Whalers land four bowheads on first day of fall hunt in Barrow

Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BARROW - Barrow whalers landed four bowheads on the first day of the fall hunt.

Whaling Captains Association President Eugene Brower said crews struck the whales Saturday just after first light. Two more were struck Sunday.

"It started out with a bang," said Brower.

The spring hunt was far slower, with whalers landing four bowheads total.

Barrow whalers are allowed a quota of up to 22 whales - or "strikes" - in 2009.

If a boat strikes a whale with a harpoon, but doesn't land the bowhead, that strike counts against the overall quota.

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta is captain of the Saggan Crew that landed a 37-foot female bowhead.

"The ideal whale," he said.

It took up to seven boats three hours to tow the whale back to town, he said.

Itta said friends and family members had been baking at all hours to serve bread and Eskimo donuts along with heart, meat, intestine, kidneys and flipper to visitors. Some of the muktuk will be pickled and sent to relatives in Anchorage. Some of it will be frozen and eaten raw over the winter.

The Anchorage Daily News reported the hunt is a tradition of Arctic coastal communities and the source of a favorite subsistence food. Captains hold feasts in their homes after a successful hunt.

They save some for Thanksgiving celebrations at church and share with elders. Everyone who helps with butchering gets a share.

Currently, whalers have been heading north of Point Barrow, to the Beaufort Sea, Brower said. That's where whales are moving west, migrating back to their winter grounds to the south.

The International Whaling Commission, which governs the world's large whale stocks, voted in 2007 to extend subsistence bowhead hunting in Alaska through 2012.

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