Out in the country and along the beaches, wildlife are out in spades. With opportunity to hunt and observe these animals, a few safety tips can go a long way.
On land, Letty Hughes with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game says you’re likely to see plenty of birds and muskox, and perhaps moose and brown bears.
Although the muskox population on the Seward Peninsula has been in decline, Hughes says for the past couple of summers they’ve noticed a change in muskox distribution—more muskox in Unit 22C, closer to Nome. For these ungulates, the best rule of thumb is to keep a safe distance.
“For muskox, you don’t want to be approaching any [muskox] groups. You don’t want to make them run because new calves can easily be trampled or they get left behind when groups run,” said Hughes. “So, we want to be sure to be quiet around the muskox.”
If you encounter an animal that appears to be orphaned or injured, Hughes says not to touch or pick up the animal. Often, the mother will be nearby—and for moose and bears specifically, the mother will vigorously defend its young from any perceived threat. The best practice is to call Fish & Game or the Alaska Wildlife Troopers and report the location and behavior of the animal.
To defend oneself against bears, Hughes recommends carrying a deterrent such as bear spray and making loud noises to alert animals in the area of your presence. If your deterrent is a firearm and you have to kill an animal in defense of life or property—Hughes says you must report the kill to Alaska State Troopers, Fish & Game or the Nome Police, and skin the animal.
Gay Sheffield with the Marine Advisory Program says, like last year, the earlier retreat of sea ice means you may see a few seal pups sunning themselves on the beach. She says that’s perfectly healthy for them, and cautions passersby not to disturb the animals. Sheffield says she and the Kawerak Subsistence Program are continuing to monitor seal sightings after the seal sickness of 2011, the cause of which is still unknown.
Sheffield notes that for baby walrus and any seals in this region, if they are removed from their habitat for rehabilitation in Seward’s SeaLife Center, they will not be released back into the wild. This is based on an agreement between the Ice Seal Committee and the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent disease transmission. Sheffield recommends confirming the animal’s health before sending it out of the region for rehabilitation.
“You want to make sure that you’ve reported it and that it’s being checked out by one of the local agencies here in town or by experienced subsistence users before action is taken, such that an animal that is perfectly healthy and just taking a break on the sand, is not inadvertently picked up and removed and put in captivity unnecessarily,” said Sheffield.
Meanwhile, Sheffield says miners dredging near Nome should be cautious of any marine mammals that might attempt to socialize.
“We do have several predatory marine mammals in our region that do utilize our waters. One are transient killer whales,” said Sheffield. “If you have killer whales near shore, I would recommend probably getting out of the water, getting back up on the dredge or talking to your diver and letting them know that there are these killer whales in the area.”
Besides killer whales, Sheffield says 1,200-pound Steller sea lions traverse near-shore waters, and can be very curious with divers. Walrus calves (without tusks) are also quite social and may try to haul out on dredges, especially if they have been orphaned.
Sheffield requests that if you see a walrus calf on a dredge or in the water alone, contact her, Kawerak Subsistence, or the Eskimo Walrus Commission. If you see a seal or walrus on the beach, note your location, look for an injury or unusual behavior, and take a photo to include with your report. Gay Sheffield can be reached at 443-2397 or 434-1149; Kawerak Subsistence program can be reached at 443-4265; and the Eskimo Walrus Commission can be reached at 443-4380.