Mystic Aquarium Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Student
2018 Trip: Mystic Aquarium North Slope Borough Mashantucket Educational and Cultural Exchange Program
June 25, 2018
We’ve finally arrived in the North Slope! We are in the most northern part of the United States, Barrow, Alaska. With only one flight per day to Point Lay, an overnight stay was necessary. We stayed in a classic bunkhouse built by the Navy in the 1950’s. Today it is known as the ARF (Arctic Research Facility). I slept on the top bunk while my mentor, Dr. Tracy Romano, slept below in the bottom bunk with only two feet of bunk space (yes, she did hit her head). The Ilisagvik College, a two-year tribal college, is located here where local students attend.
June 26, 2018
We took a small 9-passenger bush plane to Point Lay where we will settle at a local school. We are very fortunate to be welcomed by people of Point Lay and be allowed to stay at their school. Once settled, we took a long walk around town and visited the beach. Everyone was very welcoming and excited to have us here. There is an unlimited amount of children who are particularly interested in playing with the Mashantucket students.
June 27, 2018
Today Tracy and I set up the lab that will be used to process the blood samples we take from the whales. From the blood we will be extracting the serum, plasma, and white blood cells to assess their health. As part of my particular research project with the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, I will be taking blow samples from the permitted live capture/released beluga whales as well as the aquarium whales for comparison.
After organizing the lab we took a walk to the DEW (Distance Early Warning) Hanger, a facility that was used to store aircraft. This was also once a radar site for detection of soviet bombers during the Cold War. Later that night, a local came over to show us how to make donuts. It is a delicious dessert that tastes better than any store-bought donut.
June 28, 2018
A group of us went across the lagoon to check out the beach and look for whales. We saw a pod of about 100 belugas. Some looked like they were mothers and calves and they were all heading south. It was great to watch them and their behavior!
We also had the opportunity to make a cultural clothing item known as the atikluk traditionally made from animal skin or gut used to cover a fur parka to keep it clean. Since the introduction of cotton cloth, atikluks are now made out of cloth and used more casually like a blouse.
June 29, 2018
Today we went across the lagoon and combed the beach for shells and rocks. We also searched for ancient beluga teeth for one of the scientist’s research projects. Unfortunately, no one found beluga teeth. Although, we did find some really cool critters: two species of arctic jellyfish, an amphipod, and an isopod. We also checked out the old village site of Point Lay. There were TONS of ginormous mosquitos, but luckily we were well prepared for the blood suckers. There was even a summer snowball fight with the scientists vs. the Mashantucket students. Looks like the students won!
The village was located across the lagoon before being relocated due to problems with fresh water sources. With the airport located across the lagoon, it also was difficult to cross during the ice breaks. The village was initially moved near a river, but the mosquitos were so bad they finally moved across the lagoon.
June 30, 2018
Today we continued to make our atikluks for the fourth of July when we will be dancing. Everyone will be wearing them to celebrate the holiday. We also made a delicious dinner together! The menu was prime rib, baked potatoes, and I made a dish my sister makes, fish egg salad. Here is the recipe (Serves 8-10 people):
2 sacks of salmon eggs
1 diced pepper (any color of choice)
2 large diced carrots
½ cup of diced dill pickle
1 green zucchini squash
1 yellow zucchini squash
15.25oz can of whole corn kernel
16oz bottle of Italian salad dressing
1lb box of elbow macaroni
2 tsp pepper
Heat a pot of water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil then let the water simmer. Add the two sacks of salmon eggs for let cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until the eggs are opaque orange. Strain the eggs and run cold water over them until they are cooled. Pick out the sack membrane from the eggs and set aside. Cook pasta with given directions. When the pasta is strained run cold water over it until pasta is cold. Mix all the chopped and canned vegetables together. Make sure canned veggies are strained before mixing. Mix in salmon eggs with vegetables thoroughly. Add the cold pasta and mix again until everything is even. Now add the whole bottle of Italian salad dressing and mix thoroughly again. Add the pepper and mix until it is even throughout. Serve as is or store in the fridge.
July 1, 2018
Today consisted of a much-needed walk in the outdoors while we wait for the belugas. We walked to the River and searched for fossils and looked for caribou and musk-ox. On our way back, the Mashantucket students decided to take a “shortcut” through the tundra; thinking they would make it back to the school faster than the rest of us. They ended up getting all wet and didn’t make it back any earlier. We also spotted a few tuttu (caribou) through our binoculars. The whole walk took us about 3 hours! Now we’re cooking up some fresh salmon that was caught locally.