Pair of Cowley students serve Alaska internship
Living in the wild for five weeks, a pair of Cowley College students spent their summers doing an internship in Alaska tagging salmon.
Krista Cross and Chase Turner, biology majors at Cowley, served the internship from May 5 through July 1. Cross learned of the internship opportunity through a brochure that was handed out in their Principles of Biology class, which was taught by Natural Science Department Chair, Michelle Schoon. While, Turner heard about the internship from former Cowley student Amy Shaw, who also took part in the internship while attending Cowley.
The students spent a week at the headquarters in Kenai, Alaska for orientation and preparation days before leaving for their respective sites. Each intern deployed different days with their partners based on past salmon run history for each lake.
The first week was orientation over salmon smolt procedures. Throughout the orientation the students were certified in CPR and became aware of cold water safety. They also went out to a shooting range and practiced gun safety for when they would be in the wilderness.
They also learned the fundamentals on how to sample the salmon smolt, how to assemble a trap and work it, and how to take AWL’s. AWL’s is the age, weight, and length of each salmon.
The salmon smolt would run during the night to avoid predators like bears, so the work schedule varied from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., with cleaning the trap and checkup everyday at 5 p.m.
Each night the students collected 10 scales per fish of a total of 40 Sokeye salmon and 20 Coho salmon.
“The experience was something so personal and amazing,” Cross said. “I was one of a few younger interns so it made me feel like I was on top of really figuring out what I wanted to do, since the internship presented me with field work experience.”
Cross said at times it was rough living in the wild and having no connection to the real world. However, as the internship went on she realized how important it was to the people in Alaska.
“Some depend on salmon for their winter stock food and Alaska is one of the biggest states dealing with commercial fishing. Everyone in Alaska was so grateful when we met them and told them what we were doing.”
Turner stayed an additional two weeks during the months of May through July and was stationed at Larson Lake east of Talkeetna, AK.
Turner said his internship consisted of counting, weighing, and measuring Salmon Smolt leaving the lakes and heading towards the ocean, as to get an educated guess on how many total salmon and how many of what salmon species would possibly spawn back to their birth lakes. They also took limnology samples of the lake water to determine if the water temperature and/or organisms in the water could play a roll in the salmon population and spawning methods.
Turner woke up every morning with the view of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in the nation.
“The Alaskan experience is so much more than what you hear people talk about,” Turner said. “The land is beautiful and the wildlife is remarkable. There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t see either moose, caribou, bald eagles, otters, seals, dolphins, whales, or bears. It’s something that I honestly thought I would never get to experience in my life.”
Turner’s most memorable moment happened one night at the smolt trap as he was counting the salmon smolt. When all of a sudden, the silence was broken by a loud grunt. As he looked up, to his surprise was standing a giant Bull Moose starring straight at him.
“He was so tall that I could not see over his back,” Turner said. “I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I just stood there trembling in my waders. But to my surprise the Bull Moose just wandered on by as to not have a care in the world of what we were doing there.”
Cross said her most memorable moments of the trip came when two black bears came onto their camp site, and working with her partner, who came from South Carolina.
“Working together and going through everything together created a bond that will always remain even if we live so far away. It’s something that only us two will truly understand.”
Cross plans on trying for another internship in Hawaii to help with dolphin habitats. She has also looked into various Scuba Diving trips and volunteering for other organizations around the world.
“I really want to do more things with marine life,” Cross said. “I would say that anyone interested in majoring in biology this internship is great field work experience. It requires you to apply yourself and is an adventure.”
Turner will cherish the experience he had spending the summer in Alaska.
“Every moment I had in Alaska was something I took in, because I knew the experience was not a forever thing and I wanted to remember as much of the experience for as long as I could,” Turner said.