Auke Bay Laboratory: Part 2. 90 Years of Alaskan Salmon Data and Related Materials

Today’s post was written by Gina Kim Perry, Archivist in Digitization Archival Services at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

sketch of fish
Cropped Image 3 from Karluk: Graphs of Migrant Lengths, 1925-1936 (National Archives Identifier 312419952)

As part of the Alaska Digitization Project, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently digitized the series, Auke Bay Fisheries Laboratory Salmon Project Research Data, 1882-1970 (covers 1882-1972), consisting of 116,592 digital files in 2,373 file units (National Archives Identifier 95115924). You can now search through these file units and view the images in the NARA Catalog, as well as download PDF files containing all the images from individual file units.

Tuesday’s post, “Auke Bay Laboratory Part 1. Fishing for Answers: Alaskan Salmon Research,” covered historical and general information about this series. In today’s post, we showcase select items from the wide variety of materials found in the series that include not only loose and bound textual records, but also photographic materials and artifacts. 

The series contains a vast amount of salmon research data from various districts in Alaska. Among them is the following page that summarizes the first 70 years of Karluk River red salmon catch from the beginning of the canning industry in 1882 to 1952.

chart of fish population
Image 2 from Kaluk River Red Salmon: Catch, 1882-1952; and Kodiak Area: Case Pack, 1930-1954 (National Archives Identifier 312419233)

The same catch data up to 1937 are also presented in the following bar graph, from which we can easily observe not only the year-to-year fluctuations but also a gradual decline in the Karluk River salmon catch over those years. Thus, it appears that current concern about declining Alaskan salmon populations has its roots going as far back as the early 1900s.

chart of fish population
Image 57 from Karluk River: Marking Experiment Charts and Photographs, 1921-1940 (National Archives Identifier 318439940)

This series documents the evolution of 90 years’ worth of research carried out by several generations of scientists working in the field and laboratories and keeping detailed records of their work, from handwritten data sheets and field diaries early in the last century to IBM printouts in the 1960s. For example, fish biologists – traveling to remote areas of Alaska to conduct experiments and collect data to gain a better understanding of the ebb and flow of the salmon populations – were required to keep a daily log of their activities, as instructed in detail in the following 1949 field diary.

Image 99 from Field Diaries: Brooks, Lobe, etc., 1948-1955 (National Archives Identifier 293502418)

To collect data on the lifecycle of salmon by tracking their movement from fresh lakes and rivers to the ocean and back again, fish biologists came up with a system of tagging salmon and monitoring their movement and return. Among the types of tags used were plastic and metal tags as shown below.

fish tags
Image 1 from Bristol Bay Tagging, 1956-1957 (National Archives Identifier 286851495)
fish tags
Image 1 from Bristol Bay: Tags Recovered and Collected, 1939-1940 (National Archives Identifier 293504469)

Here is a page from a field diary describing several tagging areas, including a drawing of one area.

Image 61 from Field Diaries: Brooks, Lobe, etc., 1948-1955 (National Archives Identifier 293502418)

The success of tagging studies required collecting fish tags from various sources, including salmon caught by canneries and casual fishermen, as shown by the following fliers advertising a monetary reward for turning in plastic and metal fish tags.

fish tag flyer
Image 30 from Naknek and Kvichak: Tagging Programs, 1947 (National Archives Identifier 293505083)
fish tag flyer
Image 59 from Bristol Bay and Various Districts: Analysis of Miscellaneous Experiments, 1939-1940 (National Archives Identifier 293504891)

Here are a few samples of the tags retrieved in 1947 and 1955, along with information about the dates and places where they were found, and even a dried fin attached to one tag.

fish tags
Image 26 from Naknek and Kvichak: Tagging Programs, 1947 (National Archives Identifier 293505083)
fish tags
Image 6 from Kodiak Island: Karluk and Bare Lakes Dolly Varden Tagging Data and Correspondence, 1952, 1954, and 1955 (National Archives Identifier 312431453)

Fish biologists also kept detailed records of the age, sex, length, girth, and weight of the salmon population, which were collected year after year from various districts in Alaska. The drawing below shows the proper way to measure salmon length and girth, and the photograph below shows two fish being measured in the field.

fish related materials
Cropped Image 6 from Instructions for Spawning Surveys, Instructions for Collecting Salmon Scales and Data, and Related Correspondence, Various Years 1926-1949 (1 of 3) (National Archives Identifier 293505478)
fish measurements
Image 152 from Kodiak Island: Aerial and Worksite Photographs, 1958 (National Archives Identifier 318439571)

The series also contains extensive data and information relating to salmon scales, which fish biologists collected and used to determine the age of the annual adult salmon population. The photograph below shows a salmon scale impression (created when a scale is compressed between glass slides), revealing the growth rings that can be read by fish biologists under a microscope to determine the salmon’s age.

fish scale measurements
Image 1 from Fish Scale Reading (National Archives Identifier 293506745)

Here are four additional photographs showing red salmon scales labeled with the year and class.

fish scale measurements
Image 11 from Southeast Alaska: Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Red Salmon Scale Data, 1961-1962 (National Archives Identifier 286874785)

Although most of the materials in the series are related to salmon research, there are also certain items not directly fish-related that might be of interest to researchers in other fields of study. One such surprising discovery was finding 75 dried plant specimens collected mostly from the Bare Lake and Karluk weir areas in 1950. Perhaps they would interest botanists studying plants in those areas. Below are two plant samples identified by their scientific and common names, the first one from the Karluk weir and the second from Bare Lake.

Image 5 from Karluk Lake, Fauna and Flora: Mounted Plant Specimens, 1950 (National Archives Identifier 318440191)
Image 14 from Bare Lake, Fauna and Flora: Mounted Plant Specimens, 1950 (National Archives Identifier 318440211)

Also in the series is the following summary sheet listing over 100 birds of Kodiak Island, which was found together with other papers from 1944. It might interest ornithologists and bird enthusiasts to discover whether all these bird species can still be found on Kodiak Island.

list of native birds
Image 13 from Kodiak Island, Fauna and Flora: Papers Regarding the Anthropology of Kodiak Island, 1944 (National Archives Identifier 318440169)

Now that the series is readily available in the NARA catalog, we invite the science community and the general public to explore its contents and make new discoveries.

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