M/V Tiglax Sails for Science

Authors: Lisa Spitler and Jeff Williams | Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Tiglax SketchThe M/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle) is essential to managing the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The boat is 120 feet long and operates with a crew of 6. Fourteen scientists can live and work aboard. She has wet and dry labs and freezers for storing samples. Tiglax can deploy midwater and bottom trawls for sampling fish and plankton, and hosts bioacoustic transducers and data processors for sampling fish/plankton densities; and a SBE-21 thermosalinograph for diving seabird studies.

In a season, the Tiglax may sail to Forrester and St. Lazaria Islands in Southeast Alaska, or into Bering Sea as far as St. Matthew Island. Her main operations area is, however, the Aleutian Chain. Tiglax typically spends 120-160 days at sea covering as many as 20,000 nautical miles (at a top speed of 10 knots) traveling from the home port of Homer, Alaska out to Attu Island at the extreme west end of the Aleutian chain and back, several times a season.

The main role of the Tiglax is to transport service personnel, equipment, and supplies between work sites throughout the refuge. This year Tiglax departs Homer on May 17 to deploy FWS biologists and biological technicians at field camps in the Semidi Islands, on Aiktak, Buldir, Kiska, and Attu. These scientists focus on studying seabird colonies, but also work on reestablishing endangered habitats, they identify and monitor archaeological and historic sites, they monitor bird populations and human impacts on habitats, they maintain remote field facilities, and they patrol refuge waters.

 Tiglax also serves as a seagoing research platform and living quarters for scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or other federal or state agencies and universities. This year’s FWS projects include removal of invasive foxes from islands to restore native bird populations, collecting background information on contaminants left over from World War II, and monitoring other contaminant cleanup efforts on Attu and Amchitka, studying Kasatochi Island as she recovers from an eruption in 2008, lichen research on Adak, and visiting remote bird nesting colonies.

Non FWS partners include the National Marine Fisheries Service for sea lion studies, the University of Alaska, Institute of Marine Sciences and School of Fisheries, The Alaska Volcano Observatory, and the US Navy.

Stay with us for the “Summer of the Tiglax” as we report in on monitoring and research activities supported and facilitated by the Tiglax and crew!

 

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Newly Documented WWII Japanese Occupation Sites on Kiska Island

Author: Caroline Funk PHD, PI of the Rat Islands Research Project 

We discovered previously undocumented World War II Japanese military trenches, road remnants, caves, and telephone lines during the Summer 2014 Rat Islands Research Project field season in Vega Bay, Kiska Island. We were there to learn about the deep Unangan/Aleut and environmental past and we were working in an area far from the usual research camp locations – several miles from the famously known Kiska Harbor WWII activity area. (For more details, see the USFWS Foundation Statement for the Alaska Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument).

Our new finds were a little bit unexpected, although we were suspicious when we saw dozens of bomb craters lining the valley walls around our beachfront campsite. At first we assumed that these were more or less accidental, the result of bad visibility and difficult navigation conditions during the 1942-1943 bombing runs made by the United States Air Force and Navy. But with each passing day of archaeological survey, we identified more remnants of the 14-month Japanese occupation of Kiska. We opened our field copy of Stan Cohen’s “The Forgotten War: Volume 4” and learned that we were in fact camped within territory defended by the Japanese military, probably the 301st and 302nd Independent Infantry Battalions occupying Gertrude Cove from October 1942 to July 1943. We saw that Cohen reported that there were more than 40 gun positions along the Vega Bay shore.

As we looked closer at the landscape, we saw roads, camps, emplacements, entrenchments, communications technology, and secret hideaways. We found suspiciously flattened small terraces built into seaward facing hillsides. A secluded waterfall had an underwater wall of rocks surrounding the base, forming what looked like a small cistern or bathing pool filled with crystal clear but very cold water. We’ll share some of the images of these places with you here – we’ll tell the full story in an article in the coming year.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible. Click on the image to enlarge.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment with trenches, emplacements, and roads labeled (KIS-061).

One of a line of North and East bearing telephone poles (KIS-064).

One of a North and East bearing line of telephone poles (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines.

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator.

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-066).

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-061 and KIS-066).

Cohen, Stan. 1981. The Forgotten War: Volume 4 – A Pictorial History of World War II in Alaska and Northwestern Canada. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc. Missoula, MT.

Archaeology and Invasive Species: The Chirikof Island Project

Authors: Catherine West | Boston University | cfwest@bu.edu and Courtney Hofman | University of Maryland; Smithsonian Institution

How long have ground squirrels lived on Chirikof Island?  Were they native to the island, taken there by Native people, or are they a recent introduction? A team of researchers from Boston University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution asked these questions after a trip to the island in the summer of 2013 with the Chirikof Island Project. Chirikof is managed by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR), and many AMNWR islands are under threat from landscape degradation and invasive species introductions – on Chirikof, cattle, Arctic foxes, and ground squirrel are considered introduced, invasive species. The introduction history of both cattle and Arctic fox on Chirikof is clear, but the ground squirrel’s history is not well understood. While it has long been thought that Russian traders or American settlers introduced the ground squirrel as an economic resource, our 2013 archaeological excavations recovered squirrel bones from prehistoric sites. We hoped we could answer our questions – and address whether this species should be considered “invasive” – by doing two things: 1) by dating the archaeological squirrel bones, could we tell how long ground squirrels have been on Chirikof? And, 2) by looking at the ancient DNA (aDNA) in the archaeological bones, could we tell if the ancient squirrels were related to the squirrels living on the island today?

Chirikof’s Arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii). Photo by Patrick Saltonstall.

Chirikof’s Arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii). Photo by Patrick Saltonstall.

People have lived on Chirikof Island for at least 5000 years, and the archaeological record suggests this was a crossroads for people traveling from the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Kodiak archipelago, though occupations were intermittent (Saltonstall and Steffian 2005). The Russian American Company established an artel for hunting ground squirrel and making parkas in the mid-nineteenth century – Alutiiq and Unangan people in this region used ground squirrels to make parkas, which they still do today. After the Russian occupation, Americans established both Arctic fox and cattle ranching in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Today the landscape shows the effects of cattle and fox introductions through severe erosion and diminished waterfowl and seabird populations (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/alaska_maritime/grazing.html).

Catherine West excavating 2000-year-old midden on Chirikof’s west side. Photo by Samantha Dunning.

Catherine West excavating 2000-year-old midden on Chirikof’s west side. Photo by Samantha Dunning.

Our research has produced exciting results! To answer our questions about the ground squirrel introductions, we collected ground squirrel bones from coastal middens on Chirikof. We were able to radiocarbon date the bones and to analyze their ancient DNA, which suggests that some of the archaeological squirrel bones are 2000 years old and that the squirrels living on Chirikof today are direct descendants of those living there 2000 years ago. While we don’t yet know if Native people took the squirrels to Chirikof or if the squirrel is native to the island, we can ask the questions: what does it mean for management and eradication if these animals were introduced prehistorically? And, how old is old enough for an introduced species to become a “natural” part of an island environment? This long-lasting population has thrived in this isolated, stormy place for thousands of years, so the next step in this project is to try to figure out where the Chirikof Island ground squirrels came from and to work with AMNWR to understand their place in the island’s ecosystem.

This work is funded by the National Geographic Society, Boston University, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Chirikof’s introduced cattle. Photo by Patrick Saltonstall.

Header image: Chirikof’s introduced cattle. Photo by Patrick Saltonstall.

Safety first, surviving the research no matter what the discipline.

Author:  Caroline Funk, SUNY University at Buffalo

At a certain point all of we researchers are on the water, even if our focus lies on what’s happening on the island landscapes. The Aleutians are an archipelago after all. Many of the researchers who work in the Aleutians are not from cold water Aleutian home regions and we need to be taught how to survive if the boat gets into trouble. Moments after boarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s M/V Tiglax, we learn to climb into the survival suits. It’s an awkward process. We are assured that it is even stranger when a boat is listing and rocking in a storm. I hope to never learn that for myself.

Dr. Brian Hoffman, an archaeologist from Hamline University in Minnesota, practices his survival suit up in the summer of 2009:

On a rare sunny day in Adak, Deckhand John of the USFWS M/V Tiglax  lectures on the form and function of the survival suit.

On a rare sunny day in Adak, Deckhand John of the USFWS M/V Tiglax lectures on the form and function of the survival suit.

Dr. Brian Hoffman prepares to climb in. Plastic bags on your feet makes it easier.

Dr. Brian Hoffman prepares to climb in. Plastic bags on your feet makes it easier.

Halfway there. It's a struggle on a calm sunny day.

Halfway there. It’s a struggle on a calm sunny day.

Suit4

Zipping with gumby paws.

Suit5

Safe, secure, hoping this never comes up as a necessary event.

suit6