FAIRBANKS - An icebreaking ship used for Arctic research will change its sailing schedule after Eskimo whalers said the ship's original intended route might disrupt the spring hunt of bowhead whales.
The Coast Guard's 420-foot icebreaker Healy left Nome last week, according to Peter West, spokesman for the National Science Foundation. NSF-supported researchers are using the ship in studies of the Arctic Ocean.
The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission had expressed concerns about the presence of the ship along the Northwest Alaska coast.
From Nome, the Healy was scheduled to pass Point Hope, then turn east, paralleling the coast toward Barrow. After that it was to move into the Beaufort Sea well north of Prudhoe Bay. From there, it was to cruise shoreward for a period before heading back west and north into areas farther offshore. Under the new plan, West said, the ship will cruise the further offshore waters first.
Bowhead whales move up the coast of Alaska and into the Beaufort Sea each spring, following open leads in the ice. Crews from coastal villages pursue the whales using small boats, snowmachines and whaling guns.