After a relatively safe and successful fall whaling season most North Slope crews are nearly finished with whaling efforts, though some farther west communities will still go out. A total of 15 whales have been landed, and only one was lost after being struck.
A successful spring hunt in Barrow landed 14 bowhead whales and lost eight, which fulfilled their annual quota. Barrow crews still went out for fall whaling, however, after strikes were transferred to the larger community.
Two strikes were transferred from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission bank, and four from Kivalina, which did not fill its quota in the spring.
"Barrow got their six and four more were transferred from Point Hope," said Johnny Aiken, executive director of the AEWC.
Of the four transferred from Point Hope, three have been landed and one remains, Aiken said.
In the middle of this week Barrow crews were waiting for some choppy marine conditions to subside before heading out to pursue that last strike.
"Point Hope didn't reach their quota last spring because of ice conditions, weather, that sort of thing," Aiken said. "And they don't really go fall whaling. They saved one in case they decided to go check it out."
Point Hope landed five whales this spring, not losing any. They had five remaining strikes.
If a community doesn't think it will be able to use up its strikes in the given year, they will often transfer them to another community. Muktuk is then often shared with the community who has given their strikes.
The AEWC has a total annual quota of 74 strikes.
"We still have two in the bank," Aiken said, "which I think the folks in the St. Lawrence area might want to use later on."
Wainwright had one strike left of their annual quota, after the spring hunt. No crews have gone out as of yet said one local captain, but mid-October is prime time for that community's hunt and a few are expected to go.
Savoonga still has two strikes left, but will likely not start its fall whaling until December, Aiken said.
Nuiqsut got its four and are finished for the year, Aiken said, and Kaktovik landed two out of three to complete its fall whaling as well. In Kaktovik, the hunt for the final strike was delayed due to a death in the village, but other than that crews faced no unexpected delays or dangers, other than typical fall weather.
"Yes we've had a safe season," Aiken said. "Although the weather was a little windy and rough at times. (Crews) managed to stay safe."
Average bowhead size this fall was around 29 feet, Aiken said, though Ned Arey's crew did land a 43-foot whale — the largest of the season.
Barrow has 35 registered whaling captains, by far the largest concentration in one village, with a couple more registered in the outlying villages that fall under the AEWC umbrella.
The International Whaling Commission renewed catch limits for AEWC communities this summer in Panama, during its five-year review of subsistence whaling quotas. The AEWC limit stayed at the previous limit, 74, a decision Aiken was pleased with.
"The quota renewal process went very well actually," Aiken said. "It turned out better than we ever expected. We thought that we were going to have some problems trying to get our quota but we were fortunate that the IWC decided to hear aboriginal subsistence quota requests."
Not so fortunate were aboriginal subsistence whaling communities in Greenland, whose quota was removed entirely. That loss saddened subsistence whaling communities world-wide, Aiken said.
"It was very heartbreaking for all of us," he said.