Dakavak Bay, Katmai National Park and Preserve

Dakavak Bay, Katmai National Park and Preserve

by | Feb 12, 2022

Dakavak Bay is about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) wide and situated on the southeastern coast of the Alaska Peninsula in Katmai National Park and Preserve where it extends north from Shelikof Strait for about 3 miles (5 km), about 87 miles (140 km) west-northwest of Kodiak and 83 miles (134 km) southeast of King Salmon, Alaska. The name was first published as ‘Tagalack Bay’ by Admiral Adam Johann von Krusenstern during the first Russian circumnavigation from August 1803 to August 1806. It was reported in 1904 as ‘Dakavak Bay’ by George C. Martin, of the U.S. Geological Survey who obtained the name from Nikolai Kalmakof, who was the chief at Katmai Village in neighboring Katmai Bay. Dakavak Lake drains to the head of Dakavak Bay through an outlet stream about 3 miles (5 km) long. The lakes on the south coast of the Alaska Peninsula are much smaller than those found on the north coast in Bristol Bay. Dakavak Lake is the largest lake on the Shelikof Strait coast, approximately 2.8 miles (4.5 km) long and 0.6 miles wide (1 km) with a depth greater than 69 feet (21 m). The watershed is heavily covered with pumice and ash from the 1912 volcanic activity of Novarupta, and pumice sand can be many meters deep over much of the terrain. The pumice floats and accumulates as white beach sand in Dakavak Bay forming bands high on the shore. The Alaska Peninsula is a tectonic terrane that migrated thousands of kilometers northward from a position south of the equator during the Mesozoic based on fossil interpretations. The Peninsular terrane consists of two distinct subterranes separated by the Bruin Bay Fault System. The Iliamna subterrane lies west and north of the fault with Paleozoic and early Mesozoic rocks intruded by the Alaska-Aleutian Range batholith. The Chignik subterrane lies east and south of the fault with Permian to Late Cretaceous sedimentary rocks in several formations. A marine incursion in the Late Cretaceous resulted in the deposition of fluvial to deep-marine clastic rocks of the Chignik, Hoodoo, and Kaguyak Formations. The Kaguyak Formation surrounds Dakavak Bay and has a measured thickness of more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) consisting of thin layers of shale, siltstone, and fine-grained sandstone. Alluvial sediments and pumice of the Quaternary cover this bedrock at the head of the bay creating level ground with a water source and salmon run that invited human habitation.

Archaeological investigations along the Shelikof Strait coast of the Alaska Peninsula indicate that human occupation began as early as 6,000 years ago. Habitation sites including house pits have been found in Dakavak Bay. When the Russians arrived on the Alaska Peninsula coast in the 18th century, there were two groups of people living in the region, the Savonoski people living east of Naknek Lake, and the Sugpiat Alutiiq living along the Shelikof coast. It is believed that coastal village locations were selected based on an adequate wood supply used for building houses and boats, as well as for heat. The Alutiiq built barabaras, which were semi-subterranean houses supported by wooden posts and had log cribbed roofs. The structures were then covered with mud and sod. Beginning in the 1760s, Russian fur hunters called ‘promyshlenniki‘ moved eastward from the Aleutians into the Kodiak Island and Alaska Peninsula areas. In 1789, the Shelikhov-Golikov Company established its headquarters at Kodiak, which became the major fur depot for the region. In 1799, the Russian Czar Paul I, authorized a charter that granted a monopoly of the American fur trade to the newly formed Russian-American Company. The company organized hunting crews and workers into artels or sometimes smaller one-man posts called an ‘odinochka’. During the early 1790s, the Russians established an artel, a hunting party, and a trading post at Katmai Village in Katmai Bay that was the principal trading post for most of the Alaska Peninsula’s south coast from 1799 to 1867. Several seasonal camps were used at least intermittently by the Sugpiat Alutiiq during the Russian period. Dakavak Bay was probably used throughout this period at least on a seasonal basis. This was the closest point of land from which people would travel in baidarkas across Shelikov Strait to Kodiak Island. Structures were probably located in the bay for people to wait out bad weather. During 1895, the Russian Orthodox priest from Kodiak traveled north from Katmai Village by baidarka and noted two or three barabaras, possibly at Dakavak Bay, where the Katmai people gathered in the summer to dry salmon. In early June 1912, most villagers on the Katmai coast were gathered at Kaflia Bay for the summer fishing season. On June 6, the Novarupta Volcano, located about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Katmai Village, erupted with such force that it is considered one of the largest volcanic explosions ever recorded. On June 15th, the tugboat Redondo was chartered from a Kodiak salmon cannery and under the command of Lieutenant W.K. Thompson, went to the Katmai coast to search for survivors. They stopped at Katmai Village but did not find anybody in the village or in the area. They sailed on, looking for a family that typically lived at Dakavak Bay during the summers. The house was seen, but not the people. They anchored in Kaflia Bay and found the Alutiiq village buried in volcanic ash to a depth of 3 feet (1 m). About 100 Alutiiq Natives were there who had gathered for mutual protection. All the Shelikof Strait coastal villages on the Alaska Peninsula were subsequently abandoned and all that remains are private inholdings in the national park at Katmai Village, Kukak, and Kaguyak.

Dakavak Bay routinely exhibits one of the most intriguing morphological formations called beach cusps observed when deposits of sand and gravel form arc-shaped regular patterns characterized by steep-gradient horns and gentle-gradient embayments. Beach cusps have a pronounced longshore wavelength, referred to as cusp spacing, and are the most conspicuous example of rhythmic morphology found on sandy beaches. Because of their marked regularity, beach cusps have attracted many observers and much speculation as to their origin. Their formation has been ascribed to standing edge waves and self-organization, but none of these mechanisms have yet been adequately proven. It appears that the morphology of beach cusps depends on the grain size of the sediment, the beach slope which also depends on grain size, and on the tidal range. Cusps show their best de­velopment on gravel beaches where the cusp horns stand high relative to the arc-shaped cusp embayments. As the tidal range increases, the cusps become stretched out down the beach face forming a series of ridges. One of the common features of beach cusps is the sorting of the sediment by grain size, with the cusp horns generally containing coarser sediment than the cusp embayments such as at Dakavak Bay. This contrast in grain sizes between horn and embayments results in differences in their permeability, and this can influence the processes of formation and the preservation of the cusps. Beach cusp formation is most favorable when the waves approach perpendicular to the beach, that is, with wave crests parallel to the shoreline, however, this has been disputed. Some researchers maintain that wave direction is irrelevant, and at least one theory of cusp formation requires an oblique wave approach and intersecting waves. However, a sub­stantial longshore transport of sediment under oblique waves clearly does destroy beach cusps by first making them highly asymmetrical and then washing them away entirely. In recent years two mechanisms have gained the most support, beach cusp formation is associated with the presence of standing edge waves (standing edge wave theory), or beach cusps result from self-organizing feedback between changing topography and swash motion (self-organization theory). Read more here and here. Explore more of Dakavak Bay here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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