Barrow, Alaska, 2008


In 2007, Janet got to return to Deadhorse, Alaska to fly the same aerial surveys that she first flew in 1982 when she was just out of college. In 2008, things got even better when she was able to return to Barrow, Alaska to manage and fly aerial surveys in the Chukchi Sea.  Arrigaa!!

Barrow flight service with our aircraft on the left. Flight service provides an incredible amount of assistance, keeping us posted on what the weather is doing and, more importantly, what it is forecast to do later in the day.

Barrow is the farthest north town in the US, located at the farthest north point of Alaska.  The community is about 4500 people, about 60% of whom are Inupiat Eskimo.  Having spent considerable time there in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Janet was quite looking forward to going back, and was not disappointed. In June there was still considerable ice offshore and temperatures were abit brisk; by August, much of the sea ice had receded or broken up and daytime temperatures were a bit warmer.  In both June and August, there is 24-hr daylight.

Barrow-ites, like many rural Alaskans, practice a subsistence lifestyle, and a fairly large percentage of most homes rely on hunting of native animals for food, furs, skins and other daily needs. One of the most important animals, both culturally and nutritionally, is the bowhead whale (Agvik) which also happens to be our main species of interest.

This a fairly famous photo location in Barrow.  That is Janetís crew from June standing under bowhead whale mandibles near Browerís cafe in Browerville.  The boats on either side are umiaks, and will be covered with sewn-together bearded seal skins and used for whaling in the spring leads.

Gives a pretty good idea of how far from anything Barrow truly is.

Fairly typical weather for Barrow in summer. Lots of fog fog and more fog.  On days like this, we cannot fly so we spend alot of time walking around town and taking in the sights and sounds.

Graves in Barrow are very interesting and often decorated with items of importance to the deceased.  This is a whaling captainís grave and the bones are from the last whale he took.

Barrow whales for bowheads in both the spring and the fall.  In 2008, Barrow had a successful spring season and landed nine bowheads. Successful whaling captains traditionally host a spring whaling festival called Nalukataq and this year, for the first time, Janet was able to attend.  Very fun and very interesting.

The Nalukataq is attended by hundreds of people and is truly a celebration. During the day there is a mass distribution of food as members of the successful whaling crews make the rounds and pass out all kinds of food, including frozen whale meat, maktak (whale skin and blubber), duck soup, caribou meat, fresh fruit, and a fermented fruit dish that was to die for.  Our crew had not brought anything to hold food, but the folks around us were extremely generous and gave us ziplock bags to hold the food. Also spoons to eat with - much less messy than using fingers!

There is a great deal of respect for elders among the Inupiat. All food distributions went to the elderly members of the community first.  

Here, a couple of Inupiat women are slicing pieces off the flukes.

There was an almost incomprehensible amount of food out in the middle of the arena, including tons of pies and cupcakes.  Then, much to our surprise, in the late afternoon a pickup truck drove up and the whaling crews started unloading cakes from the back. The cakes are all lavishly decorated and are set up on tiers, much like a wedding cake.  There were two many-tiered cakes at this Nalukataq, because two whaling crews were hosting.

At night (remembering that there is no darkness because this is the land of the midnight sun!), the entertainment starts. Nalukataq features the blanket toss, during which the skin from the umiak (whaling boat) is used as a blanket to toss people in the air. As long as you stay on your feet, you can remain on the blanket. There is a real art to not only being tossed but also to holding the blanket.  Here are some of the more spectacular tosses.

But we are actually in Barrow to work...

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