While the Aleutian Islands may not have trees, a new exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians shows there’s still a forest.
It’s under the ocean. And instead of conifers, it’s made of kelp.
The exhibit “Underwater Forests of the Aleutians” draws on almost thirty years of biology, natural history, and archeology to explain how kelp forests sustain life in the Aleutians. That includes us, says Ginny Hatfield, Executive Director of the museum. “Humans are part of this ecosystem as well, dependent very much on the otter, and urchin, and a healthy kelp forest.”
The exhibit highlights the benefits human have derived from kelp for thousands of years — from food to fishing technology, to a hypothesis on the settlement of North America called the “Kelp Highway.”
“People were kind of pulled into the new world by following this kelp highway,” Hatfield said. “Just harvesting and utilizing the resources that are part of the same ecosystem all the way down to California.”
The interactive exhibit features an otter skull dyed purple from its diet of sea urchins, harpoons from ancient village sites, and a soft sea otter pelt.
Visitors can explore the exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians until October, when it will leave Unalaska to travel across the state.