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Barrow Whale Hunt October 2007

I didn't have the time and opportunity to get a particularly good, or anything like a complete, set of pictures of Barrow whaling this fall.

I did have just a little time on the first two days that whales were caught, and managed to get pictures of one part that is not shown in any of the other essays on my webpage. Hence, this set of pictures.


Bringing a Whale Home

There are five boats towing, and one boat trailing. Each boat is attached to a long tow rope, and any of them can back off to release the rope and pull out. The trailing boat is for safety... as this is one of the more dangerous operations involved in catching a whale.

Note that the lead boat is flying a flag. Each crew has their own crew flag, and signals they have caught a whale by flying their flag. Today that is only symbolic as each boat, and half the homes in Barrow, are equipped with VHF marine radios. The fact that a whale has been caught is actually signaled by a public prayer over the radio.

When one crew catches a whale, each crew that is nearby decides if they are or are not likely to catch their own. If they are chasing a whale, they probably continue. Otherwise they go to the assistance of the crew that has a whale. The share of whale meat and muktuk is larger (or a better part) for those who lend a hand.

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Handing off the Tow Rope

Here the successful crew is handing the tow rope ashore.

At that point the boat crew generally heads for the boat launch to trailer the boat, which they then typically drive right back to this location, which is 2-3 miles northeast of Barrow towards Point Barrow at the old DEWLINE airstrip. That is where all whales are processed.

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The Community Takes Over

At this point the successful crew is still very much in charge, but the work is significantly spread out amongst the entire community. Virtually anyone and everyone who wants to help is welcome.

The North Slope Borough's heavy equipment shop provides huge frontend loaders, and there is a D7H Cat out of the picture too. This time the whale is pulled out of the water by a frontend loader. With big whales it requires the cat.

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Whale Out of the Water

One or two frontend loaders equipped with fork lifts will pick up the whale and take it across the road to the airstrip. (Unfortunately... that's when the battery in my camera ran out of steam, so I didn't get any pictures of this whale being moved or processed.)

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An Old Image, from October 8, 2000

Here is an old picture, which is part of another essay on this website, from Oct 8, 2000 showing a whale being delivered by two fork lifts.

The airstrip has a "Marston Matting" surface, which provides a great place to process the whale. It drains well, and there is no dirt.

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Processing the Whale

The following images, of a whale being processed, were take two days before the above sequence. This particular whale was the first whale of the fall season.

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Cutting Off the Muktuk

This process is fairly interesting to watch. Several elders are available to provide expert instructions. A few seasoned workers do the difficult tasks. And the strong young men put a lot of muscles into it.

This is effectively one big celebration of community.

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Ring of People and Cars

This view is repeated in every direction around the whale. People are moving large pieces of meat and muktuk (the blubber and skin) to various piles in a circle. And all around are people. Some are just watching, some are helping. And outside the ring of people there is a ring of cars two rows deep.

One lesson that has been learned the hard way, is that limiting crews to 3 whales per day makes processing much easier than without a limit. One whale alone can go from the water to nothing left but a bone pile in about 4 hours, with the whole community fully engaged. Three whales at a time takes longer, but is still fun. But years ago I saw what happened on a good day, when 7 or 8 whales were caught in a matter of about 5 hours. More than 24 hours later there people still worked... and they were totally exhausted.

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The Boat

This is the boat of the successful crew. The kids are having a good time too. Note the camp stove setup, and on the piece of cardboard on the ground is boiled muktuk. Other crew members are making sure that people who are working get something to drink too.

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A Wider View

A wider view with more perspective. This is looking away from the road, so behind the camera and off to the side are many more cars and people.

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Copyright 2007, 2010 Floyd L. Davidson
Created: October 11, 2007
Last modified: Sun Jul 31 13:27:51 AKDT 2011
Contact by email: Floyd L. Davidson