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Whale of a season; Barrow crews land 10 bowheads

Hannah HeimbuchThe Arctic Sounder
Wales became an important whaling center due to its location along whale migratory routes, and it was once the region's largest and most prosperous village, with more than 500 residents.
Photo courtesy: Goldie Crisci
Traditionally, the hunter who brings news of a landed whale also brings a piece of muktuk as evidence.
Photo courtesy: Goldie Crisci
Bowhead whales remain endangered, but their numbers are on the rise. A federal exemption allows 11 Alaska villages to hunt the bowhead, including Wales, where crews venture onto the Bering Strait each spring.
This bowhead whale was landed by Wales, Alaska, hunters in April 2012.
Photo courtesy: Goldie Crisci

With a few weeks left in the season, North Slope whaling crews are wrapping up what has been a fruitful and safe spring hunt so far.

“It’s been very good for us,” said Eugene Brower, president of the Barrow Whaling Captains’ Association.

The Barrow fleet has landed 10 whales so far and lost two, all between 27 and 35 feet. These are good- sized whales, Brower said, and the fleet is pleased with its catch.

There are currently 35 crews registered out of Barrow.

For now, all the crews have pulled back off the ice, evaluating of a crack that formed Tuesday morning. Other than that, the ice has remained solid and provided a wide launching area, Brower said.

Spring ice is stronger than what’s encountered during the fall hunt, when young, unstable ice is more unpredictable.

“Right now everybody is going back, back to safe ice and waiting out the weather,” Brower said.

In Point Hope, crews have landed two bowhead, said Mayor Steve Oomittuk, but the village is anxious for more before the season wraps up at the end of May.

Ice and weather have cooperated, Oomittuk said, though hunters haven’t seen as many whales as usual. He suspects an increase in open water farther out in the Arctic Ocean has drawn the migrating mammals away from land, because Barrow crews have still been successful.

Also at a two-whale count is the village of Wainwright, with one struck and lost. This continues a successful streak for Wainwright. The village hadn’t landed a whale in 70 years, until Walter Niyakik brought in a bowhead two years ago.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder.