Everybody knows that the Bowhead whale is at the very center of life in Barrow. Despite how true that is, it really is hard to explain the depth of that truth.
Last spring was a virtual disaster for whaling on the ice here in Barrow, with a quota of 22 whales, only 2 were landed out of three struck. That's not the end of the world, however. It just meant that fall whaling was necessarily going to be a big deal. And it turned out better than expected.
Of the Barrow quota of 22, at this point 19 whales have been landed, with three struck and lost. I'm told that is the best percentage since sometime back in the 1960's! It might improve too, because other villages commonly transfer their uncaught quota to Barrow. I've heard that at this point two more whales will be harvested by Barrow crews due to transfers. When that happens they split the meat, half of which is shipped to the village.
So this year, as usual, I took a few pictures. I never know what I'll get, and this time I really enjoyed the results. Of the several whales I photographed at least something of, the 31 footer caught by the Akootchook Crew was most interesting.
Here is a young man, who I think is Co-Captain Joe Sage's son, literally playing "visual harp" on the baleen. The visual effect was much more interesting than what was captured, but it does show at least a little.
The first cuts made are usually done by the Captain of the crew. The Akootchook Crew's Captain is Barrow elder Roy Nageak, who was out of town and missed most of the fun, but Co-Captain Joe Sage, who is one of the younger Captains and has been their boat captain for several years did the honors and carved an X in the pieces that will go to he and Roy. Other shares go to boats that assisted in towing the whale to shore and to everyone who assisted with processing.
This whale was harvested on Thursday, and on Saturday evening the Aktoochook crew "served" for the entire town. Everyone (and I was one) who wanted a meal and/or a small share of whale to take home dropped by their place and shared their whale! And it was good!
Meat from every whale caught will be distributed through out the community on Thanksgiving and at Christmas.