watching whales

Abigail Brown scans Ugak Bay for grey whales next to a searchlight shelter.(Marnie Leist photo)

Spring is a great time to visit Narrow Cape and view migrating grey whales.

The giant creatures swim close to shore on their way to feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, particularly cows with their newborn calves.

My daughter Abigail and I watch them from our favorite perch. It is on the cape above Fossil Beach, overlooking Ugak Bay.

For the best views, we move back and forth between two World War II searchlight bunkers.

Now stripped of their doors, wiring, and just about anything else that could be removed, these concrete structures were a part of a remote observation post in a greater strategic defense network.

Just as Abby and I scan the ocean for shapes and movement, servicemen once watched the same waters. I can’t help thinking about them as we sit by the bunkers.

Alaska’s role in defending the United States’ Pacific interests emerged from War Plan Orange, developed after the First World War. Congress adopted a plan to form a defense triangle between Panama, Hawaii, and Alaska.

The department of defense established a Kodiak naval base in 1939, but it was not until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that Japanese hostilities hit home.

Six months after the attack, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island and occupied the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.

For a period of time, Kodiak’s naval base played a major role in the Aleutian campaign, serving as Alaska Defense Command from October 1942 through March 1943.

The seemingly diminutive Harbor Defense Observation Post at Narrow Cape was a part of this effort, and it served a key function: to watch for enemy ships and aircraft.

We all know Kodiak is dark in the winter. Searchlights operated from the bunkers could illuminate up to 30 miles in good conditions.

Very bright and hot, they were controlled by the nearby DEC’s or distant electrical control “pillboxes,” like the one you drive by at Gibson Cove on the way in or out of Kodiak.

While the other structures at Narrow Cape have long since collapsed, the remains of concrete bunkers now offer an awesome viewpoint to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.

If you go to see the whales and explore these historic sites, be careful.

There is intense erosion and steep cliffs in the area. Other structures have already fallen into the ocean.

Also, please remember that these are legally protected sites — whether they are on public or private property.

One day, I hope Abby can take her own family to enjoy the view from Narrow Cape and feel a part of Kodiak’s history.

By showing respect for our island, its rich cultural heritage and natural wonders will be around for generations to come.

Kodiak resident Marnie Leist is a museum professional and history buff.

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