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Alaskan Adventures - Ketchikan

Time in Port: 7am - 1pm

George Inlet Lodge
George Inlet Lodge

Whew! That 5:45am alarm hurt this morning. We’re in Ketchikan which is our last Alaskan port and headed on a Wildlife Expedition and Crab Fest. This is the totem pole capital of the world. That’s my opinion only. Oh! Largest group of totem poles on the island. I was right according to our bus driver.

Our bus driver was pretty awesome. Some things we learned: Ketchikan island has 13,000 people and more bears than people! Half a million people visit Ketchikan every year. It has an international airport with one runway but it flies to Canada so it checks that box . She said there’s two grocery stores which gets food shipped in from Seattle. Apparently Ketchikan loves chicken nuggets and she rarely gets them because they’re out of stock and it always takes a few days to get back in stock. There was also a black bear that got in one of the stores and was climbing all over produce and eating it.

Fast food options include one McDonald’s, two Subways and a Taco Time. The town is built up over the water. You’ll see huge sets of stairs to get to the higher buildings. Water Street, very original, had a great view of the stairs. We saw Creek Street where every current shop was once a brothel!

Tongass Rain Forest
Tongass Rain Forest

In Ketchikan, their version of a drought is no rain for a week. They collect the rain water but with droughts, remember, one week, they have to buy water to supply their homes. There are 3 native tribes in town. Sunset at 1030pm and sunrise at 3am in summer.

Wildlife include: black tail deer, black bears (but they hide, very skittish), and other Alaskan animals we’ve mentioned in previous journal entries.

They have a little rhyme for bears (which reminds me of my coral/milk snake rhyme): Brown-lie down, black-fight black, white-good night! To tell the difference between the black and brown which look black, well, just look at shape of their ears and length of snout. Rest assured, if I see a bear I am not comparing snouts and ears to determine if I will be eaten.

Ketchikan is in the Tongass rainforest. It’s 17 million acres and the largest north of the equator. It was first named as a rainforest in 1908. It is roughly 500 miles long and 100 miles wide. The forest is only held up by intertwined tree roots. If they break apart it leads to landslides. They actually don’t have tops. The rainforest grows 4 months out of the year! Trees native to this area include: hemlocks (which the tops fall over), Sitka spruce, western red cedar. You can eat the spruce, the funny-looking hemlocks are poisonous and the red cedars are the “tree of life”, used to make totem poles and canoes.

The bus dropped us off at George Inlet. We boarded a crab boat (don’t think Deadliest Catch, much smaller). The positively huge salmon were dancing out of the water. Happy little fish! It reminded me of the Bert and Ernie skit on Sesame Street where Bert couldn’t catch a fish but Ernie would say, “Here fishy fishy fishy fish!” And they’d jump in the boat.

Our guide for the boat tour was equally as awesome. We learned even more! Ketchikan means the soaring wings of an eagle. The town’s industries include: logging, mining, and fishing, in addition to tourism. Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world. The world!

We passed by an old salmon cannery and learned a bit about it. It was not uncommon for the cannery to catch 4k salmon in an hour.

We learned about the “Fish Pirate Wars”. Yes, Fisherman pirates that would steal from the canneries by way of emptying their fish traps. Then they would sell it back to the same exact cannery. This apparently went on for quite some time before the canneries decided they needed to do something. It was then made illegal to steal from them with a sentence of ten years in federal prison. That scared off the fish pirates for a few days. They also hired watchmen. However, they were locals and they were still letting the fish pirates steal the fish for a cut of the profits. So the canneries hired more watchman to watch the watchman to watch for pirates. Crazy. At this time the Salmon population dropped way down. They blamed the bald eagles for stealing salmon. Once upon a time you could shoot the bald eagles. Now it’s not allowed or, well, if you do it you’ll be fined $10,000. In 1959 the remaining canneries closed.

Bald eagles are Alaska’s national bird. In Ketchikan, they have a 20 year old nest owned (and affectionately named) Agnes and Harold. An eagles nest is typically 5ft across but largest is 18ft across and weighed a ton. The females are 20% larger than males, but look the same.

We got up close and personal with either Harold or Agnes (it happened so fast we didn’t catch their name). They fed it a herring right off the boat. Literally held it up to shod the bird then tossed in the water. Pretty amazing. I know we have bald eagles in Grafton, IL but this was a totally different experience to see them fed so close.

