Arctic Grayling: Thymallus articus
Growing to 30 inches (76 cm) and a weight of six pounds these is one of the most important sport fishes in northern Canada and Alaska. The large fins of the males have many uses. They are used to intimidate rivals and attract females. Males actually fold this fin over a receptive female’s back, drifting alongside her. Grayling are huge scavengers, eating everything from roe and fry to carcasses from animals as big as the caribou, which have fallen into the water. There is a reason for their voracious appetite. Unlike many other fishes, these stay in cold northern lakes year round. This means at least two thirds of the graylings time is spent at the bottom of frozen waters. Adapting to low oxygen levels, they barely move and their blood temperatures stay just above freezing. The fish start becoming active again when temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They were an important food source for native Alaskans like the Tlingit.
These peoples were the most northerly tribe occupying the entire southeastern coastline of Alaska, from Mount St. Elias to the Portland canal with the exclusion of the Prince of Wales Island occupied by the Kaigani Haida. Though it was the Tsimshian who originated the chilkat blankets, it is the Tlingit who brought the art to its greatest heights. House fronts and entrance totems like the ones depicted in the lower fish were decorated to tell different family legends. Clans were often named after animals such as another northern resident illustrated in the upper grayling:
The Wolf: Canis lupus
Appearing as playful as pups their truer nature is more like that of the animal pictured in the tail. Wolves have incredible stamina and are excellent runners, this being the way they catch most of their food, by running it down. Wolves most often hunt in family packs. Native peoples noted these similarities between the wolf and whale and the wolf was considered “the killer whale of the land” as represented by the totem in the upper dorsal fin.