Alaska News Nightly: March 7, 2012

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Diseased Ringed Seal Turn Up In Southeast

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A diseased ringed seal has turned up in Southeast Alaska, far outside the animal’s normal range. Last week, a sluggish seal with hardly any hair was found hauled out along shore near Yakutat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent the seal to Anchorage where it was euthanized and an autopsy was performed. The seal was found to be suffering from the same mysterious disease that is affecting ice seals and walruses on the North Slope and in the northern Bering Sea. Julie Speegle is a spokesperson for NOAA. She says it’s worrisome the disease may be spreading.

This is the first ringed seal ever found in the Gulf of Alaska. NOAA has been investigating the cause of the unusual marine mammal disease since last summer. The illness has killed more than 60 seals. In walruses, the disease appears to be less severe and no deaths have been attributed to it. Speegle says the investigating team is making progress towards solving the mystery. Last month, they ruled out radiation as a potential cause. But she says there aren’t any easy answers.

The illness has been declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” which frees up more funding to continue the investigation. But Speegle says some UME cases are never resolved. She is asking hunters to report any sick looking seals they encounter this spring to NOAA.

Kikkan Randall Wins World Cup Sprint Title

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Kikkan Randall clinched the World Cup Sprint title today. The Anchorage skier broke a ski during the classic sprint in Drammen, Norway Wednesday morning. But she still managed to place 12th and secure a spot in skiing history.

Aliy Zirkle First Musher Into Takotna

Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor

About 34 teams are taking their mandatory 24-hour break in Takotna during this year’s Iditarod sled dog race. The church and other buildings are filled with sleeping mushers. Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle was the first to reach the checkpoint late last night. She says so far, she hasn’t had any surprises.

Zirkle says her dogs might also be doing well because they are so light-weight. They aren’t as likely to punch through the soft snow as the larger dogs. Zirkle will leave a little after 1 am on Thursday morning, a few minutes behind Mitch Seavey. Their times have been adjusted to take into account when they left Willow. Seavey says he’s much further ahead in the standings this year than he usually is at this point in the race. This year he’s prioritizing not only his dogs’ health and longevity, but also his own. He’s taking more naps.

Defending champion John Baker also says he’s doing better at this stage in the race than normal.

But he says his large dogs are in lower spirits because of the warm temperatures.

Long-time musher DeeDee Jonrowe says the weather is having mixed effects on her team and the trail. She says the snow has been helpful so far but the wind has caused problems. And she ran into trouble before Nikolai, and broke her sled.

Every musher is required to take a 24-hour rest and must also stop for 8 hours in White Mountain. The Busers- Martin and Rohn- pushed through Takotna and are resting 23 miles down the trail in Ophir.

School Districts On Lookout For Suspicious Envelopes

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development is instructing school districts across the state to be on the lookout for suspicious envelopes containing white powder. Department spokesman Eric Fry says four school districts have received letters in the past few days and the Chugach and Tanana district offices received the first letters for a total of six districts so far. It was not immediately clear when the first letters arrived, but Fry said the FBI asked the department to notify school districts to be on the lookout for envelopes from an unknown sender in Texas with a Dallas postmark. This week, the Kenai Peninsula, Copper River, Southeast Island and the Juneau school districts have all received similar letters.

FBI Special Agent Eric Gonzales says the FBI was called when the first four were targeted.

Gonzales says results from two tests found the substance was not hazardous. Tests on the other letters have not yet been concluded.

School officials are being urged to leave any suspicious envelopes sealed and call the department of education, the FBI or local law enforcement immediately.

Administration Asks Legislature To Hold Substitute Scholarship Bill

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Anchorage

The Department of Education has requested that the Senate Finance Committee not release a substitute for the governor’s bill setting up the mechanism to pay for the Scholarship Program the legislature approved in 2010.  The Parnell administration says it would rather have “no bill than a bad bill”.

Iliamna Volcano Experiences Increased Earthquake Activity

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

There has been some increased earthquake activity at the Iliamna Volcano and the Alaska Volcano Observatory is investigating.

Romney Leads In ‘Presidential Preference Poll’

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Alaska Republicans met at locations across the state yesterday to vote on who they thought should be the Republican Presidential nominee. There are still hundreds of ballots to be counted and just 425 votes separate Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But, as Daysha Eaton of member station KSKA reports, that doesn’t seem to be stopping Republican Party Officials from declaring it a Romney victory.

MEHS Students Mix Business With Philanthropy

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A small business class at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka is gearing up for a commercial venture this spring. The students have organized a company, appointed officers, and sold shares of stock. Their product – which will be out soon – is an elastic, $5 wristband with the words “Living on the Edge.”

If all goes well, the students should earn back the money they invested in the business, plus a profit that they’ll distribute to shareholders as a dividend.

While this all sounds fairly typical for a high school business class, it is actually something quite innovative. The Mt. Edgecumbe students developed their business plan with the goal of helping Sitka’s homeless population.

‘Video Visiting’ Helping Families Stay Connected With Inmates

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new service in Fairbanks will help prison inmates, their family and friends, stay batter connected.  “Video Visiting” provides audio and video interface between a designated site in Fairbanks and a Colorado prison, where many Alaska inmates are serving time. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the State Department of Corrections worked together to set up the program in Fairbanks.  A large portion of Alaska’s prison population is Alaska Native, and T.C.C. Justice Task Force Chair Shirely Lee says “Video Visiting” is an outgrowth of a long running effort to house inmates closer to home.

T.C.C. will offer Video Visiting between the Al Ketzler Senior building in downtown Fairbanks and Colorado’s Hudson Correctional Facility by reservation, three afternoons a week.  Up to 4 prison approved people can participate in the video sessions with an inmate.  The 30 minutes sessions are monitored by the prison. Video Visiting with the Hudson Correctional Center is already offered by other organizations in several Alaska locations.