The Arctic Sounder

Kaktovik captain landed the first whale of the season for the region

A Kaktovik captain landed a bowhead whale last week, the first one of the season for the whole North Slope region.

Captain Sheldon Kiasik Brower and his Kiasik Crew of eight caught a 29-foot-long male bowhead whale last Wednesday. The crew began their trip through a light fog, but the conditions cleared up 5 miles in, Brower said.

Kaktovik community goes whaling only in the fall, Brower said. To preserve the whale population, the village has a quota of four bowhead whales per year, Brower said.

After the crew landed the whale, it took the family two days to process the meat, said captain’s daughter Irene Brower.

On the first day, the family butchered the whale and divided the meat into two piles. The first pile was meant for the whaling feast right after the harvest, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Nalukataq the next year. The second pile was meant for each crew that was out whaling.

The day after the butchering, the family cut and cooked the whale to serve and feed the whole community for lunch and dinner. They prepared unaalik, or boiled maktak, as well as whale meat, tongue, kidneys, heart and intestines for the feast, Irene Brower said.

“I think our favorite part about the harvest is the next day,” Irene Brower said, “when everyone comes together and joins as one, to help serve everyone.”


Landing a whale was a bittersweet moment for Sheldon Kiasik Brower and his crew. In June, the captain’s mother, Betty Brower, died of cancer. At 90, she was the oldest Elder in Kaktovik, as well as the keeper of family traditions and a culture bearer, Brower said.

“She was the backbone to both my crew and my nephew’s crew,” Sheldon Kiasik Brower said. “But we know she was smiling down on us, knowing we are keeping up the tradition of whaling. We cried happy tears knowing she was smiling down on us.”

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.