Inupiat Eskimos Celebrate Arrival of Bowhead Whales
Contributed by Sheila Gaquin in Point Hope, Alaska.
April 24, 2001
Though our days are warming up, we are still a long way from "ice-out." The Kukpuk River is frozen, Maryatt
Lagoon, which is fed by the river, is frozen, and the sea is still covered by ice. Nonetheless, leads have opened
in the sea ice, and this has allowing beluga and bowhead whales to begin migrating north to their summer feeding
Point Hope, Alaska, is above the Arctic Circle in the Chukchi Sea.
Open leads are just what Point Hope has been waiting for. Last week crews traveled across the ice to the edge of
the open water to watch and wait for whales. They took skin boats (called umiaks), tents, and harpoons with them
for this rite of spring that has been repeated in Point Hope for thousands of years.
Bowhead Whales and Inupiat Culture
Harvesting whales has always been crucial to the survival of the Inupiat Eskimos. In the old days, the whales fed
the village for almost the entire year. Today, the meat and muktuk is still important, but the whales serve another
purpose: they are crucial to the survival of the rapidly changing Inupiat Culture.
Knowing this, you can imagine the great joy last evening when the village learned that John Oktollik's crew had
taken the first bowhead whale of the season. Most of the village ventured out onto the constantly shifting ice
to help pull the 30-foot whale from the water. After celebrating with fresh muktuk and Eskimo donuts, the work
of cutting the whale into shares and moving them back to town began. Today our school is nearly empty because many
students stayed on the ice throughout our day-lit night to help with the work.
A Question for You
As we wait for a true "ice out," can you guess which of our bodies of water--the river, the lagoon or
the ocean--will be ice free first? Here's a hint to get you started in your thinking: The sun warms dark surfaces
and this usually begins the melting process even before the air temperatures rise above freezing.
Copyright 2001 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions,
comments, and suggestions to our feedback form