maskpng 200 Courtesy Donald Ellis Gallery

Auction of Yupik Masks Sets Record

Two Yupik masks, one of which once belonged to surrealist painter Enrico Donati, sold for a combined $4.6 million recently, a record price for Native American art, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The Donati mask was created in Napaskiak and bartered to Bethel trader Adams Hollis Twitchell about 100 years ago. Twitchell, whose descendants still live in the Bethel area, sold it and other Yupik masks to the Museum of the American Indian in New York and, when the museum experienced financial difficulties in the 1940s, the masks were purchased by an antiques dealer who later sold them to several surrealist painters, including Donati, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Donati, who died in 2008 at age 99, had come to America to escape World War II. He had a fascination with Native American art. A photo in the auction catalog showed the mask hanging above the fireplace in his studio, a position of honor that it occupied for 60 years, according to the Anchorage Daily News.



  Courtesy West Marine
  A retired Alaska commercial fisherman recently won $10,000 for inventing a tool that safely returns bottom-dwelling fish to the ocean floor.

New Invention Saves Fish

A retired Alaska charter fisherman was recently awarded the grand prize in the second annual Green Product of the Year contest by West Marine. Ace Calloway won $10,000  for inventing the BlackTip Catch & Release Recompression Tool that helps bottom-dwelling fish such as rockfish, which are vulnerable to significant changes in pressure, return safely to the ocean floor.

Calloway invented the tool after reading a study on the problems of fatal barotrauma in deep-water game fish that showed fatalities could be nearly eliminated if the fish was returned immediately to its natural environment instead of being released on the water’s surface, according to a news release from PR Newswire.

Calloway’s tool clamps onto the fish’s jaw and the fisherman lowers the fish to the bottom by hand, downrigger or rod and reel with the help of a weight. When the device hits bottom it automatically releases.

A team of judges including several fisheries scientists and marine biologists chose the tool for the award.



Grant Promotes Native Teachers

A group called the Future Educators of Alaska is using grant money from the U.S. Department of Education to encourage Alaska Native students to become teachers. According to Alaska’s state Department of Education and Early Development, while Alaska Natives account for about 24 percent of the student enrollment in K-12 public schools statewide, only about 5 percent of the teaching force in the state is Alaska Native, according to the online news source, Alaska Dispatch.

The FEA concentrates on helping today’s teachers, especially those who are Native, meet the cultural and academic needs of Native students. The idea is that if Native students have success in elementary, middle and high school, they will envision a future that includes college and a possible career in teaching, and encouraging success in future generations.

A similar program funded by federal grant money is in place for Navajo students in Arizona.


Salmon are Economic Engine

Salmon is an economic engine that pumps nearly $1 billion into Southeast Alaska’s economy, according to a Trout Unlimited Alaska study. The study examined commercial, sport, personal and subsistence use fisheries, and the economic contribution of hatcheries to Southeast Alaska and found that salmon and trout generated about one in every 10 jobs in the region, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Last year, the commercial salmon catch was worth $131 million to fishermen, not counting the economic contribution of hatcheries, processors and transportation companies, according to the state Department of Fish and Game. That was about 25 percent of Alaska’s statewide commercial salmon value to fishermen.

According to Trout Unlimited, the study points out the need for resource managers consider the future of Southeast’s fisheries when making decisions about the Tongass National Forest, where logging is a contentious point of debate. The study underscores the importance of conserving the Tongass’ remaining intact watersheds and restoring damaged ones, according to Trout Unlimited. More than 90 percent of Southeast Alaska is encompassed by the 17-million-acre forest, the Anchorage Daily News reported.


  Linda Stromquist/National Park Service
  A researcher examines a mold of a prehistoric bird track found in Denali.

Fossilized Tracks Reveal New Species

Fossilized tracks found recently in Denali National Park have helped paleontologists identify two new prehistoric birds. The new species are Magnoavipes denaliensis and Gruipeda vegrandiunis according to a report from Reuters news service. The finding was reported in Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

The characteristics of the rock formations in Denali have made it one of the best places in the world to find prehistoric bird tracks, Reuters reported. Tracks and fossils from thousands of prehistoric birds and pterosaurs—flying winged reptiles—have been found there. Some of the tracks match species that dwelled during that period in more southern latitudes of North America or in Asia, suggesting birds migrated great distances to Alaska to breed and nest during Cretaceous summers, much as they do today.


Hungry Orcas Learn Ambush Tactics

John Durban/North Gulf Oceanic Society
Scientists say a group of more than 150 transient orcas has learned to anticipate the migration routes of gray whales in the Aleutians, and teams up to ambush the whales.

A newly discovered group of more than 150 transient orcas team up to ambush gray whales every spring near Unimak Island as the whales migrate north to the Bering Sea, according to a report at Scientists studying the whales say orcas can take down pretty much any size of sea mammal, but this specific group has developed a unique set of strategies, including stashing carcasses of calf and yearling whales on the ocean floor and returning 24 hours later to devour the prey. The orcas also carefully orchestrate the kills, leaving about 40 of their group waiting on the sidelines as packs of four to six separate mothers and calves. The attack pack gets first dibs on the carcass, and the rest of the group returns the next day and continues to feed, a pattern never observed in any other group of orcas, reported. The orcas feed almost exclusively on the gray whales for extended periods, and appear to understand the gray whales’ annual migration patterns. The orcas choose strategic hunting locations based on the gray whales’ preferred routes.


Natural Gas Plant Closes

Tim Woody
The plant near Kenai that has for 41 years exported liquefied natural gas from Cook Inlet to Japan on tanker ships like this one, being loaded at the dock at Nikiski, is being shut down. The plant’s owners say the market for their product overseas is drying up.

The plant that has exported natural gas from Cook Inlet to Japan for 41 years is being shut down. The plant’s owners, Conoco Phillips and Marathon Oil, announced in February that, due to deteriorating market conditions, the Nikiski liquefied natural gas plant would cease production for export this spring, despite being granted a new export license by the federal government, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The producers said they will instead focus their efforts on supplying gas to the regional utilities that use Cook Inlet gas to heat homes and provide electricity in Alaska.

A spokesman for Enstar Natural Gas Co., the Southcentral region’s largest gas utility, said the company was already short on its guaranteed gas supplies for 2011 before the announcement, and is concerned that without the overseas customers, the Cook Inlet producers will have less incentive to explore for new sources of gas.

Enstar may need to import gas from overseas within the next few years, the Anchorage Daily News reported, unless a bullet line from the North Slope—a source of significant debate in the state—is constructed. The Nikiski plant shipped about 21 billion cubic feet of liquefied gas in 2009, off a peak of 64 billion cubic feet. Trillions of cubic feet of gas are available from the North Slope, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

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