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Thursday, January 31st, 2008

It’s end of January and I had been back home from the North Slope of Alaska since the end of October. We didn’t get any good snow until the middle/end of December, but since then the skiing has been incredibly good. Did manage to get a few outstanding back-county telemark days in and got out to Tsalteshi Trails nearly every day. I do love to ski!
Sad to report that I again find it necessary to earn a few dollars. More than a few. So it’s back to a village to replace a teacher who didn’t want to finish out the school year. This time, it’s Angoon, a Tlinket village in SE Alaska on Admiralty Island. The island has the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet, although they’re taking a long winter’s nap right now. [read on]

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.

Saturday School – Eskimo Style

Saturday, September 29th, 2007
Alak School closes early for the summer as many of the Inupiat Eskimos move to fish and hunting camps upriver - or set out to go hunt seals or go whaling. To make up for the lost school days, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Wainwright, Alaska – Tundra Village on the Arctic Ocean

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
airtaxi.jpg 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 ... [Continue reading this entry]

Barrow Bits

Sunday, September 9th, 2007
wbone.jpg I've been up here for over two weeks and, sad to say, I've pretty much seen everything in town - and it's a bit of a stretch to say that many of these sights are special. ... [Continue reading this entry]

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]

Get a Job!

Monday, August 27th, 2007
Well, after a year living fancy-free, it's time for yours truly to replenish the bank account. Since I don't really have any skills that might pay what I think I deserve, I've decided to resurrect my teaching career and ... [Continue reading this entry]

7 jets in 36 hours

Monday, January 15th, 2007
airport.jpgMaybe I should post this in the forum here on Bootsnall, but I would bet my exit from Thailand and back home ranks up there with the all-time worst travel connections. Here's what I inflicted on myself: Flight ... [Continue reading this entry]