Alaska News

Kaktovik meets fall allotment with 3 whales in 3 days

The cheers were going up throughout Kaktovik this week as whaling captains and their crews brought in three whales in three days, meeting the village's allotment for the fall.

Lesley Hopson, administrative manager for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, said the captains had yet to file official reports but said she had heard anecdotal reports from captains that the whales were caught.

According to residents of Kaktovik, the first whale was brought to shore on Saturday, Aug. 30, by the Aishannas Crew in the Green Boat. A second whale was landed by the Kaisik Crew on Sunday, followed by a third whale on Labor Day, brought in by Gordon's Crew on the Iliginik Boat.

Sheldon Kiasik Brower captained the boat that harvested the second whale for Kaktovik, and said it was his crew's first whale after two years of whaling with his own crew.

Brower said he had just come home from Barrow and thought he might miss the season, but after a few hours helping to divide up the first whale harvested, another whaling captain came over and said they were going to go out in a few minutes. Brower and his crew rushed to get ready and head out on the water.

"Within two hours of my landing in Kaktovik, I was out on the ocean chasing a whale along with four other crews that had gone out at the same time," Brower wrote in an email.

The crews saw one come up, but it was big, so they didn't pursue it. Another came by close, but it was too far for the other crews to harpoon. Brower said his son, 15-year-old Mackenzie Brower, saw it come up close to them and was watching it.

"He said, 'right there, Dad,' so I went to where he said and it came up and he threw the harpoon and made the first catch of our crew," Brower said. "It was the most proud moment of my life. I taught him the way my late father had taught me -- to be a whaler and provide for our village."

Brower said it was a proud day for his crew and his family. His daughter, 22-year-old Irene Brower, headed up the cooking crew. Irene Brower is no novice to whaling -- she's been on crews since she was 9, her father said.

Other communities, such as Barrow, have not started whaling yet, Hopson said. Kaktovik is typically the first to harvest its whales, with communities farther west starting in the coming weeks.

Last fall's whaling season was a victory of sorts for Alaska whalers as an abundant whale harvest made up for a dismal spring. Unusually thin ice kept whalers off the water in the spring of 2013. Barrow only harvested two whales that spring, and elders said they had never seen conditions like that. This spring, the ice was better, with whalers bringing in whales throughout the Arctic. Barrow whalers did have some trouble with wind and at one point, some whalers were stranded, but all made it back in safely in the end.