment of their new home.
Beginning around 1741 the Unangan lives changed dramatically as Russian traders looking for furs found a place teeming with seals and otters and a people who were skilled in the art of hunting them. There was a world wide market for furs, and as a result, the lives of the Unangan were never the same again. They became pawns in the every growing greed of the traders. Their culture and way of life clashed violently with the traders singled minded quest for furs. Eventually the Unangan were enslaved and forced to hunt the otter and seal in return for the safety of their family. Whole sale disregard for their welfare, along with disease decimated their population. Their numbers decreased just as the otters they hunted. The Russian traders called the Unangan, Aleuts, and they have been known as such since that time.
These same inhabitants living in the Aleutian Islands today are proud of their heritage and want to be known today as Unangan. Itís time to honor their request, and refer to them as Unangan.