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Subsistence Whaling Aftermath in the Arctic

Monday, October 1st, 2007

whalebones.jpgYesterday afternoon, Rusty, Emily and her son Henry and I set out for an afternoon beach walk to a point where a lagoon connects to the Arctic Ocean – about 4 miles from Wainwright. This past spring, the villagers harvested some 20-30 beluga whales. They had come across a pod of whales and used their power boats to herd the belugas towards the shore and commenced to shoot and harpoon the lot. Although whaling is not permitted for commercial harvest (Norwegians, Icelanders, and Japanese take a certain number of whales for ‘scientific’ purposes – and then sell the meat), aboriginal Alaskans are permitted to hunt whales and other marine mammals for subsistence purposes. Last year I encountered Australian aboriginals and Pacific Islanders taking dugongs (manatees)and sea turtles off of the Badu Island near Papau New Guinia. Each culture’s perspective on what animals to eat or not certainly reflects learned mores. Eating dog may be as repulsive, as eating pork, or beef, or insects, or whales depending on societal, ethnic, and religious values. Who can really judge? Well, maybe a vegetarian.


It was actually pretty gruesome to see the rotting remains of the little white belugas. I suppose it has something to do with the intelligence of whales, but I sure do not like to see them slaughtered. I have no problem with hunting moose and caribou and etc. – and maybe it is just my modern cultural perspective, but traditional or not, killing whales seems so unnecessary. I doubt that so many animals could have been killed using purely traditional means, and most certainly those who lived along the Arctic more than fifty years ago didn’t have grocery stores (however meager) and restaurants to supplement their diets as they now do.

Maybe the white-bread suburban culture of mainstream western society is as senseless – and if you think about the real consequences of the complacency of middle-america with wars, pollution, and republican family values of racism, greed, and ignorance, the end result is more destructive to the planet than what has happened here.

Global warming? The Arctic ice pack is usually already formed this time of year – all the way to the shore here. It’s been that way for thousands of years -but that’s changed in just the last 3 years. In the spring and summer, polar bears follow the retreating ice and wait for seals to surface and then kill and eat their prey. Both bears and seals also need the ice to rest, but the ice is still more than 300 miles away right now. As winter approaches, there is a concern that the bears will be too far from land when the temperatures really do drop. The thinning ice cover has already reduced the polar bear population as the animals have more open water to swim across to find new places to hunt. This year, the number of bears that are lost could be catastrophic.


On our hike, we came across Eskimo Jim, who was also out for a beach walk. Jim had fashioned a home-made spear to protect himself against wolves or bears. it’s getting to be that time of year when polar bears come in off the ice – although, as I mentioned in a preceding paragraph, the ice remains further away than it has ever been this time of year. Consequently, as the Arctic warms, the occasional brown and black bear finds its way to the north coast with increasing regularity.

Wainwright, Alaska – Tundra Village on the Arctic Ocean

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007


The Cessna Grand Caravan that I flew from Barrow to Wainwright was split down the middle: Passengers on the right, cargo on the left. At least I knew for certain that all 7 of my bags and cartons made the flight.


Wainwright is a village of about 500 folks – it seems a bit smaller than that. I’m sharing an apartment with a guy named Tex. He’s never been to Texas. The school is just 100 yards from my door, easiest commute in my life. Our living room window has a fair view of the Arctic Ocean, about 1/4 mile away.


Since the beach is so close, it’s the first choice for an after school walk. Sometimes some of the younger Inupiat kids join us. On the first day of school we had an assembly. While waiting for all of the students to file into the gym, I did a few simple tricks for the grade school kids. I am now known as Mr. Magic.


Dog teams have been replaced by snowmachines and 4-wheelers, but most folks still keep a few dogs around, but haven’t come across anyone that has enough of them to pull a sled.


A neighborhood family getting ready to head out to pick berries.

This morning I took a 10 mile hike to the DEW military installation with a couple of other teachers, Rusty and Emily and her 3 year-old son, Henry. Rusty brought along a gun in hopes we could bag a caribou. No such luck. As Em and Rusty had thought about camping at the now-abandoned base, they carried backpacks, and I was the lucky guy who carried Henry. We hiked along a lagoon before we had to cut across the tundra and came across this carcass of a seal that was shot in the head and left to rot.

caribou.jpgAlthough we didn’t spot any caribou, someone in town had some recent success.

Field Guide to the Arctic Blue-Turfed Hooligan

Sunday, September 9th, 2007
football1.jpgspectators.jpgfootball2.jpg This past Saturday was the final football game of the year for the Barrow Whalers. They played Nikiski, a team from the North Road of the Kenai ... [Continue reading this entry]

Arctic Ocean Beach Bum

Saturday, September 1st, 2007
barrowbeach.jpgIt's the first of September and the beginning of the the 3-day Labor Day Weekend. Slept in a bit - I usually have to wake up at 5:30 AM to get to school on time, ... [Continue reading this entry]

It Blows Here In Barrow

Monday, August 27th, 2007
…but more about that later. sunrise.jpgapt.jpg My home for the next month is an apartment on the corner of Ogrook and Kongasak and the Arctic Ocean is just 3 blocks away. The ... [Continue reading this entry]