Arctic Dispatches , portion 2: As the Arctic heats up, residents of Utqiavik are experiencing first linked with unusual species that are making their behavior polewards
Last July, Nagruk Harcharek was savouring a bucolic visit to a cabin that sits on the lip of the Chipp river, deep in the Alaskan Arctic, when something caught his eye. Shimmering on a rack where he hangs his caught whitefish to dry was, astonishingly, a dragonfly.
” I’d been going to camp there for 30 years and I’d never seen one, I couldn’t freaking believe it ,” said Harcharek.” I was astounded. I simply supposed,’ Wow ‘.”
Dragonflies aren’t wholly alien to Alaska, but the vision seemed as jarring as watching a hippopotamus stroll the Champs-Elysees. As the Arctic heats up, at around twice the rate of the global average, its remote but hardy communities are experiencing first linked with species that are flying, scurrying and swimming northwards.
The task of documenting anecdotal sightings of these newcomers falls to Craig George, a wildlife biologist with a snowy beard, spectacles and well-worn hiking boots. George, originally from New York, has spent four decades observing Alaskan wildlife but in recent years has generated sheaves of records on unusual arrivals.
Last summer, a child was stung by a wasp, the first time anyone could remember this happening in Utqiagvik, a coastal town formerly known as Barrow that is the most northerly settlement in the US.
A sphinx moth, a species with a wingspan as much as 5in across, was reported by a baffled occupant as being some sort of bird. An actual fowl, a kestrel, which has moved from rare to almost commonplace in just a few years, was tended to by George after it sought refuge in his workplace, the North Slope Borough. Arctic squirrels, previously little recognized, have also taken up residency around township.
” People here often don’t know what these sub-Arctic species are and to be honest, sometimes I don’t either ,” told George as he seemed through his records, muttering about the the odd beast (” Hmm, rusty blackbird “) as he went.
” One reason I’ve stayed here so long is because every year there’s something new ,” he mentioned.” It’s amazing but likewise a little bit concerning. The change is happening so, so fast .”
In 2009, Maasak Brower, a Utqiagvik security guard, caught a northern wolffish just half a dozen miles from township. The species , ordinarily found in the north Atlantic, was previously unknown to the Arctic. Brower, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, posed triumphantly with the oddity, which is an unlovely, pouting creature.