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Arctic Alaska whale harvest looking better this autumn after grim spring season

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder
Butchering a bowhead whale in Kaktovik, Alaska (File photo from September 2012). Loren Holmes photo

The fall whale hunt is going much better so far than the dismal spring hunt for much of the Arctic.

As of mid-September, 12 whales had been landed in various Arctic communities, including five in Barrow, where the spring whale hunt was the most challenging in memory, elders said.

Last spring, unusually thin ice kept whalers at home for much of the season. Barrow landed only two whales in the spring. With an annual quota of 22 whales, there’s much ground to make up.

Tuuqmak Diaz, administrative manager for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which monitors and records all whaling activity across the Arctic, said if the whalers catch the remaining whales for the community’s quota, it will be a lot of work to process it all, but welcome work.

“I know it’s a blessing,” she said. “It helps keep us warm.”

Kaktovik celebrated the first landed whale this fall, on Aug. 30. A second was landed Sept. 5 and a third on Sept. 12.

Nuiqsut has landed four whales, with one struck and lost. The whales were landed on Sept. 1, 5, and 13th.

In Barrow, the whalers brought whales ashore a little later, with three strikes on Sept. 15 and two landed on Sept. 16.

The communities of Wainwright and Point Hope had not reported any whales landed as of Sept. 19, Diaz said, added she’d heard that Wainwright whalers were not yet out.

“They are still hunting caribou,” she said.

The 11 communities managed by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission are allowed an annual total of 75 strikes on whales — a number determined by the International Whaling Commission. The strikes are distributed based on the size of the community. If a whale is struck but not landed, that still counts as a strike used.

Contact Carey Restino at crestino(at)reportalaska.com. This article originally appeared in the Arctic Sounder and is republished with permission.