Monday, August 8, 2022

Glacier Bay National Park – Pristine Beauty in Alaska’s South | Free Documentary Nature

alaska the first people to live here called alaska the land towards which the ocean flows a rugged wilderness in an almost pristine environment.

Beyond the canadian border lies alaska the northernmost of the united states and the largest glacier bay national park is located in the far south east of the state it has been declared a world heritage site by unesco the area covers just over thirteen thousand three hundred square kilometers.

Of untouched wilderness snow-covered peaks fjords forests beaches bays and glaciers the area's only settlement is situated on the park's outskirts gustavus is hardly even a small town it's more a collection of houses at the end of the world.

Those who come here are looking for something special kim heycox is a prize-winning author and photographer for national geographic magazine he came here 30 years ago and worked as a ranger for three years but the unadulterated beauty of the landscape and the rugged life made him turn to photography.

Hecox bought three hectares of land and he built his house himself i'm preparing for winter i need lots of firewood i like knowing where my heat comes from i like knowing where my water comes from there's an accountability about that that's good i think most people in america just turn on the tap water they.

Don't know where their water is coming from they turn on the furnace they don't know where their heat is coming from i like being responsible for my own way of life far away close to nature and with his feet on the ground in a quiet dreamy place a tiny spot of civilization that can.

Only be reached by boat or plane every bicycle and car every brick had to be brought here by air or sea there's only one road leading into the national park the first settlers came here in 1914 setting up camp on salmon river today gustavus has a population of.

Almost 400 this is the headquarters of the park rangers nine of them work here all year round it's their job to keep the park in its pristine state everyone who works here is passionate about preserving the environment and protecting animals tania lewis is a biologist she's run.

Population studies on brown and black bears in glacier bay since 2001. it's a privilege for her to be allowed to work here and not just because of the bears the park headquarters in gustavus were a tiny little island of civilization surrounded by wilderness and there's a lot of food here.

We're able to get berries and salmon and moose and deer and halibut it's extremely abundant an easy place to survive and it feels to me like like a healthy balance that humanity and wilderness are in a healthy balance whereas i think that most of the.

Planet in my opinion or at least my personal view is more people than the land can support definitely there are no roads in the national park itself only waterways tanya is out and about every day to look for bears she counts them and researches their behavior.

250 years ago glacier bay was just one huge glacier subsequently surprisingly large numbers of animals and plants flourished here the rangers have spotted 242 different bird species in the park so far their nesting sites in the rocks are favorable for seabirds they offer protection from their natural predators.

Seals sea otters and stellar sea lions inhabit the park particularly on the rocks of south and north marble island mountain goats live along the coastlines tanya lewis is often on the lookout for bears for hours before she finally spots one brown bears are more likely to be close to the glacier in the north of the bay.

While she tends to spot black bears along the park's southern forested coastlines this bear is looking for food under the stones on the riverbank these are a type of fish looks like an eel but it's actually a fish called a blenny.

And i've been watching bears flipping over rocks trying to get these guys and uh figure must be a pretty important food source since they're doing it so much you can see them all in here just judging by how often they're flipping over rocks and grabbing what's.

Underneath and every time i flip a rock this is what i find there's about eight under here when i first flipped it and you know they're pretty good it tanya lewis usually observes the bears from the water encounters on land are rare the park rangers are strict about park visitors not disturbing the animals or environment in any way there's an.

Educational program for tourists the rangers teach them how to behave in the event of an encounter with a bear only then are they allowed to enter the park unaccompanied a bear charging is a bear telling you get out of the way get out of here it's a clear message but it doesn't usually end in attack.

So it's very scary very scary but um i think in the back of my mind when it's happened i have really not believed that that bear was going to attack me and so you know your heart gets racing and and it's definitely adrenaline rush but i never felt personally endangered.

Encountering one bear or several isn't just dangerous for humans the same rules apply to wolves rule number one stand still because running away could be fatal only prey runs away yeah a little wet buggy yeah that's.

Point creek for you though yeah how are you having some luck today yeah we caught a lot of fish and uh there's quite a lot of adult fish in the creek oh good um brown bear oh neat all right you got to watch that a little bit yeah good excellent.

More food for the bears yeah hopefully for the best sandy milner teaches at the university of birmingham in england a stream ecologist he's been researching in alaska for years i've been looking at uh colonization of new streams that have been formed after the ice has been.

Receded and we have some long-term records and different streams and this one in particular we have a 32 year record of colonization when i first came here 32 years ago there was no trees here whatsoever this was all just ice retreating up this valley and a very turbid kind of stream.

And the first salmon colonized the stream in 1989 and within four generations we had 15 000 pink salmon within this river system in order to find out how the rivers and ecosystems are changing the scientists are looking at young salmon milner and his assistants measure weigh.

And examine them their stomach contents can tell the scientists what their diet consists of and that in turn tells milner who or what also inhabits these waters glacier bay is like a natural laboratory because it gives us streams of different ages that we can look at and try and look at what determines the.

Establishment of fish populations what we find is that until they get to the older streams and you start getting some of the trees falling in like the sitka spruce and the western hemlock you really start building up substantial populations of fish so this has importance for restoration to know what.

Are the major variables that determine when fish populations really get well established glacier bay and its glaciers are highly significant to science the bay was completely covered in ice and glaciers around four thousand years ago during a period of cooling 250 years ago it was still one huge.

Glacier several kilometers wide and more than a thousand meters high the ice has melted and freed up new land and bodies of water these days the glaciers are only in the arms of bay that stretch northwards for 100 kilometers when kim hecox isn't doing woodwork.

Writing or playing the guitar he's out in the wilderness in his kayak always in search of spectacular motifs for his photographs he's particularly smitten by glaciers the ice is constantly changing the beach always looks different and the chucks of ice always have new formations.

The melt water gushes incessantly into the ocean in the past kim led tourists to the glaciers he loves the ice in more ways than just as a photographic motif glaciers are rivers of ice they're not static they're very dynamic they move some of them in this park flow up to.

10 meters a day flowing forward and they undercut the mountainside so if you have the slope of a mountain going up like this and you've got a glacier grinding away down here it undercuts the mountain and all the mountain landslides down onto the glacier and you get all this rock and gravel and sediment and glaciers carry that.

Sediment down to the ocean and build beaches and they erode and they deposit their they they shape the land they're the architects of the land you can see the layering in the glacier if you look up you can see the layers of ice from when snow fell maybe one or two hundred years ago the.

Snowflakes turn into grains of ice that get compressed very hard it's not the same kind of ice you have in your freezer in your refrigerator this is more dense it's harder there's less oxygen atmos atmosphere bubbles in it so it develops this beautiful blue tone and you can see the breakings the crevassings in the.

Glacier the breaks because the glacier flows down the mountains like this and it has to twist and turn and the ice is brittle and so on top it breaks this way and then it breaks this way and creates these towers of ice called cirocs many of the.

Terms we use to describe glaciers are french glacier sorak arete mulang because the french were the first to really study glaciers well these are called saraks it's these towers of ice that when it reaches the ocean and the salt water cuts underneath the towers fall into the sea and give birth to icebergs.

Global warming is a creeping process although the glaciers are only melting slowly the floating icebergs are melting quickly seals and eagles like to use them to catch some sun but it doesn't shine often these days the citologists are setting off from the jetty of the ranger headquarters in.

Bartlett cove at eight o'clock in the morning every day they visit the places in the bay where whales are most commonly seen chris gabriel and her assistant janet nielsen have a spectacular workplace in a straight before glacier bay meets the open ocean the two scientists are keeping their eyes open for humpback.

Whales in glacier bay we typically have up to about 70 different whales in the bay during the summer and they come here year after year and they're definitely creatures of habit so not only do they come to glacier bay but there are specific places in the bay where the whales will go back to year.

After year because probably because they know what kind of feed they can find there and they know how best to be able to get that food chris gabriel knows most of the whales that visit the bay some of them were seen here for the first time in 1974. during the winter months the humpback.

Whales migrate 4 000 kilometers southwards to hawaii to mate in the summer they return to alaska the scientists want to be as inconspicuous as possible it would be unthinkable for them to go diving with the whales protecting the animals is their top priority.

They want them to be left alone free from human influence they've been observing many of these whales for years when you get two whale biologists together we can gossip about different whales and who did what using numbers and they're just like names to us.

So when they started the whale research they started a number the first whale was numbered one two three you know and they went on from there and so now we're up into the 2000s of of whales so if you see and hear a number like 397 you know it's been a long time since she was first sighted so this is where number 1421.

Since the mid 60s these mammals which can grow up to 18 meters long and weigh between 25 and 30 tons have been protected every scar and every new wound is recorded by chris gabriel the whales will keep these battle scars their whole life they're as unique as a fingerprint.

A quick glance at the tail fin and chris knows what whale she's dealing with that's our first sighting of her this year yeah that's whale 10 42 and she's a female who's was first sighted here i think in 1989 as a calf with her mother and her mother usually hangs out around here too and.

She actually had her first calf when she was 12 years old and mostly humpback whales have their first calf a lot earlier than that so we actually thought she was a male for a long long time and we were very surprised and i think it was the year 2000 when she came back with a calf so and since.

Then she's had several calves so it's really neat to see her the main reason for the citologists study program is the increase in cruise ships in the bay tourists from all around the world come here because they want to see a last remaining piece of wilderness albeit from the comfort of a luxury liner.

Whales possess very sensitive hearing and the scientists are worried the ship's sounds could permanently unsettle them there are no studies as yet on whether this could cause the whales to leave their native waters that's exactly what the scientists want to find out.

The land that was once covered in nothing but ice has turned into a new ecosystem over the past 200 years trees forests rivers new land a temperate rainforest covers the hills and coastlines 380 000 visitors come here every year to see wild animals in the wilderness.

Most of them are on board cruise liners only the hardened ones come to camp go kayaking or simply to see the glaciers and forests the forests are considered biologically highly productive spruces and furs stand close together mosses and fungi cover the shady forest floor the climate is mild and very wet.

Boggy areas are a breeding ground for countless insects with some luck visitors will get to spot a moose whatever you want to call it the first moose was identified around here and observed around here in the.

Late 60s and about 10 years ago it went sky right up more moose than people in gustavus and now it's starting to plateau again what's interesting is wolves were here in the gustavus bartlett cove area before moose and think about the sky racking the moose in other parts of the park we've.

Seen moose predation on wolves but think about this if you're a wolf and there's a new neighbor are you going to think food probably not so how long is it going to take for that wolf to recognize that is a good source maybe a lone wolf from another.

Part of town i guess you could say comes along and says hey you know if we work together this is a good food source the nature conservation authority records the moose movements and numbers that's why many moose are registered in glacier bay national park and preserve like this moose cow and her young for.

Example a transmitter is installed in her red collar i've really learned a lot about plants and animals and geology and and how i what kind of things happen when icebergs are you know grow and recede and it's extraordinarily fascinating the boat trip up the canyon.

And saw the glaciers yesterday we saw bears we saw bears mating yes in the act in fact they were still doing it after we left a wilderness close enough to touch for many visitors who come here that's a completely new experience for the locals too that's what is so magical about their home.

Dave and joanne lesch came to gustavus as a young couple in the early seventies they've run the town's only hotel since 1980 this is where they raised their four children as romantic as life in the wilderness may seem it's not easy the visitor season is short only from may to september is the hotel almost booked out during the remaining.

Six months of the year alaska is lonely cold and abandoned it gets light late and dark again early nevertheless many young locals who go away to see the world end up coming back sooner or later i think a lot of people are here because they're attracted to being able to harvest and live a subsistence lifestyle i mean none of us live.

Really subsistence anymore but we would like to hunt and gather as a social and family bonding time it's important and i think that's what the guests are doing also is hunting and gathering.

Returning to their roots and their core spirit the tourists who undertake the long journey to gustavus don't want luxury they expect homemade home-baked home-grilled fare and admire those who live here but they're able to return to their own modern society at any time.

We don't eat much farmed animals but we eat a lot of game i mean that's our preferred diet the fish and deer and moose and we're alaska vegetarians we only eat vegetables and things you can harvest in alaska it's it's common.

In gustavus bread is always baked fresh salad and vegetables harvest it fresh there's a small shop in gustavus but the next supermarket is a half hour away by air if you go to the grocery store every day i go to the grocery store once a year and i have to i mean i've gotten really.

Good at it after 30 years we have a list of everything we consume in a year and if you think about it the harvest is a certain time and that whatever products you're buying are put away at a certain time so it's really no different it's just that i get all of my stuff at once so we're the original local harvest.

I think a lot of our guests come and appreciate the fact that we're picking that lettuce leaf like an hour before dinner there aren't many sources of income in gustavus those who don't work for the park have to try and make a living by carrying out some practical trade or they use nature's rich treasures.

Gustavus is famous for its salmon and halibut fishing in the summer months many young men have their own charter boats and offer tours for anglers josh cosby and his friends john and robert live off fishing there aren't many leisure activities there's no cinema and just one bar that's why they like to spend their free.

Time on the water too the loneliness and isolation can become a problem but it can also bring people together here everybody knows each other you just get that sense of community and working together and um everybody's real friendly and just like i said like like robert said just you kind of look around.

And just being out where we are the scenery the access to the ocean and the things that we have around us it's nice you don't lock your car you don't lock your door you don't don't worry about it you know it's like in a big city you gotta worry about somebody stealing your.

Money or or abducting your kid or something here you just don't worry about it yeah it's true yeah you can leave you just get out your car and just leave the keys right in the car there's no crime around nothing no little there's little petty stuff here and there but we don't have any police or.

Any law enforcement in the town so if there is anything that happens they'll bring law enforcement out kind of sort out but i mean it's very it doesn't happen very often once in a blue moon you know some kids get into something or whatever but that's that's really about the extent of it everybody's.

Because everybody knows everybody too well so everybody usually knows who did it if somebody did something i promised my wife i'd bring her dinner so we can't let them all go what looks big is actually a small halibut the fishermen often throw young fish back into the water in order to protect the waters in and in front of.

The bay from overfishing the quotas are tough and the checks strict there are fixed numbers stating how much fish can be caught per person sometimes with a big halibut you bring them on board and if you don't stun them like that or kill them right away they'll start flopping around and if you've got a 200 300 pound fish flopping.

Around there's been people that have gotten their legs broken from tails whipping them and they can do a lot of damage so you definitely want to put them out of commission as soon as you get them on board one and one thing about the hell that you'll see obviously they're white on.

The bottom side they swim belly down top side and this eye right here when they're born i mean they're just microscopic tiny but this eye will be on both sides of their head and uh as they within the first six months of their life they'll start swimming flat and this eye will rotate onto the top of their head so it's a kind of an.

Evolutionary thing that they do tell me which way they're from they swim just like just like this on the bottom that's how they swim and their mouth opens sideways like that they're dark on one side so if a predator is above them looking down they.

Blend in with the bottom and then they're white on the other side so if a predator is below them looking up they blend in with the sky so it's their camouflage at around four o'clock in the afternoon the boats come back and gather at the jetty in gustavus.

The tourists proudly display their catch in this case halibut although fishing is in the men's hands here it's unthinkable without pep one of the things she does is make sure the proud tourists can take their catch home with them the fish are gutted and filleted on the boats usually under the curious eyes of hungry eagles and sea.

Birds pep drives the fish piled on pallets on the bed of her truck to her shop in gustavus every day at half past four she had the idea of opening a fish store in gustavus in 1991 today the family business is a flourishing enterprise without competition.

At pep's packing the fish are cut and packaged shrink wrapped or smoked and even mailed out on request pep is a real alaska girl according to her friends the community is strange here like everybody will argue nobody will agree on anything but when it comes right down to it and somebody needs something you.

Know somebody's house burns down or something happens they break their foot or something the whole town just takes care of whatever needs to be taken care of you know it's it's a very unique uh community for sure together with her husband john pep raised a son in gustavus a modern.

Standard of living is still something special for the 36 year old we got electricity when i was 13 and before that i didn't have electricity growing up what was it like i didn't know anything different so it was normal but it was uh lots of candles and running out to the.

Outhouse you know in the middle of the night and i think the worst probably was for my parents was when the kids would get sick and you were out here with no phones and no running water and and uh it was just it was hard i think i think it would be hard to raise kids without electricity now i'm very spoiled.

And i got to raise mine with a flush toilet and all that kind of good stuff the chances of spotting a bear along the 2 000 kilometer stretch of beaches and coastline aren't bad on sunny days park ranger tanya lewis is searching for brown and black bears together with a team of young students it's not long before they come up trumps.

A couple of brown bears are strolling along the stony coast they symbolize alaska like no other animal they're omnivores and always searching for food after their hibernation period they have to eat a lot of protein.

The shellfish under the stones on the beach are perfect for her current study in glacier bay tanya lewis has to learn everything about the bears their development and their behavior what we want is tracks because we can determine black.

Bear versus brown bear from tracks we want scat fresh scat because we can get the genetic sample from that or what is really the kind of the goal of our project because it's the most sure thing is hair if we get hair we can send that in for dna analysis and determine whether it's black or.

Brown bear you can see the claw marks in the tree and scratches and bites and uh ayaka is burning the hair off of that one this one has we're gonna collect some samples you can see that the sap it has stuck the uh stuck the hair in the sap.

So it's uh there's more hair on this one and we're going to put barbed wire on both of them so that we can get clean samples the next time we check it which will be next week so if you look up here see the trail going up into the woods and we just came up the trail from the.

Beach so it's a thoroughfare of some sort for bears and when they pass by here hopefully they'll rub and leave us some hair evidence is collected secured and sent in as if it's a crime scene the barbed wire can't hurt the animals because of their thick fur but it secures tangible genetic material.

As long as they rub their fur on it the gustavus inn serves the guests catch of the day in the evening bbq with white chinook salmon is dave's speciality for years he's enjoyed the reputation of being a top chef his recipes are simple no frills cooking many of his hotel guests come back here.

Every year 40 or 50 other people got the exact same thing today and every one of them is really happy and they'll be talking about it i don't understand the fishing thing it's a camaraderie thing i mean these guys are all family and there's if i.

Don't live near each other and they get to hang out for eight hours and and visiting bs and you know these guys don't drink some of the guys have a few beers in a day the guests are always the same fanatical nature lovers old hippies people fascinated by the idea of dropping out of mainstream society and overworked.

Managers the bear biologist tanya lewis and her husband eric live a 45-minute walk from gustavus they both consciously chose a life in the wilderness the couple refused to have a road built to their house.

Their daughter ulla is six she's growing up without running water and without maine's electricity and that's normal to her tanya and her husband spotted this place from the window of a light aircraft and decided to buy it eric is a carpenter he built the whole house from top to.

Bottom by himself this is our dining room and also oola's play area her table she spends a lot of time there coloring and writing and stuff like that we have a little wood stove that's our heat and it also heats our water in.

Those pots we eat water to do dishes and that sort of stuff and yeah pretty small place our kitchen do you have a generator we do have a generator we only use it in the winter because in the summer we can get all the power we need from the sun so we have a solar panel and a 12 volt electric system a couple batteries.

And then yeah the generator is out in the bath house and we in the in the winter we have to crank it up a couple times a week for a few hours the biologist wants to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible born in a small town in wisconsin the 40 year old has made her dream come true.

Here once a year her mother comes up from florida to visit came to alaska in 1990 my boyfriend at the time and i we did a two-week hike that was just mind-blowing you know it absolutely.

Changed my life as far as knowing what i wanted to be surrounded by for the rest of my life and i heard that you have a sister she's very different tell me about that she is she's an accountant in florida she has her own accounting business and they have a lot of boats a lot of jet boats and jet skis and.

She plays in a couple of rock and roll bands one is called the uh family jewels and the other is called the velvet box and uh yeah but she and i get along great but we don't spend a whole lot of time together so maybe that's why.

So how is it as a mother to have two daughters that are so different i think it's great i raised them for quite a while as a single parent and my goal was to raise them to do exactly what they wanted to do that they were in charge of their lives and so i'm incredibly amazed that they made these choices and they're very.

Different but they're both very strong choices you know for each of them so i'm delighted the visitors have completed a long walk nevertheless tanya and eric's lifestyle isn't unusual for the people here they're not the only family in the vicinity of gustavus that has chosen.

Such a life in such a remote location time with friends is particularly valuable the families spend their evenings together several times a week hey like a south mountain.

Kim heycox has paddled many kilometers to visit former ranger colleagues they spend one week in a mobile ranger station in the middle of the park and one week at home to avoid having to make the long journey home to gustavus every night the rangers have police status they go on patrol in the park and make sure.

Visitors stick to the rules they inspect boats and help kayakers and campers we had some great kayakers we had a bunch of women once show up like 10 women in kayaks and they had paddled from they were going from haynes to sitka and they were all cancer survivors.

And there was nothing going to stop them it's quite a trek it was cool yeah you must get people like that now and then i met what i thought was a japanese man that paddled from japan in marjorie in tar inlet there was a little bit of a you know a language barrier there so i'm not quite.

Sure if i got that right during his four-year stint as a ranger kim spent many nights in such a mobile station yeah home sweet home yeah now this is different the this is nicer but it was a double bunk before um but i built it myself did you this is.

Nice this is a double down here and then a single up here well no right here what this is is a couch oh it's a oh yeah it's this oh yeah it's a couch and then oh yeah at night we can remove that and it makes a bed okay for me i think it's it's it's kind of.

Hard to call it a job i mean it is a job it's a career and but at the same time it's you know you're you're doing what you love and being able to make a living doing it so it's just pretty spectacular.

It's overwhelming and every year i meet people 23 and 24 years old who've just arrived here for their first summer as i did in 1979 and you see them completely lit up they're like a car on high beam they're completely lit up and they go on a kayak.

And they lose themselves and find themselves in the same day and you cannot go back to where you came from again you'll never be the same person it's a transformational place it changes lives and it's wild it's one there's not many truly wild places left in the world.

Anymore this place is wild you

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