Have you ever seen a bald eagle?

Arctic Journal - Wednesday July 11, 2007

Landscape on the island of Unalaska, part of the Alëuts. (Monika Seynsche) Past bird cliffs and uninhabited islands with red-hot volcanic vents hidden behind the clouds, the "Sir Wilfrid Laurier" heads for Dutch Harbor: a huge container port, a supermarket, a hotel, an airfield, the allegedly richest bar in North America for fights and a few dozen houses scattered on the hills. Around 4,000 people live here all year round - during the fishing season there are more than twice as many: then the fishermen lay out their cages on the seabed and catch tons of king crabs, which are exported all over the world.

At the moment it is not season and empty cages are piled up on every street corner. Bald eagles sit on it. What the seagulls are to a German coastal city, the eagles are to Dutch Harbor: they are enthroned on street lamps, house roofs, garbage bins and church spiers - hundreds of them populate the city.

The bald eagle is a national symbol of the USA. (Monika Seynsche) In the afternoon the ship casts off and heads north. The Alëuten island chain separates the Pacific in the south from the Bering Sea in the north. And that's exactly what the researchers on board liked. Because the sea between Russia and Alaska is one of the most biologically productive zones in the world's oceans.

When the sea ice retreats in spring, a lot of light suddenly reaches the flat bottom of the sea. At the same time, very nutrient-rich water flows here from the Gulf of Anadyr in the northeast Pacific: a land of milk and honey is created for the phytoplankton, i.e. the plants in the water and on the sea floor. Within a very short time, gigantic amounts of food are formed for the other ocean inhabitants: the zooplankton feed on phytoplankton and are in turn eaten by fish and whales. Many whales and some species of birds also eat the plants directly.

The food chain here in the Bering Sea is very short. Every change in the plant world has a direct effect on a large number of animals. At the same time, the Bering Sea partly belongs to the Arctic and is strongly influenced by it. Most climate scientists believe that climate change will change the Arctic more than any other region on earth. That is why the researchers on board want to investigate what effects the climate changes have on the living beings in the Bering Sea.

The course of "Sir Wilfrid Laurier" can be followed here.