Archive for the ‘ Veterinary ’ Category

Friday Nights at the “Top of the World”…

As I prepare to return “home” to Barrow, I find myself reminiscing about days gone by on the North Slope.  I was priviliged to spend a Friday evening in August 2010 with longtime bowhead whale biologist Craig George, his wife, Cyd Hanns and their oldest son, Luke.  A friend and veterinary colleague, Nina Hansen was visiting me from Fairbanks.  Nina and I first met in 2007, when I was doing summer pathology work for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Nina graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in May 2007.  Upon graduation, she packed her things, got in her car and made the long road trip to Fairbanks, Alaska to take a job with McKinley Animal Hospital.  Today she is a full-time PHD student at UAF and still practicing at McKinley Animal Hospital.

We spent the evening cruising in Craig’s boat looking for seals, walruses and whales. 

We also encountered the incoming barges delivering goods to Barrow….

We discovered a gray whale carcass on the beach south of Barrow, in the area commonly referred to as “Hollywood” because of the past movies and films shot in this area.  It was apparent this whale had been there for quite sometime!  There were no tissues available to collect for investigation and study.  We still pulled the boat onto shore and investigated the remains.

A wind advisory was issued, cutting our evening short. As we cruised back to Barrow, I was able to appreciate an ocean view of one of the oldest and most famous landmarks in Barrow, the Brower Whaling Station.  Whalers, traders, missionaries and Arctic exploration greats-Stefansson, Captain Bob Bartlett, Wilkins, Rasmussen and Amundsen had all frequented the home and business of Charles D. Brower, the “King of the Arctic”. 


 Charles D. Brower with Whale Baleen
Upon seeing the familiar landmark, I was greatly humbled by the realization of the incredible, often rare opportunities I have been presented with since my arrival in Barrow.  I am truly “living the dream” in America’s northernmost city!

The Plight of the Walrus

This photo was provided by the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management.  The well-being of walrus is threatened not by a pathogen but by the very real loss of sea ice that is forcing them to swim greater distances to find ice that is appropriate for hauling out and resting.  The overall health of the walruses that I have examined both grossly and histologically has been excellent.

This past summer I was able to collect tissues from 3 subsistence-harvested walruses.  It is more often the case that the hunter will butcher the walrus on a suitable piece of ice, leaving the visceral organs behind and returning with the skin, blubber and meat.  It is so difficult to haul the entire carcass back to town to butcher.  One of the hunters was kind enough to bring the entire carcass back for me to examine.  I was so grateful to the hunter for doing so, as I have never been able to examine all of the visceral organs before!  He was able to do so because it was a young healthy male.

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By Air, Land, and Sea-That’s How Goods Get to the North Slope

Alas! The supply barges are arriving in Barrow! There are no roads to Barrow and the other North Slope villages. Supplies are either flown in or brought by barge. Here is a photo of a Lynden Air Cargo plane that delivered premanufactured rafters for building single family homes and apartment complexes. Housing in Barrow is very hard to find for newcomers-many of the college professors find themselves living at the dormitories of Ilisagvik College until they can find a place of their own.  The waiting lists for housing are long!

Barges come in from Seattle, Anchorage or even Prudhoe Bay.  Many of my friends have bought vehicles and are driving them up from Fairbanks to Prudhoe on the infamous “Haul Road”.  The vehicles get put on the barges in Prudhoe for fall delivery to Barrow and other coastal North Slope villages.  Here are some photos of this summer’s incoming barges.

Note the truck stacked on top of the containers!

Last but not least is the “Greta” barge named in honor of Greta Akpik, a longtime native health worker in Barrow.  The Inupiaq name for “Greta” is Suvluraq.

KBRW-The Voice at the Top of the World

KBRW is the only station to provide radio programming to the 88,000 square miles that make up the North Slope Borough.  KBRW-AM 680 began br0adcasting on December 22, 1974.  In 1988, KBRW FM 91.9 was added.  In June 2006, 24/7 broadcasting was made available to the world via worldwide streaming.  It is through KBRW that I am able to stay connected with life on the North Slope as well as reading the online version of the Arctic Sounder Newspaper and social networking sites such as Facebook.  The programming mix offered by KBRW is most impressive!  There is a mixture of classical, jazz, bluegrass and new age as well as many NPR programs that I did not even know existed!  KBRW offers the nightly birthday show where people can call in and wish their loved ones a happy birthday.  Religious programming is also broadcast in Inupiaq.  The station also broadcasts community events and meetings.

Our wildlife department did a call-in show about our seal and walrus sampling program in which we communicated to the listeners the objectives of the program, significant findings and plans for the future.

Before the radio show. .. Shown are Billy Adams and Cyd Hanns.  Billy is pretending to be smoking a cigar like a certain

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Bearded Seal Post Mortem Findings

Here are some pictures that describe postmortem findings from 2010 Subsistence Harvested  Bearded Seals.

Hearts from 3 of the 42 bearded seals examined had incomplete closure of the ductus arteriosus-one of the three had a probe patent ductus arteriosus.  2 of the 3 were seals estimated to be just over a year old.  The remaining seal was an adult.

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Special People in Barrow

Here is a photo of one of my favorite people in Barrow, Rosabelle Rexford.  Rosabelle is a very accomplished hunter, butcher and seamstress.  At the young age of 69, she is very efficient at skinning and butchering seals.  She has always been so kind to me and most supportive of my work.

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My Barrow Necropsy Assistants

Here I am at the home of Joe and Mary Sage preparing to take measurements and assist with butchering two ringed seals and a very large bearded seal before I take the various internal organs back to the lab to examine and subsample.   Joe is the head of the Native Village of Barrow Wildlife Department.  He has spent a lot of time and energy mentoring younger family members and numerous youth in the Barrow community, stressing the importance of retaining traditional knowledge and subsistence hunting practices. Continue reading