Whaling in Alaska is a custom that spans over a thousand years now, every spring and sometimes summers local hunters sit on the edge of the ice waiting for whales to grab. Both men and women do whaling in Alaska, and they spend about 3-4 weeks sitting on the tuvaq, which is the ice near the water to harpoon the bowhead whales.
Bowhead whales are always the target of the whale hunters in Alaska; this bowhead are beamy black whales which can be measured with as a half size of a school bus and as a downturned jaw, it lives only in the cold waters which are far north. Bowhead whales most times, filter out of the water to search for food and also use its large skulls to open up the sea ice to about 2 feet thick to be able to create breathing holes.
How to capture a bowhead whale
When the hunters spot any of this bowhead whale, a team will push an umiak into the water, and a great chance would have created to harpoon the whale into it, and when this is successful the whale is captured, and each team member will take part in having the meat. The fact is a butchered bowhead whale can produce thousands of pounds of food for the people.
The truth is Whale meat is considered an Alaska native soul food, so apart from the community getting the supply of dense protein from consuming bowhead whales, going whale hunting, butchering it and even distributing it helps the elders of the city to teach the younger ones the culture therein.
Whaling in Alaska according to the indigenous leaders is a way of life for them, and it has helped them to be who they are, and it is an exercise that they enjoy to engage in, but again, it is always for the benefit of everyone.
Celebrating the whaling feast
History provided by Capt. Stephen Spring – Juneau Whale Watching.
There’s always the whaling feast which is about the same time every ear, this also is a long-held tradition, and it is always carried out in two spots or better still on the edge of town. Each place is kept mainly for the different house of Alaska. The rule is that when a whaling leader can capture a whale, it is expected of him to share the meat to his family, the families of the whaling crews that were with him and finally, to the community which will be right after the hunt and also during a feast time.
There are specific times too that whales are shared community-wide, this is mostly when the sea ice first forms, during thanksgiving and at Christmas period. Bowheads whaling have been the centre of Alaska people’s lives even before the coming of Christian missionaries.
The whaling season in Alaska begins in April. It can last up to June, whaling can be done with a skin boat which hunters will paddle in and be on the lookout for a whale that surfaces to breathe, the paddlers or hunters can chase it if close by, but if not they can follow it closely and carefully and avoid hitting their paddle on the boat to scare the whale away.
Capturing the whale need harpooning which requires some skills or initial practice, the paddlers or crew must be at most ten feet near the whale before throwing a harpoon ( a barbed missile-like spear which is attached to a long rope and its always fired from a gun or thrown by hand), this is thrown it strikes the whale with explosive powder detonates and the whale dies immediately.
How caught whales are distributed in Alaska
The hunters will just have to carry the carcass to the edge or on top of the ice and the meat slice into pieces before paddling it away to the shore and it will then take about a day or two to get the meat sorted out in preparation for the distribution for all those expected in the community gatherings.
Whaling in Alaska is always an exciting experience according to the natives; it not lts e others which could be considered sport hunting or commercial whaling. But, it is more of feeding the whole community. This is a tradition that has come to stay though it is believed there is a little distraction now from technology which is caused by the use of internet and playing of video games the people of Alaska still thinks they can conquer this threat.
The recent survey still shows that the bowhead whaling populations are doing well for now and hoping it will remain the same in the near future.