Alaska is a big place and we often use big words to try to describe it. But Alaska is more than Denali and grizzly bears, more than calving glaciers, more than big moose and breaching whales.
“Like so many other habitats, it’s the small things that maybe aren’t so flashy that make it possible for the big flashy creatures to survive and thrive in Alaska.” – Carolyn Bergstrom, Ph.D., marine biologist
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Cruising Alaska with a Marine Biologist
One of the best parts of our Alaskan cruise with UnCruise Adventures was having on board the ship with us Carolyn Bergstrom, a marine biologist on staff at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. First of all, she was just a lot of fun. Who else could bring to the dinner table conversation details about the watermelon scent of a melibe sea slug?
Several times throughout our week-long adventure on the Safari Endeavor, we jumped in a little rubber raft in a quiet cove and motored over to the shore. Wearing over-sized rubber boots, we walked along listening as Carolyn talked about weird squiggly things that I otherwise could have gone the rest of my life not knowing or caring about.
Slimy Things in Alaska’s Waters
But here we were in Alaska, where Mother Nature gets a little carried away with herself. Eagles soared overhead, glaciers crashed around us, and somewhere out in those woods behind us, moose, elk, grizzly bear – all made themselves at home. The air was so fresh and crisp. When you are in Alaska, it simply consumes you with its grandeur.
At one point, Carolyn grabbed a wiggly slimy little critter she said was a krill. It looks like a pale shrimp, but humpback whales love to munch on krill and as a result, swim thousands of miles from Hawaii to Alaska to eat their fill each summer.
A few steps later, Carolyn discovered two green urchins. If you love those adorable playful sea otters found throughout Alaska — and who doesn’t — you have to be excited about green urchins, because this happens to be their favorite treat. No green urchins, no sea otters.
On thing I learned the hard way is that there is no such thing as a starfish. They are ochre sea stars. Call them anything else and Carolyn will give you an evil eye that will haunt you in your sleep for years to come.
But sea stars keep everything in balance in Alaska, and we all like that.
Carolyn taught us that Alaska is more than whales and grizzly bears and big mountains. Alaska is also the tiniest of organisms hiding under the rocks and in the tidal pools of these vast waters, many of which exist nowhere else in the world, that make life here livable for the many big creatures that we all travel to Alaska to see.