Editors note: Video removed at the request of the photographer. We have replaced it with a video of another whale hunt, this time from Barrow.
Few people on Earth get a close-up view of a bowhead whale hunt. And given Alaska’s brutal cold and the dangers inherent in whaling, they may not want to.
But Savoonga whaler David Akeya, whose crew appears to have landed the biggest whale in Alaska this year, has turned seldom-seen images of a hunt into a powerful, trailer-like iMovie that he originally posted on his public Facebook page and agreed to share with Alaska Dispatch.
Though animal rights groups often oppose subsistence whaling in Alaska, the footage of both spring and fall hunts is unflinching. Critics might say it's graphic. But it's part of life in a land that has relied on whaling and hunting for eons, where villages aren't connected by roads and where shelves at tiny stores are often bare or stocked with extremely pricey merchandise.
“I like showing my culture and feeding my people,” said the 38-year-old Akeya. “And we do not slaughter cow and chicken for money.”
When Akeya and his crew landed his 57-foot whale in the Bering Sea village weeks ago, he sent meat to an elders home in Nome. Friends and family across the state shared in the gift. Meat also went to the neighboring village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. A walrus shortage earlier in the year had left larders low in Gambell, as it had in Savoonga.
Akeya said he enjoys the thrill of hunting one of the planet’s biggest animals, as well as the satisfaction of sharing and eating whale.
“It’s real good fried, I tell you. You just dip it in Shake ‘N Bake and fry it, and I tell you, it’s way better than bacon,” he said.
Whaling can be dangerous. Akeya once lost a niece and a good friend to the Bering Sea, as they towed a whale in a skin boat that capsized in strong winds.
But he doesn't plan to stop. He'll also continue shooting videos of rural Alaska life and displaying them on Facebook.
“We are the First Nation and we hunt the mighty Bering Sea, and please do respect our way of life -- and no bad comments,” he said.
Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com