Petersburg

Jun 20, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion


Petersburg is a proper Alaskan fishing community at the head of Wrangell Narrows, on Mitkoff Island. No big cruise ships stop here, and the streets are not lined with shops selling trinkets, t-shirts and jewelry. The harbor is filled with fishing vessels: trollers, seiners, gillnetters and crabbers, each harvesting the bounty of the Alaskan seas. Soon the fishing season will be upon them, and now the residents of Petersburg are busy preparing their boats and nets, anxious to begin doing what they do best. Most living in Petersburg make their life fishing, whether catching or processing fish, or serving the needs of those who do.

We docked at the floating dock of Petersburg this morning for a variety of activities. Some took a short ride across Wrangell Narrows to the adjacent island of Kupreanof for a walk through the forest to a muskeg bog. Our trail passed evidence of hand-logging in the early twentieth century, and then turned to enter the old-growth forest. We walked along a boardwalk, two planks wide, covered with repurposed fishing net to provide traction: effective and clever! Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock towered overhead; blueberries, huckleberries, and false azalea formed an intermediate level; mosses, ferns, and dwarf dogwood covered every bit of the forest floor, even extending up the bases of trees, and arboreal lichens hung from the branches.

The vegetation switched abruptly as we entered the muskeg bog, an area of scattered, stunted trees and saturated, acidic and nutrient-poor soils. Muskeg actually occupies a fairly large part of the landscape, and there is reason to think that it is expanding. Perhaps in a thousand more years, muskeg will be the dominant ecology of Southeast Alaska.

So much to do on this brilliant clear and warm day: explore the intertidal communities revealed by the very low tide or growing on the underside of the floating dock, take a bicycle for a pedal around the town and surroundings, explore Alaska's most famous hardware store stocked with everything needed to keep the fishing fleet afloat and at work, or simply strolling through the colorful town proudly displaying its Norwegian heritage.

Dinner this evening was the famous Lindblad-National Geographic's Petersburg crab feast, featuring endless buckets of steaming Dungeness crabs.

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About the Author

Steve Maclean

Naturalist

Steve is a zoologist and ecologist, broadly interested in the ecology and natural history of plants, birds, mammals, and insects. Steve received a doctorate in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley and spent 26 years on the faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks as Professor of Biology and Director of International Programs. He taught courses in ecology and authored over fifty scientific papers.

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