Alaska town celebrates whaling season, mourns whaling deaths
UTQIAGVIK, Alaska (AP) — People in the nation’s northernmost town are celebrating the end of a successful fall whaling season, but it also has been a time of mourning after the recent deaths of two whale hunters.
The season wrapped up in Utqiagvik (ook-GAR’-vik) in late October, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported . Subsistence hunters in the town formerly known as Barrow brought in their full quota of 19 bowhead whales.
The last whale was brought ashore by whaling captain Ross Wilhelm and his crew, with help from others. A few days later, Wilhelm and his wife hosted a gathering at their home to share the whale meat.
In early October, whaling Capt. Roxy Oyagak Jr. and crew member Ron Kanayurak died when their boat capsized while they were towing a bowhead home.
Their deaths are being reviewed by the Barrow Whaling Captains Association.
At the recent gathering at the Wilhelm home, people joined hands to pray in Inupiaq and voice their gratitude for the bowhead.
The prayer was broadcast over VHF radio. The broadcast also announced the whale meat was ready for serving. That prompted a stream of people who showed up at the home.
“It’s just what puts us together, is the whale, the bowhead whale. Just gets us all together,” Wilhelm said.
The deaths of his peers shook Wilhelm, he said.
“I’d make myself look bad if I said it doesn’t scare me,” he said. But he added he’s not deterred from whaling.
Many in town are mourning the deaths, but the dedication to continue whaling remains strong, according to whaling Capt. Crawford Patkotak.
“For the most part our people are able to rebound and continue our life, our culture,” he said. “And knowing that Roxy and Ron would have it no other way, they would want us to continue our culture.”