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

Herring, Jellyfish, and Sea Anemones

 A retiree catching three herring at once on a herring jig during his visit to Petersburg.

A retiree catching three herring at once on a herring jig during his visit to Petersburg.

I love jigging herring! I always feel like a little kid walking down the dock with my fishing pole and bucket, a grin in my heart at the anticipation of the wriggling pull on the line and reeling in the sparkling, flipping herring.

Most people that jig herring in Petersburg use them for bait to catch salmon, halibut, and crab. They are softer than the packaged herring that you can buy at the store, so they don't stay on a hook as firmly. They fish well, though.

Boaters often pull up near North Harbor to jig up just enough herring for the afternoon's fishing.  

I have used the herring that I jig for both bait and food. Herring taste good! They are very bony, though, so pickling or canning makes them easier to consume. Both methods of preparation soften the bones so that they can be eaten.

 Jigging herring near North Harbor in Petersburg, Alaska

Jigging herring near North Harbor in Petersburg, Alaska

Fishing in the sunshine on a dock in Southeast Alaska is a great place and time to meet people. Fun people! I met Margaret. She and I both appreciate nature, including cool, slimy creatures. The decades between our ages didn't deter us from becoming friends right then and there.

It wasn't difficult to see that she is a brave and inquisitive young woman. She had a jellyfish. In her hand!

Margaret holding a jellyfish. 

The jelly was dead when she found it floating in the water. Jellies are short-lived creatures, often lasting only a few months. Margaret found other jellies, too, both alive and, u-um, kind of beyond dead. As in goo. She was generous, and shared with her friends.  There was some squealing.


Now this part intrigues me. That clear, gelatinous mass was a living creature. It swam, ate, grew, and died. Self-aware or not, it is interesting to see a being that is so simple and so complex at the same time. How can a transparent gob manage to travel and forage? Jellies have a network of nerves to help them sense their world. Is that enough to give them the power to think? I have watched thousands of jellies in a small bay, pulsing their bells to move through the water, and they didn't run into each other. Was it because they made it work that way, or because that is just the way it works? I don't know.


Margaret's clear jelly is not the stinging variety. The photo above is what her jelly would look like in the water. The photo to the right is of one type of jelly that could give a person a nasty sting.

Herring in a bucket. 

My bucket had plenty of herring in it then, so it was time to wander on. The thoughts of jellies made me look at other critters around the harbor. The marine life that grows on docks and pilings varies between harbors, depending on current flow, salinity and location. In Petersburg there are a lot of big anemones living on the bottom side of the docks. 

Marine growth on the dock. A large sea anemone is in the center. 

Barnacles, mussels, and sea anemones will attach themselves to boats, also. The batch below were on a steel hull. This boat is scheduled to go south for scrap, but other boats must be cleaned and coated with antifouling paint every year or two to deter marine growth.

Sea anemones, mussels, and other marine growth on a steel boat hull. 

 White-plumed anemone (  Metridium farcimen  )

White-plumed anemone ( Metridium farcimen )

The white-plumed anemones (Metridium farcimen)  also come in orange and brown. Don't let the white fluffiness fool you - they are carnivorous.  The tentacles sting their prey and then move it to the mouth in the center of the oral disc on the top of the anemone's body.

To the left is an underwater view of  Metridium farcimen. The ones near the bottom of the photo have retracted their tentacles.

Back on the steel boat a sea cucumber has it's tentacles extended. These guys are scavengers for the most part. Currents will bring bits of food to those branching tentacles or else the sea cucumber will go searching for something to eat.  They usually live on the ocean bottom, crawling along on tube feet.

There are numerous species of sea cucumbers. The red sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) is abundant enough to allow commercial harvest in Southeast Alaska. It is a dive fishery with limited seasons.  The muscles and skin are the edible parts of that globby body.

 Sea cucumber with tentacles extended. 

Sea cucumber with tentacles extended. 

Kids Don't Float provides free use of life jackets at Alaskan harbors.  

One last note about exploring sea life in the harbor. Kids Don't Float! If you take your youngsters to the dock, or if you are a youth, wear a life jacket. Even if you are a good swimmer, it is very difficult to get back out of the water if you fall in. There is nothing to brace your feet on to get leverage to pull yourself back up onto the dock. I've been there! (Click HERE for that story)

Another hazard is that there can be stray electrical current in harbors. Very small amounts of electricity in the water (as little as one amp) can kill you. Boat harbors are not the place for swimming.

In Alaska, the Kids Don't Float program, which is supported by multiple sponsors, puts life jackets at many of the harbors. You get free use of the life jackets, and just hang them back up when you leave the dock. How cool is that?

Have an inquisitive day! 

Alaska Beachcomber

Seine Boats Preparing for the Season

In Petersburg the seine boat captains have filled out their crews and put them to work getting the boats and gear ready for the season. Whining hydraulic winches sound off through South Harbor, pulling nets through power blocks, repositioning booms, and dragging seine skiffs up onto decks.

On the dock two hunky deckhands stride past me pulling dock carts full of duffel bags and buckets of engine oil. They are intent on what needs to be done to get ready. People working on boats tolerate my nosy camera pointing their way. Just another tourist taking pictures.

At the main float there is a knot of people facing the F/V MARATHON, asking questions of the man on board. They have come to visit Alaska on the National Geographic SEA BIRD. As I wind my way through the small crowd I hear some of the fisherman's answers.

