Story last updated at 5/13/2009 - 11:29 am
What says "real Southeast Alaskan adventure" better than a run out to pull the shrimp pots from their mysterious depths? And who knows what might be in there?
For me, on any boat ride around here, the potential for wildlife viewing is half the fun. I don't have to run the boat, or even help, so I can concentrate on wild things. It's important to photograph each and every creature and most trees. Ah, another duck flew by - click, click, duly noted.
There's a mature bald eagle sitting on the day marker as usual in front of the cabin. I wonder vaguely how many times I've already photographed this same bird (looks like Bob) but, anyway, there it is, just begging for documentation. Now the brisk wind is inducing his or her little head feathers to dance about wildly, so it is pretty obvious I need eight or ten shots of that. The windblown raptor returns my gaze, trying hard to look properly noble but pretending to not care.
A bit further and we slow way down, scanning the surf for shrimp pot buoys. There's nothing much of interest until, oh joy, a little flock of harbor seals has appeared over by some jutting rocks. No fewer than six of those captivating creatures move into range, sticking close together, wanting a photo op. I wonder what they are up to and get a few of the usual heads and necks in the distance shots. There are no whale-like acrobatics, just those big pensive eyes looking around before head and shoulders slowly lower out of sight.
Back on the boat, it's showtime! The puller motor whirs as the rope is drawn up with a basket of uncertain potential. Will it be prawns or some hideous sea monster? Will we have shrimp for dinner or macaroni and cheese?
Drum roll... yes! The pots are generously laden with the desired product! But wait, what the heck are all those other weird critters?
There's a small starfish - not too exciting - a couple of sculpin trying to look prehistoric (and succeeding) and a few small scallops. The big winner of the "What's Weird in the Shrimp Pot" contest is an abundance of kelp crabs, ranging in body size from about 1" to 3" along with their long, spindly legs.
They aren't just having a bad hair day - they are having a bad everything day. What a sight they are! One can barely see the actual crab with its beak shaped head under its covering of seaweed, algae, eelgrass, sponge, barnacles and other organisms. They look rather like wacky, walking plants.
Sporting rows of small hooks on their carapace (shell), the crabs themselves cleverly fasten much of the camouflage on their backs and legs. Concealment is assured by adorning themselves with the same plants they are hiding amongst, leaving them free to pursue feeding, unspecified leisure activities and covert operations.
The crabs wander around like little wind-up toys, searching for a route back to the depths from which they were so inexplicably transported. Their artful disguise is not working on the boat deck.
They fascinate me quite a lot, but I don't want to stress them any more than necessary, so I quickly capture these enigmatic wonders and return them to the water. Off they go, floating slowly downward, away from the air and the sunshine and back to the place where they thrive in the kelp.
The only thing left to do now is to go home and cook up some shrimp!
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.