The Sea Otters of Amchitka (1959)

Note: Today’s post on our blog was written by Dr. Richard Ravalli,  Associate Professor in the History Department of William Jessup University.  Thank you to him for his generosity to let us share about some of our wonderful films. 

During the coronavirus lockdown, I had the opportunity to work via e-mail with Angela Schmidt of the Alaska Film Archives at University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I was interested in the archive’s copy of the 1959 nature film The Sea Otters of Amchitka, produced by Thorne Films of Boulder, Colorado and shot by naturalist H. Robert Krear. It is the first completed documentary about the animals, and, having just finished a book on sea otter history but not having known about the film, I was very eager to get a glimpse of it. Luckily, despite the somewhat degraded state of the AFA’s print, Angela was able to digitize The Sea Otters of Amchitka and upload it for me to view.

At the same time, I was also in contact with Dr. Oakleigh Thorne of Thorne Films, who shared information about his work with Krear on the project. With gracious permission from “Oak,” now in his 90s and still going strong, Angela made the video clip public. But Dr. Thorne didn’t stop there. Searching his decades of records from hundreds of nature films produced by him beginning in the 1950s, he was able to locate a higher quality copy of the The Sea Otters of Amchitka and donated it to the AFA for digitization. This copy can now be seen on YouTube.

At the middle of the twentieth century, Amchitka was home to the largest concentration of the animals in the North Pacific. The opportunities that the otter population at the island provided for research were complicated by Cold War plans to test nuclear weapons there, a project that, following complaints from conservation officials, was halted until the 1960s. In the meantime, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Karl Kenyon was working to transport sea otters from Amchitka to other locations in the Pacific to try to reverse some of the disastrous effects of the maritime fur trade. Animals were also flown from the island to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo beginning in 1954, where the first otters held in captivity in an American facility were displayed.

While at Amchitka in 1957 assisting Kenyon’s conservation efforts as a University of Colorado doctoral student, Krear was tasked with shooting footage for the documentary, with film provided by Thorne. He also narrated the The Sea Otters of Amchitka during final production in Colorado. Unfortunately, Krear, passed away in 2018, so I wasn’t able to talk with him about his work, but he did publish a memoir in 2006 titled Four Seasons North: Exploration and Research in the Artic and Subarctic, edited by Terri Garrett, with a section on his time at Amchitka. It offers a somewhat dry but intriguing account of his daily activities on the island, working with Kenyon and several others, including an Aleut Native assistant named Innokinty Golodoff. Their main task was to build a holding pen and capture sea otters for transport to Seattle and the Pribilof Islands. Sadly, all of the otters that left Amchitka by air perished before they could reach their destination. Nevertheless, the lessons learned allowed scientists to perfect translocation methods from the island, which proved largely successful for recovery of the animals throughout the Pacific Northwest in the decades to come.

Krear and Thorne were well aware of the sea otter’s value as a nature film celebrity. While The Sea Otters of Amchitka may have only been seen by conservation advocates and in educational settings prior to the closure of Thorne Films in the early 1970s, the production began the process of popularizing the endearing animals. Near the 34 minute mark, Krear predicts, “In the future it is hoped that the value of this animal to the world will be chiefly aesthetic, but biologists and conservationists anticipate difficulty in promoting this viewpoint.” Such concerns proved fleeting. As Krear noted simply yet poignantly about the film in his memoir years later, “Jacques Cousteau made one later.”

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Come Work With Us!

Where you could be working!

Have you ever been the person at a party talking about the cool 1905 photograph you found in a thrift store? Does the phrase “history immersion” excite you? Do you love people and helping them? Does creating order make you happy? If so, then you may be the perfect candidate for the Public Services Assistant Archivist position at the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives! The University of Alaska Fairbanks seeks engaging, team-oriented applicants for the position of Assistant Archivist.

Come work down in the Archives with rare original documents relating to Alaska’s fascinating history! Thrill at the sight of glass plate negatives! Talk to people from all over the world seeking out the amazing information we hold!

More information (including how to apply) can be found here: https://careers.alaska.edu/en-us/job/514234/assistant-archivist

This is an amazing entry level job opportunity for someone seeking experience in an archives with a public service focus. Deadline to apply is January 28th, 2020.

And if you’re not sure the job is for you, please spread the word far and wide.

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$2,500 award for undergrads and grad students

$2,500 award for undergrads and grad studentsApply now for the Paul H. McCarthy Research Award, a $2,500 award for research projects using any collection in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library. Undergraduate and graduate students from any discipline are encouraged to apply.

