Alaska's Inland Passage

Edward F. Ricketts
1938 Photo of Ed Ricketts

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club, Wetlands Action Network, National Audubon Society

For some time, the writer has been making annual collecting and observing trips into the Puget Sound - British Columbia region, culminating this summer (1932) in a ten weeks trip, mostly by small boat, into Southeasatern Alaska.

In addition to some commercial collecting at Sitka, the desiderata were: to make a hurried ecological reconnaisance of the shore invertebrates, especially with regard to such environmental factors as wave shock, type of bottom and intertidal zoning; and to procure representatives, for future identification when necessary, of the ecological "horizon markers," and of taxonomic groups now being actively studied by specialists.

The British Columbia - S.E. Alaska shore is interesting biologically in that it has received scant attention recently, although it was one of the first areas on the Pacific Coast to be carefully examined (Brandt, the Russian, in 1835). In the groups treated, the reports of the Columbia Puget Sound Expedition, the Harriman Alaska Expedition and those of the Canadian Arctic Expedition are illuminating, and there are various otehr scattered papers (Verrill, etc.) and from the marine stations at Friday Harbor and Nanaimo. Thus a good many systematic surveys have been made and reported on by specialists; but seldom in a general way or ecologically - the point of departuree having been specific rather than general . . .

The attenuated dawns and twilights, the continued drizzly rain, and the thrushes singing for hours at night and morning from the wet and steep hillsides - the only sound in this quiet region, aside from the rush of waterfalls - are the things I remember chiefly from this country. Specifically at Lowe Inlet, a nice illustration was provided of the freshwater limiting factor. located in a sub-channel off the long and narrow Grenville Channel, upwards of 30 nautical miles from true oceanic water, with narrow entrances and passages between, many streams and much rain . . .

Increasingly it seems to me evident that wave shock, working often indirectly through its allies physiography and type of bottom is the most significant distribution factor for the Pacific coast littoral, lacking here as we do any effective temperature differential from Pt. Conception clear into Alaska. Wave shock, currents, type of bottom and shore physiography are tied up together in mutual cause-effect circles, so that while any one of these factors can be defined exclusive of the others, the causes and effects of one cannot be considered, sometimes cannot even be differentiated, except in their mutual reactions and relations. Stone or boulders, unless they be very large, cannot occur in the face of heavy surf; the only shore that bears up under continual wave impact is cliffy wall, solid reef or solid terrace. The type, slope and exposure of the shore are functions remotely of geology, but immediately of physiography. A good many forces act from outside. The steady wind piles up the ground swell offshore, temperature and barometer variations in other parts of the world induce currents, the lay of the land is in part due to remote earth movements. But within a given region all act and react together and mutually. Together they produce a result which conditions the environment of the animal communities.

Reference Source and Concluding Thoughts by Roy van de Hoek: Hedgpeth, Joel. 1978. The Outer Shores. Mad River Press.

In addition, it is important to note that Joel Hedgpeth wrote an article called The Living Edge. That article had two preface title quotes. One quote was by Henry David Thoreau (1864,p71) and the other by Carl O. Sauer (1962). They are presented here as background information for undertanding the linkages of Ricketts, Hedgpeth, Thoreau, Steinbeck, and Sauer. Lastly, note that Ed Ricketts can also capture the sense of place, while in Canada and Alaska. For example, he writes of the Thrush and its constant singing, and Ed Ricketts is not even an ornithologist or vertebrate biologist, but it shows that a marine biologist also cares about the land, landscape, and wild nature!

Before the land rose out of the ocean, and became dry land, chaos reigned; and between high and low water mark, where she is partially disrobed and rising, a sort of chaos reigns still, which only anomalous creatures can inhabit.

Henry David Thoreau (1864,p.71)
Cape Cod
1951 Edition
W.W. Norton, New York

To primitive collector and modern naturalist alike, the borders of the sea are richly rewarding. Between high and low tide a wide assemblage of life forms useful to man is to be had for the taking. These differ from place to place according to the bottom, whether it is sand, silt or rock, according to the qualities and motions of the water, and by extent of daily exposure above the water. In warm oceans sea turtles visit sandy beaches to deposit their eggs. From back beach to sea cliff a different and varied fauna and flora yield edible shoots, fruits, eggs, and nestlings. The shallow sea holds yet another assemblage.
. . . We still like to go beachcombing, returning for the moment to primitive act and mood. When all the lands will be filled with people and machines, perhaps the last need and observance of man still will be, as it was at his beginning, to come down to experience the sea.

Carl O. Sauer (1962, p.45,46),
Seashore-primitive home of man?
American Philosophical Society Proceedings,
Volume 106, page 41-47