Hunters butcher a bowhead whale caught by the Quvan Crew during the first day of the fall whaling season on September 25, 2006, in Barrow, Alaska. (AP Photo/Mary Sage)

Fall Whale Hunting Commences in Barrow, Alaska

ICTMN Staff
10/18/11

On October 8, a crew of Inupiat Eskimos navigated the icy Arctic Ocean in a powerboat. After spotting the first bowhead whale's spout, the team approached the mammal's side and shot it with an exploding harpoon. The catch marked the beginning of the annual fall whale hunting season in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States, reported The New York Times.

Hunters hauled in the whale with both traditional and modern-day techniques, lugging the mammal to shore with rope and man power. But a bulldozer did the heavy lifting, dragging the 28-foot mammal across the rocky beach. A fork lift lowered it onto the snow.

"Whaling is a sacred, spiritual method for us," said Edward S. Itta, the mayor of Barrow, Alaska, in The New York Times video A Sacred Whale Hunt Endures.. "The is the time of year the whole community looks forward to."

Men climbed atop the animal to carve it into shares with blades, laying the slabs on the snow. Women boiled the thick whale skin and blubber to serve the delicacy muktuk to the crowd.

Then the community rejoiced the great catch and the first day of the whale hunt, a sacred tradition.

"It keeps our community together. It knits the community," said Charles Hopson, a whaling captain, in the video. "If we have a whale, the whole community eats. We make sure that nobody in town goes hungry. That is part of being together up here."

The Inupiat people have depended on whales for sustenance for generations. “The bowhead has been called the ‘ice whale’ because it travels through the ice. The Eskimo have been called ‘the people of the ice whale’ because without the bowhead we would not exist,” wrote Burton “Atqann” Rexford, former whaling captain and chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission before his death in 1999, in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Whale hunting is forbidden in the United States, aside from several indigenous groups, including the Inupiat, who are allowed to hunt a limited number of whales. Barrow's quota this year is 22, which includes 9 caught during the spring hunt. They can only hunt the endangered Bowhead, which numbers at about 10,000 in Barrow, reported the Times video.

The Inupiat's way of life has also been threatened due to climate change, seismic activities and offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling. "Spring whaling used to be the primary whaling season for us," Itta said. "Because of changes in the ice, we are now doing the bulk of [whale hunting] in the fall because of ice conditions being so bad in the spring."

Later the evening of October 8, the crew brought in a second whale, nearly twice the size of the first. "Our hearts are lifted; there's sunshine. It's just been a very blessed day," said an Inupiat woman in the Times video.

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