What kinds of projects are eligible?

  • Projects must use some collection in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives.
  • Projects must focus on the library’s history.
  • Projects must culminate in a final product—this could be a library exhibit, short film, a series of web publications, or something else that you propose (additional funds may be available for production of this final product).
  • Projects must be completed no later than May 3, 2020.

Rachel Cohen, Archivist at the Alaska Polar Regions Collection and Archives at the Rasmuson Library, will mentor awardee during the experience. Applicants are welcome to contact her with questions during the application phase at rcohen7@alaska.edu.

Apply by December 1, 2019 at uaf.edu/ursa.

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Alaska and Polar Regions Collection & Archives Open House Oct. 17th

You’re invited to the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection & Archives (APRCA) Open House on Oct. 17th, 5:00pm-7:00pm.

  • Celebrate the re-opening the Paul H. McCarthy Research Room
  • Meet our new Archivist, Rachel Cohen
  • Exhibits featuring materials from:
    • Michael Krauss Collection
    • Candace Waugaman Collection

Questions? Contact UAF-APR-reference-Service@alaska.edu or call 907-474-6400 for more information.

Parking is free after 5:00pm in the Signers’ Hall & Eielson Parking Lots (3A, 3C & 3G).

Light refreshments will be provided.

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World Premier Screenings of Attla

Tanana Chiefs Conference, Doyon, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks present the community WORLD PREMIERE of ATTLA, a new PBS documentary on legendary dogsled racer George Attla.

Screenings will be held in:

FAIRBANKS on October 16 & 17 – 7:00pm at the Regal Goldstream

ANCHORAGE – October 24 & 25 – 7:00pm at the Regal Tikahtnu

Information on how to obtain your free ticket will be available on the ATTLA Documentary Facebook page on October 1st!

We are thrilled to share that ATTLA will be broadcast nationwide on PBS’ Independent Lens on December 16, 2019!

WORLD PREMIERE Screening of ATTLA

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Welcome Rachel Cohen as our new Archivist

UAF Libraries are pleased to announce and welcome our new Archivist, Rachel Cohen, who will begin her duties on Tuesday, September 3rd.

Originally from southeast Alaska, Ms. Cohen comes to us most recently from a position as User Services Librarian/Archivist at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

She holds degrees in English and Writing, Library and Information Science, Theatre History, and Instructional Design.

Rachel Cohen

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An Interview with Assistant Archivist Becky Butler

Want to know more about the life of an Archivist? Listen to this fabulous interview with Becky Butler, an Archivist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives. The collections that she mentions in the interview, including the Ernest Gruening papers and the The Fabian Carey Collection of Fairbanks Red Light District Photographs, can be found by searching UAF’s Archives Catalog. Thanks for listening!

 

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Archivist Candidate Presentations

We currently have two Archivist candidates scheduled to give presentations for the Archivist position.

Presentation topics are to be determined.

For each candidate A small reception will follow in the library staff lounge.  An opportunity will be provided for you to give feedback candidate presentations.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 3:30pm, Mary Anne Hamblen
Mary Anne was the Stevens Archivist from July 2011 until Feb 2014. Mary Anne will give her presentation in the Library Media Classroom (room 340 Rasmuson Library).

Friday, May 31, 2019 at 1:30pm, Rachel Cohen
Rachel Cohen is the Assistant Librarian and Archivist and User Services Librarian for the Special Collection at Samford University in Alabama. Rachel will give her presentation in the Library Media Classroom (room 340 Rasmuson Library).

 

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We’re hiring an Archivist!

The Alaska & Polar Regions Collections and Archives Department (APRCA) of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library is accepting applications for an Archivist to develop, manage, and promote manuscript and archival collections at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

For details and information on how to apply see http://careers.alaska.edu/cw/en-us/job/512458/archivist

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New! Alaska & Polar Regions Collections and Archives Digital Repository

Elmer E. Rasmuson Library is pleased to announce the launch of the Alaska & Polar Regions Collections and Archives (APRCA) Digital Repository accessible at archives.library.uaf.edu.

The APRCA Digital Repository was created to provide access to some of Rasmuson Library’s unique digital resources, including items from the Alaska Film Archives, the Archives unit, the Oral History unit, and the Rare Books & Maps unit.

Visitors to this site are invited to browse by subject, collection, topic and type of object. The repository is in its early phase and library units are continuing to add content.

Funding for this project was provided as a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For inquiries about this project, contact Ilana Kingsley at imkingsley@alaska.edu

Alaska & Polar Regions Collections and Archives (APRCA) Digital Repository

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