August 1, 2015

Pratt Museum, Homer, AK

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

As I mentioned in my previous message, Homer has some fantastic museums, both for the content as well as the presentation. While we enjoy learning neither of us seek out museums on our travels. This one came highly recommended and we can see why, after visiting it.

One thing that has been impressed on us throughout this trip is the need to improvise when things are not readily available. Another is the inventiveness and the effort that goes into projects that people take on whether that be a hand craft or a plane.

In Slide 1 you can see an artificial leg crafted from what was available at the time. It looked pretty well suited for the task although not all that "pretty” to look at. Jane especially enjoyed the quilt presentations of bird and animal scenes. (Slide 2) Once you have seen the real thing you realize the effort that the handcrafter went to in preparing her/his creation. The detail really cannot be captured in a photo so you’ll have to believe us, they were very impressive. Quilting of the foot print of Lynx (Slide 3), Shrew (Slide 4), Snowshoe Hare (Slide 5) and Willow Ptarmigan. (Slide 6) Using the white background to simulate the snow was very realistic.

Slide 7 shows a Kenai Lynx which have adapted to the mountainous snow conditions by growing enlarged paws to allow it to cover the snow-covered mountain slopes over great distances that it calls home. Without this ability there would have been too much inbreeding and a weakening of the species. By ranging far and wide this is not an issue.

As I mentioned as we left Kenai to head to Homer, we learned that four volcanoes continue to erupt spewing out volcanic ash that can be very harmful to all that come in contact with it. Slides 8 and 9 show the slides of ash and the microscope under which we could view the ash and it was very obvious to us how ragged the edges of the ash dust are. The biological benefit of the ash in enriching the soil is something we had not considered before this visit.

Slide 10 shows another quilt that captures the frequently used bright colors combined with patterns that mimic whales, flowers, leaves and snowflakes all spinning in seasons of change.     

Various aquariums had fish and sea life and this star fish caught our attention because the light areas seemed to glow. (Slide 11)

Slides 12-14 capture an unfortunately devastating part of the Alaska story: The area covered by the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez. There were photos of birds that died from exposure after the oil destroyed their feathers ability to retain body heat. All sorts or marine life were killed from similar exposure situations. The amount of oil in the water as shown in samples taken years later show the long term effects. A particularly dramatic demonstration of the damage was shown by a black area on the Alaska map outlining the spill. A plastic replica was attached to a string and as you can see it could be placed on the map around where we lived to see how large an area it would have covered had it spilled at home. You can see that in our home area near Toronto, it would have spread from Montreal (or Vermont in the US) to well past Detroit in Michigan, covering most of Southern Ontario. That is one huge spill area.  

What was also highlighted in the Pratt Museum was the part the Alaskan islands play in the environment. Many species of animals were introduced to these islands and within a relatively short time they either took over the island destroying longstanding populations of animals and birds or they disappeared and became extinct. The balance was disturbed and the changes affected many other species. For many years now the introduced animals have been killed or removed, in an attempt to restore the balance. Some remote islands contained small populations of birds and animals that were thought to be extinct and these became the basis for repopulating these islands with native animals and birds once again. We learned that birds will go to these remote islands and flourish because many of the animals that prey on them can’t get to the islands. The Museum has a remote controlled camera, complete with video and audio feeds, set up on Gull Island many miles away from the Museum, that you can control and immediately see the results on a monitor in the museum. It is a great way to see the birds up close that you otherwise would never see.

Slide 15 is a typical picture of a Sea Otter cradling her pup. Each night in Seward, where we are now located, we have seen these otters resting just as you see the Mom as they move past the campground. They are playful, love swimming on their back and they put on a show for us, their audience, you can be sure. 

Slide 16 shows a casting of a bear’s footprint. Compared to Jane’s hand you can see that these are huge animals weighing 320-450kg (700-1,000 lbs.). The footprints here were from one that weighed about 400kg (900 lbs.). They have a realistic bear standing up on its rear legs that confronts you as you turn a corner in the museum. It is over 2.5m (8 feet) tall and HUGE with its front paws raised! Definitely a scary sight. No wonder they advise you to make yourself as large as possible in appearance and make lots of noise to "scare them” since if they come after you, there is no way you can outrun them. They also advise falling and playing dead while pulling into a ball. The hardest thing to do I think would be to stay in that position until the bear leaves the area, since they tend to stay nearby to see if you really are "dead”. Thankfully on this trip we have not encountered bears that "close and personal.”        



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