I also learned that baby eagles are a-holes. The hatchlings often kill each other in the nest because they fight over the food. Eaglets are kicked out of nest at 4 months but by this point the parents have taught the kids what to hunt/eat.

Adult pairs can’t stand to be apart. The males will die if their mate dies by means of starvation. They are so sad they stop eating. The ladies? They find a replacement man !

We saw Mahoney Falls. It can supply a home with water for a year. Named after Joe in 1905 Klondike gold rush. He Dug 14 mines, 0 gold lol, but did find lead and zinc. He started the first baseball team in the state. They had 0 rain delays but “washouts” Instead: low vs high tide. If they hit a home run out to water (tidal fields) it was a home run. I just thought that was interesting.

They have a decent sized seal population. If you don’t see them it’s because of orcas in the area. Phoenix, the resident humpback whale, got separated from his pod and hangs out by the lodge. He comes pretty close and is always by himself.

The Dungeness crabs like to hide out in brackish water (gross). They hide from freshwater parasites so brackish water is apparently where it’s at.

Meanwhile on the boat, they pulled a pot in front of us! Interestingly enough, they can only bait their traps with fish caught in the same waters. Each crab pot is equipped with a safety feature known as the rotten cotton rope. This rope disintegrates if a pot is lost at the bottom of the ocean. We don’t want beasties to be trapped and never eaten! They say it prevents kill pot. If they lost the pot, it shouldn’t kill others by them being used as bait.

Jen holding at Dungeness Crab
Jen holding at Dungeness Crab

We got to hold the crab! We posed for pics too. I’m just gonna say it. We look damn adorable posing with the crabs. We figure if Alexi was on the trip with us she’d get pinched. She has horrible luck with sea life. (She was smacked in the face by a dolphin in heat in Curaçao). I learned a trick called tonic immobility. Basically, if you flip a crab on its back it renders them chill. You can also try this on alligators and sharks but that’s a nope from me.

Male Dungeness crabs are 6” across and females only 4” across. The crabs, commonly known in our house as “furry crab” are covered with cilia. It is used for sensing movement around them and to smell (pheromones), they also pee out of their mouth to communicate. Gross! . The crabs molt and get rid of their old exoskeleton. They bury themselves in sand/mud to protect themselves and therefore you rarely catch them in soft shell. Males will sense a female in soft shell, he’ll cover her up to protect her, and they’ll make sweet love for a week. Crabs slowly reproduce around every other year. You don’t want to catch female crabs. They lay 2.4 mil eggs. 3 month to lay them all, 3 months to hatch. The females starve and use all energy to protect eggs-they don’t eat anything. They typically do not lay eggs every 1-2 years.

I was having quite the conundrum. I can’t “meet” my food before I eat it and I couldn’t eat Jim. (Jim, that’s what I named the male I held.). If we take these back to eat, I guess I’m not having crab today! Just kidding-I freaking love crab. They actually released the “paid actors” crabs that we pulled and posed with back into the water. So I guess I won’t eat Jim and can eat other kinds.

Freshly prepared Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab before it was in mah belly!

After the boat ride, we headed back to the lodge for brunch. The George Inlet Lodge. Omg we ate crab like nonstop for 1.5 hours. We dined on the furry Dungeness crab. Omg it was awesome! We sat with a very nice couple from Denver and each table had a contest to see who could make the tallest tower of shells. I think we were at like 10” by the time we were done, but the contest ended when we were only at 8.5”. So much crab consumed. I’m embarrassed to say how much crab I threw down. However, I was pretty proud of myself. I did 4 flights of stairs down to the lodge and 4 flights back up to the buses. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it (I have a bum foot since my back surgery plus a dang fractured toe on the SAME foot-and surgery scheduled for 8/2).

Bear statue
One of the few bears I have seen on this trip

The ride back was uneventful. We learned that it Ketchikan the bears, black bears, are even larger here than the other areas we’ve visited. 250 lbs!!

We had no time to explore anything in Ketchikan except the pier gift shops. It was a super short port stop. We grabbed a light lunch back on the boat, napped. I went down to visit the Roulette table. My initial buy-in was $100. I walked out with $400. I could have easily kept playing but obviously “quit while you’re ahead” and we had dinner reservations. We had dinner, Ed went to the hot tub, and I crashed. This trip has not been stressful but has not been restful-always on the ho! I’m pretty tired. Tomorrow we don’t get into port until 7pm.


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