Alaska News

Two strikes left in Barrow's autumn whaling season

This fall's bowhead whale harvest on the North Slope has been a bountiful one. The count as of Monday was 11 whales for Barrow, three for Kaktovik and five for Nuiqsut, according to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. The number for Barrow is unofficial because the commission hasn't received all the harvest reports, but it's a small town, so everyone knows, said the commission's administrative manager, Lesley Hopson.

Wainwright is allotted one strike but Hopson said she hasn't heard if it has been used.

Several whales were brought in at Barrow last week alone.

"We've had a very successful last few days, thank God for that," said captain Edward Itta on Friday in Barrow. "We brought in the whales and we feed the community; it's just been a joyous time."

Itta's crew, made up entirely of family, pulled a 33-foot, 6-inch behemoth.

On the crew were Itta's two brothers, his son and his son-in-law, along with an extended family member.

"Of course, my wife was in charge of all the cutting and cooking and feeding the community," Itta said. "This has been a good one for our family and our extended family.


"We're just so blessed up here."

And while the bowhead harvest, both spring and fall, provides food and camaraderie for those who hunt, and eat, whale, it also provides joy for those who are perhaps more on the sidelines, or involved indirectly.

North Slope Borough senior wildlife biologist Robert Suydam said that while he is out collecting samples from harvested whales, he relishes the sheer joy on people's faces during whaling activities.

The bowhead population is up to around 17,000 from approximately 5,000 in the early 1980s, he said Friday in Barrow.

"It's a good-news story," he said. "You often hear about all the changes that are happening in the Arctic ... but there are actually a lot of species that are doing really well."

Suydam added that perhaps there are more bowheads now than there ever have been.

One of the borough wildlife department's priorities is to determine how the bowheads and other subsistence species respond to increased and ongoing industrial activity.

"With the Marine Mammal Protection Act, not only does it protect marine mammals, but it also protects subsistence hunters," Suydam said. "Putting an artificial island in the middle of the migration corridor could mean that whales might not be available to the communities that are downstream, and so we're trying to work with the industry to better understand that."

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.