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Rural Alaska

Kivalina whalers bring home beluga bounty, while Utqiagvik is having a strong season

A whaling crew from Kivalina has brought home to their community a bounty of beluga.

The 77 Swan Crew, captained by Replogle Swan Sr. and his wife, Dolly, braved uncertain traveling conditions to head northwest to the neighboring village of Point Hope, where they could safely access open water near the beluga migration.

"We haven't had open water, just a day or two at a time,” said local resident Janet Mitchell. "So hunting at Point Hope was our only hope for bounty from the sea.”

As the crow flies, Tikiġaq is just about 70 miles from Kivalina, though the trip is longer by snowmachine, which is how the crew got there.

Spring warmup is creating some flooding and water level rise in Kivalina, but it hasn’t yet opened up waters near the town.

“There is a huge open spot about 100 miles out, so that will be their migration route since it's a big pod,” said Mitchell. "That big open water south of Point Hope is the migration route. Kivalina is straight to the right of that big open water and it's about 100 miles out. There is no way we can get to it.”

There was open water near Point Hope’s airport, which is how the Kivalina crew accessed the beluga pod.

Kivalina had a successful hunt in their own village in the summer of 2018.

"Nowadays we are lucky to divide one, occasionally,” local resident Fran Douglas told the Sounder at the time.

It was the first successful harvest of several animals for the village in many years. It was not a large harvest by historical standards, but was extremely welcome at a time when it was possible not to catch any in a given year.

"Beluga has been around forever, I think, because they've got some archaeological evidence that goes back thousands of years here in Kotzebue Sound over at Cape Krusenstern," said Willie Goodwin, chair of the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, speaking to the Sounder in 2017. "It's been a wild source of food for our people every spring. I grew up hunting them, me and my brothers did, anyway, so it's been an important activity both culturally and for our food.”

With meat and maktaaq put away for the next several months and families in the village able to enjoy the traditional food as the seasons start to change, residents, like Mitchell, say they’re grateful the two communities are able to work together to feed their people.

"To this day, it is still not open (water near Kivalina) but we are still blessed,” she said. "Thank you so much, Tikiġaqmiut, for sharing your bounty with Kivalina. May God continue to bless everyone over there.”

Utqiaġvik whaling season continues strong

Whaling season in the North Slope’s hub community got off to a strong start this year, with crews bringing in three whales on the first successful day. Now two weeks into the season, crews are still finding success out on the water.

People join together on the rope to help pull in the bowhead whale landed by Ikayuaq Crew out of Utqiaġvik. It’s been a busy season for the crews of the North Slope’s hub community and everyone who supports them. There have been more than 10 bowheads landed so far this season. (Photo by Christopher Tuniqtaq Danner)

The first whales were caught by Patkotak Crew (28’1”), Pamiilaq Crew (28’2”) and Ikayuaq Crew (28’9”) on April 30. The following day, Quuniq Crew brought in a 25’11” whale. The day after saw successful hunts for both the Hopson 1 Crew (27’7”) and Anagi Crew (30’5”), followed by Amaulik Crew (28’1”) and Aaluk Crew (28’10”) on May 3. On May 4, Little Whaler Crew brought in a 27’5” animal. There was a five-day gap after that, with both Arey Crew (27’6”) and Nageak Crew (28’9”) bringing in whales on May 9. Most recently, Panigeo Crew landed a whale on May 10.

The hunt continues in the whaling villages of the North Slope as the bowhead spring migration brings them past the edge of the ice that stretches along the coastline.

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