Day 6 |
Jul 24, 2014

Dutch Harbor, Alaska

By James Floyd, Geologist
Co-ordinates: N 53º 54.2', W 166º 31.5'
Weather: Bright sunshine
Air Temperature: 13ºC
Wind: 7 knots

Due to contrary winds and currents on the overnight voyage we arrived slightly later than planned at the port of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. This is the principal fisheries port of the Aleutians where most of the current crab-fishing industry is based and processed. Over the last 50 years, the Bering Sea has proven to be one of the most productive continental shelf fisheries in the world, though the catching records for recent years appear to follow the classic trend of overfishing of a limited resource.

The main crustacean catch centres on the three related species of Red, Blue and Golden King Crabs, which occupy successively deeper waters within the area. The worrying reduction in annual catch, and attempts to counter it by various fishing restrictions, had been dramatically described and illustrated by Brad Siviour in his lecture on the previous day.

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of Christ, dating from 1825, had been declared a historical monument in1970 and incorporates and preserves the iconic cultural heritage from the many former churches in abandoned villages throughout the area. Guided tours of the Cathedral had been organised, during which the building, religion and cultural background were explained by a member of the community.

The nearby “Museum of the Aleutians” contains numerous artefacts and displays relating to native Aleut and other cultures of the region. The full-size kayak near the entrance was especially impressive.

The Second World War Military Museum located near the airport had excellent displays of the largely unknown campaign which took place in the Aleutians in 1942-45, during which two islands were occupied by the Japanese and eventually liberated at substantial cost in human life.

The American Bald Eagle was probably the most obvious and iconic wild species in the area and numerous individuals were seen perched on buildings and flying around the town.

After our morning visit to the town, we departed the berth at lunchtime in glorious sunshine en route to St Paul Island. The dedicated birders among us were soon out on deck and recorded enormous numbers of shearwaters as well as Black-footed Albatross, Laysan Albatross, Red-legged Kittiwake and Red Phalarope. Marine mammals spotted during the afternoon voyage included Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Bryde’s Whale and Dall’s Porpoise.