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Barrow celebrates landing 3 bowhead whales in one day

Weather may be cloudy in Barrow, but things are looking bright for the rest of the whaling season.

The northernmost city in the U.S. landed an impressive three bowhead whales Wednesday, the first of the spring season. In a community that depends on the animals for food to a great extent, it served as a blessing and sign of good things to come for the rest of the season.

"We're a very happy town," said Eugene Brower, president of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association.

The first two whales landed by the Inupiat community of 3,500 people on Alaska's North Slope were over 39 feet in length; the third measured just over 43 feet. A fourth whale that was struck sunk. Brower said wind blew some sea ice back in after the fourth strike, and crews will have to wait at least three days before they can attempt to salvage it.

For Barrow, the early success is a bright change from last year; only two whales were landed last spring. Thin ice, a lack of open water and high winds kept crews from getting even a strike during the whole month of May last year.

Two this year's whales were already butchered as of Thursday morning and the third was being cut up, Brower said. Mild weather and warm temperatures reaching into the mid-30s helped.

Brower said conditions were ideal for crews yesterday. A blizzard that came through the region earlier this week blew most of the ice out, with only about a quarter-mile of it left near shore. As soon as the weather calmed, Brower gave the go-ahead for crews to head out, and the whales appeared swiftly.

Charles Hopson and his crew landed the first whale, Ned Ary the second and Jacob Adams Sr. the third.

"They're good (size). They're just right for the community," Brower said. "I can't say they're too big or too small."

The spring whale hunt has been steady for Inupiat communities that depend on the marine mammal. Savoonga, a village of 670 on St. Lawrence Island, landed two -- one at the end of March and another in April. The village of Wainwright landed one and the community of Point Hope landed a whopping four last month, according to Peggy Frankson, executive director of the Native Village of Point Hope.