By Katey Dolezal
Just days into their 1,500-mile expedition through the Aleutian Islands, Kokatat ambassador Keirron Tastagh and paddling partner George Shaw were already well aware of the challenges they faced by paddling out into the Bering Sea. They had already experienced 40 mph katabatic winds, sheets of rain, and waking up to their kayaks buried under snow. But this isn't anything Tastagh, a BCU Aspirant Level 5 Coach, can't handle. Founder and Lead Coach of Adventurous Experiences on the Isle of Man, Tastagh specializes in sea kayaking and is the youngest person to have paddled the 60 land miles from Anglesey to the Isle of Man, solo. Five years ago he circumnavigated Canada's Vancouver Island in record-breaking time, simultaneously raising over $1,500 for Breast Cancer Awareness.
The Aleutians 2012 Expedition is focused on researching the declining population of the Northern Sea Otter, and their connection to the Alaskan Aleut population. Currently, there are about 2,000 Aleuts, whose population was estimated to be around 25,000 before contact with Europeans. Similarly, the sea otter population has declined over 50 percent in the past 30 years and is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
Killer whale attacks are suspected to be the leading cause for the decline of the sea otters, so Tastagh and Shaw will be teaming up with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to record the presence or absence of sea otters in the bays, noting killer whale positions, and photographing wildlife for marine biologists' live projects. The team is paddling unsupported and will supplement their diet with fresh fish that they hope to catch. They plan to "explore as far as necessary to reach the conclusions we require," Tastagh says, which could be as far as the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula.
"Our expedition is inspired by the Aleutians rich culture and kayaking heritage," says Tastagh. "The journey will not only paint a picture of the current sea otter population, but will also provide a better understanding of 'The Aleut Story'."
Click HERE to keep up with the Aleutian 2012 Expedition’s blog.