"The crew is on shares."

"What we make depends on how much we catch." 

"The boat usually gets half off of the top." 

Seiners at the work float in Petersburg. 

Work progresses through rain showers and lunch hours, but at some point the crew has to take a break. On an evening stroll down the dock, whiffs of epoxy paint, fiberglass, and engine exhaust give way to the aroma of barbeque steaks and chicken cacciatore. There is usually at least one good cook in each crew.

Here are some images from two days of rain and sunshine as the fleet readies for seine season.

The crew of the Cora J ignores the rain and keeps working on the net. 

Alaskan seine boats are limited to 58 feet long (17.6 meters), but restrictions on width (beam) and height are those of sound boat design. The bulked-up ROBERT MAGNUS is almost half as wide as it is long, with a beam of 26 feet (7.9.meters). The aft deck is 32' long and 26' wide (9.7 by 7.9 meters). And that seine skiff? I don't know the dimensions, but it is BIG.


Part of working on a seine boat is knowing how to run winches and hoists. The lifts at the dock run steadily this time of year.  Trucks and flatbed trailers bring nets, power blocks, groceries and gear. Pallets and totes full of goods are hooked to the lift cable and then lowered onto the boats. Deckhands scramble up and down the metal ladders between the pier and the boat, handling items off of trucks, into and out of totes, and getting things properly stowed on the boat.

The HARVESTER and ALEUTIAN SPIRIT  at the lifts.

The controls for the various hydraulic winches on the boats are sometimes more involved than the lifts on the dock.

Hydraulic winch controls and plumbing on a seine boat. 

And of course there is muscle power to move much of the gear. 

Loading lines and other gear onto the  COMMANDER from the seine skiff.

This is the time for checking, repairing, and stacking the net. 

Five crew members stacking the net on the F/V ISLAND GIRL in Petersburg, Alaska.

While I am taking a photo of the REBEL ISLE, and a man stops to chat. He mentions that the crew has really been working hard to get the REBEL ISLE in shape.

She's looking good, guys!

Two handsome lads are pretty serious about working on the net.  

Big smiles from the deck of the F/V VIKING SPIRIT in Petersburg, Alaska.

As I look at the deck of the VIKING SPIRIT every item tells a story. From the paint tray to the replacement hydraulic hose, there is a lot going on to get the boat ready to go, and the guys still take a moment to grin for the camera. The weather is good, the season is fresh, and everything will be put in order in time for the first opener.

Later on the big gambles are things like weather, how many fish show up, and the prices. Right now the seiners are working to take some of the variables out of the equation. Engines are gone over, refrigeration systems are checked, pumps are replaced, nets are mended, worn lines are changed out, and a list of a hundred more maintenance items is checked off one by one. It's worth it. 

Have a good season everyone! 

Catch lots of fish! 

Be safe! 

Alaska Beachcomber


Arctic Terns at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau

Fresh skim ice near the edges of Mendenhall Lake spoke of the temperature as I walked along the shore toward an area of activity. The sun was just starting to peek around Mount Bullard, highlighting the ridges of the Mendenhall Glacier, and the icebergs in the lake.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska

A rising and falling k-k-krr, k-k-krr sound, punctuated by quick, sharp cries came from the brownish, brushy area that you can see on the right of the photo above. White wings flashed in the light of the rising sun. I picked up the trail to the photo point on a rock outcrop.

An Arctic tern flew by, all business, but so graceful as to remind me of a porcelain sculpture.  

Arctic tern

A few minutes later I saw a tern flying with a small fish in its beak, swooping and turning to avoid other terns.  

The sand spit is cordoned off with a sign that says the terns are nesting, and from the viewing area I can just make out a nesting site. It is just a small dip in the sand occupied by a grey and white bird with a black head. To brighten up the outfit the bird accessorized with brilliant red beak, legs, and feet.

It's mate landed and settled next to the nest.

Arctic terns at their nest.

Arctic tern hovering.

Nearby a tern brakes in the air, working its wings to hover a few moments while looking down into the water. It flies another fifty feet, hovers again, then dives for a fish. It misses and moves along, stopping in midair, hunting.

It is a pleasure to watch such graceful and athletic birds. These guys aren't just aerobatic, they are also distance fliers. The Arctic tern migrates between the Arctic and Antarctica, flying over forty thousand miles a year, and catching the longest hours of daylight in each region.

So after flying twenty thousand miles in about forty days they show up with every feather perfect. Yep, I'd show up with bad hair and then sleep for a week.

If you want to see Arctic terns then this is a very easy location to view them from. In late May drive to the Mendenhall Glacier parking lot, walk on a paved path for ten minutes, and you are there. To see them in motion is worth it. Their flight is reminiscent of butterflies and swallows, of a kite on the wind, of dancers.



The air warmed slightly, so it was time for a bath.... 

Diving in for a morning dip.

A morning bath in glacial water.

... and getting prettied up for the day. 

Arctic tern preening after a bath.

This early on a cold morning there are only a few other people at the glacier. Another photographer found a tern perched on an iceberg.

Who do you think has the coldest tush, the kayaker or the tern?

Getting close to the subject.

Migratory birds are protected right down to the feather, so when I found a tern feather I just took a photo...

...even though I wanted to pick it up and build it into an art project. 

Even a single feather is graceful and elegant. What a delight it was to see the beautiful Arctic tern. I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse of them.

Happy explorations!

Alaska Beachcomber

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