The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The effects of the Trump Tax Cut bill will not be fully apparent for a few months, but this posting is not about addressing all the faults of that law.  I do want to discuss the portion that will allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While nations associated with the Paris Accord are working to eliminate the use of fossil fuels,such as oil, our current administration continues to work in the opposite direction.  The early analysis of the bill it will add a trillion dollars to the national deficit. This addition to the debt will have to be paid for future generations of our youth. The worst part is that they will have to contend with global warming, pollution, and the loss of witnessing this habitat thrive and learn about it’s fragile ecosystem. This proposal was instrumental in obtaining Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote.

ANWR

The ANWR

The story behind the ANWR began in 1953, with an article published in a journal of the Sierra Club. The article entitled “Northeast Alaska: The Last Great Wilderness” was written by National Park Service Planner George Collins and a biologist Lowell Summer. Collins and Summer would recruit the president of the Wilderness Society,  Olaus Murrie, and his wife, to protect the area.

In 1956 Olaus and Maudy Murrie led an expedition to the Brooks Range in Northeast Alaska. The journey took an entire summer to study land and wildlife ecosystems of the upper Sheenjak Valley. In 1963 Olaus said, “On our trips to the Arctic Wildlife Range we saw clearly that it was a place for mass recreation… It takes a lot of territory to keep this alive, a living wilderness, for scientific observation and aesthetic inspiration. The Far North is a fragile place.”

By order of the Secretary of Interior, Fred Andrew Seaton, the land became federally protected in 1960, while he served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On December 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The ANWR is made up of the Mollie Beattie Wilderness (8 million acres), area 1002 which was added in 1980 (1.5 million acres) and the remaining (10.1 million acres) which is considered suitable for designation as a wilderness area. However, that designation has never happened. Only Congress could open this area for oil drilling.

A  visitor would be hard-pressed to find a road leading into the refuge.The refuge doesn’t have any roads leading into it. The Inupiat village of Kaktovik has 258 occupants, living on the northern edge. On the southern tip is Gwich’in has a population of 152. There is, however, a path between the two village that traverses all of the ecosystems of the ANWR, from boreal forests to the Arctic Ocean.

The Wildlife of the ANWR

The northern coast is made up of barrier islands, coastal lagoons, salt marshes, and river deltas, which provide a variety of habitat for migratory birds. Some of these migratory birds are sea ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds. Also found in the nearshore waters are Dolly Varden, considered part of the trout family, and Arctic Cisco,  which is considered a type of whitefish. Also along these same coastal lands and sea ice are used by caribou in search of relief from biting flies during the summer. Also in this area, Polar bears use it for hunting of seals and digging dens for birthing.

In the area of the ANWR, the coastal plain stretches to the south to the foothills of Brooks Range, which consists of small hills, lakes, and north-flowing rivers. The landscape is covered of tundra vegetation, shrubs, sedges, a triangular flowering plant, and mosses.  Herds of caribou make an appearance to the coastal region to give birth and raise their young. The area is also home to other species at various times of years, including migratory birds and insect during the short Arctic summer, plus tens of thousands of snow geese stop in September, to feed, before migrating south. Musk oxen live there all year round.

Muskox

The mountains of eastern Brooks range rise to over 9000 feet.  It serves several purposes as that it is the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains and marks the continental divide.  The area host north-flowing rivers that empty into the Arctic Circle and south-flowing tributaries that join the Yukon River. The mountain range supports a variety of vegetation includes tundra vegetation, shrubs and rare groves of popular on the north side and spruce on the south. In the summer months peregrine, gyrfalcons, and eagles build nests on the cliffs. The birds that are found on the rivers are Harlequin ducks and red-breasted mergansers. Grizzly bears and Arctic ground squirrels are known to hibernate in the area.

Area of Exploration

 

 

The visitor to the southern part of the Arctic Refuge would find themselves within the Interior Alaska-Yukon. This area is dominated by patches of black and white spruces until the forest gets denser in the foothills and flat lands north of the Yukon. Frequent forest fires created a mix described as a hodgepodge of spruce, birch, and aspen. The year-long residents of this boreal forest are Alaskan moose, muskoxen, Canadian lynxes, martins, wolverines, black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves.  Birds from Mexico and Central America often migrate here to breed during the spring and summer.

Prudhoe Bay and the Kaparuk area are centers for waterfowl and other birds to reproduce. Healthy herds of caribou come through the area to calve and refuge nagging pests.

Drilling

For forty years two parties have debated whether drilling should be allowed in the ANWR. The drilling target has always been and still is area 1002 and the debate has always been and will be whether oil exploration and the amount of recoverable oil will be harmful to the environment.

I hope that future generations get to experience the natural beauty of the fauna and flora of the few remaining wilderness areas, such as ANWR. Although the area 1002 has been opened to drilling, due to legislation passed in 2017, the chance of the area remaining pristine is hard to envision. I point the oil spills that have occurred along the Keystone pipeline, in November 2017. I believe that this legislation needs to be repealed for the sake of the environment and control of our future from big oil and President Trump. Or we can get use to seeing this in the last pristine frontiers of our nation.

Mankind Should Consider The Necessity Of Whales.

 

Giant Humpback WhalesThe number one reason is how many scientists have learned so much from research and biological studies. There are many reasons for the scientist to study and research whales. Many of the topics are whale behavior such as echolocation, language, intelligence, and environmental impact. Some of the information we have learned has been by watching them thrive and survive. 

