A lovely day in Petersburg – the town that fish built. Well-known for prosperous fishing, this area on Mitkof island was first inhabited by the Kéex’ kwáan of the Tlingit Nation and was later settled by a Norwegian immigrant named Peter Buschmann. The dense ice calved from the nearby Le Conte tidewater glacier was used for keeping fish fresh during packing and shipping processes, making Petersburg an ideal location. Fishing is still the mainstay of the town today.
Though we spent the day in classic Southeast Alaskan rain, Petersburg was lively and full of energy! The pink salmon fishing season is at its peak, so we had the opportunity to see many boats returning to the harbor with their catch! Purse seining is a common technique used to catch pink salmon and utilizes a skiff to help encircle an entire school of fish with a net. Once the net encircles the school, the bottom will tighten shut, trapping the salmon inside. Being able to watch the process of the boats offloading their haul to the tender boats or the processing centers was fascinating! We chatted to one tender and they said they were offloading 380,000lbs of salmon. Oooof! To learn a bit more about the local area we hiked through the muskeg and rode bikes around town – a little rain can’t stop our exploration. The young global explorers used an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to view the marine life that was living under the docks and found a diversity of life. It’s amazing to think about how resilient and adaptable these marine organisms can be – they seem to be thriving in the harsh conditions of the harbor.
As we sailed away from Petersburg and into Frederick Sound, we feasted on locally caught Dungeness crabs. However, just as the party was getting started, we were interrupted by cooperatively feeding humpback whales. We counted at least 17 whales – what a treat to see! These whales come together and have specific roles (including making a bubble net) that help the entire group feed on schools of herring. As the sun set, we said goodbye to the whales and spent the rest of the evening dissecting a quillback rockfish that was a gift from our new fisherman friend Bob. Thanks for the gift, Bob! And thank you to the rockfish for helping progress our knowledge base and for helping the fire of inquisitive minds keep burning.