Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Smurf Cod!

We went out for a nice day in the runabout last summer. It was one of those misty, occasional rain showers, Southeast Alaska days, and the fishing was unusually slow. Slo-ow. Which gave us time to look around at the mellow day.

We were glad to see that the eagle was on station to watch over things.

A humpback whale worked the edge of a kelp bed, but didn’t seem to put much heart into the activity.  The cormorants just hung out on a kelpy rock.

A pod of killer whales cruised over to check things out, but they kept on going. That’s a good sign that there just isn’t much going on.

They did stop out at the edge of the kelp patch and toss around some ideas about where to go next.

It was a kelpy kind of day.

Suddenly my fishing pole dipped hard and I thought that I had caught bottom (again). Then it reeled hard and I thought that I had caught kelp. It finally bounced and I had a fish on! We brought in a lingcod, which is delightful because they are yummy. I stunned it, cut it’s gills, and then started to put it onto a stringer to let it bleed out. The blue-green mouth caught my attention.

 Hmm, interesting. Pretty…but weird.

Nice teeth, huh? Very effective, too. Lingcod also have very sharp gill rakers, so mind your fingers if you pick one up by the gills.

When I cleaned the fish its cavity also had that strange color. I started thinking about, well, you know, Martians and all. Now stop laughing at me! Nobody knows for sure that Martians have to show up as little green men. After all there’s all that talk about Mars having water way back when. If I was a smart fish and my planet was drying up then I would surely put intensive effort into the space program.

Back on shore (here on Earth) that evening I set a cutting board on some rocks and filleted the lingcod. I started to actually get a little bit concerned. Blue-green flesh? Ling cod meat is usually white.

A trip to the internet eased my mind and slowed my imagination. Lingcod meat can be white, green, blue-green, and even turquoise blue! The blue ones are lovingly called Smurf cod. The reason for this remarkable color is not entirely clear, but it has to do with a bile pigment called biliverdin being responsible for turning the blood serum such a lovely color. Beyond that there appears to be a lot of speculation about diet and habitat. The good news is that Smurf cod are delicious and healthy to eat, just like the standard white-fleshed lingcod.

Another name for Smurf cod around here is 'green ling' (pronounced with a pause between the two words), which is interesting because lingcod are not actually a cod. They are in the greenling family. Greenlings, such as the kelp greenling and rock greenling, are also known to occasionally have blue-green meat. 

Ling cod is one of those fish that you can cook a hundred different ways and all of them are delicious. Here’s some more good news: the green goes away when the meat is cooked. On the plate Smurf cod is tender, bright white, and scrumptious. Maybe it is even tastier than regular lingcod - just because it is special.

Wishing you interesting colors in your day,

Alaska Beachcomber

Whales, Mink, and Crows

One of the beauties of living aboard a boat is casting off the lines and taking the whole house with on a little trip. We did that last week, starting on a cloudy day, and cruising down Zimovia Strait to moor at the pilings in front of the cabin. Along the way there were five whales feeding. They surfaced here and there, two of them moving individually, and three keeping close company.

Humpback whales blowing. 

They are amazing creatures to watch, and I never tire of seeing them.  We didn't see any bubblenet feeding or breaching, but it was fun to watch the whales surface and dive.

Activities for the week-long outing were varied. We explored in the skiff, hiked up hillsides, and enjoyed seeing some wildlife.

We spent one boat day when it was pouring rain out. My sweetheart pulled gallon bags of wild blueberries out of the freezer and made 24 pints of jam and syrup. I helped ladle hot jam, clean jar rims, and clean up. Days of picking blueberries in late summer make lots of sense when there is a blueberry pie in January, and yummy jam all year.

The boat moored to the pilings at the cabin. 

While out in the skiff we saw a mink darting in and out of the rocks along a beach. It was eating the small purple shore crab that tuck into the crevices and tide pools between tides.

Mink (Neovison vison ) 

This guy is just under two feet long.  

Mink are members of the weasel family with sharp teeth and claws and high quality fur. Their motions are quick, so I often see just a flash of brown and then they are gone.

This guy was busy and didn't pay much attention to the skiff. 

Mink eating a purple shore crab. 

American mink (Neovison vison)  peeking out between barnacles and seaweed. Don't let that little face fool you. This mink will shred your hand if you try to pet it.

The mink found a treasure trove of mink food - the remains of a large fish, so we left as the lucky little guy was gorging itself. 

There is an occasional pebble or sand beach here, but most Southeast Alaska beaches are unfinished. Some are downright raw; stone set on edge, illustrations of the power of tectonic processes. Still the temperate rainforest finds foothold in the bedrock, topping rugged shorelines with tangled vegetation.

 Maybe the shore in the photos to the right and below will be refined into a walkable beach in, say, a bazillion years.

So let's not dwell on that. 

As we motored by an exposed reef we saw a murder of crows feeding on wild crow food - snails, mussels, and other beach creatures. They have quite a buffet when the tide is out.

They discussed the proximity of humans in a skiff and decided to depart.  

And they all took off. 

All except Frankie.  

With everyone else gone, Frankie found that the buffet was laid out for his personal, private feast. Frankie got right to work making the best of the situation.  

He would catch up to the flock when he was full. Not a problem finding them, their cawing could be heard for two miles.

May you always see the sunshine in the situation,

Alaska Beachcomber

More posts with whales:

Hardworking Whales

Humpback Whales at Point Baker

And sea otters! Sea Otters, Seals, and ...an Eagle?

Humpback Whales at Point Baker

The dark bar on the nape of this birds neck suggests that it is an immature Black Legged Kittiwake. 

During the days we spent at Point Baker the humpback whales were feeding just off of the point. On quiet, calm mornings, the gentle music of seabirds is punctuated by the giant blow of a whale.

A fog bank to the west is a phenomenon called a 'marine layer.' Recent warm weather with little wind has created the conditions for a marine layer to form over the cooler water. 

Humpback whale taking a breath. 

A marine layer slipping up over an island.

Murre

The waters around Point Baker are busy. Sumner Strait makes a turn at that northwest tip of Prince of Wales Island, and an immense volume of water moves past with each tide. The tide rips, whirlpools, and eddies stir things up, making a rich feeding ground for fish, birds, and marine mammals.

Subsistence, sport, charter, and commercial fishermen target the salmon that round Point Baker headed for the Stikine and other rivers. The fishermen and the whales do their best to stay out of each others way. 

Humpback whale tail with seaweed hitchhikers.

Commercial troller and humpback whale

The whales seem to understand that a troller moves along at one or two knots. They pass by the boats and go on their way.

We did not see the whales bubblenet feeding in a group, but we did see one small whale feeding close to shore using the bubblenet technique. For the most part we saw individual whales blowing and diving, rarely even showing their tails.

They would blow... 

Humpback whale blowing

...and dive... 

Humpback whale diving

...and keep their tail hidden in the water on most dives.

With the long lens I was able to see that whale skin has all kinds of marks and blemishes. 

All of my wishing for spectacular breaching and lobbing behavior was quieted happily when a whale blew a rainbow. 

Humpback whale blowing a rainbow. 

Hey, some days enjoying a little magic is nicer than the logical sun-angle/water-droplets explanation.  

May you find a rainbow in each day, 

Alaska Beachcomber

P.S. There were a few sea otters around, too! Okay, more on that in a couple days. 

Sea otter in a bullwhip kelp bed. 

Would you like to see more whales?