Part of a healthy society for whale species and marine mammals is hunting and protecting one another. This is similar to the way humans, elephants, and primates live.  Two characteristics that are found in few other species is a high degree of intelligence and self-recognition. Because whales possess very complicated and sophisticated language, many researchers believe that humans will need to develop new technologies so we can communicate with them. The cetaceans species include whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Because of the cetaceans, which include whale, dolphins and porpoises, level of intelligence many researchers and environmentalists wish to give them specific protective rights; the same rights as humans.

Our growing understanding of whales is vital for improving safety measures which will lead to improvements in the ocean ecosystem. Echolocation is the sonar-like system in which visible and invisible objects found by sound waves reflected back to the emitter.  The research of this sonar-like systems has led to improvement and implementation new technologies for human sonar systems. This study has taught us that man-made sounds have an effect on echolocation of marine life. So we should attempt to make ways to better protect the cetaceans from the noise we make. We can start by creating new technologies that don’t interfere with echolocation and ban air gun blasting. Echolocation is one reason is that whales help military personnel locate underwater mines and people lost at sea. The human race needs to approach these studies hardheartedly because of the cetaceans intelligence and their ability to learn and their ability to work as a team.

How do whales affect the environment?

To begin with, whales regulate the food system through stabilization and ensuring that individual species do not overpopulate the ocean. As an example, the blue whale consumes 40 million krill a day. Now imagine the impact if the blue whale became extinct. The krill would thrive and survive, thereby overpopulating and destroying the species that they feed on. Poof their goes the stabilization of the food chain.

A by-product of the whale’s food consumption is whale poop which offsets carbon in the atmosphere. Studies show that nutrients found in sperm whale poop aids in the growth of phytoplankton. It is estimated that whale poop is responsible for the extraction of 400,000 metric tons carbon from the air every year. Whale poop also helps stabilizes the food chain by stimulating the growth of phytoplankton by helping to feed fish. This allows the fish to reproduce and survive, which feed other species.

How do whales help growing economies?

Movies such as Free Willie, Orca,  have aided in the growth of whale watching. People spend billions in the hope to get a glance of whales in their habitat. This spending has become a significant source of income leading to economic growth in wealthy and developing countries. Global whale watching has increased the global presence for these countries and helps attract additional investments from other countries. However, along time ago whales weren’t were so loved the outcome was sad and unfortunate.

In the old days of the whaling era, many species were slaughtered to the point that some species almost extinct and endangered. This killing of whales eventually caused all sorts of environmental changes. Those changes over time led to increased levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.

Blue Whales: One species that is at Risk

Blue Whale Size Chart

The blue whale is considered the biggest and loudest animal in the world. Blue whales can be heard several miles away. As a child, I remember seeing photographs of these creatures and was overwhelmed at their size. Because of their size, a blue whale is rarely attacked. The blue whale’s only known predator is killer whales and when killer whales usually attack they only attack young and defenseless calves.

Although the blue whale’s main diet is krill, it will consume creatures called copepods. Krill are found in Arctic waters. The blue whale is classified as a baleen whale because blue whales don’t have teeth so they can’t chew or grab onto their food.  The whale consumes food through a process called filter feeding.

This method implies filtering groups of krill from the water by the use of baleen plates. The plates have bristles which act like a net or a fence. As the blue whale swims at its prey, it opens its mouth to capture the food. Then the whale pushes the excess water out by using its tongue, the krill are trapped on the bristles. Once all the water is gone the whale eats the krill, whole. Because of the size of its esophagus, a blue or baleen whale couldn’t swallow an adult human.

What is the habitat of a blue whale?

One of the great tragedies of human history is the whaling era. Whaling, in its time, was a popular and lucrative business, causing death among all whale species. The extent of whaling among the blue whale almost brought the species to extinction. Estimates of the blue whale population before the whaling era were 200,000 – 300,000. After the whaling era, the species numbered between 5,000-12,000. 

Since the whaling era, blue whales still can be seen in the Antartic, Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. However, they are more readily found in colder waters where they store food and prepare for the mating season. During the mating season, blue whales are seen in warmer waters such as the Gulf of Mexico, Costa Rica, the Fallon, Channel Islands, and Monterey Bay. During their migration trips, blue whales survive off their blubber. These trips can take up to four months traveling at 3 -6 miles per hour. However, if a whale becomes agitated, it can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. The gestation period of a whale is 10- 12 months during which they produce one calf. A baby blue whale gains 200 pounds a day.

The Reproduction and Lifespan of Whales

Once a blue whale is impregnated the gestation period is usually ten to twelve months.  At the end of which the female whale, called a cow, produces a single offspring.  The calf or baby whale is nursed for six to nine months. The milk of the cow is full of fat and nutrients. Once the calf has been weaned, it starts consuming solid foods and hunting. After five to ten years the adult whale is able to mate. A cow produces every two to three years.

Threats

I have already mentioned the whaling era. In a previous post, I wrote about the potential dangers to the food cycle of offshore drilling specifically air-gun blasts. But blue whale also faces threats from pollution, the plastic bottles and wrapping tossed in the ocean during boating, collisions with boats and ships, global warming, fishing gear and marine equipment.