NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010
Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 28, 2010
Dutch Harbor — Welcome to the Aleutians
After 14 + hours of traveling from the sweltering heat of DC to the snow capped mountains of Alaska, I finally arrived in Dutch Harbor late Friday evening and began to explore the town on Saturday. Due to some mechanical difficulties, our departure was delayed and we were given a couple bonus days in Dutch Harbor which I definitely used to my advantage.
The town of Dutch Harbor and the neighboring village of Unalaska are located on the island of Unalaska, the second largest island in the Aleutian Chain. It is referred to in some documents as the gateway to the Western Aleutians – containing an airport and a large commercial fishing operation. The majority of full year residents appear to live in Unalaska (which contains the school district and schools) while Dutch Harbor contains commerce to support the local processing plants and canneries. According to the local I quizzed, there are about 3000 full year residents of Dutch Harbor and Unalaska and several hundred more fishermen stopping through.
Unalaska was originally home to the Unangan people who survived for thousands of years off the fish and mammals found in the sea before the Russians arrived in the mid-eighteenth century. As described by the Museum of the Aleutians, the relationship was first hostile but evolved into something that was treasured. Many residents of Unalaska are Russian Orthodox and several have Russian surnames. The Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1825 and is one of the oldest in North America (here is a picture of the outside).
Unalaska became a United States territory in 1867 (as part of “Seward’s Folly”) and while there was some American presence – notably from fisherman seeking the bounty of the Bering Sea, there was not a great deal of contact until World War II. The US Military started fortifying Dutch Harbor in 1940 (building a variety of small bunkers known as pill boxes which were so embedded in the town, I didn’t even take a picture!). Japan must have been aware of this as the island was attacked on June 3-4, 1942. Numerous buildings were destroyed and dozens of people died. (Look up the “Battle of Dutch Harbor” for more information).
Although I would claim to have learned a great deal about World War II during the course of my education, I had no idea that a battle was waged on American soil after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Check out the war memorial to the left). Further, I did not realize the cost of this battle to the native residents. Although there was a military base, the US government decided it was “too costly to secure and protect the residents” (according to a display at the Museum of the Aleutians) and instead, conducted mass evacuations soon after the attack. The residents were interred in camps in Southeast Alaska for the duration of the war. While visiting the Museum of the Aleutians, I watched a very powerful video on the untold story of this internment which included interviews from the survivors and told of harsh conditions and confusing information.
In addition to learning a great deal about the history of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, I also had a chance to see the sights and explore a bit:
I hiked until I hit the snow,
I checked out sea creatures at low tide with Katie and Michele,
I joined a search for wild horses which, although unsuccessful, led to some amazing vistas,
I saw more bald eagles than I could count (see how many you can spot in this picture) (to give the local cliché — they are like pigeons here),
And I tried to take some cool shots of local life.